Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Esoteric Measurements: A Chipotle Redux

Look, first let me just say that sex should never be measured in Chipotle burritos. Never.

I say this because my goofy little picture that measured my stack of reading in fig newtons led me to thinking about the ways in which we all see the world. Each of us has our unique filters for making sense of the chaos.

Take, for instance, my Holy Grail of measurement: The Chipotle burrito. I had been an occasional customer of Chipotle for quite some time until I began to get more serious about my road biking circa 2007. I burn a lot of calories out on the roads around Colorado and it takes a ferocious appetite to keep from fading away to skin and bones. Chipotle burritos were the perfect meal because: they were big, delicious, healthy, quick and easy to access just about everywhere in and around Denver. I went from eating Chipotle once every few months to 3 or 4 times a week.

Burritos were cheap and life was good. My usual order of Chicken, rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream, and two kinds of salsas came out to somewhere around $6.67 with tax. I paid this amount again and again. I got used to this price. I was happy eating for just about $7.

But then something strange happened. Slowly, the cost of a Chipotle burrito became the basic unit with which I judged every meal. Any time I spent more than $7 on a meal I would quantify the price in terms of the $7 burrito unit. If I took my girlfriend out to dinner and dropped $50 for the two of us, I would ponder whether the food was good enough to justify the sacrifice of seven burritos. If I somehow managed to get purchase more food than a Chipotle burrito contained for under $7 then I chocked it up as a serious victory.

Soon I wasn't just quantifying food. I began to ask myself whether a new pair of jeans was worth a nine-burrito sacrifice? Could an ipod really be a practical trade off for 35 meals of foil-wrapped goodness?  Did I really just spend four burritos to park my car in Vail?

None of this may shock you but what happened next made it a whole lot more interesting: The burrito began to measure more than food. It began to measure happiness.

The thing is, no matter how many burritos I ate, they never got old. I enjoyed the 300th burrito just as much as the first. Happiness and enjoyment suddenly had a price and that price was denominated in units of $7 burritos. With this new unit in hand, I began to measure the enjoyment factor of all my purchases based on the $7 unit of burrito bliss. Movie tickets, drinks, charitable donations, date nights - everything was measured on the Chipotle scale.

From here things went a little haywire. The enjoyment level of the burrito  lost it connection to money and became some weird unit of enjoyment over time that my brain lost track of but I'm sure would make perfect sense to all the quantitative MBA's out there.

The whole system came crashing down at the end a last summer in the back of a Chipotle restaurant after a long bike ride with a good friend who understood the value of the Chipotle burrito as well as I.  We had been joking around about somehow measuring sex on some kind of  burrito scale like two idiotic twenty-something guys do when they're bored. We were totally oblivious to the world around us when I looked to my left and realized that the disgusted look on the faces of two women a few tables down was their reaction to our conversation. We had managed to defile their intimate acts and their lunch in one fell swoop.

That day was the end of the Chipotle scale but deep down I know that 7 is still a special number. It's the perfect measure of deliciousness and happiness.