What’s Black and White and Dead All Over? The Early Printed Edition of the Sunday Paper.

I saw something at the gas station today that I didn’t even know still existed: the early edition of the Sunday paper.

On Fridays, the San Antonio Express-News prints an advance copy of their Sunday paper. It’s almost all feature stories, plus the fluffy stuff that stays evergreen: comics, crossword puzzles and coupons.

But as much flack as newspapers get for their printed edition — even my dad’s started to realize that by the time you’ve opened the paper at 8 a.m., that news is a day old — the early Sunday edition seems even more dated.

Here’s proof: this week’s lead story in the Express News‘ early Sunday edition is about the continued success of the ‘cash for clunkers’ program, which — in the time it took to print that Sunday edition — ran out of money and went back to a vote before the House to get extra financing.

So here’s to you, early Sunday edition of the paper: thanks for making the daily printed edition seem so fresh.

What Journalists Can Learn From the Free T-Shirt Giveaway.

There are few advantages to being 6’6” and unable to dunk. Three come to mind: 1.) It makes it easy for people to find me at crowded social events; 2.) It makes it easy to dust hard-to-reach places; and 3.) It gives me a decided advantage when catching t-shirts at sporting events.

In my lifetime, I’ve caught far more free t-shirts than I deserve, and it’s mostly been because I have the wingspan of someone who’s 6’9”. But when I catch a free t-shirt, I don’t just toss it in a dresser somewhere. No, I wear that Verizon-sponsored Washington Capitals shirt for about three to six months longer than public decency will allow.

And I know I’m not the only one obsessed with the concept of ‘free.’ I’ve seen it at sporting events throughout my life: people will do anything for a free shirt, no matter how obnoxious it looks or how oversized the advertisement on the back is.

That’s why the free t-shirt giveaway is the focus of this installment of “What Journalists Can Learn From….”

1. You’ve Got to Make People Want It. Last year, at a Mizzou basketball game, a fellow student dove face first into the row in front of me to catch a foam finger that had been dropped from the rafters. It was just a yellow “We’re #1” finger with a massive logo for a local business on both sides, but the student nearly came up concussed in his bid for the thing. Now, maybe we’re not looking for the public to risk bodily harm to get their hands on news, but certainly, we need to entice them with strong content that consumers are willing to seek out.

2. Engage Consumers Wherever They Are. Just a decade ago, you had to be within the range of a strong-armed cheerleader to catch a shirt. Then the slingshot came around and expanded the number of fans that could catch a shirt. And then the t-shirt cannon was invented, making it so that fans seated in the upper deck of a pro stadium could catch a shirt. The idea here is simple: engage the widest audience possible while still keeping a focused message. We’ve got our t-shirt cannon: the Internet. Journalists just need to harness that power to better distribute the news.

3. Free Can Be Desirable. Sure, the shirts are ugly, and no, I don’t really want a foot-wide Papa John’s logo on the front of the garment I’m wearing to every game. But if the option is a free shirt or a $25 one available at the team’s store (geez, talk about a pay wall), you can understand why fans are so willing to stand up or even dive for a free one. But think of it this way: on free t-shirt days at the ballpark, teams won’t bring out the t-shirt cannon. Why? It’s because fans won’t care; they’ve already gotten what they wanted. The shirts are only desirable if it’s the only free option.

So maybe media should be creating targeted, premium content — that, just maybe, consumers will be willing to pay for — while still engaging the rest of the crowd with free, non-niche news. (And I can’t imagine that Rupert Murdoch would be pleased to hear that his business model is being replicated by interns in mascot costumes around the country this summer.)

An Open Letter to U.S. Soccer TV Commentators: Stop Selling Yourself as the Little Guy

Dear American Soccer TV Commentator,

I’ve been seeing a lot of you lately. This isn’t really a surprise; I happen to love soccer, and there’s been some great soccer on TV of late, from the Confederations Cup to the World Football Challenge.

But I’m noticing a familiar trend in these games: you keep asking, “Has soccer made it in the U.S.?”

Now, I understand that you’re just trying to sell soccer to the archetypal non-soccer fan in this country.

All I’m asking is that you stop.

