This Leftist Drivel is Why Journalism is Dying

-By Warner Todd Huston

Today I have read a piece of “journalism” by a freelance writer whose Slate article shows me why the profession has fallen on such hard times. The piece on fast food drive thru windows is not only pretentious but it is filled with enough fluff to stuff a mattress and leaves the impression that the writer thinks it all resembles wit. It simply amazes for its vacuous nature. And, worse, it doesn’t even pay off fulfilling the premise of its headline. In fact, it is so ridiculous for its assumptions and its presumption of surety that one wonders if the writer had ever even seen a fast food drive up window or met anyone that would use one before putting pen to paper.

Upon reading this self-satisfied piece of nonsense, my first guess was that this guy is a New York metrosexual that never met an honest to God drive thru window customer in his life. Naturally, it turns out our writer friend, Tom Vanderbilt, seems to fit right in with the pretentiousness of his namesake, the Vanderbilts. I don’t know that he is actually related to that famous upper crusty clan whose name he shares but a look at his bio causes one to suspect that I was right with my first impression. He’s written for such bastions of real America as The New York Times, Harvard Design Magazine, and Smithsonian Magazine. He is, of course, from New York City.

With that sort of pedigree we can most assuredly assume he speaks for all of America, and not just the nose-in-the-air set that looks down upon the rest of us in “fly over country,” right? Dream on.

So, let us begin discussing this bastion of the literary arts with its title: “Has the American romance with the drive-through gone sour?”

Gasp, America dumping the drive thru? Could it be? One would think that with such a headline, writer Vanderbilt would have a raft of stats showing fast food chains all across the country closing their drive thrus, wouldn’t one? His first paragraph continues the premise of the header by stating that they have “come under fire, as people question the drive-through’s environmental impact” and “its place in the evolving landscape of obesity.” From here one might imagine that we are about to be regaled about all the mounting evidence about the dangers of the drive-through window. Further, one would think that our pretentious Mr. transportation writer might have proof of mounting protests, or anti-drive thru laws being passed by municipalities everywhere. One would think that Vanderbilt would find some there, there, a hook to hang his hat on, something, anything that would lead us to think that drive thrus are on the verge of extinction at least enough to justify a title that would claim that America’s “romance” with the drive-thru has “gone sour.”.

Of course, if you thought that you’d be quickly disabused of the notion simply by reading the article because it proves nothing of the kind.

Well, maybe “quickly” was the wrong word for me to use there, because one has to wade through paragraph after paragraph of fluff, puffery, oh, so clever verbiage, and word play befitting the snark of an over educated easterner before one comes anywhere near any examples of how drive thrus are endangered in America today.

In fact, he doesn’t even call it by the proper name. Adding to the stuffy, smarminess of the piece Vanderbilt insists on the more staid handle “drive-through” instead of the more colloquial and well-known “drive thru,” a word that those that use the system would more readily know them by. It was as if Mr. Vanderbilt didn’t think his actual audience — those effete, snobs he wanted to impress with his clever wordplay — could actually understand him if he’d have used the more common … and yes the commoner’s… name for the subject matter. He uses the more common “drive thru” but a few times while using “drive-through” more than twenty times. That is but a quibble compared to the other problems I have with this thing, though.

Vanderbilt starts with a history of the “drive-through restaurant” to wow us on his thorough knowledge of that quirky American penchant for the lowbrow. I’ve told you about his pretentious prose several times already, so it’s about time you got a gander at some of it for yourself. Here is how his second paragraph starts out.

There has always been something odd in the encounter between automobility and architecture; the driver momentarily breaks her sense of hermetic enclosure, while the fast-food employee briefly thrusts himself out of the window, the two meeting amid the sickly sweet commingling of ambient grease and tailpipe exhaust. The car driver doesn’t fully shed her sense of vehicular privacy and has a seemingly easy means of egress…

It’s almost unbearable, isn’t it? Apparently Vanderbilt dreams himself the big city version of a Garrison Keillor or something. He’s oh, so wry and clever isn’t he? The piece is overflowing with this junk.

If brevity is the soul of wit one must assume young Mr. Vanderbilt is the most witless of writers. He could have said in two paragraphs what it takes him the first six to ladle out to us. In fact, the whole first page is pretty much useless information if one is at all interested in the fate of the drive thru window. We find out when the first drive thrus were created, we get dash filled explanations (like drive trus are from that “hurry-up-and-eat-on-the-run kind of culture”), we are even regaled with the Latin American name for them — ventanillas. Vanderbilt indulges wonderfully erudite phrases, as when he talks of the “Stakhanovite quotas” enforced by the fast food outlets, and attempts at pop culture reference, such as when he calls drive thru customers “Bluetooothed cadres across the land.” We get so much of this minutia the reader would be excused should he have forgotten why he started reading this thing in the first place.

Finally by the seventh paragraph we start to get to the meat of it. Unfortunately, instead of meat all we get is Vanderbilt’s suspicion of “company-sponsored data” and his PC worries that global warming is being increased because of morning commuters waiting in a drive thru for their coffee. Indeed, the only statistic we get really does nothing to prove his point that drive thrus are losing steam even as he tries to present it as such.

