It’s the week before my gallbladder operation and I want a few last hurrahs before my digestive system goes into hibernation. So my friend Ray I pull into a Sonic off Route 46.
“I’ve never been to one of these places before,” I say.
“You’ll love it,” Ray says as we pull into the lot. “The shakes are really good here.”
Sonic is a throwback to those carhop restaurants from the Fifties. You park your car next to a kiosk, place your order over an intercom and then a guy or girl on roller-skates delivers your food. In the old days the carhops used to hang a tray on your car door. But Sonic has decided to forgo this tradition, probably because they don’t want the liability headaches. I can’t blame them. These days a simple dent costs a thousand bucks to fix at a body shop.
‘Welcome to Sonic,” a chirpy voice says over the intercom. “What would you like to order?” Ray and I order two Sonic Burgers, French fries, onion rings and two vanilla shakes. Clogged arteries here we come.
“You’ve been here before,” I say to Ray. “What do you tip the carhop?”
“You’re the expert,” he says smugly. “You tell me.”
Even though I just wrote a book about tipping I realize I don’t know what to do. I don’t beat myself up however – tipping is a vast and mysterious topic and I couldn’t cover every contingency.
“I honestly don’t know,” I say. “Give me a minute.”
Take-out delivery people told me that they want a fifteen to twenty percent tip or the cost of a gallon of gas – whichever’s greater. But a Sonic waiter’s on skates and travelling a hundred feet max. So that’s out. They’re also not taking the order so they’re not like a traditional restaurant server. Tipping at fast food places is usually verboten, though not always, and Sonic is fast food. And they’re not like buffet servers who deserve a tip as well. What to do? What to do? I crunch all my gratuity experience in my head.
“Ten percent,” I finally say.
“You sure?” Ray asks. “On fast food?”
“There is a service element involved. And can you imagine skating in the rain or snow?”
“But it ain’t raining now.”
“Tipping in a place like this is optional,” I say. “But I’d say these kids aren’t making a lot so a tip would be nice.”
“You’re leaving the tip then,” Ray says. “You’re the tipping guru.”
“Thanks a lot.”
If you’re a guru does that mean you get to have concubines? You know, like that guy from the Waco?”
“Please don’t compare me to that guy.”
“I can see you living in a compound with some groupies,” Ray says. “You were in the seminary. You could pull it off. Found some kind of religion!”
“The tax-exempt status would be nice. But I think tipping falls short of the criteria for a religion.”
“Gimme a break,” Ray says. “If Scientologists say they’re disembodied spirits from outer space why can’t there be a religion about tipping??
“Give it a rest,” I say. “I don’t want to get sued.”
The carhop arrives with our food. The bill is around twenty bucks so I give the girl three dollars. “Thank you, sir” she says brightly. “Appreciate it.”
“That was more than ten percent,” Ray says.
“The girl seemed to be struggling with her skates, poor thing.”
We eat our food while listening to a ballgame on the radio. The food isn’t bad. After Ray and I finish our meal we dump our wrappers and cups into the trash and drive away.
“That hit the spot,” Ray says.
“Uh-huh,” I say, rubbing my belly. Boy, I’m going to pay for this.
“Wait a minute,” Ray says, wriggling in his seat. “Wait…..”
“What?” I say. “Something the matter?” It’s then that Ray releases a fart of epic proportions.
“Jesus Ray!” I say, lowering my car window. “What the hell?”
“That my friend was a Sonic Boom.”