Stop, because it’s about time that you started really selling the game, because that’s what real pitchmen do. And what are you selling? There’s a national team that’s experienced some considerable success this decade, including a few highs this summer. There’s a soccer league that’s coming into its own. There’s actual controversy around the game, thanks to Beckham, which is bringing soccer into the national sports conversation. And, most importantly, there’s the massive growth of soccer on TV.

Thanks to HD, soccer not only watchable — it’s also beautiful. Let the moving pictures sell the game for you.

And just wait until August 12, when the U.S. heads down to Mexico City to play Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Here’s the craziest part: there’s no major English language feed for the game, which means there’s actually going to be backlash from the public. Just imagine; people are going to complain because soccer isn’t on TV!

No, soccer isn’t where it could be in this country, but it is reaching critical mass. Next year, when the World Cup arrives, it has the chance to move beyond that.

We’ve been here before, after the World Cup in ’94 and the U.S. team’s run in ’02, with soccer on the brink of mainstream acceptance. But finally, the game has caught up to the hype. It’s being watched — in person and on TV — en masse, and it’s being played at a high level in this country. As a soccer fan, I couldn’t be happier about the state of U.S. soccer today.

So, to you, American soccer commentator, I ask: stopping selling yourself as the little guy. The truth is, you’re not anymore.


Why We Shouldn’t Be Rewarding Our Youths for Quasi-Success (or: Partial Credit!: The T-Shirt.)

Out in the suburbs, past the Beltway and the high-rises, out where the Thai and the Vietnamese restaurants make way for Red Robin drive-thrus, you’ll see them on Saturday mornings like today: young children, five or six years old, playing a game that vaguely resembles soccer.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was one of them, toe poking my way through Maryland’s famed MSI recreational soccer league. (Famous MSI alumni: AC Milan’s Oguchi Onyewu and President Obama’s daughters.)

I still have a few of my MSI jerseys tucked away in a corner of my closet back in D.C., and I was reminded of one of those jerseys last night. It’s a red jersey with MSI’s regionally-famed soccer ball logo swooping across the front. And on the left side are three patches sewn haphazardly to the sleeve.

Back in my first year of MSI, the league held mini-clinics for its youngest players. So my team, hand-picked from the first grade class at Wood Acres Elementary School, ventured out to the fields of some middle school in a far off place, potentially several exits north on I-270. There, MSI had set up what seemed liked thousands of miniature soccer fields for kids my age. It is no surprise that the Good Humor man and the shaved ice vendor always seemed to know where these weekend clinics were being held.

These clinics were held throughout the spring and the fall, and MSI coaches would teach us soccer mites the ways of the game. There were four such clinics during the season, and at each, we learned a key skill. Some 45 minutes later, an MSI coach awarded us a patch to certify that we had mastered that respective skill.

I have three such patches on my red MSI jersey, one each for passing, dribbling and shooting. I do not know where I was for the fourth clinic; I think I was sick the day they taught proper technique for eating orange slices at halftime.

Regardless, that season began a childhood of meaningless reward for quasi-success. I played MSI soccer — at either the recreational or slightly-more-competitve-than-recreational level — for the next 11 years, and each year, I received a trophy, no matter how well or how poorly my team did that season. (At the end of several seasons, my teammates and I were awarded a second trophy for sportsmanship, probably because we were the only third graders who didn’t talk trash during the post-game handshake.)

But I don’t think my experience in MSI was abnormal. I believe that for more than a decade, across America, we’ve been rewarding our youth for minimal achievement.

Which brings me to the shirt you see below.

Last night, at the team store for the San Antonio Missions — the Class AA minor league affiliate for the San Diego Padres — I noticed this collectible hanging in the window.

Now, I’m all for celebrating the potential of mankind. I just don’t think a $16 ‘Mid-Season Champs!” shirt is the way to do it.


H/T to George Campbell for the image of kids playing soccer.

Burger King, showing up in unusual places.

Spanish soccer team Getafe introduced their new jersey last week, and the media’s judgment was swift. You can’t just put a Burger King logo on a jersey without getting a bit of criticism, apparently.

But that’s not the first time that Burger King’s logo has showed up in an unusual place. I’m reminded of this classic image from the Associated Press’ Chris Tomlinson back in 2005, on Burger King’s first day in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

My favorite part of that image: the “We accept all major credit cards” sign in the background. Like our troops have been carrying around a MasterCard through the desert all that time.

A Heightened State of Apathy (Or: If a Drug Deal Goes Down In My Parking Lot, Shouldn’t I Be a Bit Freaked Out?)

I heard her scream last night. I shouldn’t have; I was sleeping, and sound doesn’t just sneak into my apartment. A half-dozen Camaros could backfire simultaneously in the parking lot outside, and I wouldn’t hear it.

But I heard her.

I went to the window and peered out from behind the shade. She was there, dark skin and dark hair underneath white street lights, running around, hysterical in the worst sense of the word. There was a man, standing near a purple minivan. Every time she walked near him, she started yelling.

My windows were closed; now I couldn’t hear anything. All I saw was a woman, hysterical and screaming in the parking lot outside my building. It was 11:30 at night.

Then a fire truck arrived, and then a cop car, and then another. I went downstairs and found the security guard who patrols the lots around my building.

He said a drug deal had just gone wrong. The woman and the man had been beaten with a crowbar by three men. The woman was saying that the men had threatened to kill her.

So I stood there for a minute — maybe not even — and then I went back upstairs. I opened the windows that face the parking lot and watched the officers take their statements from the victims. I took the photo that you see at the top of this page.

And then I shut down my camera and my laptop and walked across my apartment to my bed. I spread out and considered what I knew to be true: a pitching wedge from where I was sleeping, a woman and a man were assaulted with a crow bar during a drug deal.

It was the closest I’d ever been, really, to a violent crime, and I wondered what my family would say if they knew that drug deals were occasionally going down — and going wrong — outside my apartment. I was scared of what they might say. I was scared of what they might do.

But what scares me most — and what’s keeping me up now — is that a drug deal had just gone wrong outside my apartment, and at the time, I wasn’t really that scared at all.


Up front: don’t blame this on violent video games; I’ve never owned an N64 or a Wii, so it’s not like hours spent playing “Goldeneye” or “Grant Theft Auto” are at fault.

And for the Freud-at-home types who want to blame it on TV: don’t. I work for a TV station now, but I don’t even own a television. And the TV shows of my youth hardly skewed violent, unless you consider “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” to be the serialization of a criminal’s travels.

No, the source my indifference goes beyond brand name blames. What I experienced last Sunday was a desensitization that defies any sort of rationality I’ve previously known.

What I experienced was reverse shell shock, a sort-of post-traumatic unstress disorder. It seems that bad things — terrifying things — are happening in my world, and I couldn’t care less. I’m living in a heightened state of apathy.

This type of behavior can’t be tracked to a single incident or abnormal behavior. Rather, I believe it’s the culmination of bad news over the course of my lifetime. It’s the end product of every shooting in D.C., every death in Iraq, every bombing at any embassy anywhere. In my lifetime, death has been sanitized, and a journalist, I’ve prepared myself to deal with news — and what news really means in America today.

Here at my TV station, we traffic in news, and by news, we really mean human misery. Right now, on our website, we’ve linked to 12 stories, of which half involve a fatal shooting or car crash. The others involve the economy, school restrictions, Afghanistan, police tasering and an apartment eviction.

We’ve broken up the monotony — and there is a certain irony in this — with a story about golf.

When news breaks, we know that bad things are happening. And increasingly, I’m seeing tragedy as just something that happens. There’s so much of it that I hardly care about any of it.

A shooting death? A car crash? A bank robbery? My reaction is one-size-fits-all: meh.

I don’t think this behavior is uncommon. We’re all capable of creating bubbles in our lives and setting levels for the kinds of news or ideas that we let in 1.).

I think Israelis are proof.


I say this as someone who thinks he understands why there is fighting in Jerusalem and why it won’t be resolved anytime soon. I also say this as a Jew:

Israelis are a little bit crazy.

I remember my fifth grade Hebrew school teacher. Her name was Orna, and she’d lived in Israel for most of her life. So unlike the rest of the teachers who tried to impress Judiasm upon us each Wednesday, Orna was a True Believer.

By which I mean to say, the rest of the teachers believed in the faith, but Orna was the only one who’d ever fired an Uzi to protect it.

