Joco Opinion

Snarky in the Suburbs — How to assess a neighborhood: Is there road rage in the drive-thru?

Talk all you want about how quality schools are the sign of a good neighborhood. I’ve got a better judge of a town’s character: It’s drive-thru lane etiquette, specifically McDonald’s, more specifically the McDonald’s at 119th and Roe.

You will find me there almost every morning at 7:48 getting a large Diet Coke. I’m not a Starbucks girl, mainly because I don’t believe in hot beverages and walking into any Starbucks within a one-mile radius of a private school, Pilates studio or PTA meeting brings back post-traumatic stress memories of going through sorority rush.

The swarm of women with their calculated casual wardrobes, the mock manners accessorized with smug smiles all while ordering various combinations of caffeine freak me out a little bit. One time when I was meeting someone and they were late I entertained myself by playing Starbucks Bingo:

Yoga Pant Edition.

The center square was a sugar-free, skim-milk steamed, soy latte with Splenda foam.

But as entertaining as people watching is at a Starbucks, it won’t reveal the true personality of a neighborhood. For that, you must experience the fast-food drive thru that has two ordering lanes that then merge to one. The merging is crucial for evaluating two things: the intelligence of your neighbors and the everyday politeness factor. I call this the Drive Thru IQ.

I’m pleased to report that my McDonald’s has a high Drive Thru IQ. Before I moved to Leawood four years ago, I did my due diligence and made sure that (A) people had the mental dexterity to handle merging from two lanes to one and that (B) no one was aggressively thrusting their front bumper inches from my car in an attempt to cut in front of me to get their Egg McMuffin three seconds sooner. Forget about those high-performing Blue Valley schools. For me, this was the real sign that I was selecting an excellent area to call home.

Until last week. That’s when I experienced a drive-thru bully disguised as a mom in a minivan.

There I was going through my normal morning routine when I noticed the car in front of me was not merging. It was straddling the two lanes. Oh, I knew what the minivan was doing. They were playing drive-thru roulette in an attempt to hedge their bets on which lane would be moving faster.

This is not done at my McDonald’s. People do not do anything as crass as a lane straddle. They, oh so politely, follow protocol, moving up as soon as the next space is available in an effort to keep the lines in a smooth, synchronized pattern.

Once the minivan had finally selected a lane, the driver, apparently not getting her order taken fast enough at the menu area, honked her horn — three times. And not a quick honk, honk, honk but she lay on her horn to such an extent I couldn’t hear my NPR. I admit this rattled me a bit and might have led to what happened next: I did something I almost never do and got myself a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit.

After I ordered, I executed a flawless merge maneuver and gracefully had my car back into one lane, while my mind drifted to how good that biscuit was going to taste. Just as I was thinking about the buttery goodness of it all, I was jolted back to reality by someone banging on my car. It was the minivan lady and she was ticked.

I rolled down my window and she pointed her finger at me while yelling that I had cut in front of her. Which I had most certainly not done, thank you very much. I was in Lane 1 and had, by not laying on my horn, placed my order before she did in Lane 2, hence I merged first. My initial reaction was to visually check her for a weapon and my second was to wimp out, or as I call it, let good manners take over and say, “Oh, so sorry.”

This did not appease the drive-thru bully. She wanted me to pull out of the line altogether so she could get in front of me. And that’s where she made her mistake. No one gets between me and my Diet Coke. I told her that wasn’t going to happen and to “get over herself.” Mistake. She flipped me the bird, got back in her car and then rode my bumper the rest of the way through the drive-thru.

I was so scared she was going to follow me and, I don’t know, pistol whip me with her Sausage McGriddle Value Meal that I drove to the extremely close new Leawood Justice Center and sat in their parking lot eating my biscuit until I thought the coast was clear.

Oh, and just so you know, the minivan had a California license plate. It figures. Kansas rules! Especially at Drive-Thru I.Q.

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