1:05 a.m. is when it all starts. At 11:42 p.m., Eric Adkins looks out the side door to see if cars have started to wrap around the driveway. Manager Jon Parsons glances at his watch.
"Can I take your order?" Adkins, a 19-year-old Scottsdale resident, speaks into a headset. "4:00" pops up on the computer screen — the maximum amount of time a customer should spend in a Jack in the Box drive-through.
"I need a minute," a young, female voice quietly replies.
The woman consults with her female passenger. Some giggling, and then: "Can she do fries instead of hash browns?"
For a night-shift drive-through worker, this Jack in the Box isn’t a bad place to be. It’s open 24 hours a day — and its location, at Indian School and Hayden roads in Scottsdale, is close to downtown bars and restaurants.
Between 1:05 and 2 a.m., about 70 cars pass through, compared with 15 during slower hours. Some customers are driving home from their own late-night jobs; others are refugees from last call.
A woman with a high-pitched voice starts her order in English, then switches to broken Spanish.
"(Her Spanish) is as bad as mine," Adkins says, switching off the intercom. He ends the order with "Gracias," which draws muffled laughter from his Spanishspeaking co-workers.
Today is National Drive-Thru Day, established last year to commemorate businesses founded on one simple concept: Don’t make the customer get out of his car.
Jack in the Box claims to be the first major hamburger drivethrough chain, opening its first drive-through restaurant (known then as a "food machine") in 1951. Today, there are drive-through wedding chapels, drive-through liquor stores, drive-through banks, drive-through coffee shops, and even drive-through viewings at funeral homes.
"Drive-throughs are the leading conveniences of modern society," said Brian Luscomb, a Jack in the Box spokesman. "As long as there’s cars, and time is of the essence, there will be a need for drive-throughs."
A Jack in the Box employee uses a knife to cut small pieces from a square block of frying oil that looks like cream cheese. A timer counts down the seconds and minutes until everyone has to stop what they’re doing and wash their hands: 47:26, 47:25, 47:24 . . .
"Easy on the mustard," says a girl who just ordered a Jumbo Jack.
"It doesn’t come with mustard," Adkins answers.
This Jack in the Box was built in 1969, nine years after the fast food restaurant expanded outside of California and into Arizona. Parson said his pastor used to hang there with friends when he was a teenager. They called it the "J.B. Lounge."
An order comes in for a Jumbo Jack with no lettuce, tomato or onion. Another person orders a sausage croissant (50 grams of fat, 680 calories) and a Diet Coke (0 grams of fat, 0 calories).
Adkins, who wears a thick silver chain around his neck and baggy black pants, takes a cigarette break. During the day, he does electrical work with his dad.
"I run on adrenaline," Adkins says.
The people who work the late-night shift have stories. They can’t tell them because the two managers are standing right there, but they have stories.
"You get some crazy, crazy things," Adkins says. "About 98 percent of it is not printable in the paper."
Jack in the Box no longer serves rice bowls, so a male customer is faced with a decision.
"I’m thinking. I’m thinking," he murmurs to the lighted menu. "Fish & Chips."
The average Jack in the Box does two-thirds of its business through the drivethrough. This location, however, caters to 82 percent of its customers by passing bags through a small window into their outstretched hands.
"We have a lot of kids come from the culinary school and that kind of surprises me," says Parsons, a Chandler resident who’s spent 16 years in the fast food business. A photo of Jack, the sarcastic, clown-headed character made popular through television commercials and radio spots, is in a gold frame behind the counter. "Our Manager" is engraved on a small plaque on the bottom.
"Can I take your order?" "One Breakfast Jack and six Monster Tacos. Take off four of those Monster Tacos and add four regular tacos. And three waters." "Can I take your order?" "One order of chicken sticks. I’m sorry. I mean cheese sticks." "Can I take your order?" "Three egg rolls and a small root beer float." "Can I take your order?" "IF YOU COULD DO IT, I’D LOVE A LARGE WATER AND A LARGE SPRITE," a man shouts. "So you’re shooting for the largest water without being charged, right?" "I’M NOT SHOOTING (expletive) — I JUST HAVE A PERSON HERE WHO WANTS WATER."
"What is this?" Adkins asks, as traffic slows. "Man, yesterday was busier than today. I am disappointed."
A young woman pulls up to the drive-thru window. Her passenger is mumbling to herself. "Sorry, she’s drunk," the driver says. "Well, I’m envious," Adkins replies. "I have a beer in my back seat. Do you want it?" Adkins turns her down with a laugh. In the background, constant beeps. Beep, the buns are toasted. Beep, the meat needs to be turned. Beep, the fries are done. Beep, another carful of people waits for a voice to come over the intercom. "Can I take your order?" "An Oreo shake and a Breakfast Jack, please."