Drive–Throughs: Because Every Minute Counts

I have no fear of flying. What I do have is a fear of checking in at the airport. Is two hours before the flight enough? Is the carry-on too heavy? Will I be stopped because there is too much toothpaste in the tube? Who will help me navigate the kiosk? And, of course, will I pass the metal detector (a strange fear since I always do)? Then, can I get my belt and shoes back on fast enough to not hold up the rest of the line? I know it’s all necessary so we don’t get blown up all the time; but still, I dread the walk-through.

Yet as annoying as the walk-through is, the drive-through is spiraling toward the top of my “just-shoot-me-now” list. Although E-Z Pass has taken the sting out of the toll booth adventure most of the time, I recently found myself driving a car without it. I had long been deprived of experiencing the hostility of a toll collector who spends his days in (what else?) a booth.  I realize no one is tickled pink by long hours in the confines of a closet, but scowling at drivers cannot make it better. I made the cardinal mistake of stopping inches away from being able to reach into the booth. Now I don’t have the wingspan of an orangutan but then again I’m no Tyrannosaurus Rex either. If he had only met me halfway, we could have been friends. But it was a cold day and, maybe because of the improbable risk of frostbite, he was adamant about keeping all his digits within the confines of his heated cubicle. I had to pull up a little, get out, and pay him. All this to the lack of compassion by those honking behind me. It would have been more pleasant to blow right through and pay the fine.

We’re a masochistic species. We insist on flogging ourselves to save a few minutes. Everything has to be fast. We walk fast. We drive fast. We eat fast. We save time by going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s for “fast food”. News flash! There’s no such thing. We need to rethink our interpretation of the word “fast”. Might I suggest something more realistic like “not fast”. Or “slow”? Granted, one Big-Mac takes just a few minutes. A quarter-pounder, not much more. But a cheeseburger, no onions or pickles AND a Filet-o-fish? You can actually watch your fingernails grow. Keep it simple.

My favorite Mickey-D’s was in Point Pleasant Beach. When they first opened, the architects, apparently in the throes of dyslexia, designed the drive-thru window on the passenger side. If you didn’t have a passenger…well, you didn’t eat. Then they built a little cubicle on the other side of the lane with an overhead conveyor tube to transport the purchase. Between ordering from the girl in the booth who relayed the information via headphones to someone inside, what you ended up with was always a crap-shoot. You might just as well have pulled up and ordered “food”.

Then there’s Burger King. Anyone who’s gone through with young children has been sufficiently exposed to the compulsory Kids Meal. A gender-friendly offering, the Kids Meal is more often than not a box of chicken nuggets (apparently, with all the nutritional value of cardboard, the sole dietary element of every kid under the age of twelve) with either a boy-toy or a girl-toy inside. Like cracker-jacks run amuck. No pampered child alive can live without the latest minion or transformer. Every parent who frequents Burger King awakes at night to the nightmarish recurring drone of “Make sure it’s a boytoy”. Make sure it’s a boy-toy”. “Make sure it’s…ad infinitum”.

Who among us has not salvaged precious minutes driving through Dunkin’ Donuts? I used to; not any more. I aborted that mission when their menu board swelled with lattes, macchiatos, and americanos. I wasn’t even sure I was still in North America. That’s too many choices to make spontaneously with cars stacked up behind you, all in a rush because they should have been at work ten minutes ago. Not that the anxiety ends there. This is just the start of a pilgrimage that demands patience (waiting for the guy in front of you to send back his bagel when he specifically said croissant), agility (trying to grab your change while balancing a Styrofoam cup the same temperature as the sun), and dexterity (the art of positioning a tray of coffee cups on a car seat engineered to accommodate only soft tissue).

The one drive-through I did develop a passion for was Buchanan’s Beer Distributor on Herbertsville Road in Brick. In its heyday, no one minded waiting on line to pick up a six-pack, a case, or a keg without ever having to get out of the car. Of course, in a truck the challenge was to make it through without crushing the piles of boxes lined up along the sides. But on those steamy summer days, when barbecues beckoned from every backyard, Buchanan’s was the way to go. A local landmark for many years, it served generations of fake IDs. Yes sir! Now that I think of it, I guess I am a fan of the drive-through.

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