If you’re like me — and for your sake, I hope that’s not true — you’ve found that fast food and convenience chains hide their straws and lids.
I was ready to leave a restaurant recently and looked in three likely places and couldn’t find a lid. I did see the straws next to the hot sauce, which is where you’d think the lids would be, but they weren’t.
So I left without a lid, which I believe is as good an example of First World Pain as you’ll find.
I’ve always thought it was me — absent-minded and obtuse — who was bothered by this problem. But lately I’ve begun to think it’s a serious design flaw some chains suffer, or a practical joke to keep their employees entertained.
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Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how hard it must be to say “Welcome to …” every time someone walks in the door. And how would you like to have to say, “Would you care to try our Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Crispy-Creamy Empanadas today” – or be fired?
To liven things up, maybe the business has a closed-circuit camera aimed at the drinks with monitors in the back and behind the counter.
“Hey, Gene, get a load of this dude, the one with the 32-ounce drink who looks confused,” one clerk says. “You think he needs a straw and a lid?”
Laughter erupts, quietly at the counter, boisterously in the back room.
“We can only hope so,” Gene says. “What’s the record search, something like a minute and 20 seconds? This guy’s got a shot. He may be confused, but he looks determined.”
What happens is, these chains design new stores and bring them before the expansion subcommittee for approval. When you build maybe 72 Empanada Expresses a year, approval sessions can make freshman English look exciting.
You figure the board members deal with the mind-numbing repetition by playing with their phones, tablets, laptops and Fitbits.
“I could be out getting my 10,000 steps,” one member texts another, “but we’re in here sitting on our butts.”
Generally, what happens in your second-tier convenience chains is that a place for straws and lids is left to someone who makes $8.15 an hour, and may not be motivated to put 100 percent into the job. That would explain how they wind up two aisles away between the stenographer’s notebooks and chocolate-cranberry-cashew trail mix.
These same chains also never, ever put the trash cans anywhere near the straws. Apparently no one uses cans anymore – they’d be too easy to spot – so they’ve turned to those built-in receptacles with flaps built into counters of the same color.
These were inspired by those trick bookcases you always see in “Get Smart” or “Scooby-Doo” movies.
So once you do find the straws and lids, I’d suggest holding off on the celebrating. Your Where’s Waldo? search resumes, this time with a straw wrapper in your hand.
I’m compulsive and guilt-ridden, so I’ll keep looking for the trash until I find it. My momma didn’t raise me to leave straw wrappers on the counter or, worse yet, on the floor!
I’m surprised there aren’t more collisions of your lid-and-straw seekers going one way and your trash hunters going the other.
The only benefit I see to all this is that people do get in their daily steps.
There is one large convenience chain that’s an exception to the hide-and-go-seek rule. I’d mention its name, but newspapers aren’t in the business of promoting commercial enterprises.
The thing I especially like about this particular chain is that its stores are memory-loss friendly. You walk in, and you know immediately what’s on your left and right. That’s because the stores are largely duplicates of each other.
They may have a few design changes over the years, but once you adapt to them you always know where the bathroom is, where the cold drinks are and where to find the BBQ-flavored pork rinds, the ones infused with organic, heart-healthy sea salt.
You could take a customer who suffers from early memory loss and confusion, have them walk into one of these stores and see immediate improvement. It would be like old home week, at least until he walks outside and has no idea where he is.
Naturally, you buy a drink in one of these places and there’s no mystery about where the straws and lids are. They’re in the same spot as the chain’s 84 other area stores.
And don’t worry your little head about that straw wrapper. If you’re looking for the trash and reach the stenographer’s notebooks, you know you’ve gone too far.
If you, too, are a seeker of life’s deepest mysteries, write me at email@example.com.