‘Where are you?” says Carla. “You don’t want to know,” I say.
“Oh no. Not…?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Not Mc…aaargh! Say the name.”
“McDonald’s. Say it!”
It feels better when I finally blurt it out. It also feels better when I tell Carla how much I spent. Like, a dollar for coffee, a dollar for two pies, and a dollar for a small fries. Plus Ann, the cute lady behind the counter, gave me a free refill on the coffee.
And by Jiminy, that filled me up. Three buckeroos.
But Carla has this thing about McDonald’s. “They are ruining the planet!” she says. “They should have been hauled up in Copenhagen. Think of how many miles of Amazon jungle have been chopped down so farmers can grow cows to be killed for McDonald’s. McDonald’s buys more beef than anyone in the world. And antibiotics and hormones are stuffed down them in factory farms. We eat that!”
This is a cell-phone conversation. It’s around 8:30 at night, and I’m in the McDonald’s east of Paradise Hills — and I never go to McDonald’s because I like to support the little guy rather than the big chains, and they don’t come bigger than Big Mac’s. They’re 32,000 restaurants strong and turning even the French into obese little burger-munchers. Heck, they’ve opened a McDonald’s in the Louvre in Paris. Is nothing sacred?
“Look, 50 million Americans are obese,” says Carla, on the phone. She’s not letting go of this one. “Only smoking kills more of us. And the waste: every quarter-pounder uses 600 gallons of water, Edward. The way McDonald’s creates food, it takes ten calories of energy to make one calorie of food. Talk about sustainability.”
“Carla, what are you reading from?”
“That book you gave me for my birthday, Fast Food Nation. Eric Schlosser. Boy, Eric really spells it out.”
Her voice grows wary. “Why are you eating there?”
Good question. Actually, what happened was, well…typical. I was going to join a buddy of mine out here. Chew fat, couple of brewskis, maybe. Around 6:00 was the general idea. Meet — just meet — at McDonald’s. Except I got held up. Two hours late, if I have to confess. Figured I’d better still come. Irony: I have a cell, he doesn’t; he could still be waiting. As I caught the 961 bus in the dark, the driver warned, “Don’t forget, last bus back to the coast is at 9:07. You’ve got an hour.” (Though the final 962 comes by at 9:17.)
’Course, my buddy wasn’t there. Dammit, totally wasted evening. But I was definitely hungry, and I figured I’d better stay close to that stop. This big McDonald’s on Paradise Valley Road is only 100 yards away. There’s, like, two people inside. One guy drinking coffee, surrounded by big floppy books. And behind the counter, Ann. “What would you like?” she asks.
I don’t even bother looking at burgers and just order what look like total deals: a small coffee, two pies for the price of one, and a small pack of fries. A buck, a buck, a buck. How can you beat that? No wonder they have 32,000 stores. I grab my stuff and head for a table. First thing I see, looking ’round, is a “McFact: ‘Some 4000 family members of critically ill children sleep in a Ronald McDonald House somewhere in the world every night.’” Hmm… They can’t be all bad.
The one guy and I get to talking. Rusty’s a survivor of the marketing world’s downturn. He’s decided to go into the health industry. “That’s got to be expanding,” he says. He’s studying coding for medical billing. Oh, man. “I come here because it’s peaceful at night, and I like their double cheeseburgers,” he says. “They’re only $1.30. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t love McDonald’s.”
Lord. How did I not spot that buck-thirty burger? Still, I’m getting a good buzz chomping into my fries, combining them with the cherry pies. Sweet with salty. The pie’s hot in its cardboard box. Yes, it’s a sterile-looking turnover of pastry and red gunk, but guess what? It’s delish, ’specially with the coffee. Rusty sees my cup’s empty. “You get refills,” he says. So I get up and take my cup to Ann. No prob. She fills it for free. Long as I’m up, might as well check the menu.
Two girls come in. Beverley and Brandy. I ask their advice on which is the best deal. “My favorite’s the McDouble,” says Beverley. “It’s like the double cheeseburger but just one slab of cheese, so you taste the grilled meat better. And it’s only a dollar.”
Dang. Another dollar deal missed.
“I don’t eat red meat,” says Brandy. “So I always get the McChicken. That’s a dollar, too.”
Unbelievable, when you think about it. Of course, things like quarter-pounders are $4, $6 with fries and soda. But I’m full on three bucks. Maybe we need big bad corporations like Mr. Kroc’s in hard times.
I make the bus. Whew. Cell phone is ringing.
“Me.” It’s Carla. “Don’t even think of bringing back any burgers from McDonald’s.”
“You eating nuts and twigs again?”
“Not exactly. I ordered in a Domino’s double pepperoni pizza with sausage and jalapeños and olives and a side of chicken wings.”
Sigh. Say what you will, what Carla’s forking out for her pizza would’ve fed us for a week at Mickey D’s.
The Place: McDonald’s, 6925 Paradise Valley Road, 619-479-2132
Type of Food: American fast food
Prices: Small coffee, $1; small fries, $1; apple, cherry pies, 2 for $1; double cheeseburger, $1.30; McDouble, $1; McChicken, $1; breakfast muffin with 2 sausages, eggs, $3.50; Big Mac, $3; Filet o’ Fish, $3.99; daily specials
Hours: 5:00 a.m.–midnight, daily (6:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., sit-down in lobby)
Buses: 961, 962
Nearest Bus Stops: Woodman Street and Paradise Valley Road