And it wasn’t like Orna was some wildly-athletic super Jew. Maybe it’s just time wearing at the memory, but Orna looked like the Israeli version of Mrs. Doubtfire.

Orna had served — as all Israelis do — in the army. She’d been trained to kill with brutally effective weapons. She’d been deployed around the country for combat. She’d driven across the desert in a Jeep in search of enemies of the state 2.).

What that meant — and what we learned — was that Orna’s experience was normal. All Israelis serve time in the military, which means that all Israelis share one common narrative-shaping and mentally-scarring experience before their 25th birthday.

And unlike the American military, which is currently deployed and fighting thousands of miles away, the Israeli army happens to be fighting their battles at home. So when an Israeli is discharged from the military, he doesn’t get to fly home. Instead, the war zone he’s fought in suddenly becomes — simply — home.

This tends to change things, I would think.

The Israelis I’ve met — dating back to Orna — have been great people. They’ve been educated, engaging and interesting. But they’ve also been — almost universally — combative, hyper-aggressive and quasi-threatening. They’re the kinds of people who’ll harangue you in conversation while eating pita bread.

They’ll make this swift human-to-Hulk transformation, and when it’s over, you’re left wondering what you’ve just seen, or even if you’ve seen anything at all.


There’s one more thing that you need to know about Israel, one thing that’s fairly obvious but that doesn’t get spelled out very often:

Israel is a Jewish homeland.

And if you’re Jewish, this much is true: God has hand-chosen your ancestors, and nearly every civilization with the capability to record their own actions has attempted to wipe out those ancestors of yours.

You’d be a bit feisty too if you believed that.


So Israelis — hoping to live peacefully in the land that they lay claim to — try to create a sense of normalcy around them, even as they live in terror. A bomb goes off in the market around the corner, and the Israeli still goes out shopping the next day. Why? The phrasing is ripped straight from a W. press conference: because otherwise, the other side wins.

But the bubble only holds up so long. At some point, bad news breaks through. There’s only so long that a person can go on convincing himself that what he’s seeing outside the bubble is normal behavior. At some point, the concept of deviance cannot be bent any further for the sake of normalcy. At some point, humans will create something shocking enough to actually break through.

At some point, everyone realizes that they’re not creating a sense of normalcy; they’re creating a false sense of normalcy.

I just haven’t gotten there yet.


I remember the last time I felt scared. The night of Sept. 11., my family was watching CNN. In 22 years, I cannot remember ever seeing CNN on in my house. But on that night, we were watching, and CNN was debuting their video phone technology from Kabul.

I had never heard of Kabul before, because the city had never mattered before, at least not in my lifetime. And now, some men in a city I’d only discovered 12 hours earlier were lighting the town on fire, and huge, pixelated frames were traveling across telephone lines and into my TV.

These men wanted to kill us, it seemed. I was scared because they were faceless, and because they were celebrating the brief destruction of another society. What we didn’t know — or rather, who we didn’t know — had suddenly become a threat.

But by the morning, those men had faces and names and roles in society, and that gave everything context. By morning, really, the tragedy had been encapsulated in one guy with a beard and a kidney problem.

He was like anyone else, really: he wanted fame, and he wanted money. It’s tough to be afraid of someone who shares the same life goals as a typical Los Angeleno.

That’s how I justified it, at least. That’s how bin Laden got pushed outside the bubble, too.


I think about what I would do, sometimes. I think about a young group of men — hoodlums, thugs, gang-bangers; whatever local anchors are calling them these days — approaching me and demanding that I give them my wallet.

I think about what I’d do in that moment. There’s the part of the cortex that imagines myself the hero, the part of me willing to flatter myself. I imagine a snappy move, a quick kung-fu kick I never knew I had in me, maybe a left cross. Maybe I’d stand over one of them and throw out a movie line, maybe something just obscure enough to make him wonder how hard he’d really been hit.

Maybe I’d stand over him and say something like, “I told you: never hit with your pitching hand, Nook.”

Maybe I’d just say it and walk away.


Then there’s the second imagineering of my run-in with the guys on the street. They demand the money. I hand them the money. And I walk away.

I just walk back into the bubble, and leave the incident where it belongs: outside.


