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Drive Thru Dreams

You’ve done it again. You forgot.

Picture it: Your brown-paper lunch bag is sitting home on the kitchen counter with chips, banana, and sandwich right where you put it, forgotten as you dashed to work. Yep, that’s OK. According to Adam Chandler in his book “Drive-Thru Dreams,” for over a century, forgetful diners have had a tasty lunchtime back-up.

A hundred years ago, if you were hungry and in Wichita, you were in luck.

Although Texas, Wisconsin and Connecticut have laid claim to it, Wichita is where America’s first hamburger was invented, says Chandler. Not long before, Upton Sinclair had written an exposé on American stockyards; because of this, the tiny square of meat was cooked where diners could watch, so that they’d feel more confident in the food’s safety.

At around that time, hailing from Indiana, a scrappy rascal named Harlan Sanders was looking for the next deal. As a teenager, Sanders dropped out of school, worked on a streetcar, joined the army, rode the rails, fought and scrapped and kept his eyes open. A decent cook since the age of five, he eventually opened a café on a road that was later bypassed by the highway system; undaunted, he set off by car to sell his flour-and-spices concoction meant for making delicious chicken dinners.

Of course, dinner isn’t complete without ice cream and Dairy Queen joined the nation’s table about the time Sanders was building his café. Bob’s Big Boy took a seat, too, as did several regional burger joints and Burger King, which still uses the motto they’ve had since 1957. Three years prior, though, Ray Kroc set his eyes on a small restaurant with world-wide potential.

And Sanders?

His chicken was a sensation, but he was getting on in years, and not inclined to fight the corporatization of fast food. In 1964, he was convinced to sell the licensing rights to Kentucky Fried Chicken to investors for $2 million; seven years later, rights were resold for over 140 times that.

Nobody’d blame you if you’re suddenly hungry now. You might have cravings for a burger and fries, or you might have cravings for “Drive-Thru Dreams.”

Starting with a short tale of one small town’s excitement over a rumored taco emporium, author Adam Chandler tells the story of what the industry prefers to call “quick-serve restaurants.” It’s a tasty biographical account of men and meals, the fun of which comes as Chandler explains how take-out fits in with everyday society and how Americans lived parallel to each stage of fast food’s development.

There’s a bit of business in those tales, but there’s also a helping of nostalgia and bites of "oh wow" in what Chandler offers; taking it further, he writes of how religion and insistent fans changed what we eat, which “secret menu items” are a thing, and why Baby Boomers are good for the industry.

So grab a burger, pour the ketchup, spoon up the coleslaw, and crack open “Drive-Thru Dreams.” If eat-on-the-go is your summertime go-to, it’s worth a nibble.

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