Tag Archives: obesity

The San Antonio Theory of Relativity.

Ignoring the contradictions and laziness in general sentence structure for just a moment, I’d like to suggest that context is everything. (1)

When I was a kid, a 45 minute drive to Baltimore was an interminable exercise. Maybe it was just childhood antsyness (2); maybe it was just that at that point in my life, 45 minutes amounted to a fairly significant chunk of my existence. But when I went to school out in the Midwest, my concept of time changed. Suddenly, an hour and a half seemed like the normal amount of time it should take to drive to the nearest airport. Strangely, a four hour drive to Omaha seemed short. Oddly, at the end of a two-day, 23-hour marathon from Phoenix, I found myself saying, “Wait, it’s already over?”

So time became relative within the particular regional context. The Midwest is enormous; it’s no surprise that people there have to tailor their concept of time to local geography.

Which is why I find it strange that in Texas — a state that touts itself with the tagline “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” — their concept of relativity is so different.

It’s true: they embrace big here. The people are, on average, morbidly obese. Their trucks have beds that extend beyond the limits of modern metallurgy. The two biggest Jumbotrons in the world are in this state.

And yet, there is one thing that Texans do not like more of: walking.

I’ve seen locals happily pay $10 to park a block from the Alamo, even though just two blocks from the landmark, there’s street parking available for a quarter (which buys you 75 minutes in the meter). I’ve seen Texans sit in their cars for twenty minutes at a drive-thru, even though they could just as easily get out of their cars, walk into the restaurant and leave in a third of the time.

But nothing compares to what I saw last Saturday at the AT&T Center, home to the San Antonio Spurs and the Silver Stars. I went to go see the latter play in a WNBA game last Saturday.

Upon arrival, I pulled into the AT&T Center parking lots. There were two lines of cars waiting to enter the lots. Actually, that’s not entirely true: there was one massive line of cars, and there was another lane that was completely empty.

The lane on the right was for the $8 parking that’s closest to the stadium. That lane was filled. The lane on the left — the empty lane — was for $5 parking farther away from the stadium. (For the visually-inclined, note the infographic above.)

So, logic suggests, the $5 lots must’ve been infinitely farther away from the stadium to warrant a discounted price — and a lack of interest from fans. And thanks to Google Maps, I’ve done the calculations.

Based on the approximate location of my parking space in the $5 lot, I walked a distance of about 0.14 miles from my car to the stadium’s entrance. Had I parked in the pricier lot, I would have walked a distance of about 0.08 miles — or less.

I can only assume that eventually, the AT&T Center will began offering even more expensive parking — perhaps for $20 or even $50 — in which fans will have the opportunity to allow their muscles to completely atrophy as an airport-style moving sidewalk guides them into the stadium. We can only hope.

  1. Technically speaking, “context is everything” makes no sense, because placing something within context means taking it out of the general text and inserting into a more specific subtext, which does not and can not encompass the whole of everything. But that’s just semantics and me taking an idea entirely too far. Too far out of context, really.
  2. This does not appear to be an actual word.

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