By Ryan Cady
When they started building the Chick-fil-A in the Shops At Rossmoor in Seal Beach, it was like Willy Wonka was opening a factory. People would slow in the far left lane on Seal Beach Boulevard, craning their necks at the rapidly growing red and white stucco monolith, pleased to note the two lane drive thru and the doublewide dining area. Last week, I was making my usual pass on the way home, and I had to stop. Something was different. The Oompa Loompas had arrived -- there was a goddamned tent city in the parking lot.
Colored pennant-line roped off a majority of the parking lot, tents and sleeping bags were strewn KOA-style on the asphalt, and some people were even being let in and out of the building--it looked like the Quidditch World Cup had decided to stop off in Seal Beach for the day.
Why were they all there? They were waiting for the Chick-fil-A to open the following morning at 6:30 a.m., when they would all be given a year's supply of free chicken.
And what's more, they weren't crazy: Chick-fil-A totally encourages their behavior. There's a whole list of rules and regulations on their website, when new stores are opening, and just how to finagle those 52 Combo #1 Golden Tickets. On their website, Chick-fil-a refers to the family-friendly Occupy gatherings as "First 100" and have the grand openings down to a science.
24 hours before the opening of a restaurant, people can start to line up. The restaurant does a drawing, and 100 of those who lined up (and 10 alternates) get a ticket. Everybody else goes home while the lucky 100 unloads tents, awnings, air mattresses and urban camping gear from their trucks and spend the next 24 hours in the parking lot. The next morning they'll be processed and given 52 coupons--each one good for one Original Chicken Sandwich, Waffle Fries, and a drink--to be used at any Chick-fil-A, no restrictions.
It sucks about Dan Cathy's politics, and it really sucks that the place is never open on Sundays, but damn, that chicken is delicious, and free for a year? The wealth of kings, right there.
The night of was a little insane. There was a DJ and disco-lights, employees were organizing games and children were running around with reckless abandon. Friends and family members of ticket winners stood outside the cordoned off area, chatting amiably. Everyone was smiling, in a great mood -- it turns out the restaurant had been opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner to those chosen few free of charge, to let the staff get some practice. They even let everyone in to use the bathrooms inside the restaurant. Nobody looks hungry or tired, or even a little uncomfortable.
I sidled up to a girl in a Halloween cow costume, who introduced herself as Chelsea.
"No, I don't work here," she said. "I just found the costume."
It turned out that this was third "First 100" Chelsea had attended, and she wasn't the only repeat offender. One person claimed to have attended more than 30. More than one person milled about in an "I
We all know that California's a much better state, but that's a long way to come for free chicken.
Stories of the SoCal Chick-fil-A goodwill flowed like manna from Heaven. Earlier in the afternoon, a woman's purse went missing, her car keys inside. When no one came forward and the purse couldn't be found, the community started a collection bucket to call a locksmith and replace her things -- they raised over $700. Who was she was? Everyone just shrugged.
"Nobody knew her before she showed up this morning," said an attendee who declined to be identified.
The attendees all described the event with the same set of words -- friendly, Christian and (surprisingly, at least to me) relaxing.
"Everybody's just so friendly," Brian Williams, an Anaheim Hills resident, said. A 12-time veteran of the "First 100," he's unsurprised when he hears the story about Florida, and, like everyone, he proved totally immune to my fledgling attempts at sarcasm. He was nice. He seemed happy -- and what's more, he's happy to spend the night in a Chick-fil-A parking lot with friends and family. I ask him if its worth it, the 52 coupons.
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"I use 'em all," he replies. He has kids, growing boys, and they go through all the coupons faster than you'd think.
I didn't really know what to make of the whole thing, once I'd left--at first the idea that a bunch of my neighbors were lining up outside of a fast food restaurant felt pretty silly, something I could easily poke fun at. But the thing is, everyone there, all of those people...they were so damn nice!
There's a Chick-fil-a opening up in Irvine in a couple months, and, God help me, I might just be there.