By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
To me one of the most offensive odors is the smell of food from McDonald’s. The culprit is probably the oil that’s used for frying the potatoes. Truffle oil it isn’t. I know the difference since I recently had upscale popcorn doused with truffle oil at the upscale Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in Lincoln Center. I can always tell as soon as passengers enter my subway car or the bus carrying a paper bag from whence they are coming by the pervasive McDonald’s aroma they bring with them. And yet I have to admit that occasionally I have been known to enter one of its premises for a container of coffee (excellent) and a hot fudge sundae (delicious and only $1.84), but seldom for a hamburger after once having experienced a thin hamburger patty that tasted like what I would imagine cardboard would between a bun. Strangely the cooking odor never bothers me while inside the restaurant; probably because then I”m part of it.
Last Saturday I got a late start getting out and didn’t want to delay my outing by eating something. I needed to exchange some clothing at The Town Shop at 82nd Street and Broadway. On the bus midway I began to feel really hungry for something solid and remembered that right on the corner of 82nd Street was a McDonald’s. Maybe if I were to order a cheese burger the cheese would add some flavor to the concoction. When I arrived at the lingerie shop, it was after 6:00 and already closed. Since it was dinner time, McDonald’s was teeming with people, mostly with Latino and African American families. When it was my turn in line, a Latino looking young man gave me a warm, welcoming smile. “A cheeseburger, please.” All around me were patrons carrying French fries. Why not? Besides, I recalled what Dorothy Carter once told me. Several hours before a performance, eat potatoes, because they give you energy and make you feel grounded. “And an order of French fries, please.” “Yes, a small one.” After I paid for it, I thought of drinking something. And what goes better with a cheeseburger than a Coke, I who never drink Coke. “And a small Coke with no ice.” Somehow these two foods and drink seemed to belong together. “How much more do I owe you?” “No, that’s alright,” once again directing at me that wonderful smile which lit up his face. I probably reminded him of his grandmother or great grandmother. All this food and for only $3.25. What a bargain! I sat down at a two seat table feeling very kindly disposed towards MacDonald’s and feeling happy because of the young man’s thoughtfulness and smile. He had even thought of putting in the bag four napkins and three packets of ketchup, exactly what I needed. And everything – the cheeseburger, the fries and the Coke – tasted delicious. McDonald’s had no idea what a great advertisement for it they had in this young man.
I enjoyed watching the other customers. For years now fast food restaurants have been blamed for America’s growing obesity problem. And here was living proof. More than half of the women of varying ages were over weight. Sitting in front of me, however, was a really thin young woman. She was not eating anything and seemed quite impatient; a bottle of water rested on the table. She sat apart from family that were at an elongated table across the isle, all engrossed in their food. I noted that they appeared more satisfied and happier than she did.
After this enjoyable meal, I stopped by Zabar’s where among other foods, I bought a container of Autumn Vegetable Bisque that contained onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, celery, eggplant, zucchini, green beans and butternut squash. That should do as an antidote to all the nutrition less food I had just eaten. I got on a crowded bus at 79th Street with two large bags. A woman, probably in her late 70s, made room for me in the middle of the three seater facing the aisle at the front of the bus. As soon as I sat down and said thank you to her, she suddenly said, “There’s a bad smell here,” and with that she crossed the aisle to the opposite to the one empty seat between a three seater and continued to read her book. It dawned on me almost immediately; suddenly I was aware of the taste of oily French fries and ketchup in my mouth. My clothes and hair must have reeked with the McDonald aroma. “I hope it wasn’t from me,” I spoke to her across the isle. “No, it’s probably me,” she said and went back to her book. Suddenly I felt self conscious, conspicuous and a tad bit amused by the ironic twist. All these years I had been been offended by other passengers emitting the McDonald Aroma and here I was now doing the offending. Thank God nobody else moved away, but then again, there were no empty seats. Later, I was able to move to a more comfortable seat facing the front and next to a kindly looking grandmotherly sort who gave me foot room for my shopping bags; I so hoped I wouldn’t offend her too. Obviously not because as we drove on, she became more and more worked up almost to a frenzy telling me how evil Obama was because of the drone strikes; she said she had voted for him the last time, but he had not done anything, worked hand in hand with the banks; her nephew had lost his computer job two years ago and hasn’t worked since, and no matter what I said in Obama’s defense, she kept insisting he was a murderer. Her last words as she got off the bus at 106th Street, were “evil, evil, evil” while I kept saying, “No, no, no.” But at least she hadn’t noticed the McDonald’s Aroma.
I went home, brushed my teeth and ate Zabar’s Autumn Vegetable Bisque, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the McDonald’s meal I had earlier. Will I ever return to a McDonald’s? Maybe as soon as this coming Saturday and hope that charming young man with the warm smile waits on me again. However, this time I’ll bypass the French fries and ketchup and settle for a hot fudge sundae instead.