Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Driven to dining on food in plastic



Register columnist

I’m sucking in the fumes of a white Ford Escort, cursing its pert-looking driver for ordering whatever it is she’s ordered that is taking so long, when my jaw goes slack.

The woman is tossing trash from her car into a garbage can just outside her driver’s side door: One McDonald’s bag. One fountain cup from Jack-in-the-Box. One Starbucks iced frappaccio cup, sucked dry of its contents. Another McDonald’s bag, this one slightly crushed.

"That is just disgusting," I say to my son who is asleep in the back seat. "Who lives like that?"

I feel my nose starting to run and grab an In-N-Out napkin that had been wedged into my cup holder beneath an empty Peet’s coffee cup. I’ll just toss it into that trashcan when I get up to the … Oh. My. God. I’m One Of Them.

In the movies, you know when the zombies are about to eat your brain and turn you into their brethren. But in real life when you join the Drive-Thru People, the change happens gradually, insidiously. One day, you’re just cutting a corner because you’re late for your son’s doctor’s appointment; the next, you’re recognizing the voice of the kid who works the In-N-Out intercom as though he were your brother. "Hi, Dave. It’s me, Mayrav. I’ll have the usual. Is your grandma feeling better?"

Like all things related to my waistline, I blame my son. Zev falls asleep so easily while I drive – and wakes up so easily when I take him out of the car – that I’ve started scarfing my lunches at drive-thrus between his increasingly shorter naps.

I’m stunned that this has happened to me. I was always the health nut of my group. I spent four years as a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Spent the entirety of my teen years eschewing fried foods. There was a time that nothing prepackaged passed through my lips. Now look at me: I’m planning my daily driving route based on where I can most easily find someone to thrust ground meat into my car.

And you know what? I like it. Sure, food tastes better when eaten at, you know, a table. But I’m an American. I demand convenience. What are those men and women fighting for, after all, if not my ability to drip ketchup on my steering wheel? (Seriously, I’ve lost track: What is the reason we’re fighting?) I ain’t getting out of my car unless you got a warrant – or I run out of gas. (Oh, wait! I remember now.)

I’ve decided that everything needs to cater to Drive-Thru People like me. Supermarkets. Dry cleaners. Even friends’ houses. How many more people would you keep in touch with if you could just drive up to their living room window, chat for a few minutes and then motor off? Maybe with a latte for the road. Bet you a bag of Pampers Britney Spears wished her Starbucks was a drive-thru.

I bet this could even fit in with Schwarzenegger’s transportation plan. Eliminate the need for parking lots! Use the extra space to build more roads!

It’s brilliant.

The woman in the Ford Escort gets her sweaty, frothy, iced thingy and drives off, while I inch forward to take her place. I order only a tall coffee. Black. Nothing else, thank you very much.

The chipper barista stammers, "Sure I can’t interest you in a reduced fat blueberry coffee cake?"

"Just the coffee."

"That’s all you want?"

Well, no. I want a complete overhaul of our commercial marketplace. A drive toward isolating convenience at low, low prices. A capitalist capitulation to car culture. A revolution. A dining car revolution!

But, for now, coffee will do just fine.

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