I’m sitting in McDonald’s. Yes, this is where I do my schoolwork – it’s a good place for it. There are limited distractions: no dishes waiting for me, no laundry that wants to be put in the dryer, no dog wanting to play. There are, however, lots of different people to observe and, as a lifelong people-watcher, they hold their own kind of distraction for me.
The Starving College Student is the free WiFi user, who needs a fast Internet connection, but doesn’t want to go to Starbucks because, although a steaming hot caramel macchiato would be yummy, the large soda at McDonald’s is just a dollar, and it’s refillable. She sits quietly, in the corner next to an outlet, surrounded by devices and books; she is focused, head down, sipping her soda from time to time. She does look up periodically, but appears to be thinking of whatever it is she’s writing on her laptop. She’s here every day and has considered frequenting a different MickeyD’s location, but this one is so convenient, and it’s nice that the employees are starting to expect her.
“No, you can’t go play! You have to eat your nuggets first.” The Frazzled Mom tumbles in the door accompanied by four very small children. How did she have so many in such a short time? She’s here for a break and, while tempted to eat in the main dining room away from the racket, she plops herself down in the PlayPlace area. Soon there are napkins spread across the floor, spilled soda running down the table legs, and children popping up and down, in an attempt to escape their mother’s watchful gaze, to play on the slide. You can tell the children really have no desire to eat, but they continue to wiggle around non-stop, while hastily devouring the nuggets. Finally finished, they are allowed to leave the table. They ditch their shoes, dash to the slide, and proceed to scream bloody murder as they run and chase and dive into the ball pit. Break time for mom has arrived at last. She lets her shoulders droop in exhaustion, digs a jelly-smeared book from the side of an overstuffed diaper bag, and settles in to read a while. Just as she turns the first page, oldest child comes running up to report that youngest child is stuck in the slide, scared and won’t come down. She sighs and proceeds to climb up the narrow slide to dislodge the terrified youngster. Well, it was worth a try, I guess.
Singing pop songs to each other, attempting to drown out the piped-in slow jams, is the Pack of Adolescents. The bread is carefully removed from one sandwich, and the remainder of the McChicken is placed in the middle of a cheeseburger. When questioned, you would find out that this concoction is affectionately referred to as a “McDank.” Being over 700 calories, it can sustain an adolescent boy for at least a couple of hours for a mere $2. Between bites of the giant sandwich and gulps of Coke, the pack can be observed inhaling handfuls of french fries, doused in copious amounts of ketchup, and all this being chewed with mouth partially open, in order to allow an opening to shove in more food as quickly as possible. You would think that teenagers would create a whole bunch of noise, but they’re remarkably quiet due to the focus they place on their less than gourmet meal.
The Businesspeople: No other title is appropriate for them. They’re here because it’s fast. They have a hectic schedule to follow, and they know McDonald’s is famous for fast, efficient service. They don’t have time to wait around. In fact, they’re likely on the phone the entire time they’re ordering and eating. They’re the ones dressed in suitcoats, who never eat ice cream from a cone. If they’re of the female variety, they’re picking at a salad and taking small sips of diet cola from an open cup. They eat quickly and hustle out the door, in conversation for the first time during their brief visit.
Last, but definitely my favorite, the Sweet Grey-Haired Couple. You know who they are. They’re the ones you trust to babysit your laptop, so you don’t have to lug it to the restroom because of all those free refills. They sit quietly, nibbling on a tiny burger and sipping coffee, while you wonder how anyone could drink hot coffee with fast food. Ick! They seem happy to be out of the house, enjoying the presence of anyone who sits close, smiling at both strangers and each other. No conversation is required. They are busy enough just being. And lest you wonder, they will finish their meal long before dark, so they can drive home safely.
Yes, there is a lot to see at McDonald’s. I am always amazed at the variety of people who frequent such a mundane place. It is truly a microcosm of whatever society you live in, reflecting the shapes and colors of whatever is common in its particular neighborhood. And yet, you will always find basically the same few groups of patrons regardless which location you choose to visit.