Wednesday, June 8, 2016

McDonald's: You Can Sneer, But It's the Glue That Holds Communities Together

[ed. After reading this my first impression was the same as some of the commenters: infomercial. But then I thought of all the people I've seen at McDonald's quietly enjoying a cup of coffee and convivial conversation late into the morning, kids on tentative first dates, little league teams and busy parents, old folks needing the company of other folks for a while before heading back to their lonely lives, and the just plain down and outers, hoping for a warm place to sit for a while (and maybe the use of a clean bathroom). Corporations get a lot of criticism and not much credit these days (for good reason), but in this case... thank you McDonald's. Thanks for letting people of all social, economic, generational and racial backgrounds use your facilities in peace, without harassment or resentment, for as long as they want, just for the price of a cup of coffee.]

On the morning of their wedding, Omar and Betty shared a breakfast of egg McMuffins at a small McDonald’s table, dressed in their finest clothes. Before driving to a Houston courthouse to be married, they walked into the attached child’s play area and joked about one day bringing their kids there.

Few understand celebrating at a McDonald’s, but for Omar and Betty it made sense. They don’t have a lot of money, and McDonald’s is part of their life. It is that way in many poor and middle-income neighborhoods, where McDonald’s have become de-facto community centers and reflections of the surrounding neighborhood.

When many lower-income Americans are feeling isolated by the deadening uniformity of things, by the emptiness of many jobs, by the media, they still yearn for physical social networks. They are not doing this by going to government-run community service centers. They are not always doing this by utilizing the endless array of well-intentioned not-for-profit outreach programs. They are doing this on their own, organically across the country, in McDonald’s.

Walk into any McDonald’s in the morning and you will find a group of mostly retired people clustering in a corner, drinking coffee, eating and talking. They are drawn to the McDonald’s because it has inexpensive good coffee, clean bathrooms, space to sprawl. Unlike community centers, it is also free of bureaucracy.

Almost all of them name their group with variations of a self-deprecating theme: in suburban El Paso it is the Old Folks’ Home, and in rural New Mexico it is the Morning Brigade. In the small rural town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, it is the Romeo club, an acronym for Retired Old Men Eating Out.

The Natchitoches group, like many of them, sprawls across a corner of the McDonald’s, taking over more and more tables as people join, and emptying them as they leave. Everyone who comes knows each other; have for many years, some since childhood. (...)

In other McDonald’s, politics are central. In one near downtown Kansas City in an African American neighborhood, each Friday morning the sitting area is turned over to a community meeting. When I was there, the topic was the politics surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. The discussion was often loud, with speakers not hiding their frustration. Against the backdrop of raised voices, the registers and drive-through continued with the normal morning rush of coffee and egg sandwiches.

It isn’t just groups who use McDonald’s. For many of the poorest, for the homeless, and for people caught in an addiction, McDonald’s are an integral part of their lives. They have cheap and filling food, they have free Wi-Fi, outlets to charge phones, and clean bathrooms. McDonald’s is also generally gracious about letting people sit quietly for long periods – longer than other fast-food places.

by Chris Arnade, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Chris Arnade