Thursday, February 12, 2009

Plagiarizing Myself

Currently suffering from writer's block compounded by apathy, I submit (with some editing) the following, which I originally posted elsewhere a couple of weeks ago. I'm rather proud of it...
During the past 2-3 weeks my usual lunch routine has been knocked off course. Because I live exactly 1.8 miles from my place of employment, it's easy to run home for lunch. I can take care of minor tasks, eat what I want, have a little time to decompress, and save money.

However, the last few weeks have involved activities that took me away from the office for an hour or two -- physical therapy (6x in 2 weeks), MD appointment, and getting an emission inspection for my car. All of those precluded any home-time.

Last week it became something of a joke between Carl and me:
Q. "What did you do for lunch today?"
A. "McDonald's."
Q. "AGAIN???!"

I lost count along the way, but believe that for the 9 days I had to change my routine, at least 5 were under the watchful eye of Sir Ronald.

There are several factors that led me back to the Golden Arches again and again.

1. Location - There are 3 McDonald's restaurants along the routes I traveled to and from my errands.
2. Hours - Sometimes it was morning, other times lunch, but again, McD's was open for both.
3. Drive-through service with ease of access. There's a popular deli near the clinic that I thought about trying -- even drove past -- but by the time I figured out where to park, I'd gone past with no opportunity to turn around. The next most convenient place was, well, you know...
4. Variety. Not GREAT variety, but acceptable.
5. Price. In a pinch, there's always the dollar menu.

Well, today was my last day of running around, and I was dayum'd if I was going to have McDonald's AGAIN. Besides, I had a hankering for something they don't serve there, even if it isn't terribly healthy -- fried chicken. There are almost as many fried-chicken places around town as there are McDonald's, so I figured it was a fairly safe option, in terms of finding one easily and getting my food quickly enough to arrive back at work without running over.

Bojangles on East 23rd Street. I'd gone past it a number of times but never stopped in. I'd noticed that the restaurant and its property looked clean and well-kept with pleasant landscaping, so I pulled in this afternoon.

The first thing I noticed was that the drive-through lane was separated from the parking lot by concrete curbing. Once you pulled in, it was difficult, if not impossible to change your mind and opt to park and go in, unless you were at the back of the line with no one behind you.

Then I noticed how nothing was moving. One of the things that annoy me about McDonald's is, you don't have time to sit and listen to NPR, because before you know it, you're at the speaker, then at the first window, then the second, and minutes later you're back at work. Not much time to lollygag with the radio.

But this afternoon, I listened to in-depth interviews with correspondents in Afghanistan and Pakistan for about 10 minutes while waiting for the drive-thru traffic to move. I now know more about the Taliban than Colin Powell, probably.

But when they took a break to tell me that support for NPR comes from DeCosimo, I realized that I'd been sitting there motionless for an alarmingly long time. I'd even shifted into neutral so I could lighten the pressure on the brake pedal a little bit. In the rear-view mirror, I saw a pickup truck pull in behind me. Ahead of me, I counted: one, two, three, four, five, six... Possibly more than half a dozen cars in front of me (my view was blocked by the building), and nobody was moving.

I was vastly relieved when the pickup truck backed up and left the drive-thru lane. I was already feeling vaguely claustrophobic and welcomed the opportunity to extricate myself. As I followed the arrows back to the road, I vetoed the idea of parking and ordering at the counter. Every fast-food joint I've ever visited gives priority to customers on wheels. If that group was being put on hold for so long, I shuddered to think what would happen if I had to lounge in the lobby. By the time I got back to work, it would be time to start taking retirement distributions out of my 401K.

By this time, the hourglass was almost empty and I still didn't have lunch. I headed up past the zoo, turned onto East Third Street and was almost thinking about Central Park ... but they were doing some sort of work that involved those little orange sawhorses and I didn't feel like getting stuck in yet another narrow driveway.

There is but one other major eatery along that road. The one that does a crushing business with employees from the adjacent hospital running in for lunch. The lobby is a sea of cheerily patterned nurse uniforms and rubber-soled shoes.

And so, for the sixth? seventh? eighth? time in two weeks, I pulled into the parking lot and settled in for a quick sojourn in the drive-through lane. No sooner had my car come to a halt in front of the speaker, when a rapid-fire voice welcomed me and inquired as to my dining preferences. In case you're not familiar, that goes something like:


With one eye on my diet and another on my wallet, I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and small fries.


Zoom! On to the window. Slam! Opens the window. Whoosh! Out pops a hand to receive my money.


Zoom! At warp speed my car covered the ten feet or so to the next window.


"Wait a second!" I interrupted as I was handed a bag and a drink. "I didn't order 'Sprite,' I ordered 'fries.'" [This because I already had a bottle of water with me and didn't need a drink. Just some good old fashioned, sodium-laced, factory-processed spuds.]


And it really was "just a moment." Those fries were literally within arm's reach for the young man, because he had barely finished that sentence when Whoosh! Out came the bag again, this time with a holster of fries inside, keeping the boxed sandwich company.


And zoom! again, getting me back to the office before my hour was up.

Did I want a grilled chicken sandwich today? No.

Did I want McDonald's today? Most emphatically not.

Did I have other options? Yes, but none of them would have gotten me back to work on time.

