After 32 days in a Serbian prison this spring, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez had two urgent goals upon returning home to Los Angeles. Reuniting with his family and friends was the first. But then, Ramirez said, he'd be mighty ready to hit an In-N-Out Burger.
Most of his fellow Angelenos may never be put to so severe a test, yet they, too, are seriously dedicated to their burgers. This may be surprising in a city not especially noted for its seriousness. Like most places with reputations that precede them, though, Los Angeles has a funny way of playing with your preconceptions.I realized this a few years ago when I lived there for the summer and spent many long afternoons zigzagging up, down and across town. I was disappointed by many landmarks: I couldn't believe that the beat-up pagoda on Hollywood Boulevard was the famous Mann's Chinese Theater. On the other hand, I was delighted to find that other icons--white-blond surfer dudes, palm trees, fake breasts--really did exist, in abundance. If there was one thing I didn't expect at all, however, it was the burger joints that seemed to be on every other corner.
The cliché about Angelenos, of course, is that they are bantamweights who slavishly obey their personal trainers and subsist on macrobiotic eggless omelets, nonfat free-range fusion food or whatever other gossamer-lean cuisine happens to be in vogue. So I was somewhat shocked to discover that they harbored a devotion to ground beef that was almost religious. Once a young actress dug her nails into my arm as she described the sublime pleasures of the double cheeseburger with bacon ("soft, not crisp") from Fat Burger. Another time, a UCLA professor whipped out his wallet to show me a card listing the location of every In-N-Out Burger in town, which was impressive considering that he was, in all other respects, a vegetarian.