Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fast Food Diaries

I wasn’t going to write about my latest fast food experience because I don’t want to give the impression that I feed my kids junk food all the time. Two, maybe three times a month max. OK, maybe three to four times. But I have to tell you about the last time we went to McDonald’s. It was totally weird. I would even call it post-apocalyptic.

My perception of the McDonald's scene is heavily influenced by The Road, which I’m currently teaching to a class of horrified ninth graders at the learning center on Saturdays. I am assigned curriculum for these classes, so it's not my choosing. It’s a harsh story about a father traveling with his son after life as we know it ends. They must scavenge for food in a violent world of slavery, cannibalism and torture. I think it is a better choice for older students, but the learning center filled my class with 14 year olds.

Anyway, I took my kids to McDonald’s for dinner on Tuesday night. This particular franchise is located near the main entrance to our town, in an area that has always had a noticeable amount of hard drug use. There used to be a few prostitutes too, but I haven’t seen them around in a while. I guess sex couldn’t compete with drugs in the new economy. At least in this area.

So let me tell you about the scene. As we push our way through the heavy glass doors, a man sitting on the sidewalk asks for food or money. I tell him I will think about it.

Just as I start to make our order at the counter, Violet demands to go to the bathroom NOW. I direct Daisy to take her to the bathroom while I finish up . . . by the time I’m paying, the kids are back tugging on my arm . . . saying something about not being able to get in. I walk them back over and realize the bathrooms can only be unlocked remotely by employees. A mom eating with her son near the bathrooms laughs as she watches us walk back and forth.

We return to the bathroom, which is now unlocked. As I take Violet in, I notice several men lining up in front of the door. It’s a women’s bathroom but it’s the only one that’s been unlocked. None of the men are paying customers.

The men seem to really be looking forward to using that bathroom and knock anxiously on the door, even though we aren’t taking very long. As we come out, the guy at the front of the line carefully catches the door before it closes. As soon as the door is securely in his hand, he turns around to the line of unkempt, wild-eyed men and gallantly offers for someone else to go first. Everyone is nodding at each other, and they decide who will go first. They are all skinny white men with hollow cheeks.

As we eat, I can’t stop watching the line of men who aren't quite right, and it seems this is the line to do heroin. One of the guys comes out holding a balled up tissue to his arm, where he likely stuck the needle. I can’t eat the grilled chicken sandwich in front of me. I’m so distracted that I’m not paying attention to Violet, who loses her nuggets to the floor then tries to clean them up without me noticing. I catch her right before she gets one of the floor nuggets into her mouth (when are those survival skills going to kick in?). I realize I’m being watched by the addicts as I walk over to the trash to throw the nuggets away. The workers at the counter graciously replace the nuggets for free, which the men gossip about. One of the men calls us “spoiled.”

More men come into the restaurant, and they all seem to all be part of the homeless druggie club. A few count up the change in their pockets to buy hamburgers, then wolf them down in seconds. I have not only lost my appetite, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat at a McDonald’s again. The restaurant smells like urine and body odor. The man who was sitting outside by the door walks through the restaurant, cursing "people who won’t even give him even one measly hamburger." He returns to his station outside.

At one table, there sits a very large woman with light brown skin and greasy, curly black hair. She wears huge sunglasses and carries several bags stuffed with merchandise. A man who could best be described as a crackhead approaches her and asks her about her bag of sunglasses. She says she is selling them for a dollar. She doesn’t eat anything or talk much. She sits regally in a round booth, surrounded by her bags. The crackhead paces nervously by her table while muttering to himself, apparently blown away that her sunglasses are only one dollar. He hits himself on the head when he remembers spending a few dollars on his last pair of sunglasses.

I notice the woman eating with her toddler has the permanently scarred look of someone who has struggled with hard times herself. She leaves her trash on the table. As she walks her son outside, men come from all directions to shuffle through her trash. The three men who get to the table first discuss the leftover food with distaste as they shove it in their mouths, and the others return to their seats with nothing. The leftover food doesn’t seem to please the palates of the scavengers, and they walk away with sour looks on their faces.

I make sure to leave my chicken sandwich on the table. I wonder if the men will find it to be as disgusting as I did. The kids want to take their leftovers home. On our way out, I hand a dollar to the guy sitting out front and he thanks me profusely and says, “Have a good day, girls!” When we get home, I want to forget that I took my kids out to fast food again, but my daughter asks, “How do you spell McDonald’s?” She labels her happy meal bag proudly and pins it to her wall. I’m totally busted.


  1. Kind of random, but you're a really good story teller. Honestly, I don't think I would have been interested in this story usually, but you told it in such a way that I felt like I was in a movie or something.

    I never eat inside of fast food places. I just find them depressing and I don't want to have to deal with the type of experience you had. People like that remind me of things I don't want to be reminded of.

  2. No, it wasn't much of a story but it was a depressing scene. Writing about it stops it from bouncing around in my head for awhile. Not an experience I'll be seeking again soon.