The fact that Phoenix has become The Home of the Huge Public Embarrassment has its upside. When we're not being shamed by our politicians and our draconian public policies, Phoenix is sometimes the testing ground for some spectacularly expensive nonsense that can truly make my day.
Recently, for instance, I attended an early-morning ribbon-cutting ceremony at a newly refurbished Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers store. I was invited because I'm a member of the media who writes about buildings, and all the Wendy's muckety-mucks were really nice to me until the television people got there, and then they all ran over to talk to them and left me at a table in the corner. It was 7 o'clock in the morning and I was sitting in a fast-food restaurant, trying to look interested in a media release about Wendy's fun new all-metal chairs, and suddenly I didn't feel so bad about having dropped out of college before finishing my journalism degree.
The exterior of the newly remodeled Wendy's at Cactus and Tatum looks like an old Wendy's but with a lot of shiny chrome siding and a big, red silo sticking out of the top. Inside, there's plenty of brushed steel and bright red metal, and right in the middle of the room is a giant flagstone fireplace with a plasma-screen TV hanging off of it. Big, cozy leather chairs and free Wi-Fi suggest that Wendy wants us to linger over our burgers, which makes me wonder: Is fast food now part of the Slow Food movement?
The morning wasn't a complete bust. I got to meet Wendy. In person, she looks just like she does on the Wendy's logo, all red-yarn hair and blue-and-white-striped pantaloons. I'd never noticed before — probably because I've only ever seen line-drawings of her on the side of a waxed paper cup — that her freckles are made of glitter. Wendy is apparently a clean freak: The whole time I was at her restaurant, she was walking around with a jug of Windex, wiping down all these brand-new, shiny surfaces and then scowling at them, as if they still weren't clean enough.
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When she got close, I leaned over and asked, "Wendy, why are you doing over all your hamburger stands?" She looked annoyed, probably because I didn't have a morning-show camera crew with me, and muttered, "I don't know. Because I can?" Then she spotted a thumbprint on the other side of the room and was gone.
It was hard to be mad at Wendy, though, because the swag in her media gift bags was so cool. The bags (which were poly-treated canvas — not plastic!) were jammed with a burger-shaped enamel key fob, a temporary tattoo of a chicken sandwich, and a fistful of coupons for free cheeseburgers.
While all the Wendy's people were crowded around the reporter from KTAR, I sneaked out. As I drove away, I felt sad for Arby's, which shares a parking lot with this Wendy's. Next to Wendy's big, shiny chrome-and-glass façade, Arby's looked old and shabby, a '70s prehistoric whose logo is a 10-gallon hat; a place left behind by more forward-thinking, yarn-haired girls with cleaning fetishes. Still, I thought as I headed home, I'll bet that hat would have sat down and talked with me.