Just Driving Thru

I originally wrote this column over a decade ago.  I'm pretty sure nothing has changed.

Drive-Thru Madness:
June 25, 2002

Over the past few years, I've made numerous comments about everything being "express."  That includes express lanes, express mail, express shins -- whatever.  The point of all of these forms is to make lives faster and, therefore, easier.  However, such was not the case while I was waiting in a drive-thru at McDonald's this evening.  In fact, the experience has encouraged me to review the procedure in order to determine who should -- and should not -- be allowed to use this privilege:

First off, people need to know that the drive-thru is not the only option.  You know, there once was a time when customers actually had to park their cars and walk inside the restaurant in order to get food.  Ah, it was a novel concept (much like a book), ranking up there with trying on shoes before purchasing and using a microwave for something other than popcorn.  Nowadays, however, I think driving tests are replacing parallel parking with one's ability to use a drive-thru.  This is especially useful for those in the Midwest, where knowing how to parallel park is about as useful as knowing how to not eat corn.  Or something to that extent...

For those who refuse to walk into the actual restaurant -- perhaps due to fear of mass Grimaces -- please realize that any promises made regarding the drive-thru are false.  For example, I saw a sign this evening that read, "Help us to beat our one-hour record of 120 cars."  For those with a calculator on hand, you can verify that as two cars per minute, or perhaps three if your calculator was made in the Midwest.   My belief is that the record was established on a day when everyone just asked for complimentary napkins, because otherwise the employees can't come close to that pace.  In addition to the free napkins, it's possible that certain cars passed the window while on top of other cars, therefore doubling the number -- and providing a whole lot of laughs and memories in the process.  That reminds me, have you heard the one about the car on top of the other car?  Sure you have, a couple of sentences ago...

But let's move on.  In evaluating speed, we need to consider the customer factor as well.  I feel like every time I wait in the drive-thru, there is someone going through the process for the first time in his or her life.  This evening, the car in front of me talked to the person through the ordering receiver for three minutes.  In his hand was a menu of some sort, obviously not from McDonald's, and he was writing on it as he spoke.  This should not be allowed, not only because the process of "writing" could confuse the employee, but also because it drastically slows down the line of cars.  As it turned out, this person ended up with two Happy Meals.  I can only imagine how this long conversation resulted in this purchase:

Customer: Okay, so I am looking at a menu from a local seafood restaurant with much better food than yours.  If I were there, I would probably be ordering three lobsters, the scallops platter, and a bucket of chicken for the kids.  Do you have any of that?

Employee: We have Happy Meals.

Customer: Right, but what about the scallops?  I don't seem to see anything on your menu about those.  For future reference, let me take down some notes about what you think is similar to scallops.

Employee: We have Happy Meals.

Customer: Okay, let me write that down...  Okay, I got that.  And what about a mocha latte with whipped cream?  Can you get me one of those?  If not, let me know what you think is a suitable replacement and I will write that down.

Employee: We have Happy Meals.

Customer: Okay, thanks for all of your help.  I'll take...  ummmm...  how about two of those Happy Meals?  Those look good.  Now I just have to figure out what to buy for my son.

I'm just glad someone came out happy after all of this.  Meanwhile, I almost broke the one acceptable rule concerning drive-thru lines.  That's right -- I almost honked the horn.  Receiving a honk while ordering at a drive-thru is one of life's biggest embarrassments, almost as big as living in the Midwest...

Besides the speed of drive-thru windows, I have a problem with the location of the menu.  If you want to order effectively, you either need to have the menu memorized, or you need to have 20/20 vision.  On more than one occasion, I've found myself blurting out, "Extra Value Meal #2" simply because I couldn't take out my binoculars in time.  I'm sure the restaurants occasionally send an employee to check up on the menu, but hey -- there are a lot of words on that menu, and what fast-food employee lasts longer than three days?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of every drive-thru is the encounter with the person behind the voice.  I think some people get their hopes up too much, thinking, "This could be the one," and meaning that it in terms of true love, not in terms of "This person will hand me my fries."  For a minute or two, there is that mystique of who the person really is behind the voice, and in most cases the results are unexpected.  Today, for example, not only did I change my mind concerning this woman, but she also dropped one of my quarters while handing me my change.  So that means I changed my mind  the same time as she forgot to mind my change.  Such is the drama of your typical drive-thru.  As for the comments about the Midwest, I am not sure where those came from…  possibly Kansas.

But I digress.

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