McDonald’s Drive-Thru, 8:23am
by Wentworth Miller
December 23, 2013
8:32 AM (approx.)
I pull into the drive-thru, empty except for the giant white Suburban ahead of me, coming abreast of the callbox, like a yacht docking. When the window rolls down I can see the driver in his side mirror. Male, bald, mid 30s.
The intercom crackles as a McDonald’s employee pitches whatever it is he/she’s been ordered to pitch at the top of the order. Given the season, presumably something holiday-ish. High on fructose.
My window’s rolled up so I can’t hear their exchange, but I can see the man’s lips moving, his eyes grazing the menu. He turns away from the callbox, addresses someone inside the Suburban, asking what they’d like for breakfast. Presumably.
That’s when I notice how many people he’s got with him. A literal carload. I see multiple heads. Most of them small. This guy’s got four or five kids in there. At least. Plus the wife. All of whom want breakfast. None of whom have ever been to a McDonald’s, apparently, because the man behind the wheel is talking them through the entire fucking menu. Every last item. Apparently.
The intercom crackles again and I glance in my rearview mirror, see two cars waiting behind me, their exhaust commingling with mine as the seconds tick by.
I look back at Suburban Dad, silently willing him to hurry it up. He does not. He’s smiling, taking his time, making sure he’s getting everybody’s order right.
I imagine his voice in my head.
“Yeah… can I get a Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit? No wait – Lexie’s allergic to cheese. Can I get a Bacon & Egg Biscuit no cheese? No wait – can you make that a McMuffin? Can I get a Sausage McMuffin with Egg? No cheese. Lexie can’t have cheese.” (McCetera.)
All I want is a large coffee with 2 creamers on the side.
Unfortunately for me, Dad, Mom, Lexie, and Lexie’s thirty-six brothers and sisters are going to need several more minutes to make up their minds.
I sigh and look to my left, try to distract myself with the view outside my window. But there’s nothing to see. Just a flat, dry expanse stretching to the horizon, a bleak winter vista of grays, browns and beiges in this Dust Bowl Created By Congress (if the billboards lining the 5 are to be believed).
I turn my gaze back to the Suburban, zeroing in on Dad (again), still framed in his side mirror. He’s stroking his chin, looking over the menu (again). Considering His Options. I didn’t know people still stroked their chins.
I look in my rearview mirror, see there are now three cars behind me. Here comes the fourth.
Several scenarios run through my head.
1st Scenario: I tap my horn twice. Beep Beep. Watch as Dad’s eyes meet mine in the side mirror. His brow furrows. I smile. Shrug. Like, “Could you hurry it up, please?”
2nd Scenario: I violently stab my car horn. BLAP. Watch as Dad’s eyes meet mine in the side mirror. His brow furrows. I lift my hands. Shrug. Like, “Whoops – didn’t mean to hit the horn. But while I have your attention, could you hurry it up, please?”
3rd Scenario: I violently stab my car horn. And hold it. BLAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPP. Watch as Dad’s eyes meet mine in the side mirror. His brow furrows. I stare him down. Like, “Yeah. You heard me.” He sticks his head out the window, looks back at me. “You gotta problem?” Maybe he actually opens his door, gets out and walks back to my car, wants to find out what my problem is face to face. (This scenario could lead to violence. Fisticuffs. A McFlurry of punches.)
4th Scenario: Someone behind me taps THEIR horn. Beep Beep. Dad’s eyes meet mine in the side mirror. His brow furrows. I lift my hands. Shrug. Like, “Hey – wasn’t me, buddy. But while we have your attention…”
My fingers drum the steering wheel.
Then, at last, he’s done. Miracle of miracles. I sweep in behind the Suburban the second it moves forward, colonizing the space it so recently occupied. If it were a seat it would still be warm. Now it’s mine. All mine. I have my window rolled down. I am breathless with impatience. Ready to order.
“Hi and welcome to McDonald’s! Would you like to try our new -”
“Can I get a large black coffee with two creamers on the side?”
