Monday, June 11, 2012

Crazy Drive-Thru Lady

Last week after writing about the foods I crave but can’t have (as they can only be found in Nebraska), I decided that being able to have one out of three isn’t too bad, and attempted to seek out the Culver’s that is allegedly in Thornton, CO.

Saturday afternoon, after driving down to Aurora, I took a slight detour on the way home. My daughters were asleep in the backseat, and I was driving slowly down the street, rubbernecking around, trying to spot my destination. I knew it had to be close, but I wasn’t sure which side of the street it was on.

There was nothing interesting to the right, but on the other side of the street I spotted a Jack-in-the-Box (which did not interest me in the least; I’ve never eaten there, since it’s more of a West Coast place, and in fact there are none in Nebraska at all). Across the street from that, shining in the sunlight, was a Taco John’s. I hung a left immediately, the Hallelujah Chorus playing in my head.

I love Taco John’s. The reason I did not add it to my list of things I love and miss is because it would have been redundant, since it’s a Mexican fast food place, just like Amigos. Also, the closest Amigos is fourish hours away by car while the closest Taco John’s (that I knew of before Saturday) is an hour away. The other things that make Amigos more dear to my heart are that it is a place that I used to go all the time when I was a kid, and the Ranch. (Last November a Lincoln radio program had a heated debate about the best condiment in Lincoln. Amigos’ Ranch was a frontrunner.)

I was immensely excited to find a Taco John’s so close to where we live. Sure, 40 minutes is still a bit of a long drive for a craving, but since it’s between our place and my in-laws’ house, I can stop there on the way home from a visit without feeling too silly about having to drive all the way to Fort Morgan for a Meat & Potato Burrito.

I called my husband. “I found a Taco John’s!” I reported excitedly. “Who wants Culver’s when you can have Taco John’s?! Want me to bring you anything?” “Why would I want something from Taco John’s?” he asked in an annoyed tone. It did not deter my excitement. I pulled up into the drive-thru lane, and expressed the fact that I was thrilled to the guy on the other end of the speaker before I would let him take my order.

“I used to live in Nebraska where there are tons of awesome Mexican fast food places, and there are none here, so I’m so excited to find a Taco John’s here!” I babbled to him as he took my money. “Well, we’ll be here whenever you want to come,” he said, handing over my food. I did a little dance before I pulled out of the parking lot, my mouth full of Potato Olés.

I called my mother. She was more sympathetic to my excitement than my husband had been. “That’s great, honey!” “Nomnomnom,” I replied, disdaining a napkin in favor of brushing my hand on my jeans.

A little later as I debated whether it was a good idea to juggle driving and burrito chomping, I reflected on the impression I had made on the employees in the drive-thru. I used to work the drive-thru at Amigos (a task I enjoyed more than, say, doing the dishes), and in all my time there, I never had an experience quite like the Taco John’s employees had been through.

I had people come through the drive-thru that hadn’t had Amigos in a while and were glad to be back, but no one that was surprised to see an Amigos, unless it was surprise that there was one just down the street from the last one they’d passed: there are twenty-seven Amigos locations currently, with more than half of those in Lincoln.

Since Lincoln is a college town and college students like to drink and prowl about the city late into the night, almost all of the Amigos locations in Lincoln stay open until after the post-bar crawl food forage. I used to have tons of fun with the silly people that would come through the drive-thru late at night, laughing at their antics along with their designated driver. I can’t remember how many high fives I gave through the window.

One of my favorite drive-thru stories involves a brush with royalty. The management’s desire for their employees to connect with the customers has led to the company policy of asking for the customer’s name, which makes sense in the dining room since you can actually see the person and match their name with their face. I never understood asking for a person’s name in the drive-thru. It was just as ridiculous as if we had been ordered to ask what kind of car they were driving. So after a stern talking to by a manager who I knew agreed with me about the policy but had to enforce it anyway, I was manning the drive-thru register when a vehicle pulled up. “Welcome to Amigos/Kings Classic...” I paused to sigh, “...can I get a name for your ticket?” “Henry the Eighth!” the voice on the other end replied. I couldn’t help laughing: “What can I get for you, your Majesty?”

There were fun people, but there were crazy people, too. People that came through on their bicyles demanding to be served even though there were “NO BICYCLES” signs clearly posted on the windows and next to the menu signs; people that would demand more chicken on their salad, no matter how the manager tried to explain that the amount of chicken on their salad was the same as everyone got; and people that would try to talk us into giving us extra sides of Ranch for free, and would sit there until we threatened to call the cops because they were holding up the line.

As I chomped into the deliciousness of my burrito, I realized: I’m Crazy Drive-Thru Lady. I could just imagine the lunch crew telling the story of my visit to the manager coming in to cover the dinner shift: “She was just so excited, it was pretty hilarious,” one would say. “I saw her dancing after she pulled up to the second window,” another would add.

I paused to sip at my drink and decided that I do not mind being Crazy Drive-Thru Lady. There is no reason why I should not be excited at being able to have a taste of home that I miss so much. And today I discovered that there will soon be a new Taco John’s location opening just ten miles away in Longmont, CO. I will be excited to go there when it opens and to have it close enough to my house to cruise by and grab it whenever I have a craving for it. I look forward to becoming the regular who orders a #5 and always tells whoever’s in the drive-thru that she is so glad to have them nearby. Even if they think I’m crazy.

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