Barry Saunders

How did the chicken block the road? – Saunders

Y’all do know there’s no actual gold in that thar chicken, right?

That was my first thought upon seeing scores of cars lined up to get into Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on Guess Road in Durham last week.

I then realized that it was the other chicken joint – KFC – that touts something called “Georgia Gold” chicken.

Based upon the way people are clamoring to get their hands on the stuff, though, you could easily think it’s Popeyes chicken that has real gold.

(They only call it gold because it has gold-colored honey mustard, honey, so don’t go saddling up your pack mule with a pick ax and mining supplies.)

Driving down Guess Road one recent rainy day and seeing ahead flashing police lights, traffic cones and a looooooong line of red brake lights, one’s initial thought was, “Uh oh, there’s been a terrible traffic accident. Hope nobody’s hurt.”

Turned out the only casualties were hundreds of butterfly shrimp that didn’t survive the lunch hour.

Oh, and my vow to not curse in 2017?

That succumbed, too, as in astonishment I watched people lined up, lemming-like, for what was obviously the last piece of chicken on Earth.

Lines to get into the chicken chain’s parking lot have persisted for weeks, stretching up Guess Road and, insult of insults, past the formerly very popular Bojangles’ a few doors down. (I saw a man, Bojangles, and he danced a lick – and asked, “Hey, where’d everybody go?”)

The city actually issued a traffic advisory to warn people what they faced. I know people who’ve refused to drive that section of Durham because traffic has been befuddling ever since Popeyes opened.

You’re looking at one of them. Because of the chicken-chain-inspired chaos, I forsake that route and – like a favorite 1970s band, Supertramp – take the long way home.

Part of Popeyes’ initial popularity is certainly due to the novelty, since it’s a new addition to Durham. Why, before this, Durham residents had to drive all the way to New Bern Avenue in Raleigh – more than 20 miles away!!! – to get some Popeyes.

So you can see why people who were starved for the stuff would snarl traffic for the opportunity to say “Gimme a seafood Po’boy, some red beans and rice, some of them Cajun fries and a diet Coke. And don’t be jivin’ with that secret batter, either.”

There isn’t a soul on God’s Earth who loves that fried barnyard pimp (that’s chicken to you) more than I do, and – unconcerned about stereotypes – I’ll order and eat it anywhere, in front of anyone, even the Queen of England.

Say, Queen. You want a piece? Good, that leaves more for me.

My pride, though, wouldn’t permit me to sit in a long line, blocking traffic, waiting for some fast food chicken just because everybody else is.

While trying to navigate the clucking traffic on Guess Road Saturday night, I wondered how many of the people waiting patiently to order a two-piece snack recoil at the prospect of waiting in line to do other things – such as vote?

I purposely drove past the new restaurant one day last week, hoping there was no line of cars so I could go in and see what the big deal was. Mainly, though, I wanted to see if there were armed guards to prevent some chicken-crazed madman from leaping behind the counter and licking the Bonafide Chicken Tenders.

How long will it be before normalcy returns and there’s no longer a need for deputies in the parking lot, traffic cones, armored trucks delivering the chicken under heavy guard and cars with flashing lights in the middle of the street?

My buddy Donnell Thompson, a restaurateur who has owned fooderies in Raleigh, Durham and now in Georgia, has an idea. He said there’s often an initial burst of popularity when it seems that people can’t get enough of the stuff. The key, he said, is to see how well a business is doing five months down the road.

Oy! You mean I may have to keep driving two exits out of the way for five months?

If people act like this over the arrival of a Popeyes, Lord help ‘em if we ever get a Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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