Sonically challenged by fast-food technology


I have been accused of doing everything fast. I eat fast, walk fast, write fast and drive fast. My favorite Dutch saying is, “Let’s do that quick a minute.” Thus, fast-food fits my life perfectly.

My first fast-food memory is McDonalds. I ate 19 cent cheeseburgers and helped raise the “total served” from thousands to millions. We were married the same year that the “Big Mac” was introduced. If I had been thinking clearly at that time I would have had “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – on a sesame seed bun” included in our vows.

Life was easy. You drove through the drive-thru, ordered your hamburger, sat in your car and ate it. At Hody’s in Lakewood, you drove in, waited for the car hop to come and take your order and soon your meal was delivered to you on a metal tray which you hung on the side of your door. There were no buttons to push and no cards to slide. After a time, this all faded away when we found Denny’s, a cross between Howard Johnson’s and Burger Chef. (Sadly, neither now exist.)

Here in SoCal, we discovered In-N-Out, a hamburger palm tree palace with few choices, few decisions and healthy fries. Life was once again simple.

Then entered Sonic! We had heard about Sonic from our Texan niece, Becky. She loved Sonic and tried her best to convince us that Sonic was head and shoulders over In-N-Out. We didn’t believe her. We were loyal to our “Double-Double with grilled onions.”

A few months later, I saw my first drive-in Sonic. The thought of actually eating in the car didn’t really bring back great memories. It brought back thoughts of “fries and gravy,” with the gravy all over my angora sweater. And then there were the cherry cokes that would spill onto the white “tuck and rolled leather seats” in Pastor Pete’s 64 Chevy Impala. Eating in the car in the 1960’s was considered “cool,” but eating in the car now, I consider risky.

A year ago, while between appointments at the City of Hope, Pastor Pete and I decided to try the Duarte Sonic Drive-In; after all, it couldn’t be much different than the A&W of the 1960’s. We drove in, parked next to a menu board and waited. During our waiting, we looked at the board with the many different menu possibilities. A&W had only a hamburger, hot dog, root beer float, and fries. In-N-Out had even less. This menu board boggled our minds. So many choices! I really needed to talk to someone about the choices.

We continued to wait and wait and wait unaware of the red button that said “push to order.” Noticing things like that isn’t high on my list of “things to do.”

We looked at the board again and saw a credit card slot. That was something that we had never seen at a drive-in. We don’t even use an ATM, so this looked as if we were on another planet. We decided that there was no way that we were going to use our credit card to purchase a hot dog! (You can easily say that we are a bit “old-school.”)

There were no car hops in sight to take our order and we wanted to pay cash so we made the decision to re-park the car and eat inside. That way we could pay cash and not have to eat in the car. Thinking there was an “inside” was our first mistake.

After a spirited discussion on which door to enter, Pete dropped me off in front of what he (not me) said was the front door and left to park the car. I entered the door only to be greeted by a person with a bucket and mop. “Can I help you?”

I was ready to ask for a table for two, but only said “Yes! This is the wrong door! Score: Pat one, Pete zero” I exited as Pete was just walking up. I should have stopped him, but I didn’t. A few seconds later he walked out and said “Wrong door! This must be the back door. But how can it be the back door when it’s in the front?”

I bravely smiled and proudly walked to the back of the building and entered into what was obviously (to me) the entrance of the restaurant. I strolled confidently up to the counter only to find myself confronted by several cooks complete with spatulas in their hands. “And what are you doing in here?” I stammered something about looking for a table, turned around, and saw Pastor Pete standing outside looking through a window with a huge smile on his face. Score: Pat one, Pete one! I was standing in the middle of the kitchen!

My next challenge was to attempt to find a restroom because I had to find a way to gain another point. Pastor Pete refused to compete.

Now I was totally confused. No front door, a back door that looks as if it’s a front door, but it’s not. Menu boards, but no car hops to take your order. Credit cards, but no cash. Huge menus, but no gravy fries. I came to the realization that we were “Sonically Challenged” and it was no place for people our age.

But I didn’t give up! It has taken a year, but this week I finally mastered the art of “eating at a Sonic.” I changed my attitude into one in which I knew that I could win over the latest drive-In technology. This is not an A&W, but I can do it!! And I did!! Why? – Because I took my kids along to order for me and they did have limited outdoor seating. I only have one last comment: Move over Big Mac, after 49 years……I have a new favorite fast-food sandwich…..Sonic’s Chicken Club Toaster! But sorry, Becky, it still can’t compete with a “Double Double with grilled onions”!


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