Fear and Loathing in the Drive Thru Lane


To me, the concept of drive thru lanes at fast food restaurants is so simple and straight forward that it should be understood by everyone.  Or so you’d think.

 I had timed my departure to the meeting of the Kenosha Writer’s Guild tonight in such a manner as to allot an extra five minutes for me to drive through the KFC on 39th Avenue and get an order of hot wings and a raspberry Brisk iced tea.   Previous experience tells me that this is the correct allotment of time to not only receive my order, but to enjoy it’s consumption as I make my way across to the north side of town, leaving a pile of bones bereft of meat to be disposed of at a later time, and enough of the ice cold Brisk to get me thru the meeting.    

 I left the house at precisely the scheduled time (5:57 PM) and made it without incident to the drive thru lane of the KFC.   As I pulled close to the menu display and its squawk box, I was suddenly gripped with feelings of dread and panic.

There was a car in front of me and behind its steering wheel was an elderly man holding a thick notebook.  I recoiled in horror as I heard him read it.  He was reading his order, apparently having been sent to pick up dinner for the 1st Infantry Division of the US Army, as it went on to a second, and then a third sheet of paper.  His order included buckets, value meals, and a stunning array of side dishes,  many of which the gargled pre-pubescent voice speaking through the tin can speaker tried to explain weren’t offered.  Of course, the man was just elderly enough that his voice was rather weak, and his hearing only slightly above Helen Keller levels.   The 1930s era, tin can sound system of the drive thru lane that was apparently installed by the late Colonel Sanders himself only added to the complexity of the situation.

“Three macaroni and cheese”, the man intoned, as he flipped over to the third page.   I turned my attention to the radio, which had just begun playing the long version of the Iron Butterfly classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”.    As the drum solo went on, and on, and the song finally reached its 18 minute conclusion, I was still in line, and I could hear the old man, confused but amazingly still calm and patient, say “No, that’s cheese macaroni and threes”.  

Finally, with both my patience and my car’s gas tank at dangerously low levels, I had had enough.  I pulled out of line and went inside, and ordered combo meal number seven, or whatever it was.  Within two minutes I had my order, but now I was hopelessly late, and in an attempt to make up for lost time, I grabbed the order and bolted, forgetting and leaving behind my Raspberry Brisk.

As I drove out, the old man was still in the drive thru lane, and I could hear the voice thru the box say, “Sir, we don’t have any deviled eggs”, or at least I think it was deviled eggs, it could have been Neville Chamberlain or beveled legs or Greg Louganis, as the sound system was either shorting out or the kid’s voice was changing or a combination of both.   Whatever, it wasn’t important, as I soon realized that hot wings and a dry as Death Valley biscuit are probably the two foods that most demand a beverage.  

The point to all of this is that drive-thru lanes are built for speed and efficiency.  If you are feeding a Super Bowl party, a family reunion, or the cast of Ben Hur, you might want to consider a caterer, or at least, going inside to order.  Drive-thru lanes are meant for combo-meals or dollar menu items.  Nothing else.

Be that as it may, my other complaint is that drive thru lanes can be too fast.   I drive up, I order my combo meal, and the digital display says “$5.23” – then they tell me to go to the first window.  On my way there, I see a sign that says “Please have your money ready”   My money is in my wallet, and my wallet is in my back pocket, between my ass and the car seat, which, by the way, I am strapped into with a seat belt.  So I pull up to the window and the kid is waiting there with his hand out.  If I unsnap my seat belt, my car beeps violently at me, screaming, and I wonder if it is also sending alarms to the local Police and Fire departments, alerting them there is a broken arrow, a driver without a seatbelt on, sitting in the drive thru lane of the KFC on 39th Avenue.  Then, I lean forward, reach back and attempt to remove my wallet from my pocket.  The kid is still standing with his hand out, waiting for me, while behind me cars are lining up, as local news traffic helicopters hover over head.  I reach in and pull out a ten dollar bill, and, defying the laws of physics, the kid somehow instantly has the exact change of four single dollar bills and 77 cents in his hand, which is still reaching out to me, waiting for me to take it.  I take the four singles and struggle to insert them into my wallet, while he waits with the 77 cents.  Finally I take the 77 cents and as I struggle to put it in my front pocket, the kid now has a bag containing my food thrust into my face, while construction crews start building an emergency second lane to alleviate the logjam behind me that has now crossed the state line.

All of this hassle and headache is, of course, countered by the rich nutritional value and distinctive and memorable flavor and quality of the food.  This plus the wonderful atmosphere of eating in the front seat of your car as you drive through rush hour traffic, with every tap of the brake resulting in French fries (or “potato wedges” or “chicken nuggets” or my favorite disgusting sounding item, “popcorn chicken”) flying to the furthest and deepest dark corners of your car’s floor, where they will remain forever, intermingled with the dust and lint.  Of course, this is all balanced out by the chemicals and preservatives and calories and fat and cholesterol levels.  

If the drive thru lane is slow and heavily populated and you get tired of breathing the carbon dioxide fumes, just roll your windows up.  Of course, now you have to deal with carbon monoxide, but if service is really slow, a nap while you wait might be just what you need.

But hey, it’s fast!   This whole eating thing is overrated, anyway.

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2 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in the Drive Thru Lane

  1. I really like the details you used in this piece. I can just picture it now…and it reminds me how I used to be terrified of the drive thru when I was a new driver – I was afraid I would hit the building or s/thing or get in s/one’s way.

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