“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Mcdonald’s” Chapter 78
By Bruce Williams
A few days ago I got swamped at work. We were understaffed and closing early because of the snow storm, so I never made it out to lunch after skipping breakfast in lieu of a third coffee. On my way home, my wife asked me to stop at the drugstore for my mother-in-law’s prescriptions, sent me a list of a dozen necessities needed from the grocery store and finally gave me the kids’ orders for McDonald’s. I sighed. The line was ten-deep in the drive-thru at Walgreen’s, so I parked and went inside. A man in a spiked leather jacket was walking too closely behind me through the automatic doors, and when we entered (almost as one) he scurried around me and bolted to the outside aisles to beat me in line to our shared destination in back: the pharmacy. “Asswipe,” I muttered. There was a green-haired woman in front who must’ve been ordering a whole cocktail of drugs because she occupied one of the two open windows the whole time the line slowly progressed. Spiked Leather got to the front and proceeded to go into histrionics when there was some sort of mixup with his prescription (while I quietly smiled and eavesdropped)—eventually storming away in his sweatpants and slippers to go retrieve his missing paperwork for his herpes medication or toenail fungus (I postulated).
Haggen’s grocery was busy and the shelves were nearly empty. I grabbed some Cascade bread and Black Forest ham for sandwiches, but they were out of pizzas, milk, fried chicken, cheddar cheese (I grabbed sharp and jack instead) and quite a few other basics. I got jostled twice and cut off by rushing shopping carts several times as gracefulness was scarce and panic seemed to be getting a foothold. I looked at my watch while I was in line—it was 6:30 already and I hadn’t eaten anything yet and I still had to stop and get the kids’ their sacks of grease.
I negotiated the truck through the icy parking lot over to the Golden Arches and slid up to the intercom. Jack’s order is very specific and the percentage chance that they get some of it wrong is always pretty high, especially when gauged by the amount of indifference coming lazily through the speaker. I spied their special on the marquee—two Big Macs for just six bucks—I was still about a half hour away from that ham sandwich and since I personally hadn’t eaten there in over a year and had forgotten the pool of regret that usually accompanies fast food in your fifties, I tagged their two signature sandwiches onto the back end of the order. I remember what a treat it was as a kid to drive crosstown to the new McDonald’s in Lacey by South Sound Mall. There, they touted, you could feed a family of five for five bucks. My notoriously cheap dad (he was known to wear his tighty whities until they disintegrated down to just their waistband) would gasp or groan if one of his starving kids tried to add, say, a hot apple pie or extra burger to their standard order. “You’re killing me…” he’d whisper, a wad of twenties bulging in his pocket. Now, it would only be out of scarcity, efficiency, or extreme hunger that I would get myself something here…and tonight was just such a night.
I got the food home and unloaded the car, nearly slipping with my hands full in the driveway. Jack eagerly unpacked his feast and was one burger into it when I realized I’d been shorted a Big Mac. I opened the box of the one I’d gotten and there was Thousand Island dressing splooged over a quarter of the top. I looked at the receipt, hovering over the phone number and what felt like a matter of principle until I dialed it somewhat disgustedly. A young girl who sounded like Tootie from the first season of The Facts of Life answered, and I just hung up. I don’t know what I’d been hoping to accomplish—a regret-filled manager prostrating himself and rushing me a 2nd Big Mac to my door in the snow, along with his most sincere apologies? A pimply-faced kid being tossed out into the parking lot next to his Corolla, with this being the last straw—his final act of oily-haired negligence? No, this is the meal you’re getting—bite that sloppy corner first and move on, washing it down with one sip of a flat Diet Coke from the garage (I’m never buying those plastic bottles again) before tossing the whole mess into the garbage can and telling your consoling wife that, “Sometimes things just don’t work out.”
So I’m cured from the McDonald’s urge for yet another year, but at some point I’ll forget again and be found hugging the building with my truck. Maybe I’ll just order the large fries—the one thing in all these years that has never disappointed (as long as you get them hot). I’ve managed to dodge the Shamrock shake and the ghastly-formed McRib and will continue to do so, but there’ll still be a few more dispiriting paper bags left in the remainder of my long life. Some road trip, late night or kids’ meal add-on and there it’ll be—forcing me to shake my head in dismay more at myself than at this wildly-successful, highly-unhealthy, omnipresent franchise.