Bo Bice lost the 2005 American Idol final to Carrie Underwood, a singer whose feet each weigh seventy-five pounds. Watch Carrie Underwood attempt to dance or move around a stage, and tell us where the lie is here. She cannot lift her feet more than three inches off the stage. Either she is wearing the magnet boots from Face/Off under a kind of house arrest program for undisclosed crimes, or her feet exist as superdense training sleds she drags around beneath her body.
Carrie Underwood has never been accosted at a Popeyes. Maybe she has, actually, but like the rest of us just dealt with it, because the experience of going to a Popeyes is always the same, even if you’re the second-place American Idol contestant that year getting made fun of and called “white boy” at the extremely stressful location inside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.
You place an order. At most other restaurants, you would wait for the food. This is not the case at Popeyes. The order, having been placed into their system, is now reviewed by a central computer housed somewhere above flood level in the New Orleans suburbs. It’s probably in Metairie. Metairie feels like the right place to put a giant supercomputer dedicated to rectifying incorrectly arranged fried chicken orders.
No, the food is then rearranged into the proper order for you by the AlTron 4800, and beamed back to the restaurant for packaging. You ordered a two-piece spicy with red beans and rice? No, you got a three piece mild with green beans. There are two biscuits in the bag. Why? Because the AlTron 4800 knew you were a little weak in terms of gut flora, and that you needed some easy chicken work to go with that necessary vegetable matter. The lack of red beans and rice is to teach you humility; the extra biscuit is to remind you that blessings, while random and surprising, are real. God might not respond, but he doesn’t cheat you. Neither does Popeyes.
Other things might happen in these negotiations. A staffer may ignore you. A Popeyes employee might laugh when you request something, because—-well shit, what are you even doing trying to request something from Popeyes? Does one ask Mt. Everest to move aside when walking through the Himalaya? Does the lion request clearance from the elephant for safe passage across the savanna? Do you, on hearing a hurricane roaring towards your house, ask it to stop by the store for some Pedialyte and rice crackers, because you’re hungover and really don’t want the hassle of dealing with it and a weather system simultaneously?
No. You don’t get to ask things of the indifferent and superior natural world, and you do not get to ask things of Popeyes. That is the point: in a late-stage capitalism where eventually the robots will simply bring your customized, allergen-free consumer goods to your house, Popeyes does not deliver. It does not cater to your whims. In fact, it will deny them, and give you something else. It will hand you spicy when you want mild and mild when you want spicy because sometimes too much fulfillment softens you, and makes you unappreciative for the random grace of unanswered prayers.
Sometimes you need to be told no. When that time arrives, Popeyes is happy to deliver.
You might even get the rogue moment when, confronted with a situation where rules would have to be consulted, Popeyes decides to pardon you for no reason and give you the store. I once walked in shy one order of kids chicken fingers and left with two additional full meals because the employee just started laughing and handing me food at random. I have been gifted wings that clearly belonged to someone at the drive-thru who, seeing me getting them through the window, gestured to me plaintively like a man watching a Viking torch his house. I have been given a bag full of silverware and napkins for five when clearly eating by myself.
Why would anyone stop this random outcome generator that spits out delicious fried chicken and chicken-related products? Why would you want this to be any more regular? Are the results of your increasingly automated life not already regular, predictable, and boring enough?
An employee might even call you “white boy,” because guess what—if you’re in a predominantly African-American city, a really good way to identify you in a crowd of people all waiting for their spiritually educational Popeyes is to refer to you as “that white boy.” Which you might be, if you happen to be a white boy going to Popeyes in need of a spicy chicken fix.
Take some comfort from that, Bo Bice: at least you were acknowledged as a person, and not simply thrown a bag of chicken with a no-look pass from the manager.
You should be thankful for either, especially since you’re a 2005 American Idol runner-up getting free pub in 2017 for riding false equivalencies about race all the way to a triumphant and tearful appearance on Fox 5 news and a minor wave across the low-information seas of Facebook. The manager there is making $13 an hour, and barely subsisting in life while making you the best fried chicken on the planet on a daily basis. The fry cook is making way, way less.
Having been handed the order you actually need, you leave the Popeyes, perhaps after negotiating for a few extras you might have originally wanted, but clearly did not need. Later, when you get in the car, you’ll realize your drink is half Fanta Strawberry, half Dr. Pepper. You drink it, and reflect on how this double step to diabetes made you so much happier than you were thirty minutes ago.
That’s the Popeyes experience. It should not change. In a world of endless customization, Popeyes has the daring and bravery and yeah maybe just enough benign corporate neglect going on to say: “look, you’re paying for the chicken, not to have your ass kissed and have a blessed day like you’re dining at a megachurch devoted to the worship of dyslexic cows.” No. NO. You get none of this. You’re not in love. We’re not friends. Hell, you might make an enemy in a Popeyes, a mortal one at that, one devoted to never giving you a single goddamn dash of Cajun Sparkle in your life.
You’ll have to learn to work with each other, too, because a.) you will be back at that same location two weeks later, and b.) the spiritual lessons of a Popeyes trip never cease. You will deal, you will cope, and you will emerge with what you need, customer—never more, never less. It wasn’t what you asked for, but it is enough, and you are a more complete human for the experience. If you leave unhappy, that is a failing on your part, because that’s how church works. Open your heart next time, white boy.
P.S. Your name is Bo Bice. This is not the first time your name has been made fun of, and it will not be the last, especially since we just realized your name could be BOB ICE. BOB. ICE.