The Sad Reality of Fuddrucker’s

I remember the commercials fondly – the upbeat music, the dazzling array of toppings, and the promise of the world’s greatest burger. Fuddrucker’s. Of course, we never went there. We were marooned in the rural spread known as the Thumb of Michigan. We also rarely ventured into the realm of casual dining, staying firmly in the fast food division.

Years later, I passed the billboard for Fuddrucker’s every time I returned home from college. I am not sure why it continued to captivate me, especially as I was not particularly fond of hamburgers. Of course, I never stopped. I had school loans and a mild eating disorder, so I could not afford the indulgence.

Today, though, a childhood fantasy finally became a reality. We were on our way home from one of my husband’s sporadic BBQ catering jobs when the children decided that they were in danger of starvation. Travelling in a vehicle full of pulled pork, ribs, and brisket does have a way of stimulating one’s appetite. Their raging hunger happened to coincide with the Flint exit for Fuddrucker’s.

Entering the restaurant felt like entering an abandoned amusement park. All the remnants of fun and kitschiness remained, the neon signs, the Pinball machine and air hockey table, the collection of Americana/pop culture memorabilia. However, the people were gone. We were one of a handful of families. It seems Fuddrucker has gone the way of Beanie Babies and Jelly Shoes. Or maybe, it has simply gone the way of the rest of Flint.

Like Jelly shoes the experience did not meet the hype. The burgers in their fresh-baked buns were tasty, but the fries were not kid-friendly with their coating of black pepper. That was for the best, though, because the fry portion was so small. Because business was slow, the topping bar was a wilting disappointment, a sad collection of chopped up vegetables that would most likely end up in the trash can.

So sad was the environment that my children did not even ask to visit the small arcade in the back. With Fuddrucker’s, the overpriced burgers are so suppose to be justified by the atmosphere. They were not.

I tell my children never to believe the hype of products they see on television. However, I understand how deeply commercials can target our deepest desires. For me, as a child, it was the lure of a suburban childhood, a place full of sidewalks, family nights out to the movies, arcades, and the world’s greatest hamburgers.

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The Many Virtues of Frugality

While other children grew up collecting baseball cards and stickers, I grew up collecting coupons. At the library we would sort through a virtual box of money, extracting coveted name brands and the promise of free food if we timed our purchases right. Long before I studied rhetoric as a graduate student, I was a practitioner of the ancient rhetorical concept Kairos. To employ kairos in a speech, you must be aware of the mood of your audience, the context of the situation, and any atmospheric influences. Timing is more than simply showing up and reading from an index card at an appropriate place. The same goes for shopping. In this way, frugality is a difficult concept to apply for those who like to make a grocery list and enter and exit the store as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, I spent nearly two hours scouring their aisles of Meijer and contemplating my choices. It was a moment when the discount stars were aligned in my Meijer world, total purchase mPerks and credit card discounts that could be combined, plus Mother’s Day specials. On a different day, I would not have splurged on the higher end hanging baskets. However, when all the discounts and sales combined, I felt justified in my purchase.

This lengthy foray into the world of bargain shopping would not have been possible before my winter semester of teaching ended. In work intensive times, the variable of convenience reins, which is part of the problem with American life. When we are wrapped up in the hectic life of work, children, and activities, we become less mindful at the stores. We grab our grocery carts and rush around the stores, our minds engaged on what else we have on our agenda. A few weeks later we are presented with a credit card bill for $2,000 and wonder how it is possible that we spent so much money over the course of a month.

Being raised pinching pennies, I am mindful of every dollar I spent. I can recall every item that I spent too much money on by rushing my purchase, as I have constantly rehashed it (which isn’t really healthy either, but that is a reflection for another time). Because of this, I have never had issues with my credit card, paid off my student loans six months after graduation for both of my degrees, and have a healthy savings.

This success has bled into other areas of my life as well, a phenomenon that is well explained by the Marshmallow Test. In the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel led a study where children were given a marshmallow. They were told if they did not eat the marshmallow before the researchers returned that they would get an additional marshmallow. One third did not eat the initial marshmallow, practicing the willpower skill of delaying gratification. This ability to delay gratification was a predictor of future success. Frugality is essentially going through the marshmallow test every time you go to the grocery store. You have a choice, you can either get an item that is not on sale and end up with less groceries for your budget, or you can wait until an item is on sale, so that you can buy more food for the same amount of money.

I write this to remember these lessons and how they shaped me, as since I have had children, I have begun to prioritize convenience over saving money. This is not always wrong, as some weeks, you need what you need when you need it. It is being mindful of when you are making a necessary purchase and when you are making one just because you are in a hurry and your willpower is depleted. It is also about creating financial literacy for my children and teaching them the value of waiting.

Pinning My Ideal Self

We all know that through social media we create a veneer we want the world to see. Here is the gorgeous sunset from my last vacation, here is the perfectly plated dinner I made, and here are my stylish, well-mannered kids smiling with their arms around each other. We take fifty selfies in order to pick one we like. And even that it is not good enough—we then need to apply most flattering Instagram filter before presenting this “based-on reality” version of ourselves to the world.

Social media is also how we pursue our ideal or future self. For me, this is done most notably through Pinterest. I am convinced that one day I will make my own soap, become an accomplished chef, and travel to Japanese gardens. I even have a board for my ideal husband called “honey to-do list.” It has little resemblance to the scribbled Post-It notes or random texts I actually send my real life husband.

Today, though, I briefly lived my Pinned life. I found myself with a rare gift this morning, a spare 10 minutes, and I completed the recipe I have meant to try for the past two weeks, a Greek Chickpea Salad. Of course, by this point, red onions I bought had already gone bad and my children ate all the cucumbers. I discovered the Kalamata olives I bought had pits. Still, I soldiered on with sweet onions, green olives, and celery in place of cucumbers. I stared at the can of chickapeas unsure whether or not they were recipe ready. To be safe, I rinsed and microwaved them.

Overall I was pleased with the end result, though I will lower the amount of salt and tahini the next time I make it.

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