Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Philadelphia City Paper in 1993. Caveat: we were four snarky 20-somethings spending the day in the car in Philly and New Jersey. Since then, Six Flags Great Adventure no longer has the drive-thru Wild Safari, MAC machines are called ATMs, there are cell phones and Shelly and Roderik are still married. A few edits have been made for clarity and brevity — this sucker was long.
Three friends and I — Dave, Shelly and Roderik — decided to seek out all the things you can still do, in and around Philadelphia, without getting out of our car. It should be noted that one of our participants, Roderik, is a native of Holland, where they don’t do drive-thru.
“It’s a very American thing,” he informed us.
For entertainment in those dull moments of highway ennui, we brought Star’s special issue: Inside the FBI Secret Files, a Yes & Know trivia book with secret decoder pen, a Bugs Bunny magic slate (the kind that erases what you’ve drawn when you life up the plastic sheet), Watermelon Now and Laters and lots of Dramamine.
We decided that we could leave the car for only two reasons: bathroom breaks and up to three flea market or garage yard sales. At a flea market we spied before embarking on our ride, Dave bought a sparkly picture of Jesus with the words “Home Sweet Home” written beneath the image. Dave flung it on the back dash of his Honda — an unintended but fitting symbol of the day when Dave’s car became our home.
DRIVE-UP PHONE, Broad and South Streets
The sign said, “Phone from Car,” but in order to reach the receiver, Dave practically fell out of his car window. He stretched far enough to make our connection: we informed our newlywed friends Shelly and Roderik that we were on our way to Narberth to pick them up.
The seating plan worked out like this: Dave as pilot, Roderik as co-pilot, and Margit and Shelly as a backseat drivers. However, Shelly brought an enormous blanket and pillow which took up half the backseat. She was preparing to relax. Little did she know.
DRIVE-UP MAC, Lancaster Avenue
We were all hungry and on the lookout for fast food, but we needed fast cash, first. Shelly was disgruntled; she didn’t like having to share her PIN number with Dave, who had to punch it in for her.
Noticing that there was a set of MAC (Money Access Center for visitors from 2015) instructions posted in braille he stopped to wonder: “Wait a minute, if your vision is impaired, why would you be using a drive-up Mac?”
Drive-through story #1 (Roderik)
“When I had my first job in America, I locked myself out of the car and had to take a cab to my new job. But after a few minutes in the cab I realized I had no money. Luckily the cabdriver took me to a MAC. It was a drive-through.”
WENDY’s, Lancaster Avenue
Shelly ordered a Caesar side salad and a Coke. Dave and I ordered some thick and greasy French fries and Roderik decided on a Frosty.
“I thought this was like a milkshake?” he complained.
“Well, when it melts it is,” said Shelly.
“I don’t want this. How can you two eat fries at 10 a.m.?”
“We are American.”
Drive-through story #2 (Shelly)
“You know I cannot order drive-through on my scooter? I sat there at the [drive–up menu] I was like ‘hello?’ and they wouldn’t respond. I drove up to the window and the guy said, ‘Oh you don’t trigger the windows so we didn’t know you were there,’ and I’m like, ‘Can I just get something?’ and he said, ‘No we can’t serve you.’ I was very upset because then I had to park the scooter and come in.”
SWISS FARM DRIVE-THRU GROCERY, East Eagle Road
We were still hungry. We pulled in but we weren’t sure what to buy. A board posted by the drive-up window listed of all possible groceries: “Scrapple, Tastycakes, Wonder Bread, Milk.”
“You tell the guy what you want and he gets it for you, I think,” said Dave.
Rodrick wanted a newspaper so he could look for a job. Too bad we didn’t have a car phone; he could’ve been making appointments. We settled on some honey wheat donuts.
ST DENIS CEMETERY, Havertown, PA
Scenic cemetery drives are always a fun diversion aren’t they? We wound around the well-stocked cemetery grounds and passed a wide headstone inscribed, simply, “Stretch.”
“Pass me a wheat donut?” I asked.
“Oh shiiut!” Roderik blurted.
He’d spilled his Frosty on his pants.
Patting his pants, Roderik grumbled, “This is the whole reason why the philosophy of eating in the car is completely wrong.”
DRIVING BACK TO NARBERTH TO CLEAN UP RODERIK
So we cheated a little, but we couldn’t let Roderik sit for hours in a car after being doused with dairy.
HEADED EAST ON I-76
“Hop in my Chrysler it’s as big as a whale and it’s about to set sail” the B-52s’ Fred Schneider shouts from the radio and Shelly accompanies him with The Big Stick, Dave’s antitheft device.
A Herman Munster-looking man drove up alongside us. We wondered if we should interview him, ask him what sorts of things he does in his car.