1. This also seems to be the underlying principle behind Facebook’s News Feed.
>>return to post

2. She’d also used a Jeep to shield her from the desert when she had to pee — and then told us about the experience in unthinkably great detail. >>return to post

What Journalists Can Learn From Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

I went searching last night for a video of Bill Nye. I do not know what cued the idea in my head; I wasn’t reading about science or bowties or Seattle, or even about Nye’s arch nemesis, Ed Begley Jr. I have no idea what could have placed the thought in my head, but suddenly, I found myself standing up, walking to the fridge to grab a glass of milk and thinking: You know, I should really write a thousand words about Bill Nye.

And so I went looking for the video, or, more specifically, the theme song. Because that’s what you’ll remember about Bill Nye the Science Guy, the lanky engineer whose self-titled science show on PBS was a favorite on days when my sixth grade science teacher didn’t have any idea what to do with the class.

Mr. Avila would push a tape into a VCR, and after PBS’s opening message – we never did figure out who was behind the Carnegie Foundation that seemed to underwrite every show that aired on that network – the Bill Nye theme song would come on.

Timing in at just under thirty seconds, it’s a surprisingly catchy tune. The hook sounds mildly like a mid-90s Beastie Boys B-side, except that the base is replaced by a man repeatedly yelling out the name Bill, and the guitar solo is ripped from a mediocre Van Halen cover band. The only words spoken in the song are “Inertia is a property of matter”; unsurprisingly, a full decade later, it’s one of the few scientific facts I still know with any degree of certainty. Meanwhile, images of old TV sets and upside-down astronauts and Bill Nye’s face float across the screen.

What’s most remarkable is that – despite having not seen the video this millennium — I still remember the song almost beat for beat.

To create a song – and a show – that catchy, Nye was doing a staggering number of things right. It’s why he’s the subject of this week’s “What Journalists Can Learn From….”

1. Experiment, Above All Else: Yes, Nye’s show was about scientific experiments, but I’d like to go beyond the obvious. Nye actually holds two patents: one for ballet shoes, and another for a “collapsible, water-filled magnifying glass.” He wasn’t just a TV host; he’s an innovator, even in his role today as a one-man experiment in environmental living.

2. Know Your Audience: On the show, half of his sketches were “Benny Hill” rip-offs. He repeated concepts entirely too often. He’s always wore a baby blue lab coat and a bowtie, and he played both the smartest guy in the room and a jester simultaneously. And somehow, it worked. Because Nye knew who his audience was: teenagers with absolutely no attention span for science. If you’re going to draw them in, you’re going to have to be goofy. Sure, he took it too far on the show, especially for the audience that had already reached Bar Mitzvah age. But for a good chunk of young Americans – myself included – he remains one of the most influential scientists of our generation. He’s the only one who bothered to talk to us on our level.

3. Routine Can Be Habit-Forming: Nye’s shows were unthinkably formulaic. Each show had the same introduction, the same sequence of experiments and sketches. Basically, it was a plug-and-play script that was slightly altered from show to show based on the theme of the particular episode. But familiarity meant that viewers always knew what was coming next.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s guide to “Blues Clues” from The Tipping Point, then this should sound familiar: there comes a moment when children are able to comprehend – and actually learn – concepts. Up until this moment, children do not retain a significant amount of what they’re being taught.

Nye just happened to figure out both the tipping point for the pre-teen set and the elements that lead to that point.

Here’s the application for news: readers aren’t necessarily familiar with the journalism process. So part of working with new mediums is teaching the public how to interact with them.

An example: web video hasn’t broken through yet, partially because readers aren’t sure what to expect from it. Unlike a news article – where the most important information is found in the opening paragraphs – non-TV news video tends to bury the lead, if it has one at all.

Viewers watched Nye because they knew what they were getting out of it (an interesting look at basic scientific concepts), and they knew when they could fast forward through an episode (the “Benny Hill” parts), since each episode was structured the same way.

The news organizations that build the best web video will also create identifiable structure within their web video, so readers know why they’re tuning in and when they can tune out. Better yet, they’ll create this structure while still allowing space to be as creative, goofy, or informative as Nye was.

