Burger Run

I’m sitting at my desk when, out of the blue, it hits me: I need a burger. Not just any burger, mind you: an In-N-Out burger. The West Coast chain is the purveyor of cheap, fresh, immensely amazing burgers. No problem, right? Get up, go out the door, go to lunch.

Sure. Except for the fact that Automobile Magazine’s editorial office is in Michigan, and the West Coast is, well, way out west. I check the Internet: the closest In-N-Out is in Prescott, Arizona. That’s 1965 miles from Ann Arbor.

Yep, tasty burger. I stare at In-N-Out’s Web site. My eyes lose focus for a second.

I call my friend Jeff Diehl. Jeff lives in Chicago; Chicago is on the way. That’s good, because I can’t drive 1965 miles nonstop by myself. I ask Jeff to come with me, simultaneously glancing over at the car sign-out board. The keys to a 505-hp Chevrolet Corvette Z06 dangle from one of its hooks. I mention this to Jeff; he gets silent for a moment. Then he asks when we’re leaving.

I grab the keys from the board and tell the rest of the staff I’m going out for lunch.

0:00:00 Thursday: Depart Ann Arbor at 11:57 a.m. Eastern time.

0:03:21 I-94 westbound. The car jumps up to insane speeds before I can even process what’s happening. Just stand on it, shift, and . . . boom! Triple digits.

0:04:44 This is great. You can essentially light-foot it up to the top of the tach (say, 4500 rpm) and then hit it–and it’s only at that moment that the baffles in the exhaust open up and things get louder and go from a whahhhhh to a WHAAAAPPPP and the countryside bursts open. Awesome.

0:19:18, 21.7 miles Take time for a brief overview of things: nonexistent lumbar support, absurdly hot transmission tunnel, huge amounts of road noise (expansion joints, tire slap). Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.

0:19:35, 21.9 miles Traffic opens up, and I bury the throttle. The speedo does its time-warp trick again and starts spitting out crazy digits. OK. So, not a great idea, but not necessarily a horrible one, either.

0:32:20, 34.2 miles What continually amazes me as I plow through traffic: the Z06 is really good when you honk on it, but it’s also incredibly docile when you don’t. Where else can you spend $65,000, get supercar performance, and yet still know your grandmother could go to the mall and back with no problems?

0:35:24, 37.4 miles Call Jeff to check in. He’s been telling everyone in his office that he’s about to drive a Z06 cross-country for a hamburger. The response from his coworkers is, without exception, unprintable.

0:54:41, 54.4 miles I notice that, in my rush to get out the door, I neglected to bring along any music. I call Jeff once again and tell him to grab some CDs. (He will promptly forget. Thankfully, the Z06 is equipped with XM satellite radio, which we will listen to for the next four days.)

1:31:11, 77.8 miles Passing through Battle Creek, Michigan, home of Kellogg’s. Have become briefly drunk with V-8 power. Would you like some cereal? I’d like some cereal. I’ll have some LS7-Ohs! The small-block breakfast with the big-block taste! Crunch crunch crunch. Still that same great pushrod flavor!

4:14:31, 236.1 miles Finally hit Chicago after hours of traffic. Proceed to spend hours in traffic in Chicago.

6:31:35, 270.3 miles 6:28 p.m. Pick up Jeff in the Chicago suburbs–he’s wearing a button-down oxford and a pair of dark dress pants. He will wear these pants until the next afternoon, when the funk finally gets to him and he changes into shorts.

8:18:47, 376.8 miles We stop so Jeff can drive. I pull my cell phone from its resting place in the center console. The heat from the transmission tunnel has turned its screen blue. My wallet, however, which has been sitting next to the phone, acts as a nice butt warmer.

9:20:23, 446.2 miles We get bored and start pulling over at rest stops every twenty minutes to do burnouts. This seems to fix the boredom. The best part about all this silly hoonage, though, is that you can simply turn it off: just drop the car into sixth, roll up the windows, and everything gets quiet. We are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Chest Hair.

