UPDATE: As of Wednesday, July 24, this burger mystery has been solved. Lincoln Boehm was contacted on Instagram by Queens teen Helen Vivas, who shared with him the receipts — literal and narrative — to explain the situation. (Vivas had flown in early in the morning from California, taking special precautions to maintain the burger’s freshness, but dropped this one while rushing to reach a bus.) Boehm has duly documented the evidence of her previous ownership of the burger for all to see.
We have to chalk this one some serious kitchen magic: a flawless, still-wrapped In-N-Out burger was discovered over the weekend abandoned on a street in Jamaica, Queens in New York — 1,500 miles from the California home of the burger franchise, and nearly as far from any of its outposts in the six Western states where the popular chain operates.
“It was a startling and terrifying experience running into that burger,” explained Lincoln Boehm to TIME. Boehm, an associate creative director at a New York ad agency, was the first to share photos of his fast food find to friends and social media after he happened upon the lone double-double early Saturday morning.
“It was like comedically propped up. It felt like somebody was going to come around the corner with a camera or have Ashton Kutcher jump out at me.” Boehm hails from California, and is a longtime fan of In-N-Out, which he grew up eating. (He considers it far superior to the Manhattan mainstay Shake Shack, particularly in terms of value.)
Boehm was shaken by his encounter. “I love In-N-Out burger, which made this whole thing feel really weird, like someone was trying to bait me specifically,” he said. “It was like looking at a piece of art. I was scared to touch it. It was like I was at the Met, and was a little nervous to get too close to the painting.” He didn’t ultimately consume it, despite his enduring love for the brand.
Burgers aren’t exactly easy to transport, especially for long-distance hauls, making it even more of a strange and surreal surprise. So Boehm has a theory: it came on a private jet, most likely as one of a large batch, from the nearest In-N-Out outpost in Texas straight to JFK Airport.
Of course, it couldn’t have been carried solo, he insisted, because just one burger would be “precious cargo” but this was clearly an afterthought.) “The private jet theory means they don’t have to wait in security lines, they get picked up right at the jet by the limo, they walk off the plane with 20 extra burgers… what are they going to do with them at four in the morning? Hand them out on the street,” Boehm explained. “I genuinely believe this to be the case.” The perfection of the burger’s appearance remains a fluke that might require testing to replicate.
In-N-Out is similarly baffled by the lone burger’s location. “Because our burgers are only cooked fresh to order in six states, it must have taken considerable planning for that burger to make the trip from the grill all the way to the Empire State,” vice president of operations Denny Warnick told the New York Post.
In the meantime, Boehm is discovering an unexpected modicum of viral fame; even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter to the burger situation. To take advantage of the attention in a positive way, Boehm redesigned the In-N-Out logo to read “Jamaica, Queens” and has printed it on T-shirts, with all proceeds going to the New York City Food Bank. They’ll be sold in a limited run.
As for Boehm, he insists this wasn’t a hoax, and In-N-Out hasn’t connected with him directly — even though he tried sending them a message. “This is, like, the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.
As for the burger’s true background? The truth is out there.