This week and last I’ve been spending my mornings at McDonald’s. It’s a familiar place that is also foreign. It’s a place from my past. My mother would take me there for lunch when I was a teenager, picking me up in front of my high school and treating me to McChicken sandwiches and chocolate shakes, just the two of us. India and I stop there sometimes for french fries or ice cream when we are on long road trips. It is a place that offers comfort and familiarity to people who need it. A lot of them come alone.
It hasn’t been comforting to me this week though. It’s a place of last resort, the the only place close to my son’s camp that has wifi and coffee, so I’ve been logging three hours a day here. The other hour he’s at camp I spend running. I am not a runner, but I am trying to get in shape again after four years of not being in shape, and so I run.
At McDonald’s, a man sits alone and prays softly over his pancakes, a prayer that goes on and on. A mother hisses threats at her toddler, grabbing his arm with unnecessary force every time he stands up to look out the window. A small man with a nasal drawl recounts the details of his car accident to a friend: “I hit her car and I panicked, I thought, I gotta get out of here. But she got my plates, and they charged me with a hit and run.”
The people who sit in McDonald’s during the day are unemployed or retired or lonely. They take care of small children, or they need somewhere to go. A friend’s elderly mother used to take the bus to the downtown McDonalds in Seattle every day to have coffee. I knew a man from France who ate lunch at McDonald’s every single day he was in the States. It becomes a ritual. Yesterday a woman with sad eyes and fragile skin sat across from me and fell asleep over her meal. Today two men in baseball caps and florescent yellow vests sit next to each other, eating burgers and speaking in Spanish. Beside them is an elderly man wearing a bright pink polo shirt and baby blue cap, perched on a stool, swinging his feet like a child.
This is a picture of the McDonald’s we went to when we were in Barcelona. It’s across from the Sagrada Familia, It was a welcome oasis in a sea of too much olive oil and water that tasted like boiled eggs and hostility that was probably racism but could have just been bad manners. We went to McDonald’s in Paris, and the boy had a ham and cheese sandwich and I had a coca lite, and it was a relief to be sitting among regular people.
For years I hated McDonald’s. One time when my father visited me in Montreal, I complained I was hungry and he offered to buy me a pizza from McDonald’s. I got so offended I got out of the car and slammed the door. I thought that it offended my morals. But now I realize that my former hatred of McDonald’s and Walmart and going to Chuck E Cheese for kids birthday parties isn’t so much about ideals or calories or unfair labor practices. A lot of the time it was just about trying to set myself apart and not wanting to be an ordinary person.