Old women at McDonald’s

The title of this post sounds vaguely artsy and metaphorical.  It would, I think, also make a good name for a band.  Sadly, there’s nothing especially clever about it: I am actually going to write about old women at McDonald’s.

I’ve loved McDonald’s restaurants since I was a little kid.  I’ve noted before how susceptible I am to marketing an advertising, and my history with McDonald’s is a good example of it.  As a kid, I thought of McDonald’s restaurants as magical places, with delicious food and wonderful characters.  I’m quite aware that this perception was the direct result of an astoundingly effective marketing strategy, but there’s simply no denying that those television ads cut me to the quick.  I know who Mayor McCheese is.  I remember when there were three Fry-Guys (I’ve always wondered what happened to the third one; I imagine they ate him).  I can distinctly recall the advertising campaign that introduced Birdie, the Early Bird, which at the time seemed like a big deal because it was the first time (for me) that a new character was introduced.  My point is that slick marketing made me perceive McDonald’s as a wonderful place, and when I went to the restaurant I really believed it.  When I was little we lived in one of the less affluent areas near the downtown of a major city, and a trip to McDonald’s was a pretty big deal.  If you had your birthday party there, you were officially hot stuff.

All of that is a really just long-winded explanation for why, today, I still quite like McDonald’s.  The food isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly not bad, and in a goofy sort of way it still reminds me of the magic I associated with the place as a kid.  And, this is why it takes an awful lot to bother me at McDonald’s.  Crazy homeless man hollering incoherently?  No worries.  Spilled food on the floor?  Not a big deal.  Long lines and one slow, overworked cashier who doesn’t speak English and has “trainee” in big letters beside her name tag?  Fine by me.  The media machine has done its job, and I’ll still eat my food with a smile.

But there is one thing that can really rain on my magical-feelings-programmed-into-me-when-I-was-a-child parade: the cranky and negative old women who cluster around the restaurant every afternoon and act like it’s their personal clubhouse.  You know who I mean.  I’m not talking about the polite and quiet older lady having a coffee and a small french fries by herself.  No, I mean the gaggle of crowing harpies that spends all afternoon at the restaurant, yelling and gossiping and complaining, and generally making everyone near them feel vaguely embarrassed.  Seriously, they harsh my mellow.

These ladies have nowhere else to be; I get that.  They are lonely, and frail, and probably not very well off, and they just want a place to gather and not feel friendless; I get that.  But, why can’t they be nice about it?  Eating lunch today, I couldn’t help but listen to their commentary on everyone who walked by.  They were like a caricature of high-school gossip queens.  Schoolgirls walking by?  Whores.  Junior high basketball team?  Thugs.  Quiet Asian couple with their two kids?  “Why do they come to this country, anyway?”  If they could have been subtle about it, I suppose I might have been less bothered, but they are loud.  My first thought was an annoyed, “Are they deaf or something?”  Then, I realised, well, yeah, they probably are.  But still, being a jerk quietly is simply rude, while being a jerk loudly is outright mean; people can hear you.  One customer exiting the restaurant struggled briefly with the door, which was a mechanically-powered disabled-access entry, and so didn’t swing freely.  After the customer left, the crowing from the old women on their habitual perch nearby was deafening: “Automatic!  It says right there!  Guess that person doesn’t know what automatic means!  People cant even read signs!  What’s the point of even having a sign of people don’t read it?  Shows you what it’s come to these days, it really does!”

At my local McDonald’s, this group even seems to be endorsed by the store management.  There are big signs (and, we know these ladies can read a sign) informing the customers that the maximum stay in the restaurant is half-an-hour.  I’ve seen this rule applied to groups of kids who came in to eat lunch but were too loud about doing it, and so were asked to leave as soon as their food seemed to be finished.  But, the ill-spirited old women can apparently stay all afternoon.  They even seem to have an official store liaison of some sort.  One older woman appears to actually be an employee at the restaurant, wearing the uniform and occasionally walking around, and such.  Mostly, though, she just hangs out in a booth with her friends, the other mean old ladies.  I honestly can’t tell if she’s a proper employee who never does anything, or is simply some sort of volunteer whom the restaurant allows to show up and officially linger about.  Either way, she seems perfectly fine with asking the high-school kids to leave, but she never has anything but friendly words for her bitter little clan.

It’s not hard to understand why they behave the way they do.  They are lonely, and insecure, and like a bitchy high-school drama queen who has to badmouth and gossip in order to to feel good, they are just looking for attention and self-esteem.  I used to accept the presence of these women with good grace, and treat them as some sort of colourful mascots, magical cartoon characters representing the new, tasty McCranky, or refreshing McBitter, or whatnot.  But, there’s no getting around that all they really are is pissy old women with too much time and too little kindness.  It just isn’t very nice to be around.

This is the point where I should probably stop to think about the impoverished resources for poor and aimless older folks.  A parallel between these old ladies and bitchy young people would probably work too.  I’m also certain that there are things to say here about the nature of gossip and mean-spiritedness, and how that kind of behaviour is  just a cry for love from a lonely and neglected soul.

But, no.  All I really want is to be able to eat a Cheeseburger in peace.  Those ladies can find somewhere else to be mean.

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