I Found NYC’s In-N-Out Burger and Solved the Mystery of How It Got ThereJuly 24, 2019
At 6:29 a.m. on Saturday, July 20, my wife and I discovered a pristine In-N-Out Double-Double lying face up on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens.
As a huge In-N-Out Burger fan, this was a startling and somewhat horrifying discovery. Was this evidence that we really are living in a simulation? Was this, as my brother put it, a “ Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs situation"?
I never thought I’d have a concrete answer. I assumed this was just a mystery that would consume a part of my brain until the day I die, much like how the JFK assassination consumed my parents’ generation.
Alas, we live in a different world—one where the answers to life’s mysteries are just one DM away. Last night, at 9:56 p.m., after posting the burger to my social media and receiving two days of feverish media attention, I received a DM responding to my original Instagram post that read:
Naturally, I was suspicious. Over the past four days, I’ve received a lot of messages from people claiming to be the culprit, but after soft interrogation, their claims completely fell apart. But this one was different. This explanation stayed as intact and solid as the very burger I discovered on the streets of Queens.
The message came from Helen Vivas, a 16-year-old high school student at Veritas Academy, from Flushing, Queens. She played on her high-school badminton team and is an AP student who wants to study history when she goes to college in a year. (I was intrigued about the past tense she used when referring to her badminton career. She clarified that she was on the team but quit to focus on her studies.)
Helen was sincere, and from the jump I knew this person may hold the answers I’ve spent the last four days searching for.
I thought the story began on July 20, when I found that fateful burger smiling at me on the sidewalk, but it actually began more than two weeks earlier, on July 2, when Helen boarded a JetBlue flight bound for San Diego to visit family friends. On July 19, she was due to fly back home on JetBlue Flight 90, a red-eye that departed (on time, props to JetBlue) at 8:56 p.m. PDT with a scheduled arrival to JFK at 5:27 a.m. the following morning, July 20.
On the way to the airport, around 6 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Helen, her friend and her friend’s mom stopped at an In-N-Out Burger in Encinitas, CA to pick up some in-flight snacks. She even has the Insta-story to prove it.
(The timestamp is in Eastern Daylight Time, her default home setting.)
At the counter, she made it clear to the In-N-Out employee taking her order that she was about to board a flight, and asked for suggestions to preserve the burgers as much as possible. She ordered two Double-Doubles with NO SAUCE, which explains how the bun stayed so pristine, as well as two single cheeseburgers “packed fresh” (which means they pack all the vegetables in separate baggies to be constructed later) for her to eat in the coming days, along with a small pink lemonade, which she initially forgot to mention.
She even sent me her credit card receipt:
According to the Insta-stories she sent me, she was anxiously waiting to board the flight at 7:24 pm PDT.
Once on the AirBus A321, she says she ate one of the two Double-Doubles she ordered on the flight, while watching three episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and listening to Ariana Grande’s Sweetener.
As for the other three burgers? She held the bag containing them in her lap for THE ENTIRE FLIGHT!
She landed at JFK a bit earlier than her 5:27 am estimated arrival time (again, props to JetBlue) and immediately made her way to the JFK-Jamaica AirTrain. She got off in Jamaica to make her transfer to the Q44 bus that would take her back to her home in Flushing, Queens when she saw the bus sitting a block away at the stop, about to leave.
This was when her badminton training came in handy. She started running down the street to try and catch the bus with the now slightly greasy bag of three In-N-Out Burgers in her hand. The good news: She caught the bus. The bad news: The bag burst open at the bottom while she made this fateful sprint.
Again, thanks to her badminton training, her reaction time was elite enough to enable her to catch two of the three burgers before they fell to the ground. But once she sat down on the bus and caught her breath, she noticed that the Double-Double was missing—and she even has text exchanges to prove it.
You’re probably wondering how the burger landed in such a perfect position; I was, too—which is why I asked Helen how tall she was. My guess was that she had to be short enough that while running, the bag wasn’t very high off the ground. She told me that she’s five feet, two and a half inches. I found someone in my office who is the exact same height and measured the distance from her hand to the ground. It was about 22 inches. So all in all, not a long fall for the burger which was positioned on its back in the bag.
Helen has seen the Shopify store where I started selling T-shirts related to this now-viral incident, with all proceeds going to the New York City Foodbank, and she loved the idea. She even asked for a shirt in the sweetest and most genuine way.
In summary: Helen Vivas, a 16-year-old high schooler and former badminton player from Flushing, Queens was running to catch a bus, and her meticulously packaged In-N-Out bag broke and released a Double-Double into the New York City streets. About an hour later, my wife and I arrived at Jamaica Terminal for a train to Westhampton Beach with time to spare, so we walked to the McDonald’s down the street to grab coffees, where I, Lincoln Boehm, a 31-year-old In-N-Out superfan from Santa Monica, California who has lived in New York City for nine years, found the burger. The rest is history.
My wife and I have invited Helen and her family over to our apartment for a barbecue. We’ll probably have hot dogs and chicken.