What a Hamburger is all about: A Symptom of Our Auto Addiction

One of the largest non-COVID stories in Colorado has been the expansion of In N Out to several locations in the Front Range. The story is the same at each of them upon opening: Long car lines that stretch for miles with people waiting hours to try the cheap burgers, milkshakes, and fries that Californians are often nostalgic about, often with police involvement. In fact, Lakewood PD tweeted directions to get into the In N Out line when it opened.

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On Monday night, I decided to take a bike ride and see how the pedestrian experience is like at In N’ Out.

The Ride Out

After passing through the core of downtown, I took the Lakewood Gulch Trail until I had reached Knox, a street that had a painted Bike Lane. From Lakewood Gulch until 1st , it was a steady uphill climb with a descent near the end. 1st Avenue had a unprotected bike lane, which I took roughly until S Pierce Street, which acted as a vein to Alameda, a location where a multi use patch was along.

Approaching the Restaurant

As I got closer and closer to In N Out, a sea of orange cones started to appear. After going through them, I realized that I was in the car line to the restaurant. I proceeded slowly, making myself as visible as I could to drivers.

The Entrance to the In N Out

As I got closer, I started to notice the police presence. From when I got to In N Out to when I finally left, at least 4 Lakewood Police Cruisers were monitoring the line along with Orange vested guides.

There was no real wayfinding for cyclists, so I cut through a nearby bank’s parking lot to get to the corner of Wadsworth and Alameda and approached from that side. I found one bike rack near the front of In N Out, using it to lock up.

Ordering and General Impressions

From the time I ordered to the time my food was ready, it took about 20 minutes. I entered the restaurant, got my ordered in, and went outside due to how hectic and large the crowd was. The one upshot of the non-food experience was the fact that the outdoor patio was really spacious, with walls facing Alameda that acted as a buffer for the noise of the street.

The main In N Out Patio, with a large parking lot adjacent to it

Behind the one bike rack, there was a roughly 20-30 spot parking lot filled to the brim with cars. As I waited for my order, I struck up a conversation about motorcycle helmet laws with an employee on his break, connecting over the fact that we both had family in my birthplace of Oxnard.

I won’t talk too much about the food suffice to say that it was what I remembered it being quality wise when I was a boy growing up in Southern California. For $8, I was able to get a full meal out, unheard of in many parts of the Metro at similar peer restaurants.

Leaving and Concluding Thoughts

As I left the restaurant to head back towards Denver, a weird feeling came upon me.

COLORADO SHIRT - In-N-Out Company Store
The Artwork for the Colorado In N Out Tshirt, designed by Carl Bork

For me, the T-shirt that I had bought with the image above encapsulated the problem that I have had with In N Out since I have moved towards cycling as my primary form of commute. In the impressionist image above, the highway is seen as a natural extension of the beautiful mountain landscape. The In N Out I went to, save the extended patio and single bike rack, seemed to conform itself to the car culture that the chain itself had grown up in since it’s founding in 1948.

For In N Out and many of the fast food restaurants established in the late 40’s/50’s postwar boom, they had to conform to the car culture at the time, coming up with jingles, advertisements, and ways to get peoples attention during the early days of car radio. One ad that I remember on the long trips I would take to Los Angeles with my parents as a kid captured the infectiousness of jingles of the early automobile era.

As I reflect on the fact that air quality has significantly declined, pedestrians are getting killed by careless drivers throughout the Front Range and United States at large, and obesity’s co-morbidities kill thousands of people a year, I get the uncomfortable feeling that fast food writ large is a symptom of our decline. And, to steal from the In N Out Jingle, maybe that is what a hamburger is all about.

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