Americana

This afternoon, I did something I haven’t done in just over 20 years.  I went to McDonald’s, and went inside, and sat down and had lunch.  I’ve been to McDonald’s in those years, but only to the drive-through, and usually for breakfast.  I’ve been through the drive-through for lunch and had double cheeseburgers, the occasional Big Mac, and recently, their fruit salad.  But never inside, even just to place an order.  So…why is that?

Because from 1986 until early 1993, I was a manager for McDonald’s.  It took some years for me to even go through the drive-through, but going inside was not an option.  I was afraid it would bring up too many bad memories.

Today, I went for a couple of reasons.  First, I had a serious and irrational craving for a Filet-o-Fish sandwich.  With extra cheese.  (Always order extra cheese, otherwise you only get half a slice.  Not that you can really call American cheese actual cheese, but still.)  And that craving was not quite so irrational–I saw an ad on TV.  It’s on sale for $1.59.  And I like them.  Yes, I know there are healthier alternatives–grilled fish sandwiches–but I like that little square, battered, fried, fish-like thing.  I also had a small fry and a milk. (Hint:  Never buy fountain drinks. But I don’t drink soft drinks anyway.)

Then I sat and observed the employees and the customers.  I was curious.  Who ever goes to McDonald’s anymore, at least inside?  Okay, well here’s one:  before I ever went inside, there was a woman about my age, parked next to me, apparently cleaning out her SUV.  She was wearing sandals, and had on light blue toenail polish.  Okay, that’s one.

Inside, just ahead of me in line, was a family (?) which appeared to consist of an overweight white mother, a black teenaged son with dreadlocks, and a younger teenaged daughter with the most enormous breasts I’ve ever seen on an adolescent girl.  She was about 4 feet tall, also overweight, wearing a pink tank top, and a bra, thank goodness, with the straps showing on her shoulders.  Is this like People of Walmart?

In the employee department, it appears not much had changed.  Both the cashiers at the counter were tiny little wispy African-American girls who mostly looked scared to death.  Probably due to the McDonald’s motivational method:  Smile and be happy and friendly, or we’ll kill you.

There were three managers present, recognizable by their different colored shirts, and everyone in the store was working their asses off.  It’s a little iffy to go to any fast food restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, as I did, because quality standards start to slip.  But this particular store seems to be hopping at all times.  Which was good for me.

I don’t even like French fries, and ordered them only because I wanted some different flavor to munch on besides the fish sandwich.  These were perfect.  Blazing hot, and perfectly salted.  Golden brown, but soft on the inside.  That just took me back…I could have hopped over the counter (okay, I couldn’t have hopped), but I could have been right there cooking, salting and bagging those fries like it was yesterday.  (Three minutes at 330 degrees!)

I found myself feeling really sorry for the employees, though, especially the managers.  They were looking a bit disheveled, and you knew they’d been going like gangbusters for at least 5 or 6 hours already, with miles to go before they sleep.

I will never, ever miss it, but there is still a certain nostalgia there.  Stories I remember, and the camaraderie my fellow managers and I felt, as if we were in a combat zone together.

So I’d say the McDonald’s of today is the same as the McDonald’s of 20 years ago, and the McDonald’s of 20 years ago is the same as 20 years before that.  The principles are the same.  McDonald’s started in the ’50’s, the age of the automobile, when people could travel more than ever.  And what people wanted was food that was the same as they could get at home.  Americans are more adventurous now.  Okay, some Americans.

But that formula works for McDonald’s.  The main difference now is better gadgets.

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7 responses to “Americana

  1. I like the filet-o-fish too! I don’t go to McDonalds very often, but if I do, I almost always choose drive-through. I hate sitting inside, it kind of grosses me out when you find a bit of dried ketchup on the edge of the table, or on the seat where they haven’t cleaned properly. Or bits of dirty trodden on fries on the floor that haven’t been cleaned up yet. I prefer to eat inside my car, it might not be spotless but at least it’s my dirt!

  2. McDonalds is a big part of Americana. My kids used to measure leaving and entering civilization by the appearance and disappearance of the golden arches. I remember the first one in Ft Walton, went there as a partying teen many times. Their fries drew me after a keg party at the beach.

    Today I value the cleanliness of their restrooms while traveling on the roads of America and will often stop for a bathroom break picking up an occasional cup of coffee. I sometimes get a filet-o-fish or an Egg McMuffin, but never ever eat a burger or anything else. Well maybe a salad. I would miss them if they were not around. So Mayor Bloomberg you just stay in NYC.

    I used to feel about Eckerds the way you feel about McDonalds, and for the same reasons. But I would use their pharmacy because I knew their standards. I miss them when I go into Walgreens although I have to give them their due they have evolved since CVS got bigger and better.

    As I said in a previous post I consider McDonalds to be a great international
    ambassador of “Americana.” It’s not at all intellectual or artistic or athletic like other American exports it remains (with coca cola) a unique example of market driven capitalism at its most garish and successful self.

    Next time I order a filet-0-fish I’ll think of this post.

  3. Funny Vanessa! Our own dirt is always preferable, isn’t it? After all, we live with it every day and aren’t too much the worse for it. pt, indeed you are right! Like it or not, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola just scream “America”. When I graduated from college in 1973, I went to Paris (graduation present) and they had just opened the first McDonald’s in France, on the Champs-Elysee. It was a very jarring sight.
    I also know what you mean about being a teenager. My very first boyfriend in college had a red convertible 1966 Mustang, and we would cruise to McD’s for lunch. Every. Single. Day. It was all we could afford. See what I mean about the memories?
    I know you prefer books that are more prone to history, but you might check out the book “Behind The Arches”. A fascinating look at how McDonald’s began, and why it was so successful. .

  4. I only visit McD’s for breakfast. And only when I have a coupon or there’s a sale for the Egg McMuffin, which I like. Which one did you visit? The one across from Hooters? That’s the one I go to; or, the one across from my credit union (First Florida) near Steak & Shake on Capital Circle NE.

  5. In this case I went to the one just north of my house, on Hwy. 27, in front of Winn-Dixie. Sometimes I’ll stop at the one across from Hooter’s on the way to work. And if I’m at work, I’ll go to the one on Tennessee St. across from FSU.

  6. Which reminds me to ask–did you ever go to Sweet Rack Rib Shack? McD’s on Tennessee made me think of that, since as you would say, it’s on the “student side of town” lol.

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