Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The shocking story of my Sunday in the park with Colonel Sanders

"But really, Colonel, I'm on a diet!"

When I came up with the name of this blog, I decided the subhead should be “Eating fried chicken in the fog, and other tales,” because I liked the image it conjured, a mix of things quintessentially Southern and San Franciscan. I certainly had no intentions of eating fried chicken in the fog, because the only thing I ever intend to do in the fog is flee it.

But this past Sunday morning, I ate fried chicken in the fog. And are you sitting down? It was KFC chicken. And are you still sitting? It wasn’t bad.

Now before you write me off forever as a hopeless hillbilly, allow me to explain.

Nick and I had arranged a Sunday picnic with our good friend Suzanne and her adorable mother, Meg. Because it was a Sunday picnic, Nick decided fried chicken must be consumed. He’d promised to pick up some for Suzanne and Meg, too. We suggested meeting them at McNear’s Beach in San Rafael at 11 a.m. McNear’s is a lovely grassy park on the bay, with a small sandy beach and a pier and palm trees, and it can usually be counted on to be fog free, even when much of the Bay Area is blanketed.

I resisted the fried chicken because, if I may be honest, I weigh about five pounds more than I’d like. So into my Piggly Wiggly cooler bag I packed a leftover grilled chicken Caesar salad from the previous night and one of my last cans of Cheerwine. (Hey, I had to have something fun to eat or drink).

As we headed out of town, we stopped at the Popeye’s on Divisadero Street. It was 10:30, and Nick discovered they didn’t open until 11. So as we continued driving, I called ahead to Andy’s, a grocery store in San Rafael with good home-made prepared foods.

“Do y’all have any fried chicken?” I asked.

The young woman on the other end of the line paused, and I could read her thoughts: “No, Jethro, we don’t do fried chicken and if you want pickled pigs feet, we’re plum out of that too.”

Thwarted, I remembered there was a Whole Foods in San Rafael. In the spirit of research and not wanting to disappoint Suzanne and Meg, I called and, to my surprise, their answer to my “Do y’all have fried chicken?” was “Not today.” Really? Whole Foods sells fried chicken (but not on Sunday)?

In desperation, I remembered San Rafael was also home to a KFC. I called; they were open; we stopped. Nick ordered chicken for himself, Suzanne, and Meg. Strictly out of curiosity, I ordered two wings, crispy. The friendly cashier informed me that for 87 additional cents, I could walk out with a total of four wings and a biscuit.

By the time we arrived at the park, less than about five minutes later, I had already consumed two of my four wings. The biscuit was now in my past, too, and I hurriedly brushed away the tell-tale crumbs from my sweatshirt. My review: While not as succulent or as tasty as Popeye’s, KFC’s crispy wings are not easily dismissed, especially under duress.

Unfortunately, the fog sat heavily over McNear’s that morning as we had our picnic. The wind blew hats off heads and plates off tables. A yellow jacket grew unreasonably interested in my face and I had to run to escape it. Aside from the agreeable company, I began to think this picnic was a mistake. I was trying to diet and I had so many things to do and yet here I was, eating KFC chicken in a cold, foggy, windy park.

McNear's Beach, San Rafael
After a while, I focused my attentions on Meg, Suzanne’s delightful mother. Meg lives in an assisted living facility, yet she has a child’s wonder and observations. She savored the boats on the water, the brave souls paddleboarding on the bay, the kids chasing the geese, the fishermen reeling in their lines on the pier (one caught a small shark and threw it back). Meg is also slightly mischievous. Suzanne said she wouldn’t give Meg any more wine until she finished her cup of water. Naturally, when she thought Suzanne wasn’t looking, Meg dumped the remaining water in her cup on the ground.

At last the sun emerged and the wind calmed down. We went for a walk on the pier. Meg took it all in and was hesitant to leave when it was time. “I’m so glad you shared this wonderful secret place with us!” she exclaimed as I walked beside her. “Thank you!”

“You’re so welcome!” I answered. But I was the one who was grateful—to Meg, for helping me appreciate the moment and the place, and for reminding me that the sun eventually appears. You just have to be patient. 


  1. Jethro,
    You're a Dixie gem, and a joy to read too. Now brush off those crispy crumbs from your swim suit . . . the sun will is sure to show - it's almost September.

  2. Thanks so much, SuzR! The crumbs are gone now, but the memories are still with me!

  3. What a beautiful post. You had me laughing and tearing up as I read this. But, I sure wish I could have been there to see you running from a yellow jacket!!!!

  4. I'm not sure how fast you have to run to escape the fog off the bay, but best of luck doing that!

    Fried chicken seems to be a recurrent theme with you, though. :) And KFC is *not* fried, it's pressure-cooked and therein lies the difference.

    We have Church's Chicken and they have some of the *best* bad-for-you, almost-homemade fried chicken around, except for a couple of places around here that do the "down home cooking" big ol' Sunday lunches .... mmm, fried chicken!

    And I about spit out my drink when Meg dumped her cup of water! I love it!