“So, take a bite of the burger, and then a bite of this,” Antonio instructs, handing me a miniature green pepper that looks like it’s been shrunken for service at Alice’s tea party. Less than a mile away, a party of another kind is taking place—the Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards reception. People there are in three piece suits and bow ties, sequined dresses and stilettos. They’re taking advantage of the open bar, serving themselves from chafing dishes of roasted chicken and clinking glasses brimming with complimentary bubbly. They’re standing on a red carpet, earnestly handing out and receiving congratulations—it’s a well-deserved celebration for hard-working and talented TV professionals. And it’s one we’ve just left.
When it came our time to get in line for a bite, we realized the three of us had barely eaten all day. There were nerves and errands and ceremony prep to contend with––for me, a last-minute manicure, a MacGyver-ing of my strapless dress to make sure it’d stay put (safety pins to the rescue). But suddenly, we were ravenous.
“I say we skip this and go straight to In N Out,” Antonio had said as flash bulbs flickered around us, my familiar old friend looking like a totally new person with this sparkling statue in his hand. Ben’s responding grin was wordless perfection. A quick search dropped a digital pin on our virtual maps—pointing us point-nine miles away, and I set down the champagne flute after finishing off the last sip. We thanked our team at KCET and told them how honored we are to have collaborated with them. We said we couldn’t have done it without them. We let them know how grateful we are to have them as partners, and we meant every word. Then we walk-skipped to the parking garage, still dazed, still speaking in rapid fire and running on pure adrenaline. We rhapsodized about the moment it happened, the feeling leading up, the other winners and nominees we respect so much, and then we were off.
“Grilled or raw?” Ben asks from the driver’s seat when we’re next in line, and suddenly the way in which my onions are to be cooked is my most important consideration in the world. I’ve somehow never had this burger despite nearly ten years as an on-again, off-again Californian, and the pressure is on for the second time tonight. Grilled is my decision, and ten minutes later, I decide I was not wrong.
We situate at a picnic table, separated from our Emmy statues for the first time since they were handed to us a few hours before. We leave them in the car, not wanting to draw attention (or to tarnish their pristine figures). To our right is a table with a young Latino family, the parents helping to make burger bites more manageable for their little ones. On our left, a few high schoolers swap shakes and swipe at cell phones screens. Here, no one gives a damn who designed my dress or what project we might do next. We’re in our own little world, just another part of the local ecosystem of Los Angeles—the city that was subject and inspiration for our now award-winning documentary.
None of it matters the moment we sit down. We toast our burgers with toasted buns, we pass around packets of ketchup and start our individual preparations. We each finally take our first bites, and everything slows down a little. We lean back. We loosen up. We laugh easy.
I listen to my two friends discuss the kinds of roller coasters they like. We talk about recent dates we’ve been on, a new restaurant in town, family vacations on the horizon and the deadlines for our next projects. I steal fries from them both (straight up from Antonio, animal-style from Ben). I relish in my grilled onion selection, snap into the spicy pepper as instructed (sage direction), and nudge a rogue slice of tomato back into place. I spend at least three napkins before the burger disappears, and it’s possible I’ve never been more satisfied. A solid introductory visit, indeed—a night full of happy firsts.
Of the moments that I’ll remember from this night––and there are many––this is the one that will live without photographic evidence or fanfare or a commemorative trophy. Friends and Instagram followers will find it hard to believe that I stopped snapping photos for even a second, but there on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, at a picnic table in the still-warm July night air, there was a sacred space. Just three good friends, three fast burgers—and a few dozen other folks getting their mid-summer Saturday fix.
We share this incredible award with the people that participated in our documentary series—who let us into their lives so we could tell their stories—and those who are, as we speak and celebrate, in kitchens all over the country, serving food to communities and representing their vibrant, invaluable cultures.