There was a time when I would have regarded a trip to McDonald's as a guilty pleasure, something to be hidden from friends and neighbors. I would quickly destroy any evidence, terrified that someone might discover my secret, that I might be outed for the sin of having consumed a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit.
Thankfully, these days I am free from the shackles of political correctness, and the guilt that its practitioners sought to impose on me.
I have asked myself, on occasion, “What it is about a trip to McDonald's that I find so enjoyable?” It would seem irrational to delight in a visit to a fast food restaurant. Certainly a more delicious and nutritious meal can be had. I have no fascination with clowns or heavily-used modular playground equipment. Why then do I find a trip to McDonald's so fulfilling?
The answer came to me the other day after I departed the drive-through of one of the three McDonald's locations that has been conveniently placed between my home and my office, for what must have been at least the hundredth time. I had given my order with my normal military precision, “Number 5, with a small black coffee please.” The electronic screen registered my order a moment later and I was ordered to proceed.
I arrived at the cashier’s window twenty seconds later, presented my debit card, and was asked to pull forward to a second window less than a minute later. As I pulled up to the window, the employee who was tasked with filling orders thrust the bag out the window with her left hand, poised to thrust the coffee out with her right. I grabbed the bag with a curt “Thank You”, was handed the coffee, and departed in the space of ten seconds. I had managed to procure a fully-cooked breakfast without leaving my car in less than two minutes.
The satisfaction I felt afterwords was that of having completed a task in the most efficient way yet devised by mankind. The people that had taken my order and filled it had done so with machine-like precision. My burritos and hash browns would taste the same as they had a dozen times before, from a dozen different locations, in a dozen different states across the country. The coffee tasted the same as it always had, and was heated to precisely the same temperature as it always was.
No one had felt the need to ask me in their most utterly disinterested voice how my day was going, or if there was anything else I needed. They had done exactly what I had wanted them to do, without me having to explain why it was that I wanted them to do it or how it was to be done.
As I left the McDonald's, I felt a kinship with others who were also speeding their way through the drive-through at 6 AM, hurrying to begin their daily work. I thought about those who were crowding into the tiny dining room inside, with nowhere in particular that they needed to be. They were utterly defeating the purpose of this venerable institution, attempting in vain to make it inefficient.
It struck me that I thought them unworthy and unappreciative of the efficiency that they had come to expect. They had gone to McDonald's because the food was cheap, and deliciously calorie-filled.
It seemed absurd that those so devoid of motive power would be consuming food designed specifically for the most active in our society. “Their money, their choice,” I thought as I unwrapped my burrito and began reading my morning email.
Justin W. Brown is a geologist who provides geological, geotechnical, and engineering solutions for the oil and gas transportation industry. He is also an aspiring freelance writer, with a keen interest in history, philosophy, and science.