About a month ago when a source within the fast food industry alerted me that Arby’s, America’s second largest sandwich restaurant chain (!), would be selling venison for one day only across the country, I had two immediate reactions:
- Quickly confirm that my definition of “venison” was, in fact, what I thought it was.
- Construct a dossier detailing future efforts to obtain said sandwich.
Except for In-N-Out and Taco Bell, I’m not particularly fond of fast food. But I will sell my soul in a heartbeat for an interesting fast food stunt. However, not any stunt will do. The criteria for selection is hard to quantify, but in the past I was eagerly there for KFC’s Double Down (a brick of salt), Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino (diabetes in a cup), and Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa (unremarkable). On the other hand, I gave a hard pass on stunts like McDonald’s recent Szechuan Sauce debacle (it’s just a lousy packet of sauce).
In this case, venison isn’t all that easy to find on restaurant menus in Los Angeles, Calif. Sure, it’s probably out there, but chances are you’re going to have to seek it out, and even then, it may come in the form of something like sausage. Plus, I’d only had venison once before in my life — during my young, formative years — and recall it being gamey. Now that I’m a svelte yet rather muscular adult, having a venison sandwich conveniently served up at a fast food restaurant seemed like a great way to revisit this protein.
I had only been to an Arby’s once before in my life, and it was not a pleasant experience. It took place in another city more than a decade ago. When I entered the location, the first thing I noticed was its almost unapologetic dreariness. Lighting was mostly provided from the outside, and it was completely overcast that day. The restaurant was empty, and the staff looked like they had simply given up on finding happiness. To top it all off, I swear to this day that I could hear The Cure loudly playing from some other location nearby. I ordered Arby’s signature roast beef sandwich, which, upon first inspection, was a little too damp and dilapidated. But at this point I was so depressed from my surroundings that I ate it, and another, and probably could have even eaten another, and shot up heroin as well, but instead went back home and cried until I could feel nothing anymore.
So I was entering into this with lowered expectations and guarded optimism. I sent out a call-to-arms to members of my syndicate:
We could play basketball tomorrow morning, or, may I humbly submit, for your consideration:
It’s a one-day event (tomorrow) that I’ve been tracking for a month.
From the article: “… early sellout of the … sandwiches is anticipated.” This maybe the only chance we have in our lives to try this curiosity because Trump will most likely kill us all, or at the very least, end the four of us due to some irrational vendetta.
- You’ll get to say you’ve had the meat world’s version of deer meat.
- Instagram photos that will inspire both wonder and awe among jealous followers and enemies.
- The stories you will be able to tell your children and/or dependents one day: “I was there when Arby’s…”
There’s an Arby’s that opens at 9:00 a.m. on Sunset & Bronson. Live free or die hard.
I had one hard no: “Deer meat is a p.m. activity for me.”
One of the other recipients was not eating beef or pork for the time being, to whom I explained: “Bambi ain’t no cow or pig.” Still, they politely declined.
But actor/local handyman Kevin was game (<- see what I did), agreed to meet me there and join the line at 8:30 a.m, a half hour before opening time.
On that morning I woke up ridiculously early — like a child on Christmas — and prepared for my rendezvous. I didn’t want to take the time to make coffee so I decided to try a caffeinated variant of Soylent that had been languishing in my refrigerator. Soylent bills it self as a meal replacement drink, but I didn’t really buy into that claim and took the entire drink down.
This decision would later lead to a devastating impairment.
It was a clear and sunny day; the temperature was perfect — not too hot, not too cold. I had called the day before to confirm that this location would be serving the sandwich. The kind woman on the phone confirmed, but warned that “supplies are limited so come early, they’ll probably run out.” Her warning now had me expecting Black Friday-like pandemonium. This was exciting and scary. I didn’t want to be a part of another riot. Not like this. This isn’t my cause.
I met up with Kevin at the location on time. The parking lot was largely empty save for a couple of cars. Employees were inside busily preparing for the day ahead. There was one gentleman seated at an outside table, slumped over and possibly sleeping or passed out. We couldn’t decide if he was a vagrant, or like us, there to beat the crowds of people waiting to greet this sandwich (turned out to be a customer).
But as the clock wound down to nine, a strange thing started to bedevil us — the drive-thru line started to queue up quite dramatically. We both had the same question.
“Are that many people really normally here this early on a Saturday for Arby’s?!”
As far as I could tell, the chain has no traditional breakfast items on its menu. So either they’re here for the same reason that we are, or, they start their days guns a blazing knowing that each moment could be their last. As if they start their day with loaded Arby’s sandwiches and end it by biting down on live shark in the depths of the Pacific.
In addition to the growing drive-thru line, about seven other strangers joined Kevin, passed-out dude, and me when the doors finally unlocked. A fashionably dressed couple even arrived in an Uber Black. It’s game time.
The interior is warm and inviting, which isn’t the impression you’re likely to get from the exterior. Everything’s clean and in place. There’s plenty of comforting external light and an almost visceral buzz of anticipation.
