[The final installment of the series picks up the morning after Part 3 came to a bitter end.]
Sunday, March 2nd
Being stone sober when I went to bed Saturday night was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, not having a severe hangover as you embark on a 7½ drive is always a good thing. On the other, I was sleeping in a recliner, two feet away from a Polish man snoring so loudly, it was as though he was trying to scare away a bear. If I was as drunk as I had been Friday night, I would’ve slept right through Dupa’s snoring without much disruption. Instead I awoke every half hour or so, both fearful I was about to be devoured and aggravated that I couldn’t find a comfortable sleeping position to be in when it happened.
Of course, the one guy who didn’t have to deal with the snoring—Dupa himself—was the first one up and out the door that morning, his flight back to Houston commanding that he leave for O’Hare by 9. The rest of us dragged ourselves out of Fire’s place around 10, thanking our host for his gracious hospitality along the way.
I took one last picture of the Chicago skyline (above), in an attempt to find some peace with a city that had both tantalized and tormented me over the past 48 hours. TJ, Dupa, and I often joke about each other’s preternatural ability to fall for the most mentally and emotionally unstable women we come across. I’ve had enough personal experience with the species to recognize them pretty quickly through the layers of “I’m just a regular gal, the cool-down-to-earth chick you’ve been looking for” camouflage with which they expertly conceal themselves. I see Chicago. I understand why TJ loves her, and why—despite the hell that was Saturday night— I want to visit her again (when it’s above 70°F, though): Chicago is a hot crazy chick. One moment she’s cooking you dinner and pouring you a drink. The next she’s treating you like shit and starting random, pointless fights. Chicago will never give you a healthy relationship. But she’ll never give you a dull moment, either.
And that’s just it; whatever the difficulties and inconveniences that at times befell my friends and/or me during our short stay in town, not a second of any of it was boring. Flat tires, taxi drivers with no navigation skills, frozen body parts, racist bar sluts, verbal confrontation fails, Old Style, vomiting in hotel lobby bathrooms, long waits for cabs in freezing temperatures—all of it was unpleasant, but none of it left us yawning.
With the Chitown skyline steadily retreating in the rearview mirrors, we had one scheduled stop to make before Pittsburgh. TJ’s old man, who lives in northern Indiana, was cleaning out his home in preparation for a move to Arizona. As part of that effort, he had two chainsaws he was handing down to his son. When we pulled up, he greeted us outside of his garage, in which sat three Mercedes. I felt a whimper building up in me, and did my best to suppress it. Then I heard Swag let out one of his own.
After setting off from TJ’s dad’s place, we stopped at a McDonald’s. But they hadn’t started serving lunch yet, so we chose to get back on the highway and press on. We missed an off-ramp, and ended up on a section of I-94 that we hadn’t planned on driving. To correct our error we exited in Chesterton, IN, where there also happened to be a Burger
As we walked into the serpentine crowd management system every Burger King has—and doesn’t need—TJ led, followed by me. No one else was in the restaurant. Behind the register, as TJ stepped up to give his order, was something of majesty.
Either he was 16, or he was 21 and looked 16. The young gentleman, standing all of 5’6” and 95 lbs, wore a perpetual, goofy smile, punctuated by glasses, a peach fuzz soul patch, and a ponytail sticking out from behind his visor. TJ rattled off a simple chicken sandwich meal order; the result was Da Kang’s finest employee slowly searching through the multitude of buttons on his register, in an attempt to find the button with the correct chicken sandwich. While this was going on, the manager on site opened up a second register and took my order. As he did, I saw TJ look back at Swag and make a gesture that suggested there was reason to look at the nametag of the guy struggling to process TJ’s order.
I glanced over; it said “Daffy”.
I got my drink and waited at the pickup counter. Swag, Canada, and some people who had come in behind us walked past with their cups and trays before TJ finally progressed that far. The three of us in our group who had not ordered their food from a walking, breathing cartoon character sat in a booth live-tweeting the whole incident, altering between hysterical laughter and nom-nom-noming, while TJ grew angrier and angrier at the pickup counter. #DaffyKang had arrived.
The four or five people who had come in after us all received their food and found tables, leaving the homie up there all alone. When the manager came over and asked what he’d ordered, TJ glanced up at the order queue and saw it was totally empty. The manager called back to Daffy and asked about TJ’s chicken sandwich meal; Chesterton, Indiana’s most cherished citizen raised his hands to his head and made the Macauley Culkin Home Alone face.
The hardest part about recounting any real life happening via written publication is always separating you-had-to-be-there funny from relatable, tangible funny. It’s a constant struggle for me in writing for this blog, because most of my stories involve a group of people who know each other so well and have so much shared history that nearly every conversation, no matter how trivial, produces laughs between us.
I say this to you now, because I understand there is no way for me to fully explain the aura of Daffy Kang to you. To a large extent, you had to be there, in that Burger Kang, in that the-Sunday-of-a-road-trip mindset, to embrace the levels of mystique that the legend of Daffy has reached in our shared history and syntax. I get that you, in all likelihood, don’t get it—or, at least, not to the same extent that we do. Hell, some of our friends who only witnessed the incident through Twitter don’t quite understand it. But, in that moment? Lawdomercy. TJ unwittingly being brought to a shaking, angry boiling point of frustration by a polite, goofy-looking kid working at a Burger King in a northern Indiana backwater town was one of the top-5 moments of laughter in my lifetime. Swag, who isn’t one to take a lot of photos during trips and parties, even captured a reaction shot of Canada and I doubled over in the booth, dead off the saga as it unfolded. Then he created a Wikipedia entry (right).
Daffy Kang might be the only thing crazier than Chicago.