When I read that the house specialty at Big Judd's Diner in Ririe, Idaho, is a hamburger made from a whopping 1 pound of ground beef - appropriately known as the "Big Judd" - I could think of only one logical response:
The answer, of course, is as complex and multifaceted as the varying patterns of linoleum on Big Judd's floor.
Part of it is that in Ririe (population 48, if two vans full of state prisoners happen to be facing each other at the four-way stop) there's not much else to do other than eat oneself into oblivion.
But part of the answer, too, is that extreme overeating has long been a masculine rite of passage in certain cultures, namely the American one. That's why the faces smiling from the photographs on Big Judd's Wall of Fame, recognizing those who have polished off an entire Big Judd or one of its even larger cousins - did I mention that there are double and triple versions of the house specialty? - are almost exclusively male.
Alas, not all of those smiles are long-lived. Near the end of my evening at Big Judd's, having somehow made do with a mere 1/4 of a Big Judd, which is literally the size of a dinner plate and comes on a bun that looks like a basketball cut in half, I stepped outside for some much needed fresh air.
Before I could even take a deep breath, however, I heard a retching sound coming from the opposite side of the cinder-block building. Led by my curiosity, and against my better judgment, I rounded the corner to find two teenage boys, who just moments before had beamed triumphantly for their Wall of Fame photos, bent over and - well, let's just say they wouldn't be taking their Big Judds home with them that night.
And yet, people come from miles around - to get to Ririe from anywhere you have to travel literally for miles - braving ice, snow, marauding elk herds, and suspicious parking-lot puddles just to take a stab at the Big Judd.
I mean, look at me. I traveled over 2,000 miles for the Big Judd experience. Of course, I have family in the area, so a giant hamburger was not the only reason I found myself in rural southeastern Idaho. (Excuse me. "Rural" and "southeastern Idaho" are about as redundant as "panhandler" and "downtown Atlanta.")
But still. Once within sight of a Big Judd, which is about 16 miles on a clear day, I had to handle it and taste it for myself. And so I did.
I did not, however, get to fulfill my second objective, which was to meet Big Judd himself, founder of the august establishment that bears his name. Sadly, Judd died of a heart attack in 2004.
But at least I got to see his picture on the Wall of Fame.
Rob Jenkins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.