Like a ninja, passed-out dude and a companion somehow landed first and second in line. Kevin and I were third and fourth. The remaining Johnny-come-latelies filled out the rest of the procession. I cared not for their plight should there be a shortage, for they dug their own graves this morning, soon to be laying there only for me to walk upon (Apul Patel, 2017).
“Don’t worry everyone, we have more than enough,” said the man behind the register. I was stricken by his affectionate tone and genuine concern for our irrational fear of missing out. He was giddy and as excited as we were to be there.
Needless to say, this was the complete opposite of my previous Arby’s experience.
Kevin and I go over our orders while in line. I’m getting the solo venison sandwich and he’s getting the entire meal (includes fries and a soda), plus an extra one to bring home to his wife.
“Don’t you want to try it first before ordering another to take home? What if it sucks?”
“My marriage is based on trust,” said Kevin.
“Loud and clear, cowboy.”
Gary, the man behind the register, turns out to be the general manger, and happily answered all of our questions. The biggest one — yes, the drive-thru line was indeed here for the venison sandwich. We placed our orders and were informed that our food will be brought out to us. Based on his great demeanor alone, I was rooting for this sandwich to succeed, and not be the most terriblerest.
Our order arrives. The sandwiches look delicious. I slice mine in half. The interior has a nice pink color to it. It’s topped with crispy onions and a cabernet steak sauce infused with juniper berries. The bun is toasted and size-appropriate.
The steak itself is juicy, tender and has a good flavor to it. The crisped onions and sauce don’t overpower the steak, but rather complement it. There’s almost no gaminess. Kevin and I came to a general consensus on a positive review.
Kevin finished his sandwich while I was only about 2/5ths of the way through my own. I had hit the Soylent wall and simply couldn’t eat anymore. “I’ll have to take the other half to-go.”
He looked at me with an odd mix of sadness and disgust. He was unaware of my morning’s dark secret. I confessed to ingesting a meal replacement shake before our adventure. I was playing injured, so to speak.
“I honestly thought it would be nothing. These things always say they’re a ‘meal replacement,’ but then you’re always hungry right afterwards.”
“It clearly says ‘meal replacement’ on the bottle,” countered Kevin.
“I feel they could have made that more clear.”
Manager Gary came to our table and asked us what we thought about the sandwiches, and we relayed our approval. We exchanged some other thoughts on venison, and he thanked us for our visit. This was some next-level customer care. To put it in perspective, I’ve been to many five-star (Yelp, not Michelin) restaurants that don’t have anywhere near this level of service.
We wrapped up our to-go items, cleared the table, departed separately for quick stops at our respective estates, and then met up with others for our pick-up basketball game.
Rather than feeling bogged down by the heft of the venison, I felt invigorated. I stood taller and my calves felt robust, pulsating with an eagerness to explode. My vision was laser focused. When I raised my arms in defense, I felt as though I could touch the sun. On long-range shots from beyond the arc, the ball left my hands with a mere flicker. This was not the same body that routinely pushed itself to make it just a little while longer. No, now this body needed to be reigned in from destroying this court, and, perhaps, our universe. I had changed.
I had become the hunter. And the opponents on the court had become my deer.
Kevin too felt this strange transformation. We coined ourselves “The A/V Crew” (The Arby’s Venison Crew), and agreed to make sure we didn’t abuse our newly found powers.
I was smoothly sliding on defense, keeping opposing players in front of me and forcing them to their weak sides. Protecting the rim wasn’t a chore, but a dessert too sweet to ignore. On drives to the basket I glided like an ice skater, maneuvering through the overwhelmed defenders who stood in my way. At one point, a couple of passers-by stopped, and remarked, “that boy looks like a younger, better, sexier Manu Ginobili!” His companion, an older, wiser man, replied, “Manu wished he looked that good.”
The heat had now become unbearable at that time of the day. There was no cover of clouds, and the sun began to shine upon me as it once had upon Icarus. At some point this took its toll and I begin to feel light-headed. I paused and took a moment to catch my breath. I cocked my head back and looked upon the sky.
There are clouds now where there once were none before. And from this angelic haze appeared the majestic head of a deer.
It was making the sounds that deer make. Only deer can understand them. Only I can understand them. It is then that I understood that it was imperative that I persevere.
I felt alive again and would require no more aid or comfort. We completed a pair of games. It was a brutal and merciless take down of my opponents. The court became nothing more than a graveyard for their basketball ambitions. These former opponents later stared at me as though they did not recognize me.
Later that night at home, staring into my mirror before departing into the night, I did not recognize myself as well.
The next morning, I awoke to the call of Sunday errands and friendly meetings. I went to the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee, and returned to my room. I looked towards the bed for my phone, as I usually sleep with it, and noticed something odd.
Scatterings of brown shed fur. I began to go over the comings and goings of the last 24 hours.
Was I the hunter? Was I the deer? What had become of me?
There are many questions in this world that we don’t have the answer to, and many answers we don’t need to hear. I made my peace with this rationalization. And with that, I went about my normal Sunday routine.