O’SHAUGHNESSY: Would it kill you to walk inside?


It’s 8:12 a.m. at my local Dunkin’ Donuts and nine vehicles are idling in the drive-thru lane. Nearly two-thirds are SUVs, elephantine beasts belching malodorous effluent into suburbia. I have my eyes on one car, a Mini-Cooper as it happens, sandwiched in between a Toyota Highlander and a Ford Explorer.

I want to know how long this hapless Cooper is going to wait for his cup o’ Joe.

The Cooper waits 7 minutes and 38 seconds.

Not long after, I drive to the same Dunkin’ Donuts, park my car, set my brake, walk in, get a medium coffee with cream, walk out, start my ignition and pull out of the parking lot.

It takes me 1 minute and 36 seconds.

Why, one might reasonably ask, would an able-bodied person sit on their duff for nearly 10 minutes for a cruller, when they could simply park the car, jump out and receive prompt and efficient service?

I’m sure there are lots of perfectly reasonable reasons, but how about this one: Because you are a lazy slug.

Welcome to America, a drive-thru, sit-on-your-can, stuff-your-face Arcadia of indulgence. Drive-thrus, for years the province of fast-food-restaurants that encouraged you to shout your order into cartoon characters’ gullets, are now the sine qua non of the retail world. More than 80 percent of Walgreen stores offer them, the company says. In Cheshire, CVS is closing a perfectly acceptable strip-mall CVS so it can build a stand-alone, big box pharmacy with — you guessed it — a drive thru.

The drive-thru is the retail equivalent of Internet shopping. It coddles consumers who don’t want to be inconvenienced by the onerous task of stopping their engine, getting out of their cars and moving 25 feet. Of the 56,500 pharmacies in the U.S., 10,600 now have drive-thrus, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores says. Five years ago, that number was 8,250. Some 50 percent of Dunkin Donuts’ 414 stores in Connecticut are drive-thru. Starbucks recently announced that it, too, was going to offer drive-thrus. McDonalds has 13,000 restaurants across the U.S. and 90 percent have drive-thrus. The number of drive-thrus has doubled in the last five years.

"I don’t like getting out of the car," Victoria Vollaire told USA Today. She spends $400 a month at the In-N-Out Burger stand in Ontario, Calif. More than half of the $129 billion we spend on fast food is sucked in through the drive-thru.

And how much is gas a gallon?

By some estimates, Americans waste nearly 3.8 million gallons of gasoline a year just idling their cars, reports the Hinkle Charitable Foundation. Depending on gas prices, a driver spends more than $200 idling only 10 minutes a day.

When I was a kid we lived next to an old woman named Mrs. Crossman, who would routinely start her Plymouth Valiant at 7 a.m., putter inside for a cup of coffee and come outside eight minutes later, when the car had "warmed up." Some people still believe their cars need to idle interminably before they can hit their foot on the accelerator.

Not anymore. With electronic ignition, turning your car off and on repeatedly does not wear out the battery or the starter or waste gas.

It’s always better to shut a warmed-up car off and restart, says Catherine C. Milbourn, of the Environmental Protection Agency. "As a practical matter, with the price of gasoline, wow, I wouldn’t want to idle for 7 minutes."

Look, it’s a simple equation. Gas is flirting with the $4 a gallon mark. We’re living in a country in which 62 percent of adults and 34 percent of children are overweight or obese. Getting out of the car is not going to give you 6-pack abs or the hips of a nymph. But it will force you to get a modicum of exercise, open the possibility that you might have a human encounter, save you money in gas — and, oh yeah, reduce all that exhaust going into the environment.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell famously would like us to do "one thing" to save our environment. How about this one: Use your head.



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