(Macca’s is what those daft nutjobs downunder call McDonalds, because three syllables is a syllable too long for most Aussies…)
I am not paid in any way by McDonald’s. I want that known up front. Furthermore, I’m not actually here to endorse their food, international economic model or employement practices. I have received no compensation from the McDonald’s corporation for the following article, however I would accept some if offered…
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a McDonalds. Okay, that’s not really true. I’ve had very little desire through my life to be any inanimate object other than the original Ghostbusters car, but enough about my pre-pubescent fantasies. But as far back as I can remember, McDonald’s has held a curiously iconic place in my psyche. When my brothers and I were kids, every week my parents would drop us off at my grandparents so Mom & Dad could have a night to themselves to do their taxes and clean the carpets (I presume. Not entirely sure what parents do when they aren’t protecting their children from the ravenous licks of my dog…) I loved both my grandparents very much, but contrary to nearly all expectations, my grandmother was only a so-so cook. Instead of making us sit through a sandpaper steak or fossilized meatloaf, my grandparents would take us to one of the several McDonald’s spread around Richmond in the 1980’s. To this day I vividly remember the playground at the #3 Road location, that steel slide which turned into a solar power reflector during the summer. The backs of so many childrens thighs crisped like bacon in the reflected heat from that slide… good times. It also had the Rube-Goldberg like thing inside where the silver ball would start at the top of the bizarre track and typically make it about 27% through the setup before falling off. How many times did I as a child harass a minimum wage McDonald’s employee to drop everything they were doing, find the key, unlock the Rube-Goldberg case and reset the silver ball, so I could watch it make it through the course exactly one time successfully, before the machine attempted to reset itself and fail all over again. I think I learned something about life from that contraption: The more complicated something is, the more likely it is to go wrong. Also: minimum wage employees will do almost anything if you whine and stomp your foot enough. I’m pretty sure there are wealthy industrialists out there who know this too.
What this did was instill a notion in me: McDonald’s is a special thing, a gift, something that is part of the fun of not having to listen to Mom & Dad for an evening. (Because we all know that Grandparents are the minimum-security guards of childcare: “Hey, doesn’t that baby have a handgun?” Grandpa: “Eh, the trigger lock is on. He’s probably fine.”)
What’s the relevance now you ask? Well more than thirty years down the line, I still think like this. “What’s that? I’ve got some extra money?” McNuggets. “Way to go me, writing ‘Fade Out’ on another feature.” BigMac meal. “A bigger dog was mean to my smaller dog.” Double cheeseburgers. “It’s Tuesday.” Quarter Pounder. McDonald’s is still a way of ‘treating’ myself, long after the age of having to wait for my parents to approve has passed. It’s like I’m still afraid there’s someone out there who’s going to come along and say “No more McDonald’s for you.” Oh wait, that person exists, and she is my lovely wife.
You see, being as I am a writer who subsists on hedonistic indulgence, and my wife is an accomplished and successful personal trainer who makes a living denying the self destructive urges of eating junk, we have very different opinions on the place of McDonald’s in our lives. To my wife, finding a charge to McDonald’s on our bank account is tantamount to an Israeli citizen returning home with an Iranian stamp in their passport. She’s asked me in the past “Why do you eat there? Do you like the food?” And the wierdest things is I can’t say “Yeah, I like the food.”
Because I like the EATING of the food, even if the truth is I don’t really prefer the food over anything else. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually ‘good’, it’s just McDonald’s. The consumption of their calories to me is more about the meaning of the food than the food itself: I have money I choose to squander on this grease, and as an adult I have no one telling me I can’t have more. The experience means more than the taste.
Which brings me to the most INGENIUS thing McDonald’s has ever done. Ever. Have you seen those new touchscreen ordering kiosks? Where they have the entire McD’s menu at your fingertips and all you have to do is punch up WHATEVER YOU WANT, pay right there and the order gets sent directly to the kitchen. All you need to do is pick it up at the pass in a few minutes.
Now why do I think this is so great? I don’t really mind people myself, so avoiding them in this manner isn’t a bonus. And the staff STILL manage to get orders wrong from time to time, so it’s not for accuracies sake. No, there’s another reason entirely that I think this system will DOUBLE (or perhaps more) McDonald’s sales in the next few years: GUILT.
