One of the joys of teaching a college class is that even at my age you can do stupid things and get away with it, explaining it away as a class project. If you work your cards right you can even write it off on your taxes.
One spring evening I was hauling a group of my Lincoln Land students around Jacksonville between performances and it came time for supper. Teenagers are experts in fast food. They may not know a Picasso print from a Beethoven symphony but greasy food is their bailiwick and they have the prices and packaging of every fast food joint in town memorized. I figured out their rating method: the saltier and crunchier the fry the higher it’s rated on their gastronomic scale. Cost is a factor, but in order for a dining establishment to get their AAA rating the place must be filled with other teenagers. When you’re that age the taste of the food is of little importance compared to whether you are seen by others while eating that food.
Another determining factor in the teen Michelin rating system is whether there’s room for large groups to be seated together. This is a must. To be seated apart from your friends while savoring the joys of a Big King Mac-a-Jammer is akin to leprosy. Of course you don’t actually talk to your friends. You go out to eat together so you can sit there silently texting your friends who aren’t there and taking selfies to prove that you were there. Adults consider murder, genocide, lust and greed among the world’s greatest sins. When you’re a teenager the ultimate evil that can befall you is to not be where something happened when your friends were present.
But on this idyllic evening we had time to only grab something at a drive-up window. I made the mistake of asking where they wanted to go. I don’t know what I could have been thinking. Teenagers never agree on where they want to eat. Even the phrase “I’ll pay” doesn’t faze them. They’re all loaded nowadays. One girl said she didn’t like to eat at a certain stop because the wrappers on their burgers were “all stiff and stuff.” A true connoisseur.
So I decided that we’d make a game of it. I’d heard several complaints about various fast food stops getting the drive-up orders wrong so I suggested that we make a quick sweep down Morton, stopping at each place they suggested to see which restaurant did the best job of getting the orders correct. They thought this sounded like a fun idea and besides, they’d get to take selfies at each stop, plus of course we could text our absent friends about the game we were playing. For the sake of the Source’s advertising team I’ll admit actual names of where we stopped, but it made for an interesting eating excursion.
Bottom line: we made five stops and three of the five got the order wrong. It was my luck to order food at one of the offenders. I taught speech for 35 years and have decent diction, so how in the world could “onions and mayonnaise with bell peppers” end up as “black olives and lettuce”? I repeated the phrase to myself. They didn’t sound a thing alike. One of the girls in my car received a large order of fries instead of a regular and the third goof was on the number of drinks. In each case we took what we got and woofed it down, not having time in our schedule to go inside and correct the situation. After all, you’re usually several blocks down Morton before you discover that your fish sandwich has suddenly turned into a chicken.
The trip wasn’t a complete disappointment. As we drove from eatery to eatery I heard a few very encouraging phrases. “This is stupid. They still serve drinks in Styrofoam,” “Don’t throw that out the window,” and “All this packaging is really dumb. It takes you an hour to get to your food.” These were all phrases that would not have been heard in my teenage days and I’m happy that there’s a bit of an increase in social consciousness even though our culinary sense has eroded. At our last stop one of the girls said, “Hey, let me pay it forward,” and although she may have been showing off, she paid for meal in the car behind us because she’d seen her dad do that once.
It was a happy trip and I was encouraged. One of the girls suggested that we pray for our meal and although there was some disagreement on whether we should sanctify the food at each stop or just give a blanket blessing going past Diamond Street. That’s something else I don’t remember doing cruising the strip in 1967. Things may indeed be looking up.