I don’t respond well to direct requests made by giant multinational corporations. For example, when the McDonald’s drive-through pre-recording asks me to “try our new Angus Third Pounder,” or the receipt implores me to “have a nice day,” I tend to resist. I have no problem following their subliminal requests to get fat and clog up my coronary arteries. I just don’t like the hard sell.
So when I drove into the newly redesigned Mickie D’s not far from my house several weeks ago, and saw that they were redirecting traffic to make the best use of their tiny piece of property, I wasn’t playing along. The entrance I chose was only a couple dozen feet from the speakerbox where you place your order, yet the sign next to the lane demanded that I “circle building to enter drive-thru.” At this time of the mid-afternoon, there were virtually no other cars in sight, so I swung my car around a small curb and went directly to the order board. I’ll show those corporate bigwigs who’s boss.
However, this past Saturday morning it was a lot busier when I stopped by to get my son an Egg McMuffin. Cars were already backed up almost to the front of the store, and it actually made sense to drive the short loop around to position myself in the proper sequence. (I’m not such an anti-establishment rebel that I’m going to avoid breathing just because “The Man” says that air is good for me.)
By the time I made the circle, a large pickup from a local sign company had come in the same entrance and angled directly to a position behind the car that would otherwise be in front of me. I pulled up tight in back of the same car, and it started to look like things could get tense. I know McDonald’s is no stranger to provoking explosions from the lower half of the body, but this potential eruption of emotions from the upper half was different.
I could see the face of the guy who was trying to cut me off. He was giving me the no-look defense, staring straight ahead to avoid eye contact. I adopted a strained facial expression that should have gotten his attention, but he continued to avoid turning in my direction.
So now I had to figure out if I should honk my horn at him. I made a quick assessment of where each of us stood in the two social hierarchies that most influence interaction among strangers. I was obviously superior on the socioeconomic scale, since he worked for a billboard company and I didn’t, but it was somewhat less clear that I could beat him up if it came to a physical confrontation. He was a good 15 or 20 years younger than I, and had a significant number of hardened tools in the back of his truck. I think I had a blanket and an old pair of work gloves in the trunk of my Civic, and maybe a box of cat litter, though unfortunately it wasn’t soiled.
He inched forward and I inched forward and we were rapidly running out of inches. Horn-honking was increasingly out of the question, since there was no escape if things turned ugly, unlike on the interstate where you can always cross the median and start driving wrong-way into oncoming traffic. I considered my other options, because increased grimacing didn’t seem to be working. There was the phone number of his home office plastered across the back panel of the truck, and I supposed I could call and complain to them. Though what were they going to do, fire him? He’d probably welcome the unemployment insurance, as opposed to teetering 60 feet off the ground and looking up at a giant Hugh Laurie face. I could complain to the McDonald’s management, except that they probably had surveillance video of that first time I violated their rules, and would likely be aghast at my hypocrisy, if they cared at all.
The two majestic bucks facing off in the forest for dominance over the herd had head-butted and reared and twisted their horns together, and it had become clear who had won, and who was going to have to settle for that homely doe with the bad teeth. I gathered up what was left of my dignity, gave in, and let him proceed to the ordering position. He asks for a dollar-menu egg biscuit and a large, no make that a medium, coffee. If he had added a side order of lichen, my defeat would’ve been total.
Now I look off to the right and here comes another intruder trying to wedge in front of me. This is a much younger woman, probably college-age, and she makes the mistake of catching my eye. This time, it’s a clear case that I’m the superior human being, so I assert myself immediately. I raise my index finger in the air next to my head, then move my hand in a rotating motion to indicate that she needs to circle the building before lining up to place her order. The look on her face is blank — she thinks I’m either signaling that she hit a home run, or I’m asking her if she has a lasso. I mouth “you have to go around” so now she’s convinced I’m a crazy menace and zips out of the way.
I place my own order without further incident and pay at the first window. The guy who butted is still in front of me, though there’s little left I can do, except maybe hope that they screw up his order. If it were one of those complicated ones — can I substitute a freshly killed groundling for the cheese?, for example — they might make him pull off to the side, and I can swoop past triumphantly and beat him to the exit. Instead, we both move swiftly through the last step and turn out of the parking lot and back into city traffic.
When I’m sure he’s far enough ahead that he can’t see me, I raise my fist in a sign of contempt.