Good Road Food is Hard to Order

Much as I hate to admit it, I may soon have to forsake the once-convenient drive-through lanes of my favorite fast-food restaurants.

Alas, the formerly quick, user-friendly drive-throughs are now driving me nuts.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

For decades I’ve fancied myself a connoisseur of road food, a virtual master of mechanized meals along freeways from Seattle to Santee. Whenever I’m in the midst of a rollicking road trip and need metabolic refueling, I’ve always been confident in my ability to whip off a freeway onramp, grab a couple of fist-sized cheeseburgers and be back on the road in less time than it takes to knock a chihuahua off a bar stool.

No longer.

Nowadays when one pulls into a “speedy” drive-through lane at one’s preferred distributor of road food, one is subjected to an endless interrogation from the speaker box before being allowed to move forward.

And if that speaker box has been filled with discarded mustard packets or the server is still having a little trouble transitioning from Urdu to Greek, one could be in that drive-through lane well beyond the weekend.

(This is when cell phones really pay for themselves: “Hello, boss? I won’t be in until Tuesday. I’m trying to order a burrito…”)

Remember the good old days – like 2001 – when about the only question you’d get from your fast food server was “Want fries with that?”

No longer, amigos.Now it’s “Want fries with that? How about a beverage? Want to make that a No. 19 meal and substitute the onion rings for Cajun Chicken Chunkz? You can MegaSize that drink. If you get the MegaSize, you can substitute the Cajun Chicken Chunkz for the onion rings…

“What is so hard to understand about “I’ll have a cheeseburger and a cola?”

This is not a particularly complex situation. A guy drives up and wants a regular cheeseburger and a soft drink. He’s in a hurry. He wants to get back on the road. He knows what he wants.

He doesn’t want a No. 6 meal with Mongo Fries or a No. 4 meal with Cola-in-A-Drum. If he wants a No. 6 meal with Mongo Fries, all he – or she – has to do is ask for it. After all, roughly 30 special meal packages are lovingly described on the three-story menu boards that loom above just about every drive-through lane in the nation.

Worse, if our mealtime motorist hesitates for even a second after a No. 8 meal or Cajun Chicken Chunkz are offered as a dining option, he is lost. That cheeseburger is history and a Bacon Caesar Super Salad with Funky Fish Fillets and Dippin’ Drippin’s will be waiting at the service window for no apparent reason.

And they’ll probably be cold because our highway gourmet has had to turn down 47 different meal options before the server would let him drive beyond the speaker box…

Too bad, amigos, but it’s just gotten all too complicated. I guess I’m going back to corn chips and beef jerky from the nearest available service station.

And, no, I don’t want a salad with that…

Originally published March 7, 2004