“No, he’ll probably shoot us,” decided Shelly
“Hey drive-by shooting, that would work,” mused Dave.
A car is a very personal, private area ruled by the unwritten law that you DON’T glance at someone in a neighboring vehicle for more than three seconds or you — at best — get flipped the bird.
SUNOCO GAS STATION, Ridge Avenue
We decide to get gas — pricey at $1.59-a-gallon. Full-serve, of course. A forgotten luxury. We asked the attendant where to find a beer distributor.
“Right down the street. There’s a drive-through,” he replied.
“The magic words! It’s a drive-through,” said Shelly. “How did he know?”
Maybe he’d decided that if we were the kind of people who liked full-serve gas we certainly weren’t going to want to get out of our car to get beer.
SPEEDY BEVERAGE, Ridge and Salaignac St.
We drove right in among the cases of beer and asked for Yuengling Lager.
“Can we take your picture?” Shelly asked the guy as he was putting beer in her trunk
“Sure, where you folks from?”
Shelly piped up, “Arkansas!” then leaned over to me conspiratorially and said, “Oh they probably have lots of drive-thrus in Arkansas.”
RIDGE AVENUE DRIVE-THRU, Ridge and Henry Avenue
“LOOK! DRIVE-THRU, SOFT, HAND-DIPPED ICE CREAM! YES!” screamed Shelly,
“We’ve got to do it.”
“I’m not hungry,” said everyone.
“So what? It’s drive-thru and hand-dipped,” she urged.
Big, twice-their-size photos of dripping brownie boats, Skinny Dips and The Monster (whatever that was) all perfectly topped with a maraschino cherry beckoned.
“We’re going to eat all day!” Shelly laughed as the guy in the window handed her a chocolate water ice.
The name of this cone joint wasn’t apparent so we asked the guy in the window.
“Ridge Avenue Drive-Thru.”
The name didn’t say anything about what they serve, just how you get it.
“Let’s ask him if he’s ever had the urge to climb through the window into the lap of someone in their car,” suggested Dave.
Drive-through story #3 (Dave)
“One summer my friend worked for the R&B radio station Power 99 and we had to pick up the Power 99 van in the Gallery [a Philadelphia mall]. We got to drive the Power 99 van through the Gallery. People kept getting out of the way as I handed bumper stickers out. We were five white guys with a case of beer in the power 99 van listening to the Grateful Dead. Then we cruised South Street. The station had this promotion that if you had a bumper sticker on your car and you yelled out the window, “Ho!” you could win $100. So we had all these guys jumping in front of the van with bumper stickers on their ass is going “ho!” wanting money from us but we didn’t have any, we just had beer.”
ITALIAN MARKET, 9th Street, South Philly
(See Rocky run through the Italian Market :21 – :38)
We drive through slowly, nose to nose with the dumpsters. The wafting odor of rotten tomatoes and lettuce is harsh.
“This is going to be difficult. What we’re doing is extremely rude,” worried Dave.
On Saturday at noon, the Italian Market was packed with strollers and shopping carts on both sides, so much so that people drive down the street shopping for vegetables from their cars.
In fact, at Sarcone’s Bakery, drivers actually get out of their cars, leave the engine running, and dash in for a loaf. And you do not beep in South Philly.
We handed Roderik $1.50 to buy some fruit from one of the vendors at the Italian market.
“Should we buy a watermelon?” he asked.
“I think strawberries or grapes would be easier to manage,” I said.
“Who are you going to ask,” worried Shelly. “They’re all facing the wrong way… Hey, look, we could get some shoes, too! Can you imagine? ‘Yeah I’d like to try on a size 4’.”
Roderik shouted at one of the fruit stand guys, “Can we get five apples from you?”
“Red or gold?” the guy replied with a low, unfazed growl.
“Anything else you want while we’re here?” asked Dave as he inched along 9th street. “Grapes? Hey there’s grapes. HEY can we get some grapes?” he shouted from the driver’s seat.
“They’re $1.25 a pound,” said the next fruit seller, same unfazed growl. “Harvey, put that grape in a bag.” (Grape is singular here.)
“I’m so hungry,” said Dave, sarcastically.
“They’re dirty,” said Roderik, inspecting the grapes. “Do you have a drive-thru grape wash?”
COLONIAL CAR WASH, Washington Avenue
The weather was awfully temperamental, but we had no worries — we were in a car. If it rains you close the windows. If it stops you open them. How lovely.
“Margit can City Paper pay for this because normally I wouldn’t clean my car.”