And one more thing: readers need familiarity and routine in their news. They need to understand when we’re blogging or Tweeting, and they need transparency to know to how we do it. They need to understand our niches – Nye owned science to the point where’s he’s been quoted about the science behind both baseball and Pluto – and they need to know why we cover the topics that we do.

Routine breeds familiarity, which, ideally, breeds trust. With that in hand, news organizations can build just about anything.

When News Headlines Accidentally Support Cold War Policy.

Over at KENS 5, we use a content management system — or CMS, for short — to post our stories to the web. We’re getting a new CMS this fall, and many at the station joke that our current CMS was practically built during the Cold War. It’s a bit dated, but for the most part, the system works as it’s supposed to.

This blog post is not about one of those times.

Tonight, our CMS was set to automatically update our website with a story featured on the 10 p.m. news. And, when the hour struck, the CMS posted the story.

Well, half of it, at least.

The story was supposed to transition from the previous headline and photo — about U.S.-Russian nuclear talks — to a headline and image about bat research in San Antonio.

But our CMS didn’t cooperate fully, so instead, we got this mash-up: the headline “Gone Batty,” and below it, a sub-headline and an image of Presidents Obama and Medvedev supporting a drawdown in nuclear arms.

Apparently, our CMS wasn’t just built during the Cold War; it’s also actively taking a stand in it.

On: Politico 44, and Excesses. (Or, a Project That Demands Our President Return to His Base.)

Michael Wolff’s got an outstanding read on Politico in this month’s Vanity Fair, and one section, in particular, caught my eye:

…In a world where there are no space limits on what you can publish, why be picky or restrictive? The “Politico 44” column is called “a living diary of the Obama presidency,” and, indeed, it is no more discriminating or less self-involved than a teenage girl’s daily jottings, or anybody’s reflexive and idle tweets.

And yet, no matter its excesses [italics mine], it is all read hungrily and obsessively. Although “read” may not be the word—more monitored like an EKG.

So today, I was checking the 44’s pulse when I came across this little update:

Per TV pool and W.H. staff, Obama has unexpectedly returned to his hotel for a few minutes…..unclear precisely why….may just be a comfort stop…meanwhile the assembled press masses await…announcement made by Russians that Obama called a timeout in advance of presser… — Josh Gerstein (10:29 a.m.)

A “comfort stop”? Apparently, our President can’t even enjoy a bowel movement without it being international news.

Excesses, indeed.


One post-script: personally, I hope that the President at least squeezed in this joke at some point.

Whatadrivethru: Where The Other Line Always Moves Faster.

There is a force in San Antonio that is often discussed but rarely experienced. I’m talking, of course, about the weather 1.).

It is hot here; that should not come as a surprise to you. But what is a surprise is how little time people spend outside in San Antonio. It’s so hot that humans here do not venture into the open air, save for the fleeting moments spent between air conditioned house and air conditioned car. If you are fortunate enough, your car sits in a temperature-controlled garage all night, and you park it in an indoor garage at work in the morning, and the only hours spent outside are the spartan steps between your driver’s side door and the entrance to the Central Market, where valets will park your car while you buy foccacia bread.

Locals spend so little time outside that, if not for regular news reports, you’d never know how obese this city’s population really is.

One 2009 analysis named San Antonio the third fattest city in America 2.). And yet it’s easier to spot albinos in this town than it is to find a fat guy.

When I first arrived in San Antonio, I asked if there were any neighborhoods where residents could walk around, grab a bite to eat and enjoy a local park. I was promptly told that if those were my priorities, I should consider moving to Europe instead.


In the days since, I’ve learned that there’s one thing – other than air conditioning – that San Antonians are especially passionate about: finding ways to never leave their cars.

I have never seen a town more obsessed with drive-thru restaurants, be it for coffee, donuts, hamburgers or tacos 3.). In this town, there are thousands of paths to rejecting Jenny Craig as your personal savior, and almost all of them start with the phrase, “Hi, I’d like a number two combo meal, please.”

But – and this is strange for a town as obese as San Antonio – mainstream fast food isn’t the source of the problem here. There are not that many McDonald’ses or Burger Kings or Taco Bells in this town.

The problem here is Whataburger.


