Monday, April 24, 2017

Fear and Loathing at the Drive-Thru

It happened again this morning: I experienced acute schizophrenia at the drive-thru.

I'm a Baby Boomer, which means I was born before 1964 -- how long, I'm not saying, but some of you already know. In that substantial length of time, I feel as if I've seen it all in one form or another, and that includes the evolution of fast food restaurants, the likes of which I have probably visited far too many times. But let's face it, sometimes you're in a hurry, and fast food fits the bill: it's either that, or hold off eating until 11:00 PM, at which point your stomach (see the post "Who's the Boss?") will once again assert its full leadership potential. To avoid such a catastrophic situation, one sometimes finds oneself taking fast food a step further by not even going inside and instead using the drive-thru. And here's where it all breaks down for me.

I am not a drive-thru person. Those who have ridden with me might say that this is actually a vast understatement. I have been known to experience instant mood changes when confronted with an unfamiliar drive-thru menu, which in my mind requires minute upon minute of searching to find the desired items while impatient motorists, all of whom seem to have honed their drive-thru skills, wait patiently (or sometimes not) behind me. The only drive-thru that I've ever been comfortable with is the Jack-in-the-Box on Devonshire Street in Chatsworth, California, back in the Sixties, and that's only because: a) either my cousin Debi or her boyfriend Paul, a "Valley Couple," were driving, b) we didn't have to wear shoes in the car, and c) there were only about five items on the menu. Indeed, drive-thrus are a true test of my otherwise unwavering (ha, ha) good nature.

Drive-thrus used to be notorious for messing up your food order, so much so that McDonald's installed temporary parking spots adjacent to its restaurants so that you could dig down into the bag and check your order. Well, OK, that wasn't really the reason, but I like to use that as an excuse. It seems, and I say this cautiously, that drive-thru order accuracy has improved slightly, but it's not anything reliable enough to bet money on at this point. I always check my order, because it's almost certain that if I don't, there will be an issue. The last time I failed to check my order, I got home with cheeseburgers that were missing the meat. In the words of Dave Barry, "I am not making this up."

The other major issue with drive-thrus involves air pollution. I'll bet that if every drive-thru in the United States were to close for just a month, we'd experience enough of a hiatus in global warming that an entire glacial formation could reconstitute itself. Cars sitting there idling have to be emitting tons of pollution.

Of course, there are times and situations where drive-thrus make a bit of sense, such as when you're driving around on a July day and need a drink pronto, but the catch there is, you're only ordering one item. This works fine for soft drinks and milkshakes; however, try ordering a half-sweet and half-unsweet iced tea and watch what you get: almost guaranteed that it will be a concoction so sweet your teeth will hurt.

My most humorous experience with drive-thrus involved an evening years ago when my wife Karen and I decided to visit the Roswell Dairy Queen. I love DQ custard ice cream, and one of my favorite treats is the good old chocolate dipped cone. That evening, Karen insisted that we use the drive-thru. I wanted to go inside, but she would have none of that. The problem was that we were in my convertible with the top down, and the evening was very warm. By the time I got back home, a ride of maybe fifteen minutes, I was so covered in ice cream that my shirt and I both had to go in the wash immediately.

I wish I could get over this. I see myself making baby steps, such as using the Starbucks drive-thru. That one only makes me a little nervous, because I generally order one of several well-thought-out things, and if I freeze up and mistakenly order the wrong beverage, it doesn't make much of a difference, as long as it contains caffeine. Nowadays, I usually just go with the crowd if they want to stop at a drive-thru, then try to consume the food while it is still hot or cold, as the case may be. So, please don't hold this against me if you're a drive-thru fan -- I've tried to like them, I really have, and maybe someday, I'll put enough faith in the system to go all by myself. Maybe I should ask my doctor for a Xanax prescription first, though. You can't be too careful with this kind of stuff.