Katie Johnson's Deep-Fried Drive-Thru Fantasy

If you can't stand the heat -- get in the kitchen. On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Lounge at Crescent Ballroom, Chow Bella writers are warming up for summer with "Fried," an evening of true stories. Admission is free; food and drink will be available for sale.

Today: Katie Johnson's Deep-Fried Drive-Thru Fantasy

"Welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order?"

I'm 7 years old and I'm kneeling behind a low wooden chest in my parent's cookie-cutter home in Ahwatukee. My stepfather, Jim, is on the floor with me. Hunched over in wilted work clothes, he studies a nonexistent drive-thru menu at the far end of my bedroom. "Yeah, can I get . . . a Big Mac with large fries and a Coke, and . . .," he says, leaning in to get a better look at the invisible menu, "a Happy Meal, please."

See also: - Katie Johnson's Chicken-Flavored Valentine

As he gives his order, I immediately begin sorting through my eclectic collection of plastic fruit, meat patties, bread slices, and pea pile molds. I package them into brown paper lunch bags and hand to them to my all-too-familiar customer, exchanging pleasantries about our families, the weather, and never-ending workweek.

We finish our transaction and Jim crawls out of my unmarked drive-thru, dropping the bags subtly behind the door so that I can retrieve them, dump them out, and start this whole game over again -- and again and again.

At 7, my life goals are simple. I want to look just like Cindy Crawford, I want to drive a pink Corvette like Barbie, and I want to be the drive-thru girl at McDonald's.

When I disclose these dreams to my mom, she informs me that Cindy Crawford is not really human, but rather a goddess among women, that Corvettes are only for strippers and men, and that being the drive-thru girl at McDonald's is a rather lackluster ambition for a girl who can work the TV like a pro.

But I love it.

I love the simplicity of it. People drive up, they order, you deliver, they pay, you both smile, the end. There is a routine to the drive-thru and I am a child that needs routine.

I am what my family describes as "intense." As a child, I will focus to the point of not being able to let go. I will be late to even the most important days at school because I insist on completing the hopscotch before I enter the building. I will watch feature-length films all the way through to the credits, rewind them, and watch them again without distraction.

And I will make my stepdad crawl on his knees through my makeshift McDonald's to the point of rug burn because I am a child that does not like change.

Of course, at 7 years old, the irony of my fry-girl fantasy is lost on me, because in the real world, nothing about the drive-thru is permanent. People roll out of your life just as easily as they roll into it. Exchanges are quick, insubstantial, and with no guarantee of happening with the same person twice.

But this daily real-world change is something I simply cannot grasp as a child. I cannot grasp it on the days that Jim is not in the mood to play drive-thru. I cannot grasp it on the nights when I wake up to sounds of him and my mom yelling. And I really cannot grasp it on the day she packs up her Honda and drives me and my sister out of Ahwatukee.

The nice thing about change, I will learn, is that though I may not perfect the art of embracing it, I will nonetheless encounter it - encounter it so often that other changes will eventually get pushed aside. Big changes will eclipse smaller ones, the new will replace the old until one day, almost 20 years later, I'm lost and wandering in Ahwatukee. But rather than stop and mourn what could have been and kept being, I'll simply just drive through.

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Katie Johnson
Contact: Katie Johnson