Biting into the hype of a social media craze

Before Baby Yoda, there was the Popeyes chicken sandwich.

Hungry and driving home from class one evening, the sign called out to me, “I’m back,” accompanied by a picture of the infamous chicken sandwich plastered to the side of the restaurant window.

Memories of recent #sandwichwars headlines flashed through my head. “Popeyes employees fight worker selling chicken sandwich on side,” “Police arrest suspect in fatal stabbing over Popeyes chicken sandwich,” and “Cardi B finally finds a Popeyes still selling the chicken sandwich.”

As the sandwich war raged, it seemed that everyone in Twitterland chimed in to offer their opinions on all things chicken sandwich.

“And @PopeyesChicken y’all ain’t shit for having our people promote this dumb ass, cap ass chicken sandwich this is pandering at its highest degree. We promoting this bitch harder than the black panther movie!!! Terrible,” Rapper Cyhi The Prynce tweeted.

When the debate spilled over into the college classroom and a professor offered extra credit for a review of the sandwich, I knew that we had hit peak chicken.

It was time to finally try one.

But then, as I entered the restaurant, I was greeted with a poster of the viral sandwich with the words, “Be back soon.”

Hundreds of thousands of hungry patrons, fueled by curiosity and intoxicated on social media hype, had eaten up all the Popeyes chicken sandwiches in America.

The war was on pause.

However, the Popeyes generals were smart. They knew that thousands of people, like me, who missed the first wave of chicken frenzy, would be desperate to not miss the second one.

The famine ended; the war continued.

I stood in line at Popeyes in Hawthorne and glanced over the menu. There was a dessert called bourbon fudge pie that seemed interesting, and various chicken dishes and sides that I mulled over.

But I wasn’t there for the pie or a bucket of chicken. And nobody else was either.

A longer line began to form. A frenzy was building. Online fever was manifesting in real life before my eyes. Soon, there was not a single empty table in the tiny restaurant.

The workers could not keep up with the demand. Overwhelmed and stressed out, the lone cashier worked tirelessly to balance his responsibilities of placing orders, answering phone calls and tidying up the dining area as customers left.

The demands of his job became so much that something had to give.

Soon the dining area became more filthy. Greasy chicken bits accumulated on the floor. Barbeque sauce containers and used trays were left on tables. A puddle of spilled hot sauce festered in a booth.

When it was my turn to order, I opted to try both versions, original and spicy. I was doing research after all.

Though I hadn’t really cared about the issue before, I surprised myself about how excited I was to bite into something that the whole country was talking about.

Did somebody really die over this sandwich?

I went for the original first. The bun had a buttery sheen of grease across the top. The chewiness of the bun was followed by a crunchy buttermilk breading of deep-fried chicken filet. It was juicy and savory.

This must have been what Cardi B meant when she said that the bun and the chicken “go together,” on Instagram.

The pickles, curiously at the bottom of the sandwich, accented the flavor of the chicken perfectly.

It was good. It was, perhaps, better than Chick-fil-A’s.

Then I tried the spicy version and knew immediately that I was enjoying a superior sandwich. The spicy mayonnaise boosted the flavor with a punch of heat that perfectly complemented the rest of the cajun flavors.

I wondered if the two guys in the booth next to me felt the same way, so I leaned over and inquired.

“It’s worth the hype,” Rafael Garcia, 20, said about his spicy sandwich.

“I think it’s pretty good; it’s my first time trying it and it’s not bad,” Julio Muñoz, 24, said.

On whether or not it’s better than Chick-fil-A, both men were not entirely convinced.

“It’s a tie,” Garcia said.

Muñoz added, “it depends on the day.”

Together, we finished our sandwiches, thankful that we were not waiting in the line that was now causing chaos because it was blocking the drink machine.

On the drive home, with a full belly and that sluggish feeling that one only has after a meal of fast food, I reflected on the entirety of the Popeyes chicken sandwich craze.

I was no longer a bystander, I was a participant who succumbed to the hype.

Was it better than Chick-fil-A? Yes. Was it worth the hype? Kind-of. Was it worth the lawsuits, media coverage and murder? No. Not at all.

It was a pretty good chicken sandwich though.