Think of Whataburger as the In-N-Out of Texas. It has a signature look: each restaurant has this sloping, blue and orange striped roof. It has a signature feel: though each burger is ordered at the counter, employees hand deliver the food to your table. It even has a signature market: Whataburger is only available in a handful of states across the south.

But unlike In-N-Out, no one’s confusing the Whataburger crowd for gourmands.

The chain serves big burgers, the patty drooping out over the buns, and salty, skinny fries. And the drinks – my God, the small drink at Whataburger is as large as a 7-11 Big Gulp. It’s a serving size that the FDA clearly should’ve gotten wind of by now; apparently, those winds were lost somewhere over Beaumont.

Let me put it this way: if Morgan Spurlock had tried to eat thirty days of Whataburger, he’d have died within a week.

It seems obvious, then, that a burger this fattening in a city this fat can only be enjoyed one way: within the comforts of one’s air conditioned car.

Which is where the double lane Whataburger drive-thru comes in.


There is such a drive-thru in the northwest corner of San Antonio, off Fredericksburg Road. The set up is as such: there is a central kitchen contained within one main building, and on either side, there is a drive-thru lane. In front of the restaurant, there is a window for walk-up orders, but this seems more for show. It’s taken about as seriously as the NFL preseason.

It’s worth noting: there is no inside to the restaurant. You cannot walk in. You cannot sit down. You cannot find yourself in the presence of free air conditioning. Under these circumstances, you are actually forced to stay in your vehicle. This seems to please the good people of San Antonio tremendously.

It is here that I should say that San Antonians are an unusual breed: they tend to take things at a slower pace. They walk slower. They talk slower. They’re even willing to wait a little longer for convenience.

In this case, make that extra convenience, because the sensation of being served a beefy ball of grease – with pickles on the side – isn’t enough, apparently. San Antonians will actually wait longer to enjoy the convenience of not reaching across their vehicle to grab their freshly purchased, previously-frozen slab of meat.

I know this because on the day I first visited this Whataburger – and on the subsequent days that I have returned to survey the store – one drive-thru line has always been busy, and one line has always been empty. In many cases, the one line may have upwards of six vehicles waiting for food, while the other is completely deserted.

Perhaps I should explain why.


The full line is always to the right of the store. It is a traditional drive-thru set up; you yell your order into a speaker box, you pull around to the window, and there, directly next to the driver’s side window, you exchange cash for burger. There is no effort or lunging involved.

The empty line is always to the left of the store. It is identical to the right-side line, except for one alteration: the store’s window aligns – almost tragically so – with the passenger side’s window.

Curious, I tested out the left-side line last week at Whataburger. I ordered the smallest thing on the menu – the unsurprisingly named Whataburger, with fries and a drink. I pulled around to their window. I opened my passenger side’s window. And then I waited.

A young man inside the store opened his window, and as such, the pirouette began. He placed his bottom on the window’s sill. He scooted himself toward my vehicle, like a tyke creeping toward the high dive’s edge. And then, with a single, practiced thrust, he suddenly burst headlong into my car, his entire upper body squeezed through my window and nearly onto my upholstery, his legs still dangling inside his restaurant.

“That’ll be $6.15,” he told me.

I looked at his face. To say that he was coated in sweat is an understatement; he was layered in it, looking as greasy as the burger I was about to eat.

I handed him my cash, and – just as violently as he’d entered – he thrust himself back into the store. Then, once more, he scooted to the sill and rocketed almost fully back into my car.

“Here’s your burger, man,” and he thrust out.

And there I was, stuck for a moment, my hand not wanting to shift the car into gear. I was not sure how the man had managed to thrust himself into my car with such dexterity, or why it had happened at such alarming speed.

And then I closed my windows and ensconced myself in the familiar chill of my car’s air conditioning, and in that moment, as I pulled out of the drive-thru and looked back at the other lane, some six cars waiting to be served, I found peace.

And in the moments after, as I dug into my no. 1 Whatameal combo, I found something else:


I think I liked peace better.


1.) In this sense, the weather in San Antonio is a lot like Washington Nationals baseball or openness in government. >return to post

2.) The question you’re asking is, “Even fatter than Houston?” Yes, I am sorry to report, they’re even fatter than Houston. >return to post

3.) Both of the breakfast and regular persuasion. >return to post