Would you eat a cheeseburger from a vending machine? What if that cheeseburger was endorsed by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Fret not: Such a product—the Dale Jr. cheeseburger—will soon be available, from vending machines across the land!

It's the most wonderful time of year: The annual National Vending Show, when America's most American industry, the vending machine industry, holds its annual convention. No other business better combines the two things that define our national character—poor eating habits, and mechanization—and its trade show is a wonder to behold: Touch-screens! New advances in change-making technology! Improvements in vending machine security! And, of course, new food technologies!

The Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli was lucky enough to draw the assignment, and he made the most of it. Among the delightful products he sampled:

  • Slider Dogs, a package of three "tiny hot dog[s]" that sells for $2.50. Borrelli describes the dogs as "surprisingly rich and garlicky, even juicy."
  • The Baguetta, made by Nathan's Famous, which appears to be a hot dog wrapped in French bread. "Gotta getta baguetta," the package helpfully remonstrates.
  • The Dale Jr. Cheeseburger, a half-pound burger, that comes with a prearranged pickle. The burger is endorsed by famed driver of automobiles Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  • The Dale Jr. Glazed Honey Bun, an "oddly wet" honey bun that "resemble[s] a coiled intestine." The bun, like the burger, is part of a line of Earnhardt Jr.-endorsed products.
  • Nachos in a Bag, which are exactly what they sound like, are produced by the "originators of concession nachos."
  • Froobee pouch drinks, a new product that mixes your drinks ("acai pomegranate," for example) in the machine and dispenses them in a "rubbery pouch."
  • Cotton candy. From a vending machine!

Of course, it's not all glazed honey buns and froobee pouch drinks. The industry, like all others, is deeply affected by a recession that has placed Americans far away from the office break rooms and lobbies that are the vending machine's natural habitat. (Possible solution: Vending machines in the unemployment office? Or maybe under the overpass where everyone lives now?) Nevertheless, the brave vending machine operators soldier on.

[Chicago Tribune; pic via straws pulled at random's flickr]