The botched, hilariously aggro handshake/bro-grab between 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz was one of the great comedic bits of the last NFL season: essentially one of those fraught MEN racquetball games from a Joe Eszterhas screenplay, but in public, on television, and between two alpha dudes in windbreakers. It was, in short, the sort of thing that calls out for speculative fiction. Jeff Johnson did the honors at GQ last year, and friend of the program Ryan O'Hanlon did as well, at his Tumblr. With the Niners and Lions meeting again this weekend, it seemed a good time to revisit Ryan's masterpiece of speculative fiction, "Wednesday at Arby's." So we're reprinting it. The original is here.
Jim Harbaugh pulls up to an Arby’s drive-through in Palo Alto. He’s sitting by himself, coming back from a long Wednesday practice. He’s driving a Range Rover. Wait, no. He’s driving a Volvo station wagon. No, no he’s not. They don’t even make those any more.
So, Jim Harbaugh pulls up to the Arby’s in a Fiat. He bought one after Kendall Hunter made him watch the YouTube video of J-Lo’s new commercial during the flight back from Detroit. Kendall Hunter is the 49ers’ biggest J-Lo fan since they traded Taylor Mays away in August.
“While the commercial may not make any sense, and while it may be promoting dangerous behavior among middle-age, Manhattan men, I think J-Lo’s at that point in every star’s career when she can do whatever she wants, and we, out of respect for all that she’s done, can’t question her decisions.”
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t know who J-Lo is.
His only response, after waiting ten minutes for the video to load and then another ten minutes after Hunter insisted they watch it in HD: “Fuckin’ right, Danny.”
Kendall Hunter is not named Danny.
Harbaugh doesn’t remember watching the commercial. Depending on the result of that Sunday’s game, Harbaugh’s blackouts last between 4 and 36 hours. This week, Harbaugh came to in his empty bathtub at 5 AM, Monday morning. This is not weird because Jim Harbaugh sleeps in his bathtub on all non-holidays.
Sarah Harbaugh does not join him.
During these blackouts, Harbaugh tends to buy things. So, when he came home, on Tuesday, to a Fiat wrapped in a miniature-car-size hot-cold bag, his response was the same as it always is when he realizes he’s made another blackout-induced purchase.
First: “God dammit, Harbaugh.”
Then: He takes a five-step drop and feigns 180 throws, covering every angle that would not be considered a lateral because, well, the forward pass was invented for a reason, wasn’t it?
But back to Arby’s. Harbaugh pulls up to the order/menu stop.
The Arby’s worker clears his throat. “Whoa, sorry ‘bout that. Welcome to Arby’s, Fiat man. What can we do ya for?”
“Heya, can I get 17 of those Roast Beef monsters, no-cheese on 12, cheese on the other, uh, 5 of those bad boys. And, uh, no drinks. I’ve got a pack a’ Sobes at home. But, uh, gimme some of that, uhhh, that, that kinda spicy white stuff, uhh, I think …”
“Horsey sauce? I think it’s Horsey sauce you’re looking for, Jim.”
“Yeah, that’s it! Gimme some of that Horsey stuff. Wait, how do you know my name?”
“Um, did I? What? My name’s Jim. Sometimes I just like to guess the names of the people in the cars, ya’ know. And sometimes I think they have the same name as me. It’s just a thing, a thing I do.”
“Yeah, whatever buddy. What’s next?”
“Oh, yeah. Seventeen roast beef sandwiches. Twelve with cheese. That’ll be 58.83. Last window please.”
Little did Harbaugh know—little did anyone other than Jim Schwartz know, for that matter—but Lions coach Jim Schwartz scheduled an early practice that Wednesday. He then flew out to Palo Alto, going to the airport straight from practice. He convinced the manager of the Paolo Alto Arby’s to give him her job by doing little more than staring at her, tilting his head, and twitching his right eye.
“Trust me. What’s best for me is best for you,” Schwartz told the now-jobless, former Arby’s manager, as he patted her on the back and she walked out the front door in tears.
Schwartz waited for Harbaugh to pull up to the last window. He still wasn’t over what happened last Sunday. He’s sure, if that damn 49ers PR crony didn’t break things up, he could’ve chest-bumped Harbaugh all the way into the visitors locker room. He could’ve really taught Harbaugh “the code this league goes by” if that grease ball would’ve just let him continue his chest-bumping. He was just getting started!
But now he had a new plan. While Harbaugh didn’t seem a stickler for the details—and he isn’t, at all—Schwartz knew there was one thing he always got right: the number of Arby’s sandwiches he ordered every Wednesday. He might not remember the names of any of his players, he might not remember anything for up to two days after a game, and he might not remember Arby’s name for horseradish sauce, but he always remembered to order 17 roast beefs: 5 cheese, 12 no-cheese.
So, Schwartz tightened his visor and pulled it over his eyes. He began to pack the order like every Arby’s employee packs every order: with his hands. Only, instead of packing 5 cheese, 12 no-cheese, he packed 5 no-cheese, 12 cheese. This was the perfect plan. The weight of the bag would be the same as always. And he marked cheese on all the non-cheese, and didn’t mark anything on the cheese. Harbaugh would give it a quick look and be on his way, thinking everything was fine.
Harbaugh pulled up to the window.
“That’ll be 58.83,” Schwartz said, visor still pulled low, head turned to the side.
Harbaugh reached into his shoe, pulled out a crumpled 100-dollar bill and threw it into the service window, right past Schwartz’s head. “There ya go, Skip.”
“Um, thanks Jim. Wait. Well, that is your name, right? Anyway, here’s your food.”
Schwartz extended the bag out the window. Harbaugh ripped it out of Schwartz’s hands, threw the open bag into the back seat, slapped Schwartz’s still out-stretched hand, and sped off without getting change.
When he got home, he opened all of sandwiches and saw the horror.
“God dammit, Harbaugh,”
He’d been trying to remember to check the orders before pulling away because, you know, 17 sandwiches is an easy thing to mess up, but he’d forgotten again.
So he took that all-too-familiar five-step drop and zinged out 180 imaginary passes, never realizing that, maybe, he’d have to start going backward before he could move forward.
At this point, Schwartz had already quit Arby’s and caught the next flight back to Detroit. He’d got an aisle seat with no one next to him, and he’d one-upped Harbaugh. He was a happy man, legs crossed, Tomato juice (no-ice) in hand.
Then it hit him. You see, if there’s one thing Jim Schwartz hates more than losing a post-game handshake, it’s wasting revenue. He’d learned that from Ted Marchibroda back when he was with the Ravens. And he’d just realized that cheese costs an extra 60 cents. He’d just wasted $4.17. They’d both lost!
Schwartz filled his mouth with what was left of the V8. Then he opened his lips and let the tomato juice dribble down sides of his jaw until enough of it was out for him to gargle-speak
“God dammit, Harbaugh.”