The Nonchalantdad: The Fine Art of Fast Food...

You know the situation. You're far enough from home, your provisions for the day are inadequate, you're late, and your choice of meal options are limited - I mean limited. You've got two hungry and tired kids on your hand. You're not going to be a friend of anyone if you decide to tackle fast food or you don't. Your moral hand, your sense of goodness, are pretty much going out the window. All the things you know about how the food is processed, how wasteful the packaging is, and how bad for the environment your idling car is, just goes out the window. You choose the least of all evils and decide against anything that might be deep fried or attached to a golden arch (you learned the hard way about that one). But, you aren't doing much better when the fast food joint you pull into has a little girl with red hair as their logo. Just because the burger is square doesn't make it better, right?

Anyway, you've made your decision. You know your wife is going to give you hell, but what's a guy to do when the kids are going hungry and you still have a few hours drive ahead of you. You play it by ear..... in other words, you hope for the best and think to yourself: does this qualify as Nonchalant?

I pull the car in and approach the drive-thru. Now, let me make it clear - I feel sorry for anyone who is not familiar with these things, because the ordering system is designed for people who must eat this crap all the time and know exactly what the lingo is. I'm not one of them, as I find out quickly. I roll my window down and a very distant sounding, muffled voice, rapidly fires out something that sounds like 'WilcomtowentighowcanIhilfdu.' There's a brief pause because I don't know what to say and the machine voice repeats itself more emphatically:


Sensing urgency I just blurt out 'Yes, OK' hoping that will suffice. It doesn't. the machine barks out in a bored sounding tone 'WhatWouldYouLIKE?' Only it sounds like 'Hey Idiot, Can't you speak English?' So, trying to pretend I'm a regular at this I start ordering simple things. Of course, these things have a life all their own, and my simple requests are immediately met with something deeper and more mysterious:

I say "Can I please have two regular chicken burgers?". The machine barks incredulously back at me "Did you just say CHICKEN BURGERS" as if I ordered something from another planet. "I'm sorry" I say. "I really would just like to have two chicken burgers, or sandwiches, or whatever you call them," I say sort of looking for some minor mercy. The machine seems to take some pity on me and says something like "You want a Chicken Special Deluxe Mother of Pearl Surprise" or something like that. "What's in that?" I ask. "It's a Chicken BURGER with lettuce, tomato, and mayo" says the machine. "OK, I'll take two of those, hold the MAYO please." Silence greets me for what seems like several minutes, but is probably only a few seconds, while the machine (or whoever is behind it) tries to compute what I just said. "DoYOUwantaSuperValueMeal?" the machine spits out. I know enough to know that means you get a few extras without having to order the lot a la carte. I need all the shortcuts I can get. So, I say "these are for kids, right?" More brief silence and then increduously the machine says "YouSHOULDhavetoldme." Obviously the machine is taking the higher ground here. Fair enough, I think. Just get me something to eat. I keep my focus and say "umm.... Sorry."

"So you want two kids value meals with Chicken Delux no mayo, right?" I say "YES."
"Do you want to super size these?" the machine asks.
SUPER SIZE I want to say. These are small kids for god sakes - not hippos!!!!! Instead, I say a simple "NO." More silence for a few seconds before I'm asked by the machine "WHATtodrink?"
"Do you have any juice?" I ask. Stranger period of silence before the machine asks "Juice?..... NO." You'd think I asked for a double martini with two olives for each kid. "OK" I say before I go for the easiest option I can think of and say "Two Waters....OK?" The machine repeats what I say and seems to let me have my wish.

By the time I pull up to the second window, because I did not hear the machine clearly when it finished our conversation by stating "PlizPuluptotheFirzWintos' I am greeted by two large individuals looking down at me like I'm from another planet. "You Passed the Pay Window" one of them says as if my mistake will require a special operations unit to help figure out what to do now. I try to remedy the situation by stating flatly "Can you just ask the cashier how much I owe and I'll give you the money?" I'm pretty sure that I can now see firsthand the person who was speaking through the machine earlier because I'm met with a blank sort of look, some silence, and then a slight "humpfff" and a nod of the head. The window closes and I can see up to three people conversing. I assume they are trying to figure out how one of them can take my money and bring it around the wall to the other person without breaking all sorts of complex and unwritten rules. Nonetheless, the window opens shortly after and a hand reaches out and tells me how much I owe.

As I pull my car away from the drive thru window, I'm thinking that it might be helpful to have someone in the travel industry write up a kind of guide, like you get to foreign cities, to help figure out the strange process of ordering food and drink from a fast food joint. There could even be helpful pictures and clues to the secret language that is used to describe basic things. There could also be a page that warns against things like using the wrong language or misinterpreting symbols. But, most fun of all could be the chapter that deals with deciphering the complex mysteries of how a basic meal could become, over a period of about 50 years, this elaborate and unnecessarily complicated! But, I want to end on a bright point. If you can manage to work your way through the ordering process and the kids haven't yet fallen asleep, you get a couple of plastic toys designed to get your kids to pester you every time you pass any place resembling it in the future! How's that for marketing?

My kids were satisfied. I learned a new language. And I vowed that fast food, even if it is decent in some areas and cases, is best to be avoided whenever possible. But, if it is ever unavoidable, then my suggestion is try to skip the machine and go for the counter instead. You stand a better chance when you can gesticulate. And if all else fails - just point..... it's already a no-win situation!