No trip to the southwest would be complete without a stop at Jack-in-the-Box. Not only are the onion rings a resplendent toast to the deep fryer, but there also happens to be a cute, quick-witted spokesclown with a ready smile. Jack-in-the-Box is definitely pilgrimage material. So that's where I found myself today, after a 3 1/2 hour flight to Phoenix.
Coincidentally, my first date with Jack also happened in Phoenix, when I was 11. It was my first date with a drive-thru, as well, and it would prove to be a long-standing, three-way love affair - me, my car and food in sacks. Unfortunately, it was also where my stepfather yelled a profanity at the clown. From that I am still recovering.
There were three of us in the car that auspicious day, my stepsister, Liz, my stepfather, Tony, and me. We were all giddy drive-thru novices, drunk with the idea of getting food without stepping foot outside the vehicle.
Tony pulled up into the drive-thru lane. That part we did well. We could see the clown from where we were idling, looking happy and bulbous with the promise of Jumbo Jacks and fries in white paper sacks. He was ready to take our order and we were ready to give it.
The car in front of us pulled ahead, and it was now our turn. We slowly inched up - another smart move. And then Tony started to talk to the clown.
"We'll have a Jumbo Jack, three tacos, three fries and a chocolate shake. And a 7 UP." He said it confidently. He was a confident guy. Smooth, in control, self-assured, in a suave Dick Cavett kind of way. Then the clown spoke.
"Can I take your order?" The person speaking was presumably inside the store just fifteen feet away, but from the distant sound of the voice, could have been in India or Peru or on some atoll in the South Pacific.
Liz and I looked at each other. Even though we had never done this before, we both possessed the deep genetic, pre-pubescent understanding of fast food ordering.
Tony had jumped the gun. The clown was supposed to go first.
"What? I can't hear....," Tony was saying to the clown, his ire rising.
"Can I take your order, please?" the voice said again.
"I already told you!" he yelled. And then he really let the clown have it. "Goddamn it!!" he yelled at the clown.
I gasped, and then climbed in the back seat and hid on the floor. Tony pressed on the gas and peeled around the corner. Liz and I were in a state of shock. Our dad swore at the clown.
We pulled up to the window and were forced to order again, this time in person. I hadn't yet encountered a worse humiliation. As you'd expect, the tacos were greasy, and the special sauce on the Jumbo Jack wasn't so special after all. Sullen and defeated, we drove home.
Years later, the three of us - me, my car and my sack of greasy Jack-in-the-Box tacos - would discover each other again, after a midnight showing of Rocky Horror. You gotta love second chances.