Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The UPC and Five Guys burgers

Everyone today knows what a UPC is.

The ubiquitous Universal Product Code is the little white rectangle located somewhere on everything that tells the computer what the item is, how much it costs and probably a whole lot more.

I went to sleep one night in the 70s or 80s not ever having seen a UPC and the next morning everything had one. Nobody ever stood up in a press conference and said, “I did it.” No newspaper or television talking head ever read the press release announcing the birth of the UPC. It just simply appeared—everywhere—on the same night.

Ever since then I have wondered where it came from, how it was agreed upon, who mandated it and even who came up with the design. I’ve Googled it. I’ve looked for it on Wickapedia. I asked my next door neighbor. Nobody knows, and even more fascinating is the fact that no one seems to care.

I’ve learned to live with it only slipping back into my “I wonder” mode a few times a year. At one time I thought it was done by the CIA. Another year it was Schwan’s (you know, the big yellow trucks that are everywhere but few people have ever bought anything from them). Then at another time I worried that it was some kind of terrorist plot—but to resolve that one I simply stopped watching the Fox Everything is a Terrorist Plot Network. Honestly I had almost given up on the quest for that bit of knowledge. Then it happened—the light flashed and it all became clear.

Last night I went to Five Guys for supper. Now if you don’t know what Five Guys is, you are forgiven because soon it will be revealed to you. Five Guys is a relatively new fast food eatery. The walls are generally unadorned, your table is placed among 50 pound bags of Idaho potatoes. Their menu consists of Burger, Cheeseburger or Bacon Burger, a “Little” version of that trio, hot dogs and fries. Red and white tiles line the walls and above the tiles are quotes from restaurant critics and newspapers extolling the virtues of the burger chain.

You walk in the storefront, walk to the big red letters “Order Here” and order. You find a table, get a handful of peanuts and sit down to await your number being called. As you look around you spot the sign that says: “Today’s Potatoes Are From” with the name of the town in Idaho where they were grown scribbled on the sign with a Sharpie.

As you watch them prepare your order—everything is done right out in the open—you see someone pick up a Styrofoam cup, fill it with fries then put your fries and your burger (in its aluminum foil raiment) into a bag. Then he scoops up another order of fries and drops them into your bag.

Rumor has it that they started in Washington DC. President Obama is probably their most famous customer. I first tasted the best burger in the world a year ago and now they appear to be everywhere. We found one in Lancaster, York and Harrisburg, PA and we ate our way down I-81 all the way to Orlando and Ocala, Florida.

As I said, last night I was sitting in the Five Guys in Orlando and it dawned on me. I was marveling at the fact that in less than a year there were Five Guys almost everywhere—almost “overnight.” Who in the world could make something expand so quickly? Hmmm, it has to be the same guys who made the UPC appear. Who in the world could do that?

I looked at the white tiles and thought Frosty the Snow Man. I looked at the red tiles and thought Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Of course==the master of the one-night miracles. The only person in the world who can visit every house in that world from sunset to sunrise all in one night, and at the stroke of midnight in most. And, do it all without being spotted by 99.999996706 percent of the population. (There is that report from Little Jimmy Dickens about what he spotted his mommy doing)

So now it is revealed, the creation and implementation of the UPC and the rapid expansion of Five Guys could only have been accomplished by Santa Claus. Now we know he does work more than one night a year.

It is oh, so obvious. I could kick myself for not figuring it out earlier.

I’ve been a verrrrrrrry good boy!

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