all of the selves we Have ever been
There are people in my community
I only know from looking through their windows.
I am not a voyeur or a peeping tom. I am a Diet Coke addict.
I know that stuff is bad for me, so I try to limit myself to one a day. I am not fond of Diet Coke in cans or bottles. The quality is unreliable. As a connoisseur, I prefer my Diet Coke from a fountain. I’ve discovered that the new, next generation, Freestyle, digital dispensers have the best flavor-to-fizz ratios.
And so, each day, I make one stop at a drive-through window. During this time of COVID-19, I tell myself that I am not just feeding my craving, but I am also making a small contribution to these businesses and the economy. Oh, the rationalizations of a user!
I talked to a dietician once about my habit. She explained that it is not just about the substance, but about the entire experience—the cup, the ice, the straw, the trip to the store or restaurant…Wow! That was insightful. I do like a certain size cup, amount of ice, straw. I have a few preferred locations and go elsewhere only when traveling or when my usual places are closed, sold out, or the dispensers aren’t working.
And I have come to appreciate that there is another important element to the Diet Coke experience. It is the people in the windows. The voices over the intercoms. The Coke and the smile. When you become a regular, you get to recognize the staff. They start to acknowledge you in a familiar way. The restaurant becomes your place as well as theirs. Their presence and yours become predictable and reliable, a brief but comforting connection in an anonymous world.
Years ago, there was a young woman who waited on me each morning at a local shop. Over the course of about two years, I learned she was saving money to go to college. One day she told me it was her last day. She had reached her goal. She was off to college! I wished her well. Despite the passage of time, I still think of her and wonder how it all worked out. A permanent connection was made there at the window. Sometimes I hope to run into her again and hear how it went.
In 2018, I went to work in a small rural town in Missouri. I brought my bad habit with me and scouted out a new fast food restaurant that was on my route to work. Every morning I pulled up to the same intercom to place my order. Pretty soon the staff got so familiar with me, my car, and my order that they no longer asked what I wanted. Barely at a stop, I would hear a voice from the loudspeaker telling me to pull up to the window, my drink was ready. Now that is service! How far down the road did they see me coming? And it felt good to be known by someone while I was a lonely stranger far from home. Eventually, some of the regular staff learned my name and addressed me like an old friend.
I am back in my hometown now. It was a little sad to leave my people at the drive-through in Missouri. Coronavirus was awaiting me back in Ohio. My daily routine was upended, and I started visiting a new drive-through restaurant. With a few months of patronage under my belt, I now recognize the voices on the intercom and the people who reach out to me from the drive-through window. They know just how I like my drink and how much ice to add to the cup. Every couple of weeks a pair of hands reaches out the window to pass me my drink, and a voice says, “It’s on me. Have a nice day!” I feel a surge of friendship for this young masked man. I will have a nice day, Kemosabe. I will.
And I do.
Next time you pass a drive-through window, take a look. There are actual people hidden behind the glass. Kind and gracious people. A special class of friends.