Bradentonians and Sarasotans, I'm afraid to share with you that times are tough, so we're rationing napkins at the drive-thru.
Maybe we're running low on napkin trees or diners on the go have superior hand-mouth coordination that I lack.
Covering Manatee County I find myself at fast food drive-thrus way too much in between assignments or even after work. (I apologize to my doctor, but no one else.) Whether it's a desperate breakfast while running late to work or an evening craving for dessert, it happens.
I know there are some things that I just can't handle at the drive-thru like tacos. I don't care how I position the taco in my hand, the supreme part of my taco supreme is leaving a grande stain on my lap. I've yet to see someone tackle a salad while driving on Manatee Avenue or eat a bunless burger while navigating Anna Maria Island. Some foods are just not compatible behind the wheel, especially for anyone who has a stick shift and clutch.
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Other times I'm a little bold and think I can handle a Whopper with things such as lettuce, tomato and onion. If I'm lucky enough to get a napkin, I prepare myself for the drive unfolding the napkin to its widest dimensions and tucking it behind the seatbelt with the corner in my shirt collar. Some people call it a bib, I say it's a life jacket.
A recent trip to Culver's on University Parkway put me over the top when nary a napkin was on hand or in sight. The cashier handed me the waffle
cone as I handed over my card. I was impressed that they wrapped it with paper. Hooray, I thought, my hands will be saved from a sticky ride home. She went to get my drink and when she said Pepsi but was gone before I could tell her I ordered a root beer.
By the time she came back, I'm trying to balance putting my debit card back in my wallet, balancing an ice cream cone and being told to have a good day before I had a chance to say I need a napkin. Nevermind the drink, it was more of an accessory to wash the custard down.
To add to the melting time bomb, a six-inch spoon was stuck in the custard, making my rush to avoid any spillage look like an awkward make-out session to drivers passing by as I navigated around the spoon.
I'm not just picking on Custard's here. McDonald's, Wendy's, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks all seem to be stingy with napkins. I do mean napkins, plural. One is not enough, folks.
Stuff happens on these roads, like the careless mom darting across Tamiami Trail traffic near Bayshore Gardens with her baby in her stroller every day, prompting me to hit the brakes and avoid any spillage. I've prepared myself for that scenario now.
Coffee might be filled up too high so that after a few taps on the brakes, I show up to work with a mocha polka dot shirt.
Or thanks to Florida's heat, no matter how cold the air conditioner is in my car, the dairy river flows. No matter how much I try to get the cone in my mouth, a good portion ends up around my face. The dried aftermath makes me look like a baby who wanted to save some formula on his face for the ride to daycare. Or like a 30-year-old man who just hasn't mastered eating. I still have time.
Three napkins seem to be the magic number if you can score them. One to wipe, one for your hands and an extra for unexpected messes.
There are napkin gold mines to be had, fellow diners. I found myself at a Tampa Krispy Kreme on a recent Friday night, where the "Hot Now" light showed a comforting glow. After picking up donuts and a coffee, the cashier hands me a wad of napkins at least two inches thick.
I wanted to hug her or make it rain napkins in my car because that's enough reason to celebrate. My rational self would have hoarded those suckers in my console for the times when I get ice cream on the go.
Instead, I brought them inside my apartment to make my paper towels jealous, I guess.
At that point I realized this is as much me as it is the drive-thru attendants who are as rushed as much I am.
I used 700 words to get that point across and really, it's on me to just use five: "May I have some napkins?"
Charles Schelle, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.