Johnnie's and the Hero Journey

Enjoy your sandwich, hero!

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By David Hammond

Johnnie's is always inviting, but it frequently has a forbiddingly a long line, legendarily fierce countermen, and a delicious sandwich for your efforts.

When I was a youth, I taught mythology at a Midwestern college, and my guiding light was Joseph Campbell (the epic "Masks of God", "Hero with a Thousand Faces", and many others, including a long-ago PBS series with Bill Moyers). Carolyn and I did a workshop with Campbell at Loyola (he suggested I consider divinity school, which I didn't). I was and still am a believer in the validity of his theory of the monomyth, the journey of the archetypal hero who passes through certain universal, psychologically and spiritually powerful stages to achieve a reward. Jesus, Buddha, Odysseus, Beatrix Kiddo, they all follow an eternal pattern:

1. Call to adventure

2. Journey

3. Trials

4. Reward

Campbell breaks it down into more steps (like 17), but basically that's it.

One of the reasons Johnnie's satisfies is that it compels us re-enact those epic steps every time we go there for an Italian beef sandwich. Driving by, you can't help but be tempted (call to adventure) by the warm yellow glow, always inviting. After you stop, you face a long line (journey), engage with the fierce counterman (the trial), and enjoy the reward (the beef, bro!).

With sandwich in hand, you feel like you've accomplished something – and you should! You've just repeated the monomythic pattern to become the latest member in the proud pantheon of heroes with a thousand faces.

And that makes your reward taste better.

Enjoy the sandwich, hero!

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