American Innovation

It was the final stretch of network television’s Great American Food Truck Race, and fallen by the wayside were Tacos Del Locos, Koji Tacos, Ramen On Wheels, Ethiopian Eats and a slew of other cuisines that comprised the initial melting pot of the American culinary cross-country trek. Only two remained, and both were burger slingers.

The Grillists — brothers Rob and Miles Shulz — were leading BotBurger, a gleaming, self-driving robot chef, by a small margin.

“America wins!” cried Miles, gripping the wheel on the straight 1-mile burn to the finish line. “No noodles, naan breads or tortillas. Just good all-American burgers!”

“BotBurger is gaining!” cried Rob from the rear of the van.

“BotBurger? How?”

It had been a slow burn. Across the country, both trucks had served up 100,000 burgers to amoebic masses enveloping their shimmering vans. From one stopping point to another, through a handful of culinary catastrophes including mechanical failures, food poisoning, flat tires, one by one, the competition slimmed.

BotBurger started slowly, and its presence at the food lots were more of a curiosity. It was a spartan, hollowed-out van with voice recognition, and an animated oculus of emphatic eyes pandered to crowds with oddball phrases like, “Would you like an extra burger with your extra mustard?”

Within a few weeks, its A.I. chip kicked in. It utilized its GPS system in tandem with third party APIs. It profiled regional nuances for recipe formulations — “lean yet hearty in California,” “Cajun kicks in Texas,” “Jazzed-up BBQ in Missouri.” It utilized facial-recognition software to scan each individual’s profiles for tell-tale food images. If a person had posted a photo of a burger three years ago, BotBurger knew it, and dressed your burger accordingly. It knew what mistakes to avoid. It knew how to make you love it. Here was the epitome of American innovation. Bot-Burger was your friend. More than that, BotBurger was you.

“It’s gaining! We don’t have any more stops. It’s a straight drag race from here on out.”

Earlier on, both had been pulled over for speeding. Bot-Burger contested the ticket and won within a matter of minutes by interfacing with a prototypical municipal app that had not yet been made publicly available. The Grillists did not fare as well.

“I’m gonna run it off the road!” cried Miles in desperation.

“No!” cried Bob. “We’d be disqualified! We need the money. We’d lose everything. ”

“Better than losing my pride!”

“Think about the kids!” “I am! I want them to take over the business!”

When the Grillists swerved to push BotBurger off the road, a monitoring room filled with a team of entrepreneurs, programmers, engineers, and venture capitalists witnessed the transgression via a live feed. Along BotBurger’s motherboard, a synaptic wave rippled obliquely along its core. It was noted that at 3:40 p.m., a glimmer of anger and disappointment was detected within its processors. The team in the control room cheered as Bot-Burger swerved to avoid the Grillists’ tooth-white van. It spun against the asphalt, and within a second, fashioned 20 Clown Style burgers and shot them out of its serving port, covering the Grillists’ wind-shield with whipped cream and pickles, settling the matter.

This is the second story in a trio of food fiction. The first one, Sense, can be read on

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