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Drive-up squawk boxes: Can you hear me now?

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POSTED October 18, 2009 2:11 a.m.
It makes no sense at all.

We can literally communicate with a man on the moon and drive a vehicle with access to satellite technology that can get someone in Detroit to unlock our car doors when we leave the keys in the ignition but they still can’t make a drive-up order box where you can understand the clerk.

I’ve always felt semi-stupid every time I use a drive-up window at a fast food joint (sorry, Ronald and Jack, they’re not restaurants in my book). You sit there waiting for someone to acknowledge you, and when they do it’s inadvertently, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” That is what I assume they’re saying since they talk so fast and half the time it is unintelligible due to static.

Someone needs to explain to me how I can call a friend from my a cell phone from 8,000 feet on the way up to Mt. Whitney some 200-plus miles away and I can hear them as clear as a bell yet you try to talk to a fast food jockey 40 feet away you can’t make out a thing.

I’ve used $10 walkie talkies at that distance that have better reception.

Then there are those places that like to torture you with a prerecorded, cheery message pushing a menu item that you have no desire to buy. This is frustrating for two reasons. First, after waiting for an eternity you actually think that they’ve acknowledged you and, secondly, the message is 1,000 times easier to understand than the live human voice that follows it.

And if you’re really lucky at the end of the pitch you’ll hear someone say, “just a moment please.”

Why play the pitch if you’re then going to ignore me?

Within a minute or so, they will try to make contact with you again.

They come on sounding like the pilot of a $50 million jetliner that’s been equipped with what seems like a $12 squawk box for a public address system.

This is where the fun part starts.

You try to speak slowly and distinctly as if you’re a 10-year-old in a speech therapy class yet they never seem to understand what you’re saying. I’m the first to admit I talk too fast. But when I am talking at a rate that is so slow that I’m practically sounding out the vowels, you’d think there would be technology on their end that would allow them to pick up what I am saying.

When I complained about this one time at the window, the high school-aged guy who was at the other end apologized saying he was distracted by the sound of the milkshake machine.

Likely story coming from a generation where six guys will carry on a conversation while riding in a tricked out Dodge Neon down Main Street with a reverberating boom box tape turned all the way up to the point it is shaking store front windows. Teens have a tendency to study with enough noise distractions to drive Van Halen crazy yet they can’t hear you making a simple order.

If you’re lucky, you will have pulled up to a fast food joint that has a visual screen read out of what you just ordered. If not, you will get  a static rendition of what sounds like Jerry Lewis talking with a kazoo in his mouth before they tell you that’ll be “mumble jumble” at the first window.

You can’t get their attention because they’ve switched you off and moved to filling your order.

What makes it all the more amazing is this little defiant kiss off act comes after you’ve struggled for a good minute or so at her request to repeat what you want because she can’t  understand you. So what makes her think you could understand her?

Logic, of course, has nothing to do with a fast food joint. If it did, they wouldn’t post signs saying you’re limited to “x” amount of sauces per “xx” number of chicken nuggets and extra ones cost $12.50 each but if you ask the window clerk for hot sauce or catsup they toss two dozen packets into your order along with 40 napkins.

One would think that a company that spends millions on TV advertising to get you into their drive through wouldn’t bother to invest on an audio ordering system that works.

But then again, I’ve given up trying to figure out why my previous cell phone provider kept trying to get me to upgrade to another phone with additional fee-based services such as being able to take and send photos when half the time I couldn’t get what I subscribed to their service for in the first place - a dial tone.
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