The End of the Universe

I’ve always wanted to jump in a car and hit the road for a schedule-light, unplanned trip throughout the country. Yeah, I know…me and just about everyone else. Sure it’s the history, sure it’s the freedom, but mainly it’s the food. Because nothing portrays our local culture like cuisine. Why do you think I love New Orleans so much? I’m keeping this trip in my three-year plan but we’ll see what happens.

Well, despite the allure of the open road and the local flare that shows like “Diners, Drivers, and Dives” and “Man vs Food” exemplify, I’ve got to believe the institutions that have been feeding the country for years are in serious danger. Ever hear the Lewis Black skit about the end of the universe? There’s a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks! (insert Lewis Black constipated screaming here). I have found more proof that the end is near.

Driving through the northeast of South Carolina in my rental Jeep Liberty (did Jeep make this car with the intent to have every pebble on the road felt by the driver? I think my road bike has better shock absorption) hunger was the only thing keeping me from my hotel. But it was late, and I was desperately trying to avoid the golden arches. When my stomach growls became unbearably loud, I decided to pull off at the next exit in search of some delicious grub.

Did I get on the wrong plane? Have I been driving in the wrong direction? I must be in Jersey. Or maybe I’m at the King of Prussia Mall. One way or another, I’ve been here before. There’s the Panera. And there’s the PF Changs. There’s the Chipotle, Fridays, California Pizza Kitchen, Chili’s, etc. Same menus, same quality, same expectations.

Trust me, I’m not trying to suggest something we all don’t already know. But besides money (bottom lines and wallets), this has to be about expectations. Right? Unique food experiences are being replaced by uniformity. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I won’t eat at these establishments. Your talking about the person who was given the “anywhere you want for your birthday” question a few years ago and chose TGIFridays Jack Daniel’s ribs. But either way there was something seriously depressing about this grouping of restaurants popping up as I pulled off the exit. So is it the end of the universe? Well maybe not, but it sure as hell makes me want to get cooking this weekend…

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