Thankful, despite the little ripples

Posted 11/29/19

Why is it, I wonder, a thing as simple as ordering fast food in a drive-thru is so often an experience fraught with tension, uncertainty, angst and disappointment?

I’ve never worked in fast …

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Thankful, despite the little ripples

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Why is it, I wonder, a thing as simple as ordering fast food in a drive-thru is so often an experience fraught with tension, uncertainty, angst and disappointment?

I’ve never worked in fast food, but I can imagine that it’s fast-paced (duh!), especially during prime feeding hours, which was the case when I pulled up to a drive-thru last Saturday morning around 9:30. There were several cars ahead of me, advancing slowly, and behind more cars were joining the line. The place was busy.

I kept my order simple, ordering (by name and, to be safe, its corresponding number) the such-and-such meal: entree, side and beverage

“And what to drink with that?” asked the disembodied voice to which I’d conveyed my order.

“Coffee,” said I. “Two sugars.”

“What size?” inquired the voice.

“Whatever size comes with it,” I said, aiming to pay the price posted on the menu beside the such-and-such meal I’d ordered.

“Medium or large?” it asked.

Small, the size I’d thought I was ordering when I said “whatever size comes with it,” wasn’t offered as an option.

My next response to the size question, to be clear, wasn’t aimed at me getting something extra for nothing, but this particular fast food restaurant frequently offers beverages — regardless of size — for the same single price ($1), so I said to the voice: “Large.”

On the drive-thru menu screen displaying my total, I saw a $0.39 up-charge added, which was mildly annoying, but I let the pricing chicanery slide.

I inched my car forward to the first window, paid, then inched further forward to the pick-up window, where a young lady extended a large coffee toward me.

This not being my first rodeo, as I waited for the bag of food to be thrust my direction I pried the lid from the coffee (“two sugars,” I’d said a couple minutes earlier, not stuttering) to reveal a cup of creamy coffee.

I handed the cup back.

“This has cream in it,” I said.

“I know,” she said, with a look of confusion.

“I didn’t order that,” I said. “Can I have just black coffee, please.”

She took the offending cup and a moment later handed me the bag of food and the replacement coffee.

“Can I also get some sugar?” I asked.

Her initial confusion was turning, before my eyes, into exasperation, but she acquiesced, handing me a fistful of sugar packets, about seven more than I needed, and shut the window. Done.

When I didn’t drive away, she returned to the window.

“Can I have something to stir this coffee with?” I asked, before adding — though I hadn’t planned on doing this and wasn’t entirely sure what my goal was as I spoke the words — “And can I talk to a manager?”

I’d been polite, hadn’t raised my voice or gestured unkindly, but I noticed now I was becoming the object of some scrutiny on the other side of the drive-thru window, several employees new to the developing drama now craning their necks to check me out. I realized, of course, I’d taken on the status of One of Those customers.

As I underwent a few more seconds of scrutiny from the staff through the window, the manager appeared.

Knowing I was holding up a fast-food drive-thru line — which isn’t one of the original Seven Deadly Sins, but might have been had drive thru’s been a Fourth Century thing — I outlined my issues, starting with the coffee up-charge and moving on to said coffee not being prepped to order.

As I spoke, simultaneously stirring sugar into the coffee, I understood the futility in the exchange. Even I didn’t know what I aimed to accomplish with the conversation.

But in the few moments it took me to air my grievances, the manager listened, nodded, and when I was done (“But it’s not the end of the world,” I’d said, in conclusion) asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“No,” I said. “I’m good.”

She smiled, pleasantly.

“Have a happy Thanksgiving,” she added, sounding like she meant it, and I replied in kind.

It wasn’t what I’d been fishing for, this holiday well-wish. I didn’t have a clear agenda, as I said, when I’d asked for the manager’s attention, save for maybe hoping someone on the other side of the window might understand. But the friendly send-off was exactly the thing I needed at the moment: perspective.

Yes, drive-thru’s and fast food can be taxing on the soul, but those concerns are of little or no consequence in the Big Picture. A bum cup of coffee — large or small, creamed or not — shouldn’t even register a ripple.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for; and as I drove off from the fast food drive-thru, I was thankful the manager had reminded me.


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