Although I'm sure I ate them dozens of times, and I remember specifically my dad taking me by Jack in the Box many times after basketball practice on winter evenings, I can only remember one instance of actually eating them: sitting in a bean bag chair on the floor of my parents' family room, watching Billy McCaffrey play basketball for Vanderbilt in the early 90s. Memory makes no sense to me sometimes.
Then, for reasons I will never understand, Jack got rid of them. Not long after, they started serving egg rolls. What the fuck, I remember thinking at the time. Not only are they getting rid of their best item, they are getting rid of one of the best fast food items ever, and replacing it with... egg rolls? Who the hell goes to a fast food burger joint and orders egg rolls? Not many things are as judgmental as a 15 year-old who as just been denied his favorite fried food, and I swore I would never try those damn egg rolls.
Wow, it was good. This was one of those culinary moments I will never forget, like my first battered whole onion (Black Angus, Monrovia 1998), chipotle chicken pizza (Rock Bottom Brewery, San Jose 2001) or shrimp po' boy (Mike Anderson's, New Orleans 2000). This was everything I want in an egg roll: fried crisp, dense, and full of tasty yet indistinguishable flavors. Within five minutes I'd found a sober driver to take me to Jack in the Box so I could buy more of those egg rolls.
I was addicted for months. I would sometimes get egg rolls twice a day. One summer day when the temperature gauge in my car hit 126, coming back from fishing at Lake Perris, I ate nine of them for lunch. (Years later I was talking on the phone to my brother's business partner - who had called me just as he was pulling into the JitB drive-through, which might sound like a bizarre thing to do unless you know him - and I heard him order six egg rolls. I mentioned that how I used to love the egg rolls and he told me that he once ate twenty in a row. Ordinarily I would call B.S. if someone told me that, but I believe him.)
Eventually, though, I had to slow down. I wasn't a teenager anymore and I wasn't playing basketball every day; I couldn't burn the calories like I used to. I cut fast food out of my life for a year. I missed the egg rolls, but this was part of being an adult I told myself. It's not you, egg rolls, it's me. We'll always have Perris.
Finally, more than half a year after she'd moved here, we went to Jack in the Box. What a disaster. We were down in San Diego County with our friends Zach and Tyler, and, as we somehow have started as a tradition with them, we drove around to try new fast food products. At Jack in the Box we tried the pita sandwiches in steak, chicken, and fish. There is no other way to say it: they were horrible. Quite possibly the worst thing from a fast food restaurant that I have ever tried. Earlier in the day Tyler had found something on the tray at Arby's that looked for all the world like a fried clump of hair. He merely shrugged and ate it. (By the way, he's a doctor. I'm not kidding.) But even he wouldn't take more than one bite of these pitas.
So Elizabeth got it into her mind that Jack in the Box was a terrible place. (Those pitas were so bad, I do not fault her.) Consequently, whenever I suggested going to Jack - almost always when a new promotion appeared - she said she didn't want to. Finally, last January, a couple days into the new year, we went for a walk around the Rose Bowl. It was one of those golden winter afternoons when the temperature hits 75 degrees and you can't help but feel lucky to live here. After the walk we needed a snack so I headed up the hill to the Jack in the Box just over the 210 freeway.
I got an order of three egg rolls, assuring Elizabeth that they would be good. And they were and she agreed. We dunked them in Jack's (much-too-sweet) sweet & sour sauce and their honey mustard, which actually might be my favorite fast food honey mustard. "I never would have expected it," Elizabeth said, "but these are good."
So now we go there from time to time when the craving for a snack hits us. If we spit an order of three that's only a couple hundred calories each (in the world of fast food, getting a snack for only 200 calories is basically health food).
On Saturday night we driving around, visiting about a dozen different stores so Elizabeth could try to find a specific shade of nail polish. (My Saturday nights aren't quite the bacchanalia they once were.) We had pretty much run out of places to look. Our last stop was a particularly shady drug store.
"I don't think we're making it out of here with the nail polish," Elizabeth said.
"Hell," I said," I don't think we're making it out of here with our lives."
But we did and I suggested we call off the search and get a snack. We stopped in to Jack in the Box and I ordered three egg rolls. We split them. They were delicious.