… all is not well with the drive-through. The facilities saw a 4 percent drop in business in 2008 due to the recession.

This four percent drop seems meaningless as to the fate of the drive thru as one could guess that many fast food restaurants are seeing a drop in business in this shaky economic climate whether they have a drive thru window or not. In fact, McDonald’s recently reported its second consecutive monthly sales decline. Global sales showed the smallest increase in five years last month. By Friday, Dec. 11, McDonald’s stock had slid 2.23%.

Still, Vanderbilt finally gives us a hint of those “people” that “question” the efficacy of the drive thru by relating the spot of trouble that Canadian doughnut chain Tim Horton’s had justifying their drive thru windows to the globaloney infused Canadian nanny staters that would decide whether or not the chain were allowed to continue having them.

So, we finally get some small bit of evidence that the drive thru might be in danger of fading into history. Only it is from overzealous government officials instead of the people who count: the customers. Further it is a Canadian example and not an example of the end of the “American romance” as the headline promised to tell us about. So, we can also scratch off paragraph seven as fulfilling the premise of the headline.

Vanderbilt’s next shot at actually telling us what he started out to tell us comes in paragraph eight. Here we are introduced to the concept of the walk-up drive thru customers that are usually refused service because they aren’t in a car. Apparently Vanderbilt finds this intolerable. We get another paragraph of pointless meandering about a Larry David TV show and another one still about a Starbucks that Vanderbilt is aghast at over the fact that it added a drive thru service. Thus passes two more paragraphs that violate the promise to tell us why “America” has “soured” on the drive thru. We only have three more to go before the story is over and we’ve yet to satisfy the headline and opening paragraph.

And now we are at paragraph ten where Mr. Vanderbilt tells us of a she-she she from Portland (that’s real America, I’ll tell ya) who was denied service from a burger joint because she was trying to use a bicycle in the drive thru instead of a car. Apparently this metromommie was so upset that she twittered about it.

And there you have it. That is all the stats and proof we get for we are almost out of time for Mr. Vanderbilt’s tale.

Yes, you heard right, folks. One freelance writer from Portland’s twitter about a drive thru, and a Canadian nanny stater’s interference with Tim Horton’s was enough for Vanderbilt to decide that all of America is about to “sour” on the fast food drive thru!

As they say on late night TV, “but wait, there’s more!”

With his last breath in this bit of nonsense he thinks is a worthy addition to our national discourse we finally arrive at the real reason why Mr. Vanderbilt contends that, “America is souring on the drive thru.” Oh, it’s not because he has statistics, it’s not because he has shown us growing legislation against them, it’s not because millions of customers are complaining about them, either. No, what it comes down to is that Mr. Vanderbilt is himself too cool to like them. He’s turned up his well-educated nose at them and decided they are “dangerous.”

Vanderbilt turns up his nose at the low-born capitalism he sees, is disgusted at the freedom that gives American business owners the right to model their businesses in their own way, and finds himself appalled that Americans should be allowed to chose their own method of patronizing those businesses.

It’s all just so darn gauche.

So for 10 paragraphs we read and read and read expecting to see why America has soured on the drive thu as promised only to find out it really isn’t America that has soured on the drive thru at all. It is just our hoity-toity Mr. Vanderbilt that has suffered this fate. And we can guess that his pals at the country club twittered with hearty congratulations at his perspicacity and mendaciousness to have so bucked the commoners and schooled us all on our ignorance about the propriety of the drive thru. We should listen to our betters, I suppose, and allow Mr. Vanderbilt to pretend that all of America is falling out of love with the drive thru because he thinks they are evil.

All I can say is… “I’ll take a number three meal, and King size it, baby!”

And next time I’ll drive right on through any article that carries the by-line of one Tommy Vanderbilt.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer, has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and is featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,,,,,, Human Events Magazine,, and the New Media Journal, among many, many others. Additionally, he has been a frequent guest on talk-radio programs to discuss his opinion editorials and current events and is currently the co-host of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Conservatism” heard on BlogTalkRadio. Warner is also the editor of the Cook County Page for

He has also written for several history magazines and appears in the new book “Americans on Politics, Policy and Pop Culture” which can be purchased on He is also the owner and operator of Feel free to contact him with any comments or questions : EMAIL Warner Todd Huston

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3 thoughts on “
This Leftist Drivel is Why Journalism is Dying”

  1. I read Vanderbilt’s piece yesterday.

    I thought I was reading an entry for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad prose.

    “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

  2. Trying to figure out what makes Vanderbilt’s piece “leftist”.


    If brevity is the soul of wit one must assume young Mr. Vanderbilt is the most witless of writers. He could have said in two paragraphs what it takes him the first six to ladle out to us…

    Vanderbilt: ~1591 words*

    Huston: ~1871 words*

    *depending on word count thingie used, YMMV.

    There’s something funny about that, don’t you think?

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