Monday, April 19, 2010

Mmm... Food.

On one of my typical evenings, as I waited behind a woman who was somewhere between elderly and middle-aged in the Taco Bell drive-thru, I thought, “Why in the hell is she not pulling up? Is there a Smart Car I can’t quite see between her and the next guy? Maybe a Mini Cooper? Maybe some sort of decommissioned military vehicle?” There was that much space. I could have parked a fire truck in between her and the next guy. True story. Well, the whole drive-thru thing is true, but I may be embellishing on the gap size she was leaving. Either way, the point is this: It requires a certain type of person to do this; someone new to the vehicle they’re driving, someone new to life and oblivious to their surroundings, and someone new to fast food.

It was evident that this woman was not a car-jacker. No one steals a nice mini-van. (Although if someone were to steal a mini-van, it would probably be a woman around her age… but that diminishes my argument and overall point). And you could tell at a glance that she was built for this car. It just had a “her” vibe. Sometimes you can look at someone and just know whether they’re in the city they are originally from, the clothes they normally wear or the car they usually drive… or not (it’s a skill I have… I wish I could trade it in for good looks or to be better at basketball), and this car was absolutely hers. I’d bet my life on it.

As this woman looked back at me in her driver’s side mirror, trying to gauge my level of dissatisfaction with her ability to pull forward, I ruled out her being oblivious. She wanted to help me pull forward to get me that much closer to enjoying the culinary delights provided by Taco Bell (and at reasonable prices, mind you), but she just didn’t quite know how. And, trust me, I can identify oblivious. I have mirrors; an oblivious man inside stares back at me 100% of the time. At times she seemed more concerned with me being content than she was about how far away from the next guy she was. However, despite still being a good 8 feet behind the next car and blocking my access to the speaker, she was not making any progress. It was seemingly her just rocking her car back and forth without actually letting off the break to give the appearance of someone who is trying to ensure they were killing the flea under their tire. Her break lights flickered like a strobe, yet she made absolutely no progress forward. You may attribute this behavior to lack of familiarity with the vehicle, or just bad spatial awareness, but something about it just didn’t seem right in this moment. She seemed to be confused and flustered by drive-thrus. This wasn’t something she did a whole lot of, and you could just tell.

No matter who you are, you can’t be something you’re not. Rich and cultured people are out of place at Taco Bell, and if you frequent Taco Bell, you’re probably not exactly blending in at a “fancy place.” That’s how the world works. Classes divided by money. Now, this could go one of two ways from here: I could write a long paper about how classes came to be and how they reflect on our culture and why they have been necessary in America for our entire history and on a go-forward basis… Or, I could contrast the difference between these two types of patrons at the different restaurants (fast food and “fancy”) that I just outlined. And, like two opposite-sex best friends who got slightly drunk and had a curious mutual attraction to each other and got a little overly flirtatious, you know where I am going with this, and I know you well enough to know where you want this to go…

Fast Food

The Rookie:

The Rookie fast-fooder (yes, I just coined that… I think…) will often be overdressed and look severely out of place within the establishment. They regularly refer to Burger King as a “restaurant” and refer to Wendy’s as “Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.” You can’t class it up. Tone it down a bit. It’s a sketchy brick building circled by run down cars waiting in line, smells like fry grease and has two or three gigantic dumpsters 30 feet from the back door next to the fat man wearing an undersized polo-shirt with a Pippy Longstocking doppelganger logo on it, smoking a cigarette. That’s as classy of a description as one should be legally allowed to use to paint a picture of Wendy’s. That’s not to say it’s not delicious though.

This person will typically analyze the menu for 7-10 minutes while looking for the healthiest thing on the menu and are alarmed to notice that one doesn’t seem to exist. This person often asks what’s on four or five different items and are confused when offered a “meal deal.”

This transaction couldn't be
more awkward, could it?
“I thought I was ordering a meal… And Super-Size? Do they have some sort of high-tech ray gun back there? Man, I’d better just nod and smile…” they think.

They grow increasingly uncomfortable and don’t know what to do with themselves during the time between ordering and before they get their food. They also often ask employees washing nearby tables for ketchup, napkins and refills. 

They are the ones who leave giant gaps between their car and the next at the drive-thru and are vastly confused by the two-window concept.

The Veteran

“Welcome to Taco Bell, can I take your order?” the pimple faced high school boy asked.
“Yeah, I will have two chicken burritos and a five layer burrito,” the tall, pale, gangly redhead on the other side of the speaker replied like clockwork.

That is a veteran order. Why? Because it requires no thinking. The man ordering here knew what he wanted and didn’t waste any time ordering. He had probably placed his share of orders to Pizza Hut in his time to the point he had their phone number memorized (943-4781), and he was confident and cool when he was called up to order. No special orders and no questions. Add onto that his impeccable ability to know how close he was to the next car and see how much room the car behind him needed to access the order box and you have a veteran. Plus, he was clearly very physically attractive given the minimal details about him. Those are just bonus points. The $3.22 exact change is the icing on the cake. The transition was the exact opposite of Larry David purchasing pot from a Hurley on the street ( Smooth.

Fine Dining

The Rookie:

The Rookie considers “Fine Dining” to be Olive Garden and Applebee’s. They often ask if they should seat themselves and they wear their “fancy jeans,” “fancy shirts,” “fancy shoes,” and their cleanest baseball hat. These people actually refer to these articles of clothing as “fancy” and also use terms like “fancy place” (See the fourth paragraph). When asked to name “fancy restaurants” they incapable of coming up with anything other than “Olive Garden and Applebee’s.”

Yeah. Just chug it, that'll blend right in. 
The Rookie will think heavily, but refrain from asking, about the location for a drive-thru window of the establishment. They will not recognize 88.6% of the menu’s items, and butcher the pronunciation of the other 11.4%. They will ask for more water once they take a large bite out of, what they refer to as, “Horse-relish sauce” because they thought it was tartar. (Side note: Their excuse of “I thought it was tartar sauce” still doesn’t make it acceptable). They will ask for extra “croissants” on their salads when they really mean “croutons.” They will get uppity as if they have interest in starting a physical altercation with the waiter when corrected over the same croissant/crouton confusion. They will not have the slightest clue as to how to eat anything that is put in front of them and will pick at it until they recognize some of its composition before proceeding to eat.

They will have trouble identifying the prices because they are just a number with no cents next to them or dollar sign. This person will also make at least three comments on how many meals at Jack in the Box they could get for the price of one appetizer. They will order based solely off of the prices once they identify where they are located on the menu. They may even ask for a “value menu” or a “children’s menu.” There’s a decent chance that there is one attempt at sending an order back asking for it to be “Super-sized.” There is a significantly higher chance that they at least think hard about stealing the silverware, justifying it by claiming their meal was outrageously priced. This person will pay, tip low, and consider actually skipping out on the check before deciding to just work overtime all next week to make up for it. But a little less overtime if they make off with a knife…

The Veteran

The Veteran stares for the length of the dinner in awe at whatever family member of mine is sitting two booths down from him wearing a t-shirt and eating straight horseradish with a spoon. He tips his waiter a bit more than normal just because of the waiter’s unusually rough night that the Veteran has witnessed…