Now, here's the point of my ramblings. Other fast-food restaurants (and various social critics) denigrate McDonald's because they're a mammoth corporation that has influenced the culinary culture of nearly every civilization on earth. They are expensive to set up as a franchisee; they have rather draconian ways of protecting their intellectual property and brand identity. The food's not all that great, and if you saw the movie Super Size Me, you'd be justified fearing for your continued good health if you made a really serious habit of eating there.

And, like me, it's possible to set out with every good intention to eat SOMEWHERE ELSE, and still end up at McDonald's.

I'm sure the guy who owns Bojangles on East 23rd would be disappointed if I wrote to him and described my journey and ultimate destination today.

But would he be disappointed enough? Have any of Mickey D's fast-food competitors REALLY, TRULY gotten the wake-up call?

Here's the bottom line: McDonald's makes SPEED their number one priority.

If you want it fast, you will GET it fast.

And if you can't get it fast enough to suit whoever sets their standards for speed, they will compensate you. Many a time, I have stood at the counter, or in the drive-thru just a bit longer than usual, arrived home and found an extra burger, extra fries, or an extra apple pie in the bag. This was not a mistake. This was McDonald's saying "Sorry we kept you waiting."

This location does it. The one near the high school does it. The one near my office does it. They ALL do it.

The competitors probably cringe when they hear about that. "I'd go broke if I gave away apple pies every time somebody had to wait more than 5 minutes!"

McDonald's doesn't go broke with giveaways because they have developed scientific routines that minimize wait time, AND, because this pays off, MORE PEOPLE automatically choose McDonald's when they're in a hurry. They KNOW they won't have to wait there the way they would at, say, Bojangles.

I'm sure it's not easy working for McDonald's. I'm sure there are managers breathing down your neck every second, because I've watched them -- perpetual motion. But at the same time, smiles are not unknown on the faces of the employees, so there must be something that gets them through the day.

So the competitors should ask themselves if they have extremely high standards that are communicated clearly to the employees? Or do employees know that as long as they show up and have a pulse, they can keep their jobs even if 35% of the customers vow never to return there ever again because the service is so slow and indifferent?

I'm glad my calendar is clear for the time being, so I can start eating at home again. I'm also glad McDonald's was there when I (sadly for its competitors) had no better choice.


Kay Dennison said...

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do and that's just what you did!!!

I avoid fast food places but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

Volly said...

That's it -- the inspiration for a new ad campaign!

"McDonald's. Last refuge of the truly desperate."

I think it's catchy. How many billions will they pay us for it (we're splittin' it, girlfriend!)?


T. Nawrocki said...

Do they have Chick-Fil-A in your area? Maybe it's because the menu is pretty limited, but the drive-through lane at Chick-Fil-A moves like you wouldn't believe. You can go there for lunch and see a line of cars around the building and still be eating in about six minutes. I swear, sometimes you don't even need to step on the brake.

Volly said...

Chick Fil-A's great, T.N. Unfortunately, "you can't get there from here" without traveling about 10 miles out of the way.

Plus, the only time I crave it is, you guessed it... Sunday. When they're closed!

Thanx, though!

Howard Bagby said...

I can't speak for all Bojangles, but I have eaten at the one here in Calhoun twice. If you like grease it is ideal. At least you didn't call 911 like the guy in Florida that I blogged about.

Fran said...

I once staged a coup at a McDonalds. I was given a $20 coupon for a windshield repair job that had repeated problems. Back in the day $20 bucks could feed a family of 4 for a dinner. I carefully chose our order to spend it all & then got to the window. The coupon specifically listed their location & did not expire for a full 2 months later. When I got to the window & handed the clerk the coupon, she got a puzzled look. Came back in a minute & announced they were no longer honoring those coupons. I should drive 7 miles one way to the other McDonalds in the next town.
I thought about this & decided that was not happening. Our McMeal would be cold & soggy by the time I got it home .
So I noticed the 6 cars behind me & announced Ohhh that's really too bad, the 6 cars behind me are going to be very disappointed because I'm not moving until you honor your coupon.
Her McJaw dropped!

A manager was called. I turned off my engine.
She tried to tell me they backed out of the coupon arrangement.... but it was right there in black & white.. their location address & the valid expiration date. Not my problem. Not taking no for an answer.
I wondered if they were going to call the cops.

Just as quickly as you got your fries, this manager realized I really was going to blockade the drive thru, and approved honoring the coupon.

I have seen regional managers with stopwatches, timing the flow of the drive through.
They demand it be fast, but I'm not quite sure it is FOOD??? It sure seems to have McShrunk.... the boxes, the burgers.

So my McBlockade of the McDrivethru was successful. I don't recall if they threw in the "have a nice day". They were glad I was McOutta there .

Volly said...

Wow, Fran, it sounds like you got more of a dividend in terms of pure fun than food & "savings" combined! Hee hee! It's so easy to mess with their little franchised brains...

Persephone said...

I worked for McDonald's for five hellish months when I was 17 going on 18. Have not set foot in there since.

Volly said...

I'd love to hear some "inside" stories about how they run things there. One can only imagine!

Persephone said...

Well, Volly, I'd answer here, but I'd take up way too much room in your comments field. Besides, I've committed myself to NaBloPoMo for February, and I need the post topic. So I'm written my bitter and twisted recollections of my McDonald's days back at my blog. Maybe things have changed at the Golden Arches since then....

Volly said...

I get it, Persephone...

McDonald's. A Little Slice of Hades!