What makes a life-changing burger?

What makes a life-changing burger? You’re probably thinking of ingredients—maybe
fresh onions, or flashy ground beef. These may make a good burger, but not a life-changing one.

A life-changing burger is accompanied by a situation of pure bliss. For you, that may be in a mall or with your friends, and you may not have found it yet. When you find your life-changing burger, I hope you enjoy it. Savor its taste, but more importantly, savor the moment.

When I found my life-changing burger, it was a hot and humid summer. My dad decided
to take my brother and me on a trip with him and his friends to a small town in Tennessee. The main attractions in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, are the Dollar General and the Cherohala Skyway, a road that is a magnet for many extreme motorcyclists. This is why my dad loves Tennessee. The smooth pavement winding up the Smoky Mountains provides him with a sense of tranquility, even though he travels at speeds over 100 miles per hour. I didn’t see the point then, and I still struggle to comprehend his reasoning even after the trip.

When we arrived in Tennessee, my brother and I were introduced to 30 members of my
dad’s group of friends. We timidly waved at the strangers and were whisked inside of a musty cabin that we were to share with everyone in the group. My dad led us to our room and closed the door. Immediately, my brother and I started to angrily spew our complaints. We were mad that he had taken us to stay with strangers; we were mad that he would leave us every morning to ride his motorcycle; we were mad that there was nothing for us to do. He sharply cut us off and told us we were going to dinner soon. When he left the room, my brother and I followed closely behind and quietly entered the car. We sped through the small-town streets to get to the restaurant with everyone else.

The Tellico Beach Drive-In is a small restaurant tucked in between the trees, river, and
mountains in Tellico Plains. It is a small, decaying building with only a kitchen inside. When you leave your car, you can smell the burgers on the grill through the heavy, humid Southern air. The sound of sizzling burgers and fries in the kitchen is drowned out by the blaring cicadas in the surrounding forest. You can hear the river slowly trickling behind the building and the occasional slap of a fish jumping out of the water. Children play in the river and on the riverbed near the picnic tables outside. Harleys, sportbikes, and locals all arrive and park randomly in the gravel lot. Ceiling fans hang outside of the building, beneath an awning where you can order and pick up your food. When you step up to order, the employees are slow and sweaty from the insane heat of the summer. It takes a long time to get your food, but it is well worth the wait.

We picked up the burgers along with everyone else in the group and loaded back into the
car with the large brown takeout bag. The scent of freshly made fries and grilled burgers flooded the car and was quickly distributed by the cool air conditioning. My stomach growled, and I inhaled deeply. My dad explained to us that we were taking the burgers slightly up the mountain to a secret place that he had heard of from locals. We drove for seemingly forever, the smell of the burgers tantalizing in the air. My brother and I bickered with our father again to pass time, and eventually faded to silence after realizing that we were not going to change our situation.

We drove through the woods, following the stream further up the mountain until we
reached a clearing. There it was: Bald River Falls. I was sure this was where we were being
taken. The massive falls violently disturbed the normal peace of the woods, and many tourists watched its rage on the bridge nearby and in the small parking lot that was carved out of the rocky mountain. I was excited to eat our burgers and to be near the angry falls.
We drove past the falls and past the parking lot. I asked my dad where we were going and
he hushed my protests. Shortly after, we pulled into another parking lot and he turned off the car.

We took the still-warm burgers with us as we made our way down a chiseled cliff toward the river. My dad passed our burgers down from the top and we brought them to a rock. I took a look around and was stunned. It was an intimate space created by trees looming over the raging river and large boulders hugging the edges. The centerpiece of the scene, though, was the smaller, 12-foot tall waterfall we were standing on top of. The water flowed past us and quickly plunged into the black, swirling waters below. It was loud and drowned out the sounds of the animals and bugs in the tangled woods. The air was cooler here, and took away the stunning heat of the summer. I took in the scene and the scent of the burgers crept to me again as hunger panged through my body.

We sat down with the group on the rocks above the falls and unwrapped our burgers.
They were stuffed with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, cheese, a thick burger patty, and a few strips of bacon. The greasy burger was topped with mayo and mustard, a surprisingly delicious combination. I devoured half of the burger, barely tasting it, before I stopped for a sip of cold water. I grinned and joked with members of the group. The burgers provided a sense of comfort in the unfamiliar setting, and I smiled at my dad. He was right to bring us to Tennessee, and I saw it in that moment. He knew what I was thinking after I quietly thanked him. As I finished the rest of my burger, I ate mindfully, enjoying the crunch of the lettuce and the grease running down my arm. I listened to the waterfall and felt the cool breeze sweeping sweat off of my forehead as I savored the simple flavors of burgers and life. This was where I belonged.

Through these modest bacon cheeseburgers, my life had changed in ways I never thought
possible. I learned to be closer to my father and to enjoy the moment. Times like these are few and far between, so enjoy your life-changing burger while you have it. When you chase down your life-changing burger, you never know where you will end up. Whether you are surrounded by family or alone in a busy city, I hope you find your life-changing burger and take in the moment.

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