The Return Of the Yumbo And Existential Malaise

The Yumbo

The Yumbo

In all its glory.

When I look back on the past, In some ways I feel like the same person I was when I was seven years old. In other ways, I feel like my memories are those of an alien that used to occupy my body.

For example, for the first few years after I graduated from school, I used to eat fast food all the time. I used to love Burger King. What was I thinking?

I guess in one sense I was living in a place and time without a lot of choices. I did attempt to cook at home as much as I could – but it’s not easy to vittleate for one and cheaper to simply eat out. I was traveling a lot – and always liked getting a quick break from work at lunch. That adds up to fast food. At that time there simply weren’t the healthy and local diversity of dining options that there is today. There was no smartphone internet to search for the closest Pho place or the best Big Salad on the West side.

Those times have thankfully passed and I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in over twenty years. I’m sure the last were traveling with the kids and lured into places with a big indoor Playland – my kids were connoisseurs of ballpits and plastic slides.

The other week I came across an internet article criticizing Burger King – calling it The Saddest Chain in Fast Food – documenting its precipitous slide into the lowest depths of inadequate mediocrity.

And human beings in general are calibrated in such a way that they can inherently pick up on the sort of existential malaise your typical BK is now spewing into the atmosphere.

Until I read this article I hadn’t even thought about Burger King for decades – the thousands I’ve driven past have been invisible smears of red and yellow in my peripheral vision.

Then I heard a radio ad the other day. After that I came across another version on television.

The Yumbo had returned.

A Yumbo is a bilious concoction that resembles a ham and cheese sandwich. These were popular items in the early 1970’s – I remember them and can’t believe that it was that long ago.

Actually, I never ate one back in the day (I was out of the country in the Yumbo’s heyday). What made an impression on me, something I remember vividly until today, was a magazine piece I read at the time. I’ve had to dig around the internets to find out what it was:

It was from May 1977, from the magazine The Atlantic. A short Essay by Andrew Ward called, “Yumbo.”

I have not been able to find a current copy – but that’s not important. I remember it well.

The story is a simple one. A distinguished, intellectual older man walks into a Burger King and orders a ham and cheese sandwich.
“Do you mean a Yumbo?” asks the woman behind the counter.
“A ham and cheese sandwich, please,” is his reply.
“You mean a Yumbo?” she repeats.

And they are at a standoff. She will not sell him a sandwich until he utters or confirms the word, “Yumbo.” He refuses to do so – out of some desire to retain the small amount of dignity the modern world might allow him to posses.

The man leaves the establishment hamandcheese-less as well as Yumbo-less… hungry. It is a sad tale of the coarseness of modern life and the helplessness of trying to defend against the onslaught of the uncivilized horde.

So now, after somewhere around forty years, the Yumbo is back. I had to give it a shot.

So as I was driving home through the desolate stretches of some north Texas upscale suburb I asked the little woman inside my phone for the nearest Burger King. She offered me a choice of destinations and I selected one that I had no idea actually existed until the little pin showed up on that map spread across that tiny screen.

I confidently walked in, breathed deep the thick miasma of existential malaise and ordered, “A ham and cheese meal, please.”

The manager simply said, “What size?”

He didn’t make me say “Yumbo.”

I was disappointed.

A Yumbo meal spewing existential malaise into the atmosphere

A Yumbo meal spewing existential malaise into the atmosphere