The sign said it was a $6.25 value but today it’s $5 and we get a Polish wax (at least that’s how it’s capitalized). Then as we pulled up the guy behind the window told us it was only $4 (we just kept saving and saving!). We watched as heavy black rags swirling mops and spinning sponges did their thing.
“We’re in the chassis bath; our underside is now being washed,” I observed.
“Everything is closed, right?” asked Dave.
Roderik opened and shut the window. He giggled.
“That’s all we need,” muttered Dave. “To get your crotch wet again.”
Drive-by attractions on route to New Jersey: Nude Girls Sex Show… Erotic Oil Wrestling… Village Thrift… Cadillac dealerships…
WEBER’S, Route 38, Pennsauken, New Jersey
“I see the spinning balls! Shelly screeched.
Weber’s is a drive-in, in the truest sense of the word. Pull into a parking space underneath the shed-roofed, orange and white building, turn on your headlights for service, and a waitress in black-and-white will take your order. She’ll ask you to roll up your window halfway so she can affix a tray to it. You can get a gallon of their famous root beer to go.
“Hamburger, cheeseburger, pork roll with cheese… What’s a black cow?” asked Shelly.
“This is probably the best place in the world come after a Little League game. Kids on a school bus. Trays all the windows,” said Dave.
We asked our carhop Shannon, a student at the Camden County community college–how long Weber’s had been here.
“50 years. It’s been here, you know, since the Happy Days.”
“Do you get a lot of young people?”
“Actually, couples in their 30s… who are comfortable with each other.”
“Do the trays ever fall out?”
“The trays fall out all the time.”
”When you get a school bus of kids do you put a tray on every window?”
Dave had to ask.
”No!” She laughed. ”Up! Someone’s headlights are on, got to go!”
Very quickly, almost too quickly, she brought us our food. My hamburger tasted kind of steamed. Roderik and Shelly got a fight over whether that was mustard or cheese or he hot dog.
“You know, we think it’s so cool,” said Shelly, “But I bet people that live near here never come here. If you lived next door to Weber’s would you get in your car and drive there?”
SIX FLAGS GREAT ADVENTURE’S DRIVE-THRU SAFARI, Jackson, NJ
We tuned in “Safari” by The Breeders on our own tape deck, foregoing the Great Adventure Radio station. This drive-through zoo cost about $12 per person to go through and it’s worth it. How often do you get to have moose leave their nose scum all over your car?
“Did you see the sign? Baboons may damage parts of your car, especially vinyl tops,” warned Roderik
”Let’s open the window!” I said
“No you’re not allowed to do that,” said Shelly
“Hey c’mere you!” Roderic opened the window and beckoned to a llama.
“Roderik you can’t do that.” implored his wife.
“Here comes an ostrich,” Dave said. “If you open the window they stick their necks right in.”
“Look at the zebra truck chasing the camel… Better close your sun roof Dave… Hey, hey, what are you? Allo!”
“Look at the Bison,” said Dave. “Holy mackerel they’re giving us a car wash. He’s licking the car. Hey I just washed that window.”
We threw our Italian Market grapes out for the baboons so they’d come and sit on our rear-view mirror. Not a nice thing to do, we learned from a sign, as they have a special diet.
We started to get the feeling of a zoo within a zoo within a zoo. And we weren’t sure who was in the cage.
BUCKS COUNTY DRIVE-IN, Route 611, North of Willow Grove
We cracked open a Yuengling and settled in for our final event, a double feature of The Temp and Sliver. It was either that or Dragon and Cop and a Half. Even though we’d spent the whole day sitting in the car we were exhausted. We’d eaten the worst food imaginable and, because we hadn’t moved, we felt even sicker.
“Who wants to sit in a car and watch a movie — it’s ridiculous” cranked Roderik.
“The point isn’t the movie, silly.” Shelly grabbed him and kissed him.
Dave, who’d been in the bathroom, returned somewhat chagrined.
“Some little kid sprayed me. He was peeing too high and his friend goes, ‘Hey Bob, stop it, you’re spraying people.’ And he looks at me and I looked at him and said, ‘Yup.’”
“See, that’s the kind of weird thing that happen when you get out of the car,” I pointed out.
“Hey how about some drive-in hi-jinx,” said Shelly, “Let’s beep the horn and see if people respond.”
We turned down the Muzak from piped-in radio to observe this phenomenon. Cars began beeping, one after another.
The Temp was probably the worst movie we’d all seen in a long time. Dave dozed off as Timothy Hutton’s yuppie whinings floated into the warm evening air. The couples next to us, Schlitz in hand, settled into their lawn chairs. Shelly and Roderik started making out again in the back seat.
Roderik, it appeared, had assimilated to life in the car.
(The Bucks Country Drive-In Theater closed in 1998.)