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I may be dating myself here, but I remember a time when 7-Eleven wasn’t a fast food restaurant. There were shady hot dogs that slowly spun on carnival contraptions, but that was about it. All other hot food options were lined up along the back of the store. Every so often, during a moment of weakness, I would shell out a few bucks for a plastic container of stale chips and then drown it all with ‘free’ chili and cheese. I should have listened to my friend when he tried to warn me. “It may be free,” he said, “but you’ll pay for it in other ways.”
I don’t know if 7-Eleven still sells them, but I remember buying the occasional mass-produced plastic-wrapped hamburger and burrito at 3AM when I found myself wandering the rain-washed streets of Victoria after all the bars and clubs had closed for the night. These unique food items could be heated using the radioactive microwaves that magically zapped the subpar meat to the temperature of lava in less than thirty seconds.
Times change and when I go for the occasional chocolate bar or can of Coke I now have to wait in line as several patrons order buckets of chicken, or entire pizzas, or a dozen taquitos, or all of the above. I stand patiently as yet another guy in pajama bottoms carefully selects a dozen deep-fried animal bits to complement his carton of cigarettes. I feel bad for the employees that have to run around refilling coffee pots and cleaning up spilled Slurpees while worrying about whether there is enough meatball kabobs for the next half-starved hockey team that stampede through the doors.
I may be dating myself here, but I remember a time when Subway offered either white bread or brown bread. While there was a difference in colour, there was no difference in taste. These days, I can walk in and order a variety of exotic vessels for my meat and veggies: one features a hint of herbs and cheese, and another one is sprinkled with exactly seven oat flakes. While there was an impressive array of choices back in the 90s, it was not like it is today. I made the mistake recently of ordering “a little of everything” on my turkey sub, and the lady behind the counter revealed over a dozen containers. By the end, I could hardly fit the behemoth into my mouth.
Fountain pop machines should be simple affairs, and I remember when there were only half a dozen flavours available. Now, with space-age technology, Subway patrons can select a dash of cherry in their ginger ale or a flutter of lemon in their root beer. I stared at the machine for a long three minutes before giving up and choosing a bottle of water for twice the price.
But one thing has remained the same: the distinctive aroma. Comedian Jim Gaffigan described it perfectly as “the smell of bread that was baked in a dirty dishwasher”.
I lived in a time of Subway innocence, when we all assumed that the meat was made of meat. We assumed that a twelve-inch sandwich was actually twelve inches long. And we assumed that a sandwich was healthier than a greasy burger. We were so naïve.
I’m not a purist – especially when it comes to fast food outlets – but sometimes I pine for the simpler times when I could pay for my chocolate milk before it expired, or arrive at the drive-through of some multinational chain and not need twenty minutes to analyze my options, or buy a sandwich without answering more questions than an eHarmony survey.