Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Re-experiencing the Drive-Thru Window

Posted by Gerald on August 4, 2008

On Friday I volunteered to accompany my friend and colleague who teaches sociology here on a trip to Charlotte for the college.  We drove down to the airport there to pick up a visiting scholar from China who is doing a semester at our school teaching Chinese language and culture courses this year via the good offices of our friends at Fulbright.

The trip started off well.  We were driving a college minivan and my colleague, who aspires to become a minivan-driving soccer-mom, enjoyed the vehicle greatly (this also gave me an excuse to avoid driving in Friday evening rush-hour traffic.  We had a good conversation on the way down and then were given a miracle worthy of lessening my growing agnosticism – we didn’t get caught in a traffic jam!

Upon arriving at the airport we discovered that the flight we were meeting was running two hours late.  We left in search of food.  During our search my colleague was so busy looking for restaurant signs that she drove, at a very deliberate pace – directly through a red light.  It was one of those times when the driver is going so slowly you expect they are going to stop right up until it is too late.  In any case, there was no cop and no danger, so no problem.  We ate at a pseudo-Irish pub and then went back to the airport.

Our new visiting faculty member arrived at the time we were expecting by then.  Unfortunately, his bag didn’t.  After filing a claim we headed back for Lexington.  He sees to be a really nice guy and we had a good conversation on the way back.  This is his first time in the US.  I don’t think he is at all prepared for what things are like here.  He knows his perceptions of America are based on movies and TV, but I don’t think he really knows what he is in for.  He also shared some interesting stuff about life in China and especially his hometown of Beijing.

It wasn’t until we got to Lexington that we discovered the poor guy hadn’t had anything to eat in over twelve hours.  The thing is, it was almost midnight by then.  The only things left open in this town by then are fast food joints (it isn’t that long ago that they weren’t open either.)  He picked the Wendy’s right by his hotel and we ran him up there.  Then we discovered that he had never heard of Wendy’s and had never seen a drive-thru window before (and that was the only way to order).  I could see how overwhelming the drive-thru menu was for him – both in terms of culture and in terms of language.  We got him set up and then left him at his hotel.  There was something oddly exhilarating about that drive-thru run.  Like it or hate it, fast-food drive-thru is a quintessentially American experience.  There was just something special about being there with him for that moment.

It probably seems stupid but it was oddly moving.

One Response to “Re-experiencing the Drive-Thru Window”

  1. Stephen Grimes said

    I’ve met Europeans and Asians who are completely appalled by the notion that Americans sometimes eat meals on-the-go in their cars. This behavior is unthinkable because meals are big social occasions abroad, often containing as many intricate rituals as religious ceremonies. The drive-thru window is definitely a typical American addition to modern life. I imagine that someone from as disparate a culture as China was extremely bemused by it. What a perfect introduction to our country!

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