Fast food

If you need proof that we're all too danged busy, consider this item from USA Today: This year, the average American will eat 32 restaurant-purchased meals in a car, up from 19 such meals in 1985.

When you consider that some Americans (like me) almost never eat in vehicles and that many don't even have cars, that works out to -- let's see, 32 meals into 52 weeks a year, carry the 2, minus Big Gulps, which aren't officially "food" -- to, um, one heckuva lot of meals on wheels.

I recently saw a fellow motorist who was weaving so much that I assumed he was drunk. As I nervously hurried past, I saw he was eating a big, drippy burger while also talking on his cell phone. Steering with his knees rather than miss a bite of burger or a juicy tidbit of telephone gossip. Both activities apparently were more important than the fact he was endangering lives. Did I mention this was on the freeway?

You who spend a lot of time commuting and/or eating in your vehicle probably are thinking about now: So what? We do what we have to do to make the most of every minute of every day. If it means dripping "special sauce" into our laps at 75 mph, then so be it.

Automakers strive to equip vehicles for full-speed dining. My minivan, the Soccer Mom Special, comes equipped with (and I'm not making this up) 13 cupholders. Thirteen. Since you can only fit seven people in this vehicle, the automaker apparently assumed that each passenger needs two drinks going at any given time. In which case, shouldn't the van also be equipped with a bathroom?

Creative auto engineers could come up with more ways to outfit our wheeled restaurants. They could:

--Add lap tables that fold out of the armrests, like the ones on airlines. Probably not safe in a crash, but tables would enable drivers to keep their hands free for driving, at least part of the time.

--Replace that "new car smell" with the aroma of stale French fries. Going to happen sooner or later. Might as well cut to the chase.

--Offer upholstery in colors that would hide anticipated spills: Hot Coffee, Old Ketchup, Dried Mustard, Radioactive Red Slurpee.

Fast food purveyors could help, too. How about packaging food in "feed bags" like horses use? Drivers could keep their hands on the wheel, while munching away at the food strapped to their heads.

More roadside cafes could offer "astronaut food," pureed items in plastic tubes. We could squeeze our meals into our mouths and skip all that inconvenient chewing.

Restaurants should also offer more food items "on a stick," so each motorist might have one hand free for steering. Burger on a stick. Chicken on a stick. Fish kebabs. Condiments could be in "dipping tubs" designed to fit in our many cupholders.

I'm sure creative food packagers are searching for such innovations. But, for my money, the best service concept could be summed up in one word:


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