Growing up in the seventies in Oshawa, a small Canadian city (pop. 100,000), we didn't have a Wendy's or a Taco Bell close by, just not-so-fast-food like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ponderosa—the saturation of truly fast food chains had yet to hit my neighborhood. But I saw the advertising for the big franchises on American TV and lived in agony waiting to "hold the pickles and the lettuce" within walking distance.

The first Burger King in Oshawa was a really big deal. When my then-eighteen-year-old brother heard that they were opening one just down the street from our house, he ran right out to apply, a voluntary conscription in the fast-food war. He was hired to be a broiler cook, and in preparation for opening day, they sent him to train with the pros in Toronto. We were all so proud.

I can still remember the balloons, burgers, and brothers present at the special pre-opening day dinner party for the families of the employees; it was an ominous first look at the restaurant that would employ six of the nine members of my family. You see, it all goes back to the Simcoe Street Burger King in Oshawa—a family employer since 1978. My mother started working for the King in 1983 and liked her dining room hostess position so much that she's still there today.

Shortly before turning fourteen, I began my year-and-a-half stint as a fry guy, just like my brothers Frank and Jim. I still carry the usual fast food kitchen horror stories with me: employees playing hacky sack with chicken nuggets, serving "waste" fries to the late-night crowd, making ketchup art on the kitchen walls. Of course, none of that knowledge stopped me from blowing my burgeoning disposable income on more and more varieties of fast food.

Fast food became entertainment for us. What better way to kill a slow Friday night in 1986 than a trip to the new Subway for their two-for-one late-night special or to Taco Bell to see how many hot sauces we could gulp down at once, or to McDonald's to find out who could eat a cheeseburger in one bite. With twelve-inch Cold Cut Combos in our bellies, we could continue our search for the party we'd never find. We might have never made it through high school without fast food to keep us off the streets.

But even with the Oshawa fast-food explosion of the late seventies and early eighties, it turned out I was still a fast-food naif. I would have to leave my hometown to broaden my horizons. I went to university. I started a band. I went on the road. I discovered a McLobster Roll in the Maritimes. Fast food varied regionally, I learned—it's a crazy, crazy world, kids.

This brilliant innovation permits slightly specialized regional menus to give rigid chain stores a better chance at competing locally. In Quebec, poutine, a combination of gravy, fries, and cheese curds, is the junk food of choice, so McDonald's and Burger King. were forced to introduce their own version. I've seen this all over the world: McDonald's fried chicken in New Jersey, the Burger King Beanburger in the U.K., McPizza in Southern Ontario, McCrabcakes in New England. You can always count on these fast-food technologists to rise to the challenge. They keep trying everything: chicken fajitas, drive-thru head-set microphones, table service, home delivery, and, of course, the new "grownup" burger, the Arch Deluxe. I may be more savvy about the culinary lengths the industry will go to, but the entertainment value remains the same.   </end>


Sick food illustrations by Steve

DAVE ULLRICH is the drummer in The Inbreds. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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