News your connection to The Boston Globe

Drive time

BEING ON foot in an automobile culture can provide a maddening, yet instructive, look into the American psyche. A person waiting for an oil change at a garage in a shopping center, for instance, might easily decide to go next door to the Dunkin' Donuts drive-up kiosk for a coffee.

But that would be wrong, even if no cars are in line.

''We don't serve walk-ups," the clerk said on a recent Saturday at a Norwell shop.

''Why not?" asked the pedestrian.

''Because it will hold up the line," she said.

''But there is no line," the pedestrian insisted, just as an SUV pulled up to start a queue.

''We don't serve walk-ups," the clerk repeated with the assurance of a person who knows right from wrong and is obviously dealing with a deviant. The SUV revved its motor and crept a little closer to the troublemaker, as if to punctuate the clerk's words.

''My car is right over there," the pedestrian sputtered, trying to establish legitimacy, but backing off and conceding that the argument, and the coffee, were lost.

Dunkin' Donuts communications manager Susanne Norwitz e-mailed a statement saying customer safety dictated the policy and that drive-through windows were ''designed for the convenience of customers in vehicles."

That perspective dominates a lot more than doughnuts. Laurie Schalow, press officer for Taco Bell Corp., said refusing service to pedestrians in the car lane was ''pretty much standard" for the fast-food industry. Press officers at Bank of America and Sovereign Bank say their companies let pedestrians complete their transactions at drive-up teller windows but urge them to come on wheels next time. ''They're supposed to be in a vehicle," said Ellen Molle at Sovereign, articulating the mind-set of a nation built for the car.

Today, walking is regarded as an exercise that one does in a designated space -- the gym treadmill, the park, the sidewalk -- rather than as a natural movement that is far more healthy than gripping a steering wheel.

Walking is offered as an amenity in residential developments and city pedestrian malls -- something special that one can do when one isn't engaged in the normal business of conducting transactions from a car window. A church in Tustin, Calif., even offers motorists a drive-through prayer booth -- but it doesn't turn away walk-ups.

In his book ''A Walk in the Woods," Bill Bryson tells of trying to get to a Kmart in the car-centric city of Waynesboro, Va. His harrowing encounter with a six-lane highway, drivers infuriated by his presence, and a detour through mud, bushes, and over cement barriers was worse than just about anything he endured on the Appalachian Trail.

He was supposed to be in a vehicle, you see. At least he didn't try to order coffee.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search