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21 October 2023

Shut up and drive-thru

You don’t have to look hard to find the American Dream – it’s on the road.

By Kara Kennedy

Along Interstate 95, the highway that connects the north and south of the east coast of the United States, someplace around Georgia, stands a billboard sign that says: “Refill and Reload, we’ve got both.”

I’m not sure if the land of the free set out to become the land of convenience or if it became so unconsciously. But I’d guess that even the flag-wielding, Dodge-driving, open-carrying Southerners may have been able to endure life without these one-stop shops for bullets and prescription pill refills, selling T-shirts that say, “Pistols or Prozac, dispensing happiness”.

Non-Americans reading this will likely be surprised that a store called Drug & Gun exists. It’s too on the nose, surely. But as an implant of six months in this country, the only thing that surprises me is that Drug & Gun thoughtlessly requires its customers to park their truck, put their feet on the ground and walk into the store. I’d guess it’s five years until, like everything else, it’s converted into a drive-thru. For maximum convenience it should really be open 24 hours.

The first time I realised America was perfect was when I was getting married. We wanted something quick and fun and were putting far more focus on the after-party than the legal ceremony itself, as one should. I searched “Weddings in Virginia”, and one of the first results was the “I do drive-thru”. No way, I thought. My New Yorker fiancé was less surprised. He jokes that Americans are so fixated on comfort that, with so many drive-by shootings, they even stay seated when they murder. This should be less funny. After all, he found himself a few feet from being hit by a bullet in a drive-by shooting on 14th street in Washington DC a few years ago. “It’s kind of romantic,” he said. “Like knights jousting from their horses.”

The “I do drive-thru” is a very serious business. It is a tiny chapel with a spire on wheels and can drive to wherever you want it to be. You could, if you were so inclined, get the “I do drive-thru” to drive to the parking lot of Drug & Gun. If I had thought of that five weeks ago, I absolutely would have been married that way. Instead, we drove to our nearest courthouse an hour or so before it was due to close with no idea if we even had the right paperwork. The woman at the desk gave us the number of a nice Irish lady that lived nearby that officiates a few weddings a day. Not quite a drive-thru, but only a few feet away from her car, it kind of counts. As the state motto goes: Virginia is for lovers.

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The most convenient drive-thrus are the ones that Americans take for granted. I don’t quite know why I’m so delighted about drive-thru ATMs, but to me it feels like peak indulgence. Taking our little plastic credit cards of borrowed money and swiping them in a hole in the wall after hearing the hum of the electric windows going down. It’s modern; how the future was always meant to look, along with flying cars and conversation pits, although cash is now a thing of the past. Drive-thru ATMs are older than any other type of drive-thru, with the first opening at the Grand National Bank of St Louis, Missouri in 1930, the same decade that drive-thru theatres and restaurants would open, and America became accustomed to never leaving its car seats.

[See also: America is nothing more than a self-help society]

To find the best drive-thrus in America and the best of everything else, you’ll need to head to Louisiana. Most people I’ve asked about their favourite drive-thrus told me that it’s got to be Louisiana’s daiquiri drive-thrus. Invented in the early 1980s, before there were any state laws prohibiting drinking and driving, Louisianans would have about two years to enjoy them guilt free before the state outlawed open containers in cars. In retaliation, the stores introduced daiquiri drive-thru closed containers – the same cup but sealed with a piece of tape securing the lid to the cup and covering the straw hole. This loophole endures. It’s held up for 40 years, beating multiple court challenges.

In America, there are drive-thru ballot boxes and drive-thru strip clubs. (One in Pennsylvania even offers private dances.) In Arizona, there are drive-thru bins, one height for regular cars, another for lifted pick-up trucks. But I was disappointed, while also slightly relieved, that even with our obsession with therapy, a drive-thru therapist is yet to exist. Imagine that. “Welcome, can I take your disorder?”

I give it ten years.

Best of all is a funeral home in Compton that does open-casket drive-thru displays. In the 1980s, cemetery shootouts peaked and gang members were reluctant to congregate for graveside services. The drive-thru funeral was born, with bulletproof glass.

For regular health, not mental health, there is now such a thing as a drive-thru hospital. In Atlanta, Georgia, you can go to a DriveThru Urgent Care to get all manner of medical examinations, excluding X-rays.

That means that if your mother rolled up pregnant to the doctor’s window, you could in theory lead a whole American life, being born, buying food, getting your first drink, filling your prescriptions, doing your banking, buying your gun and eventually being mourned, all from the seat of your car. That, surely, is the American Dream.

[See also: Americans don’t belong in Europe]

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