I have a confession.
Sometimes, when I'm hungry and feeling weak – very weak – I will go to the drive-thru. Food is ordered, money is exchanged and it's at this point that I'm supposed to continue on to some destination. That is, after all, the idea behind the drive-thru; you are going somewhere and therefore can't sit down to eat your meal at the restaurant. So you drive through.
But I don't do that.
After I'm done ordering, paying and picking up my food, I don't continue on to somewhere else. I stay pretty much where I am. I pull over and park in the same lot that I've just navigated through to get to the drive-thru in the first place. Then I sit in my car, and consume my meal like a fugitive.
Often, food drips on me. The driver's seat is not the ideal place for tidy dining, especially if you are eating anything remotely connected to mustard. I consider the risk of a stain a small price to pay. It's an antisocial badge of honour. Eating in my car, I may get some food on me. Eating in a fast-food restaurant, I'll have to be around people. That's not good for my appetite. I can't be inside a fast-food joint without becoming morbidly depressed. I may as well be at "Bruegel Burger" (I'd like a "Mad Meg Melt" with fried onions, please.)
The act of hermiting away in my car in a fast-food parking lot should not be as satisfying as I find it. It is borderline behaviour. What kind of a person burns gas, and gets mustard on his shirt, all so he doesn't have to be around people who are just like him, in a weakened state and craving some grease?
I'll tell you what kind of person – the kind of person who so closely associates the act of driving and dining that, if given the chance on closed-track conditions, would attempt to eat a five-course tasting meal while operating a Maserati. The trifecta would be attempting to eat a five-course tasting meal while making love while operating a Maserati (as yet unattempted).
Cars and nourishment were made for each other. If they weren't, there wouldn't be cup holders in every single automobile. It's thanks to the automobile that we have the restaurant-obsessed culture of today. Beginning in the 1930s, cars allowed North American diners to travel further and enjoy more varied epicurean experiences. They were no longer restricted to having a hamburger and fries. Now they could have a hamburger and onion rings.
Like any good habit, however, it can be taken to the extreme. Automobile journalists are concerned about distracted driving and they've demonized hand-held mobile devices. There's no questions these devilish machines are trouble but we shouldn't neglect the distracted driving committed in the name of nourishment. When you divert your attention from the road, it doesn't matter if you're doing it to send a text or take a sip of your latte.
What I'm trying to say is that when you're driving along the highway, that Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich in your hand is a potential death missile. That's one reason that I banquet in the parking lot. That said, I enjoy driving with a coffee in a travel mug on a frosty morning.
What's the difference between a benign bite and a potentially lethal one? On the extreme end, there is agreement.
Here a few foods that we can all know should not be eaten while operating an automobile:
- Poulet a la Moutard et au Miel
After these obvious infractions, the consensus begins to break down. It becomes a matter of individual taste. It's a bit like the way human beings determine what kinds of sexual acts they're willing to engage in. You can almost imagine them in a personal ad.
"SWM seeks Mercedes C-Class Sedan for dining and driving. Will eat hot dogs and fries. Will sip from drinks with straws. I'm sub-curious. No panini. No Thai noodles. I can meet you at A&W tonight after nine. I'll bring my bib."
If there's an upside to my parking lot dining, it's that I am not the only one who finds it pleasurable.
No man is an island but many of us, male and female alike, find solace in the silent minutes we pass entombed in our cars as we inhale processed food at 1:15 in the afternoon. Any time I'm in my sparkling Dodge Grand Caravan eating something that in a few minutes I will feel guilty about consuming, I'll look to my left and see somebody in car a few spaces down doing exactly the same thing.
There will be eye contact and a moment of mutual recognition. "If we'd eaten in the restaurant we might have chatted in line, had lunch together, even become friends … thank God we avoided all that."
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy