How McDonald’s is like a Public Urinal, and Why That isn’t a Bad Thing

Sometimes, while Trombone is at school, I take Fresco to a coffee shop for a muffin. He has become, over the past two years, quite addicted to coffee shops and their muffins. We frequent many coffee shops; both chains and independents, and we don’t generally go out of our way to go to one or another. Except the Waves at Edmonds and Kingsway, because it is located right next to the library. That is my only “destination” coffee shop.

I had no plans for today’s during-preschool-outing so I asked Fresco which way to turn the car and he said “left” so I went left and then “right” and then “left” and there we were at the outdoor mall right off a highway of sorts, where there is a Starbucks and a Tim Hortons and a McDonald’s so I decided we’d go in the McDonald’s for Fresco’s muffin.

We’ve been to this McDonald’s three times now. It attracts business people (cell phone salesman-style) on their way somewhere else, middle-to-late-aged couples who sit together quietly, drinking giant coffees and reading the paper, (always The Province, our local, tabloid-style newspaper) a group of old guys who have been there each time I have, always at the same table, and a fluctuating count of people who don’t appear to be mentally stable.

It was there, today, when I really thought about the brand for each coffee chain and how McDonald’s might be the king of fast food but is definitely the public urinal of coffee shops.

Starbucks customers subscribe to a hierarchy, where those who order no-foam, soy-whip, half-caf, venti lattes demand a grudging respect, if only for being so damn specific about their coffee, and where “ordinary coffee” customers get the stink eye. Double stink-eye if you have kids with you who might disturb the Important Business Meeting taking place over on the comfy chairs.*

* I always keep my kids as quiet and respectful as I can in public places and I have still been shown the hoity-face from the folk who treat Starbucks like their personal boardroom. Want privacy? Rent an office!

Tim Hortons has the small-town feel, where customers who don’t understand how to order a coffee (they put your cream & sugar in for you, behind the counter) get sympathetic nods and explanations, and where dogs and kids get free doughnut holes. The grandparents and friendly construction workers are at Tim Hortons and they will say hello to you and flirt with your baby.

Blenz is kind of – like a wormhole.

Now, I have never attended to my business in a public urinal, but I have been told by men (and have observed in media) that it is all about TCB – taking care of business – you don’t look at the guy next to you, you don’t try to make conversation, you just look at your peeing member and silently adore it (extrapolation mine) and then you go wash your hands and get back to your beer / dinner / shopping / date.

Which is just like McDonald’s! You walk in, you do your business, you don’t talk to anybody, and you leave. There is no judgment, no staring, no caring. There was a woman, today, who walked into the McDonald’s carrying a baby doll. She was carrying it like a real baby. She put it next to her on the chair and looked at it every once in a while while she ate her McMuffin. NO ONE ELSE NOTICED. Or, if they noticed, they were totally subtle about it. She feels safe at McDonald’s. No one sees her.

That’s the kind of coffee shop that’s my speed right now (when I have a child with me). I don’t actually need the coffee, so the fact that it tastes like it was brewed in a camel’s stomach is of no concern. I don’t have two hours to sit and write cryptic notes in my notebook, or even one hour to type on my laptop. I have the length of time it takes Fresco to eat a muffin to soak up all the weird, wonderful coffee shop humanity I can and, if I’m lucky, scribble some words on the tray liner that will trigger my memory later.

No one distracts me with conversation, no one makes Fresco bury his head in my hip by saying hello and complimenting his mittens, no one looks twice at us or cares that there are muffin crumbs everywhere, because it is McDonald’s. There is a guy with a cloth waiting to wipe our table. No one says hello or goodbye. It is about as close to being invisible as a human can get, which is about as awesome as it gets for me.

(It is also rather depressing, on many other levels, but I’m not going to explore those levels today.)

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