THINKING PAST AND PRESENT
The concept of the drive-thru is beautiful in its simplicity. First for burgers, then donuts, carwash, and now in our clean cars, we sit for precious (monetized) minutes waiting for a macchiato – extra sweet.
I was a mad-hungry freshman, rubbing last night’s party from my irritated eyes. The fall of 1969: Saturday morning, leaving McDonald’s with my breakfast, I stood on the paper-strewn corner kicking aside shredded protestations for peace. I waited for the light to change, barely noticing the air until I opened my mouth and stuck out my greedy tongue for a salty-sweet hit of those fries. I didn’t get it. Just a bitter sampling of leftover mace, telling me that this was the intersection that ended a peace march the day before. Mace had been successful in dispersing the peace-mongers.
It would be years before I would connect our drive-thru lives to the forces behind the mace – that clung to the air that angered me for not tasting like fries.
Converting my guilt to shame.
Six months into Covid – it is a Saturday morning and I’m driving mad and unmasked to the store. According to county health officials, this epidemic was going to be a long haul. I live in a blue state but in a red county where obedient people listen to a president (who likely failed chemistry) wax poetic and pathetic about science. I turn into the shopping center parking lot, halted by the line of cars patiently waiting for a turn at the Dunkin-Donuts window. Not me! I pull out of line, opting to circumnavigate the deserted K-Mart building, creating a lateral line of attack on my destination. I wait for a few shoppers to withdraw, increasing my chances of surviving what I’m sure will be a pandemic—four people exit. The coast is clear – I don my mask and make a beeline to the front door, where I grab a cart. I breathe shallow dizzying breaths – as I study the store’s arrangement. I am cautious as I approach the domestics on the left, where, after a brief reconnaissance, I make my way out of the Finger Lakes, grabbing a few bottles of good whites. I stand for a moment in the archway leading to the reds. I know the need for urgency but linger anyway at the mercy of ratings. I am deaf to the sounds of my bacchanalian brain stuttering at the sight of French, Italian, Portugal, South African, Spain, and Venezuelan reds– mesmerizing blood-shot pinwheels in a firefight – hand-to-hand combat for space in my cart.
In my obedience to Doctor Fauci’s biblical warning that this plague will be a long haul, I fill my cart – my private Arc – two bottles of each.
My Spectrum service is broken – I mean down, not working, caput, fin, nothing. For almost ten days, I’ve watched a platoon of Spectrum trucks trace and retrace the road in front of my house to no effect. My hope for a temporary outage had sprung eternal. But now I see the drive-bys as a ploy –like a Russian May-Day parade – a show of strength offering hope where, only a few know, there is none. The outage has been long enough for me to finish Johnathan Foer’s beautiful five-hundred-page tome on love and Judaism. And long enough for me to fear my unread emails growing to legion; so many requests for my dollars to save dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, and sometimes people. Should I worry?
Spectrum seems not to worry. The billing department is sanguine, telling me I will be reimbursed ten dollars for every four hours I’ve been without service. For the first week, Spectrum outage was never, like it is now, continuous. It was more like three-hours of outage interrupted by twenty minutes of service. Even if I had the internet’s stupefying privilege of a misinformed populace right now, I could see the hand of capitalism slapping me in the face with “free enterprise.” I am free, I’ve surmised, to go without or pay dearly. I know where I, the consumer, stand. I even know where I’ll fall if I tumble down my stairs. I may or may not survive Spectrum or my fall – who knows? My cellphone won’t – having been rendered useless in an emergency because of this Spectrum outage.