The Oozing Americana Portal: Shake Shack

Posted on December 27, 2013

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Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC have been common place in Turkey, Europe, and even the Middle East for many years now. However, walking the streets of Istanbul, you can’t help but get the creeping feeling that something is afoot. The is an alien element that has been lurking just beneath the surface but it is now peeking through with increasing frequency. Two, I said two pizza by the slice shops have opened up in Kadıköy within the last few weeks. What is this, Times Square? Every new bar that has opened up includes a growing selection of foreign beers. And all of this despite the increasing regulation and taxes on booze. New bars and cafes invest more heavily in decorations, ambiance, and all important ‘branding.’

Christmas is becoming oddly popular here. Every year there are more lights and trees, and more people actually realize that Christmas is December 25th not January 1st.

Buger joints are popping up like mold in a basement apartment in Winter (sorry personal experience). Last week, I determined to locate the source of all this oozing Americana by following the burger trail. It led me across the Bosporus to Europe, up the hill to Galata, and eventually to the Tünel neighborhood. It was there I spied Fatburger brazenly occupying what used to be a döner eatery. At this establishment, you can consume a Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard Mushroom Swiss Burger and wash it down with what they are calling a Red Velvet Shake. http://www.fatburger.com/Home/?ref=22

I knew I was getting close to the source.

My search reminded me of an astounding movie I had the misfortune of seeing: Pacific Rim. Here is a clip which gives you the flavor of this collection of sounds and images from director? Gguillermo del Toro.

Scattered among the sounds and images is a story about enormous Mechs going fisticuffs with even larger alien monsters called Kaiju. The aliens enter our world through ‘the breach.’ What is ‘the breach?’ That is just one of the questions you will ask yourself during this film and then quickly answer “never mind, there is no logic in this place.” Well, thankfully there is a website called scifi.stackexchange.com where people spend a great deal of time answering questions like this one. The breach is located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and here is one of the best answers I found to the question: “What is keeping the ocean from rushing into the breach?” Someone named Thaddeus answers thus:

The Breach (also known as the Portal), is a fissure located off the coastline of China near Guam on the floor of the Challenger Deep of the Pacific Ocean. It connects the Earth to the Anteverse; the homeworld of the Precursors and the Kaiju.

The Kaiju facility in the Anteverse appears to be underwater, as Gipsy Danger “floats” down after entering the Breach. However, it is not; the facility simply has an artificially generated gravity column to allow access to the breach mechanism entrance.

  • This would mean the barrier doesn’t have to work very hard because there is already equalized pressures on both sides, preventing water from rushing from our universe to theirs and vice versa except when a Kaiju crosses over.
  • Most importantly, the Precursors do not want to empty our oceans into their world. They want to empty our world of life and migrate here. Earth was likely chosen because of our great oceans, active tectonic plate structures (which power the Breach on our side), and the overall fragility of life on Earth.

I wish had known all of this before I so naively stepped foot into the Americana breach, but how could I have resisted? Ten paces further up from Fatburger, I saw her, the frothing portal of stars and stripes: Shake Shack. http://www.shakeshack.com/

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I had never heard of Shake Shack before, but it sounded like something I should have known very very well. Once you step inside, you immediately notice that gravity doesn’t work as well and the clocks spin backwards. Your heart skips a beat because you haven’t been inside two seconds when someone shouts, “Welcome to Shake Shack!” Then, a friendly faced young girl hands you a laminated menu right on queue. Mandatory corporate greetings!!! Where am I Toto? The ambiance is equally disconcerting with its familiarity. The faux-factory chic aesthetic tells you right away, these are no overpriced McCrap burgers, these are ironically proletariat hipster burgers.

Your jaw will drop when you see Abita Non-alcoholic Root Beer on display. Then you will say to yourself, “Hey, isn’t that an awesome brewery in Lousiana? And isn’t their root beer made with 100% pure Louisiana cane sugar? And doesn’t Shake Shack specialize in thick custard shakes? And couldn’t I theoretically make a *gasp* root beer float?” Then you will look at the menu in your hands and see that yes, yes you can.

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One thing you will definitely notice are the employees. They are not middle-aged balding men unintentionally bearing their midriffs. They are exuberant young people working part time shifts, a new concept for this country.

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For most of them, I think it’s safe to say this is their first job ever. They smile, shout out orders, work efficiently, and are so helpful you are tempted to tip. Maybe they are just overstaffed for the opening few weeks, but there are so many workers, there is even a guy whose whole job is to stand by the condiment island and explain things to you. Being from America, I am a veteran of condiment islands, but I let him assist me anyway.

And then they give it to you.

An oblong device made of translucent plastic. My hands enclosed the object and the memory of its function slowly emerged in the fog of my mind. It felt right in my hands, sensible. Then the young man across the counter proudly explained what it was, as if he were divulging the secrets of his new invention at the World’s Fair.

I waited in a daze near the counter by the floor length window. Not too much later, the object came to life with a glowing red light and buzzing reverberations against the hard service. My order was ready.

The Shack burger is a quality example of the kinds of burgers that Americans like to eat. This is not as gourmet as the art form can achieve, but it is solidly in the range of your In-N-Out Burger, Steak ‘N Shake, Five Guys famous burger and fries, and Johnny Rocket’s.

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The burgers are greasy and their custard shakes are thick. They even make something they call ‘concretes.’ I love their flexible options too. Want melted American cheese on your fries like in college? They’ll do that. Want to just have a scoop or two of the plain vanilla custard? You can.

I came back through the portal into Istanbul with a full belly and eyes wide open to a morphing city, a city looking less and less like itself and more familiar simultaneously.

I for one, look forward to what will barrel through the breach next, but will it come in peace?

Or, will we be echoing the words of Thaddeus,  They want to empty our world of life and migrate here.

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