11:25:33, 583.0 miles We hit Saint Louis. Almost simultaneously, Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” comes on the radio. The stereo, which until now has sounded boomy and muffled, suddenly becomes clear and thumpin’. We groove.

18:05:41, 1043.6 miles It’s just after six in the morning in Oklahoma. I’ve been sleeping, fitfully, for an hour or so. The Z06’s flat-backed seats are about as comfortable to zonk out in as a phone booth. Jeff pulls over, wakes me up, and announces he needs to sleep. I mumble something about sleeping and begin to shut my eyes again. No, wait. The whole point is to keep going until we’re there. The whole point is to not stop.

I get up, I go inside, I buy what should be illegal amounts of caffeine, and we keep going. I’m not even hungry anymore.

20:28:19, 1174.4 miles Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” comes on just as we’re getting onto the interstate from a rest stop. We do burnouts in honor of the fact that I can’t stand Neil Diamond, but, like everyone else on the planet (including Jeff), also can’t resist singing along to this song. We harmonize, badly.

The song ends. Jeff briefly wonders if it would have been cheaper to fly but admits there would have been no burnouts. As he also points out, there would have been no big scary woman in a red Dodge Club Wagon driving around the parking lot at the last gas station making come-hither eyes at us and taking pictures of the Z06.

21:29:03, 1234.3 miles Exit 1. We have officially arrived in Texas.

24:15:55, 1447.0 miles New Mexico. I wake up to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” blasting from the speakers and Jeff braking the car down from what appears to be 140 mph.

“Jeff,” I ask, “were you doing a buck-forty?”

“Oh,” he says, “you noticed that?”

HIGHEST SPEED OF THE TRIP: I-40, New Mexico, mile marker 317 No traffic on either horizon, fresh concrete for miles; it’s like a gift from God. 172 mph.

NOTICE: If you’re reading this and are currently employed by the state of New Mexico, Quay County, or the Department of Homeland Security, then I am making up all of the above, and this paragraph is purely for entertainment purposes. If you are not reading this as an employee of the aforementioned, then please note the following: Damn, that’s fast.

26:54:00, 450 miles to go We’ve done 1589.9 miles in almost twenty-seven hours, for an average speed of 58.8 mph. So, really, we’ve been very responsible.

28:20:13, 1705.0 miles Still not in Arizona. I drink some warm Red Bull that’s been baking in the trunk all day, right over the transaxle and exhausts. It tastes like liquid disease, but I need the heart-rate boost.

29:35:21, 1776.2 miles The car really does take you by surprise–even after nearly 2000 miles–every time you drop it down from a cruise into a high-rpm, strafing-run blitz. It pulls hard but doesn’t shock you in fifth or sixth, and fourth is just freight-train unstoppable–but third . . . third is this giant bootful of THWOP!

And the horizon rushes up to smack you in the face.

29:40:00, 1784.3 miles Arizona at last. According to the trip computer, we’ve gotten 24 mpg with the air-conditioning on the entire way. At the last gas stop, I bought and reapplied deodorant. For the second time. Ewww.

32:51:00, 2027.1 miles We have arrived in Prescott, Arizona, and are eleven miles away from the In-N-Out. It’s 8:49 p.m. Eastern time. After nearly thirty-three hours in this car, I want out. I don’t care about the stupid burger, I Just Want Out. Legs: numb. Knees: rubber. Spinal curve: screaming.

Suddenly, there it is. It’s the In-N-Out sign, all lit up. Burgers: Glorious! Standing up outside the car: Wonderful!

Jeff looks out the window. “There’s a Jack in the Box across the street,” he says. “You wanna go there instead?”

33:06:00, 2038.0 miles Jeff is lying down on the pavement, eyes closed, exhausted. The sun is setting, and of course it should–it’s Friday night.

Jeff stands up; we go in. There’s a line. I order: one cheeseburger, fries well-done, one medium Coke. The burger leaps down my throat. Cheese. Sponge-dough bun. Freshness. Sauce. Bliss.

Finished, Jeff and I get up, throw out our garbage, and walk right out the door. Done.

And then what?

Well, hell. Then we drove home.