ERIE, PA–After finishing his Big Bacon Classic Combo, area resident and Wendy's patron Don Turnbee, 38, expressed uncertainty Monday regarding what to do with all the extra ketchup packets.
"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with all these," said Turnbee, gesturing toward the pile of seven to ten ketchup packets on his tray. "I guess I could give them back to the guy at the counter, but I don't know if he'd take them. They'd probably be considered used."
Added Turnbee: "I touched them, but they're not opened or anything."
Turnbee said he requested the extra packets upon placing his order, which included a ketchup-necessitating Biggie Fries. The cashier, Ricky Nunez, 41, responded by reaching below the counter and tossing a large fistful of packets onto Turnbee's tray.
"I knew it was too many ketchups, because I usually only need three or four for my Biggie Fries," Turnbee said. "But I just took them anyway."
Compounding his sense of guilt is the fact that the condiment bar at the Buffalo Road Wendy's features a ketchup pump, eliminating the need for packets altogether.
"I didn't see the pump thing, so I just asked for ketchup with my order," Turnbee said. "Pretty much all the fast-food places have the pumps; the packets are usually just for drive-thru and to-go orders."
Turnbee said he is leaning toward bringing the packets home with him. He noted, however, that he would have little use for them.
"I could bring them home, but there's already a ton of them there," said Turnbee, who has an estimated 350 packets of Heinz, Hunt's, and generic "fancy"-grade ketchup in his kitchen pantry. "Somehow, wherever I go, I always wind up with lots of extra ketchup packets."
Over the past year, Turnbee has made numerous attempts to avail himself of the excess ketchup, including making it available to colleagues at his place of work.
"I once tried to put them in the breakroom so people eating lunch could help themselves," Turnbee said. "But a couple weeks later, I noticed hardly any had been taken. When I asked people why they weren't taking any, they said they didn't need ketchup or had ketchups from their own fast-food meals."
As for returning the kitchen-pantry packets to their various restaurants of origin, Turnbee demurred. "I was going to do it, but I thought it would look weird handing a big box of ketchups to a manager," Turnbee said. "Maybe I could leave them at someplace's drive-up after they close. But then they'd just throw them away."
"I wish someone would take these off my hands," Turnbee continued. "A few fell out of my glove compartment onto the floor of my car the other day, and [Turnbee's son] Devin stepped on them and mushed them into the carpet."
The situation was exacerbated last Thursday, when Turnbee purchased an 18-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup while grocery shopping. Having temporarily forgotten that he possessed a three-year-plus supply of the condiment in the form of single-serving packets, Turnbee invoked the wrath of his wife Shelly.
"I said to him not two days ago, 'Don, don't you dare bring home any more ketchup, because it's practically coming out of our ears,'" Shelly Turnbee said. "So what does he do? He buys more ketchup! He said the bottle in the fridge was almost empty. Well, of course it was almost empty: There was no need to replace it, since we had half a million ketchup packets overflowing our pantry. And we couldn't return the new bottle, either, because he'd already opened it."
Though the ketchup collection shows no signs of diminishing, Turnbee said he feels simply discarding the packets would be wasteful.
"I guess I'll just have to bring ketchups with me whenever I go to a fast-food place," Turnbee said. "And I'll need to make sure the employees don't sneak any into my bag. I just hope I can remember to do that; otherwise, I'll wind up with even more."
In addition to ketchup packets, the Turnbee pantry is crammed with hundreds of other restaurant condiments. Among them are single-serving packets of Taco Bell "Mild" sauce, Arby's Horsey sauce, soy sauce from the Wok 'N' Roll at Millcreek Mall, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets hot-mustard sauce, pats of Shedd's Spread Country Crock from Ponderosa Steakhouse, and a selection of Smuckers jellies and jams from several Erie-area diners.