You see, in every industry there are ‘customers’ and then there are ‘whales’. Whales being customers who spend a disproportionate amount of money compared to what they actually get out of the experience. Much like the casino owners salivate when they see their whales enter the pit floor, McDonald’s franchisees get weak in the knees when I walk through the door with money to eat…
There is a particular pain and embarassment known only to those who have trouble controlling themselves at McDonald’s. It goes something like this.
Me: “I’ll have a Quarter Pounder meal combo, large fries & drink.”
McDonald’s Employee: “Okay. Will there be anything else?”
Me: “Yes, and a 10pc McNugget.”
McDonald’s Employee: “Okay. Thank you -”
Me: “And two McDoubles.”
McDonald’s Employee: “Oh, okay…”
Me: “And a Junior McChicken. And two apple pies.”
McDonald’s Employee: “…okay.”
Me: “And a milkshake.”
See that judgement, that guilt? It’s a special kind of pain felt only by people willing to drop $37 per visit at McDonald’s. The self serve kiosks eliminate this guilt completely. Now you can order twelve double cheeseburgers, and the only look you get is the one from the employee who hands you the tray when you pick it up at the pass. And for real, they have no idea those are ALL for you. You could be feeding a Vietnamese tour group for all they know. Complete and total plausible deniability. There has never been a better time for junk food.
As a writer, I often find myself punishing my body as a celebration of acheivement. Or as a reward for a day of hard work. Or because it happens to be a day where the sun rises. My writer/director friend and I have made a sad habit of camping out in the swankiest McDonald’s in the city, living off our $37 meals and free drink refills. The hip place to be seen writing of course is Starbucks, but all the REAL work gets done in a McDonald’s where nobody cares that you’ve set up a tent and drone landing strip, as long as the employees can still sweep ALL THE WAY under your feet while you’re trying to eat. Do cheeseburgers fuel creativity? I’m going to say yes, because then it continues to justify those six hour days spent script editing in a fast food joint. (I wish I was kidding about that.)
“But Steve!” Some fictional person necessary for this example yells out: “How on Earth can you spend $37 on one person at McDonald’s?” My answer: “Shut up. You don’t know me.” We’ve all done things we aren’t proud of… with our money. Hell, I bought an extended warranty on my TV once. We all make mistakes.
But the money I drop at McDonald’s isn’t a mistake in my book. Because I’m supporting an important element of our workforce: The Filipino Shift Worker! Go to any McDonald’s in the Lower Mainland right now and you will meet no less than five hard working Filipino’s, feeding other peoples families to make money and go home to feed their own. This is a shout out to my second family, because in my world being fed consistently by someone means they are family. Based on that assertion, my hiearchy of family goes like this: Wife, Mother, McDonald’s. Truth is they’ve probably fed me more than most. So to all the Laguna’s and Panlaqui’s on shift tonight, to all the Della Cruz’s, Reyes and Ocampo’s, to the Ramos’s, Mercado’s and Aquino’s of the world: I offer you my eternal thanks. I would’ve gone many nights eating just my recommended caloric intake without you, instead of doubling or tripling those numbers.
Recommended daily intake?
So do I have a conclusion? Not really. I mean I still enjoy visiting McDonald’s all these years on, even when I know the food probably contains a binary poison enabling whoever controls the antitode to control the world, since everyone who’s ever eaten there would be infected by said binary poison, but I’m not bothered by this. Visiting a McDonald’s in my neighbourhood is like visiting the departure lounge in a global-south airport, full of Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese people who seem they would rather sit in a McDonald’s drinking the same cup of coffee for three hours, watching Sportsnet updates on an eternal loop, rather than go home.
One day I will free myself from this high salt/high sugar super caloric obsession (I keep telling myself) but that day isn’t today or tomorrow. It’s out there, somewhere, hiding behind the next McDonald’s Monopoly game and the matching Boardwalk/Parkplace stickers that are destined to be mine. But in much the same way that Homer was unable to share the good fortune of his Million $ win in ‘Million Dollar Maybe’ (Simpson S21 Ep 11) I’m not sure I’ll be able to break it to Marisa that I won us a million dollars at McDonald’s. She’d probably consider it blood money or something.