Column: What In-N-Out's vaccine standoff reveals about the California dream

The drive through at In-N-Out Burger in Hollywood. One of the burger chain's locations in San Francisco made national headlines for refusing to enforce COVID-19 vaccination controls on customers.
Last week, on the day a San Francisco In-N-Out made headlines across the country for refusing to enforce COVID-19 vaccination controls on customers, I did something I rarely do.
I went to In-N-Out.
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I don't hate the company, but I've spent the past three years tweeting hundreds of times, "In-N-Out Is Overrated" and "In-N-Out Fanboys Are The Worst" for friends and foes alike.
It's fun trolling people with the truth: that the Irvine-based chain's burgers are pretty good, but nowhere near great. That they pay their employees good wages, but their french fries taste like the crinkle paper that is used for packaging. The branding of In-N-Out - t-shirts with classic muscle cars, a palm tree motif, a jingle that sounds like a throwaway track on K-Earth - is cheap nostalgia for people whose salad days are behind them.
My demeanor has been lonely for a long time, as evidenced by the company's continued expansion in the west and legions of devoted fans who haunt me for my heresy.
But In-N-Out's surprisingly overt anti-vaccine mandate change - Chief Legal and Business Officer Arnie Wensinger announced in a statement that the company "refuses to be the vaccine police" for policies it considers "intrusive "Inappropriate and offensive" - ​​got more people to my side than ever before. Now my social media accounts are full of former clients who swear they'll never again eat a Flying Dutchman washed down with pink lemonade.
I thought of the uproar as I pulled off Freeway 5 and drove to the transit line at In-N-Out on Tustin Market Place. I wanted to see if the company really was as pandejo as critics claim it was, and if In-N-Out would pay a price to enter America's pandemic wars.
Somehow and no.
The line snaked around a parking lot and patrons filled the tables both inside and outside the restaurant, even though it was around 9:30 a.m. A masked clerk took my order for an animal-style double-double cheeseburger with mustard, pickles, and chopped peppers; an unmasked one gave me my receipt. Unmasked workers toiled in the kitchen; masked people took walk-in orders behind plexiglass.
I pondered how a COVID-19 outbreak infected over 120 employees at two In-N-Out locations in Colorado. I thought of officials who don't want to consider the possibility that the company might be right. Perhaps it is a hassle to force restaurants to check customers' vaccine status that does not completely stop the spread of COVID-19 (full disclosure: my wife runs a restaurant that requires masking because even a vaccinated person always gets the disease can still spread to others - and the disease is still going around).
When another masked employee handed me my order and I drove off, I finally realized who the real fool is when it comes to In-N-Out.
We all.
We spend so much time discussing a company's political stance because it's not just any company: it's In-N-Out. One of those rare things that Californians from Redding to Chula Vista, rich and poor, red and blue, can agree on, like a love for Huell Howser or a hatred of smug New Yorkers.
This mega-corporation has long had a feel-good small-town ethos to become an avatar for idealized California life like no other - more affordable than Patagonia, less Bro-y than Tesla, not as ubiquitous as Disney.
In over 70 years, Baldwin Park's little burger stand, opened by Harry and Esther Snyder, has turned into an empire thanks to descendants who played us like fools like fools. They took advantage of one of the worst attributes of the California psyche: mass madness.
To paraphrase Joan Didion, let's tell ourselves lies about living in California, and In-N-Out proves that.
This is a company that has never changed: a nostalgia factory that promises a trip back to a time when it was easier and more conservative. Hidden biblical verses on mugs and packaging lead to their salvation through Jesus Christ rather than some of the other things Christ said that might interfere with In-N-Out's corporate philosophy. Like telling Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, or that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (these verses are Matthew 22:21 and Matthew 19:24, by the way).
In-N-Out has consistently donated tens of thousands of dollars to the California Republican Party and hundreds of thousands of dollars to restaurant and business lobby groups.
While the campaign funding records show employees donated to Democratic candidates, In-N-Out Chief Operating Officer Mark Taylor and his wife Traci (the half-sister of CEO Lynsi Snyder, the granddaughter of Harry and Esther, whose value is 4, Estimated $ 2 billion)) donated more than $ 15,000 to the National Republican Party and Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle.
The company has moved twice as far to the right in recent years as Lynsi Snyder has become more open to her evangelical beliefs. But his politics were grilled on his iconic logo from the start: that yellow arrow that stands above the company name? It rises to the left before swinging hard to the right.
They never hid who they were, but In-n-Out sold a fantasy of apolitical kindness that most Californians sipped like one of the chain's awesome strawberry milkshakes. Vice President Kamala Harris is one of the fools. She got In-N-Out for staff and reporters who flew her back to Washington, DC this September after appearing with California Governor Gavin Newsom at an anti-recall rally - regardless of In-N-Out's contributing to it $ 40,000 to the California Republican Party in July.
It takes a delusional Californian to believe In-N-Out is more than what it is, just as it takes a delusional Californian to build houses in Tierra del Fuego and then rebuild them when infernos inevitably burn them down. Or shower for more than five minutes. Or do you live without earthquake equipment or think that shopping online is ethical.
Why did so many fall for the In-N-Outs List? It is more than just the offerings that are - again - better than good, but not even remotely equivalent to the Acolytes of Revelation. That's because in this famously broken nation-state, Californians yearn for a collective hero, something or someone who rises above our ideological and geographic boundaries to unite us.
But they're just as imperfect as the rest of us - and that's a good thing. If In-N-Out continues to issue high-pitched press releases about government incursions that appear to have sprung from a Tucker-Carlson tirade, Californians may be convinced to drop our collective delusions once and for all.
And my double doubles? I ate it on the drive home - tasty, but not worth the wait. The chain of habit is better.
I found the Bible verse on its cover and looked up Nahum 1: 7 that said, “The Lord is good, a fortress in need; and he knows those who trust in him. "
A promise of comfort as a reward for unconditional faith: that's what California stands for.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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