Today I ate lunch at McDonald's. Usually when I dine out (yes, to me fast food can be "dining") I bring something to read. As I eat and then for some time afterward, I read my book or the paper or some lunatic's manifesto. It's blissful. I'm not sure why reading while eating out is more fulfilling than reading at home. When I read at home, I feel like I'm wasting the day. Shouldn't I be doing something more productive, like watching television? But when I'm in a restaurant, reading is the perfect complement to the meal. Pure leisure.
Today I opted for McDonald's. It sounded appetizing. McDonald's food has a peculiar quality: it always disappoints you, but given enough time, you'll crave it again. Then you indulge that craving and rediscover how awful the food is. You swear never to return. Then your cravings get the better of you. You go to McDonald's again, gag, and so on. I think that's what McDonald's means when they print those "recycle" emblems on the packaging.
I secured a tray of chicken nuggets, fries and apple pies and reconnoitered the restaurant for a cozy booth in the sun. Despite the lunch crowd and the ocean of seniors nursing cups of coffee, I manged to find 4 sun-kissed booths in a row. Each was perfect for an afternoon of reading. That is, each of them would have been perfect, except for the obnoxious blue circle I finally noticed on the edge of each table with the handicapped emblem. Evidently, squadrons of handicapped people converge on the McDonald's and establish a beachhead on the south border of the restaurant. Four booths? Four entire booths? How many handicap people could possibly arrive at McDonald's at the same time? After all, they're handicapped. One would think they'd opt for the drive-through. Furthermore, their bodies are obviously ailing. Perhaps burgers, fries and processed fried chicken aren't the wisest dietary choices. I won't pass judgment. But I will suggest that as McDonald's is hardly an essential service, you gimpy bastards can take your chances with the seating like the rest of us.
This is the kind of shit that puts me at odds with the universe. From 0500 until midnight, thousands of people go without the finest seating in the restaurant on the slim chance that at some point in the day, 23 handicapped people will arrive at a McDonald's at the same time and demand handicapped seating. This is ri-God-damned-diculous. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact, I'll bet most people do. Making provisions for handicapped patrons is admirable. But the degree to which we go to make a largely symbolic gesture (wouldn't a single table do, or a single handicapped parking space?) infuriates me.
The question is, why? Why do McDonald's and a thousand other companies go beyond the practical, the sensible, and into La-La Land? Who's to blame? The usual suspects: vegetarians, environmentalists and "fairness" crusaders.
Follow me on this: McDonald's sells hamburgers. Successfully. They've sold billions of burgers. That means a lot of dead cows and a lot of litter. It also means a lot of money to target with legal action. Add the slaughter of animals, consumption of natural resources and economic prosperity, mix it all together in a milkshake machine, deep-fry it in vegetable oil, and you've got yourself one greedy, evil, supersized devil-incarnate. Just the word "McDonald's" is an epithet for the evil corporate empire that is American capitalism. The only word that motivates the aforementioned busybodies faster is "Wal-Mart."
McDonald's has a lot of (unearned) guilt to assuage. They have a lot of attacks to deflect and a lot hatred to endure. What to do? They can't stop butchering cows. They can't stop wrapping burgers in aluminum foil or popping them into paper sacks. They can't tell their shareholders, "Sorry, we're not into the whole money thing anymore." What they can do is overindulge a group of busybody activists with sympathies for demographics of victims and give them - the activists busybodies - a sense of importance and the false satisfaction of "making a difference." Stroke some egos. Make it appear to the part of the world that holds capitalism in contempt that the company cares about something other than fulfilling an economic need and enriching shareholders. So McDonald's reserves an unreasonable portion of their lobby for handicapped patrons. Then they wildly gesture to its token of compassion each time a busybody starts organizing a boycott or a class-action lawsuit. Meanwhile thousands of patrons' dining experiences are less enjoyable. This is the cost to society for politically correct ambition: Patrons pay more and get less. Today, I was one of those patrons. I had to seek seating elsewhere, which brings me to the second part of my story, which I'll post at the beginning of next week. Tune in next week for Part 2: