As we slowly inched closer and closer to the drive-through speaker box, a drip of nervous perspiration rolled down my forehead.
“Do you know what you want?” I asked my wife.
“I can’t see the menu,” she replied.
I could've told you that this was going to be the answer. It's always the answer. As usual, I began thinking to myself, “How can she not know the McDonald’s menu by now? Every American can recite the McDonald’s menu. Some can even quote prices as well. The McDonald’s menu is as old as time, penned by our forefathers shortly after the completion of the Declaration of Independence.”
But I kept these thoughts to myself because I've learned that verbalizing them would only create an episode and prolong the decision-making process. I instead turned to my darling children and asked the same thing. The answer came at me from two mouths simultaneously, making it impossible to determine who said what, but it sounded like this:
“I want a cheeseburger Happy Meal, I want a chicken nugget Big Kid Meal, and the purple toy, with mustard sauce, no wait, make it a blue toy, and root beer, but I don’t want the same toy as her, I think I want nuggets instead, and ketchup, but I already have that toy, I don’t like onions, can we go to Taco Bell?”
As I tried to comprehend the rat’s nest of words that had just come from the backseat, I pulled the car forward. It was my turn at the speaker. My palms were sweating and I was having trouble breathing. I knew what was about to happen.
“I’ll have the quarter pounder with cheese meal with a Coke aaaaand…”
I always say “and” in a prolonged and exaggerated way in an attempt to cue my wife to jump in with her order. This time, per usual, I was met only with silence as she studied the menu. I diverted my attention back to the kids, noticing that the little old lady in the car behind me was beginning to look impatient.
“I also need two Happy Meals, one cheeseburger and one chicken nugget, with blue and purple toys.”
“No, I want a red toy.”
“What to drink with those, sir?”
“Lemonades and make it a red toy.”
“I want a cheeseburger instead,” one of the girls hollered from the back.
“I’m sorry, sir, we are all out of red toys,” the voice informed me.
“Mustard sauce, Dad, and I don’t like lemonade.”
“Make the nugget a cheeseburger and change the lemonade to a Coke and the red toy to a green toy.” My hands tightened on the steering wheel.
“I want curly fries, Dad.”
“They don’t have curly fries here, Natalie.”
“What was that, sir?” The voice was beginning to sound as confused as I felt.
“I was just telling my kid that you don’t have curly fries here.”
“We don’t have curly fries here, sir,” the voice confirmed.
“I know that, you idiot!”
“Your total comes to…”
“Wait! I’m not done,” I said, turning to my wife with a look of desperation.
The little old lady behind me was now honking every ten seconds or so, and my right eye had begun to twitch.
“Well?” I asked my wife in a voice raised a notch in intensity.
“What did I get last time?” she asked in a tone that would suggest that she was in no hurry.
“I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“Can I get the garden salad with chicken on it?”
“Can she get the garden salad with chicken on it?”
“Yes, but we will have to charge you more,” answered the voice on the speaker.
“Ask if I can trade the tomato for the chicken.”
“Can we trade the tomato for the chicken?”
“We’ll still have to charge extra.”
“Well, then I don’t want the garden salad," she decided. "Tell him I need another minute.”
The little old lady behind me had now gotten the whole drive-through line honking and had begun throwing what appeared to be Rolaids at the back of my car while two more minutes of menu-studying passed.
“Just get me a McChicken sandwich meal and a diet," she said finally.
“Uh, I guess we’ll have the McChicken meal with a diet…and that’s it.”
Silence came from the speaker. I waited, ignoring the cars honking behind us. Then more silence from the speaker.
“I’m sorry, sir, but can you repeat your order?”
What? Repeat my order?!? I don’t think that’s possible! My mind was blank. I couldn’t remember a single item of anyone's order…including my own.
“I, I, uhh…I…” I stammered.
“What is wrong with you?” my wife demanded.
I looked at my family. Their mouths were moving as they attempted to repeat their orders to me, but I couldn’t hear any words, just the sound of my labored breathing and my heart beating like a drum. The little old lady behind me was getting out of her car and walking toward me. What if she has a gun in her purse?
The voice on the speaker box was getting louder and louder, “Sir? SIR?!? Can you hear me? Could you repeat your order? Sir? SIR?!?"
Sobbing, I looked up to the heavens and pleaded, “Lord, spare me this shame and take me now!” I turned to my wife. “I…I can’t do this,” I told her, breathing hard.
“What do you mean? What is wrong with you? Tell them our order again!” she insisted, but I couldn’t comply.
I peeled out of the drive-through line, smoke rolling off the tires, leaving the little old lady giving me an obscene gesture in my rearview mirror. Both girls flew up out of their seats as the car bounced over the curb and across the restaurant lawn. Tires squealed as we slid back onto the street.
I drove recklessly through traffic, shrieking from sheer anxiety. My wife was shouting directly into my right ear, and both girls were crying and whining about not getting nuggets, purple toys, and curly fries.
“They don't have curly fries at McDonald's!!” I screamed, honking the horn with each syllable.
Once home, I stormed into the kitchen and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone, despite the wailings, protests, and unrelenting dirty looks from my wife.
A new rule was proclaimed, as we all enjoyed our sandwiches, that no fast-food trips would be made until all car occupants had decided and written down their orders. That I could do.