“Will that complete your order?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Your total is f – ”
I drive past the callbox and up to the first window, the window where you pay. Or at least I try to. But the Suburban’s still there. Idling. Of course. I can’t tell if Dad’s paid and waiting for change or if he’s still digging around looking for exact coinage.
I lift my weary eyes to the top of his vehicle, spot a rooftop cargo carrier. Black. Sizable. I wonder what’s inside. Body parts maybe. Or Christmas presents. Body parts wrapped as Christmas presents. They’re probably on their way to Grandma’s house. Or a vacation cabin. (‘Tis the season.)
I see movement out of the corner of my eye, catch a McDonald’s employee handing Dad back his credit card and receipt. Dad says something in return (thank you?). Smiles. This guy’s all fucking smiles. A regular chucklehead. Apparently.
Dad says something else to the employee (Merry Christmas?). Then, instead of driving forward and keeping the line moving, instead of showing a degree of awareness and/or respect for the fact that he/they are not alone in this drive-thru and/or world, Dad stays where he is. I see him looking down at his lap, fussing with something. His credit card maybe. He’s putting it back in his wallet. THEN he’ll move forward.
For fuck’s sake.
One of the kids must’ve said something funny because now Dad is laughing, hard, head thrown back. I see gums in the side mirror, a small black gullet ringed by tiny white teeth.
The 1st Scenario pops into my head again, the one where I tap my horn twice. Beep Beep. Watch as Dad’s eyes meet mine in the side mirror, brow furrowing. I smile, shrug. “Could you hurry it up, please?” Dad gives me the stink-eye but pulls forward, allowing me to pay for my coffee at the first window. A minute later I’m back on the 5, nursing my cup of joe and listening to some tunes, inner monologue re: the family in the white Suburban being rapidly replaced by thoughts re: me. And lunch. Then me again.
Meanwhile – still 1st Scenario – the Suburban’s back on the road as well, but now Dad’s mood has soured. He’s still thinking (brooding) about that asshole behind him at McDonald’s, the one who honked his horn. The one who wanted him/them to hurry the fuck up. That honk felt personal. Like an insult. Dad thinks maybe he should’ve gotten out of the car and walked back there, found out what that guy’s problem was face to face. Yeah. Maybe he should have. Dad knows he ought to let it slide but can’t, has never been good at shrugging things off. His fingers drum the steering wheel.
Dad’s wife sits next to him, tense, eyes front, shoulders climbing up to her ears. There’s been a change in the weather and she knows it. She’s heard this record before. She gives her husband a look, assessing the situation, finger to the wind, waiting to see where this will go. But she can guess.
Lexie and her thirty-six brothers and sisters sit behind them, subdued now. There’s been a change in the weather and they know it. They eat quietly, trying not to crinkle their Sausage McMuffin with Egg wrappers too loudly. To no avail.
One of them is an hour and 42 minutes away from getting slapped.
It might happen sooner. It might happen later. But it’s happening.
I sit in the drive-thru with my foot on the brake, staring at the backs of those little heads in the Suburban in front of me, wondering which of them it will be.
Do I know for sure that honking my horn means one of those kids is getting slapped?
Of course not.
Would I really be responsible if the former resulted in the latter?
No. That’s absurd.
If Lexie and her thirty-six brothers and sisters are growing up in an environment where slapping occurs, slapping will occur, no matter how quietly they eat their breakfasts. No matter how many drivers refrain from honking at Dad, palms will meet cheeks.
But I don’t want to be a link in that chain.
So I still my fingers on the steering wheel and leave my horn unhonked. I will wait the extra 5 minutes for my morning coffee. I will let Dad – still chuckling, by the way – pull forward to the pick-up window when he’s good and ready.
Fine by me.
When he does I follow behind, moving well under 5 mph. When I stop next to the pay window, I brake so gently I can barely tell I’ve braked at all. Or that I was ever moving.
I’ve got my bills and exact change ready. $4.34. I extend my closed fist toward the window as it slides open, revealing a ponytailed teenager in a McDonald’s visor and faded parka. She smiles apologetically, nods toward the Suburban in front of me. Shrugs. Says, “Sorry about the wait. That guy took forever, huh?”
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.