I was sitting in the porch with a group of my girlfriends a few months ago talking about the new liquor store that had come to town. We briefly discussed the wine selection, and then I started complaining to my friend Meredith that, after I’d chosen my vintage, my purchase kept getting interrupted because the clerk had to attend to the drive-thru.
“I am inside, mind you,” I said. “I made the effort to walk in and get my own stuff. So why do I have to wait?”
But it was crickets in response. Not realizing I’d put my foot so deeply in my mouth, I broadened my rant to lambaste drive-thrus in general.
“First, there is the spelling issue,” I said, high up on my high horse. “Seeing ‘thru’ is enough to give me cramps of the lower bowel. It’s like the ultimate sign that our civilization really is on its way to perpetually riding on space cruise ships and drinking our meals through a straw WALL-E style.
“Second, it’s the concept of choosing to stay in the car rather than going inside. Surely, it can’t be faster. More importantly, aren’t we losing an essential part of community if we’re just conversing through a window or a speaker?”
“Ho-no,” my friend Meredith countered. “I love drive-thrus and will always choose them if they are an option. I don’t want to deal with people, I just want to be in my car and get my stuff. I’ve actually had days where I’ve tried to complete all my errands without my feet touching the ground. It’s like a game and it’s great.”
“But wouldn’t you prefer walking from errand to errand, stopping at the butcher shop, then the flower shop, maybe a stop at the cheese shop, then pick up checks at the bank?”
“Sure,” Meredith said. “But I don’t live in Paris or New York and it isn’t 1962.”
She had a point. Whether you use the drive-thru or not, running errands in this day and age is just unpleasant. The stores are big and so bright you need to squint. Everything is loud and impersonal. The lines at the cashier are long, so you go to the automated teller and, while scanning your bag of cat food, you are informed “an attendant has been notified to assist you.” Then you get back to the massive, glaring parking lot and you can’t find your car.
Thinking back on how irritable I can be while waiting in line to conduct my errands, I had to wonder if she was right. Maybe my car was more soothing. I could listen to music. I could text while I waited. I decided to try the bank drive-thru, which I haven’t done before — they don’t have them in Manitoba and that tube that rockets between customer and clerk has always seemed needlessly intimidating.
But I got in line, eager to see if Meredith was right and I’d leave the experience less irked. Already, I was mildly aware that cars were lining up behind me. This alone caused a twinge of stress because I didn’t want to mess this up and prolong everyone else’s errands. When I got to the actual clerk speaker, I told it I needed to deposit checks.
Shoom came the tube and I opened it up like a cylindrical treasure chest. I actually kind of liked that part — very “The Fifth Element.” Inside was a deposit slip.
“Fill that in and make sure the backs of your checks are signed,” the clerk said, really, very sweetly.
Shoot. OK. Never thought of that beforehand. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a hard surface, so I had to use the tube to sign, which, as you can imagine, made my signature pretty long and loopy. Then I realized I’ve never filled in a deposit slip because when I go inside I just hand her the checks and she fills everything out for me. So then I needed to add up the check total and, holy man, doing mathematics while someone was waiting on me? Was this an intelligence test all of a sudden? If so, my IQ score was dropping by the second.
The clerk was very calm and patient though, and when I looked in my rearview, I could see that the person behind me was doing something with their phone so they didn’t seem too rushed.
“OK, 8 plus 5, 13, carry the 1.”
Still ok? Still playing Farmville. OK. 128 plus 28. Oh Jesus. Adding eights is the worst.
When I finally got the tube shoomed back, I knew one thing very surely: I was never, ever doing this again.
For me, the drive-thru experience was more trouble than it was worth. True, I wasn’t irritated, but I was scared, and that was way worse. Still, I’m glad I tried it. At least I’m no longer a blowhard with no first-hand experience.
Meredith, too, has also met her drive-thru match. Yesterday, she sent me an article about a funeral home in Michigan that offers drive-thru visitation. As a car drives up, a sensor is triggered to open a set of curtains. Behind them, showcased in a big window, is the open casket.
“I think it shows how far advanced people are, especially since we live in such advanced society,” said Sylvia Brantley, a visitor to the funeral home.
But Meredith was not likewise impressed.
“For the record, even I have my limits,” she told me.