I have met too many people who tell me with a smug smile that they have only been to McDonald’s a handful of times in their life. These people usually are the ones who widen their eyes at you putting on an op shop jumper without washing it first, and, say ‘you can come if you want’ instead of inviting you. Straight to The Chokey.
Even if I did not share my surname with the Golden Arches I would still be speaking of them glowingly every chance I get. It's not the Filet-o-Fish that sends me into this frenzy (although - yes - this is my favourite burger, but do not let that scare you, do keep reading), nor is it the perfect packaging. It is not even the special menu items in different countries, like Italy’s option of beer as your drink in a combo.
What gets me going is McDonalds' almost accidental alignment with my favourite publicly-funded facility - the (often humble) public library.
How could a council-owned carpeted facility possibly be similar to one of the largest, glossy (okay - sticky) tiled corporations in the world?
You are never too far away from a McDonald’s or a public library. If you see the familiar glow of the backlit ‘M’, or a brutal concrete slab cathedral, you know you are about to have access to free wifi, a power-plug, a place to sit down, and a spot to relieve your bursting bladder. And all of this for free.
I have witnessed McDonald’s, unlike other food establishments, to be the most non-judgmental hosts - you can pop in to use the bathroom before (if at all) ordering. The wifi code is not on the receipt - it is just there for the taking. I am unsure of what the contents of terms and conditions we are ticking are, but ho-hum.
While McDonald’s is more of a social setting, and the public library is valued for its silence, both offer a space out of the elements. This is particularly essential in winter. Both spots really do not seem to mind how long you spend there, as long as you are adhering to their (minimal) ground rules.
I have arrived to cities at four in the morning on 12 Euro 12-hour Flix buses (it always seems like a fine idea when I am booking them) and the only place open is McDonald’s. Just me and my silly platform boots stomping through the fresh snow towards that yellow light - it is my lighthouse, with my name on it.
McDonald’s is your friend who takes Ritalin - she is awake before anyone else and cooking you bacon, and stays awake ‘til well after the party is over.
The public library’s hours are less overarching, but when they are open, they are so open. While McDonald’s takes a blasé approach to your presence, library staff appear to play it cool, but once you lock eyes and ask a question they will go to the ends of the earth to fulfil your request. Nothing is out of their jurisdiction.
I have seen librarians a-plenty writing up C.V.’s on the public computers for patrons. I even once saw a librarian changing a baby’s nappy for a crying mother, passing her tissues for her eyes and nose between patting the cherub’s back. Librarians are The Patron Saints of Everything.
Both McDonald’s and public libraries allow for small opportunities to be an averagely good person. I am sure you have heard of the Shopping Cart Theory. Essentially it is: after you have unloaded your supermarket trolley do you put it in the trolley bay, or leave it in the carpark? You are not going to be fined if you do not put it away, so what do you do when the stakes are low?
The McDonald’s flavour of this theory would be, of course, whether or not you leave your tray on the table after you have finished your meal. Bonus points - if you pick up your tray and the person you are with says ‘nah, leave it, give them a job to do'. Unbecoming. The library’s gorgeous Dewy book-care system would be in jeopardy if you were to sandwich Rupi Kaur between two Leonard Cohen books. They are not the same.
to put the book
back in the place
that you found it?
Like a good book, a good burger is best accompanied by a fitting atmosphere. If we really get down to it, though, sometimes it is not even about the book or the burger; it is about friends and community and… flirting. In Dunedin, the library’s teen space has always had strikingly similar courting and mating rituals to the upstairs booth seats at McDonald’s.
Although both McDonald’s and public libraries may not have what you came there for - and with no guarantee of whether you will ever be able to just walk in there and get it (i.e. the new Sofia Coppola book or a McFlurry, or to see the boy who gave you his number at the Year 10 Disco) you will keep trying, and you will, in some way, leave sated.
Think about the closest McDonald’s to you growing up. There was a public library pretty close to it, right? That is because real recognises real.
If, in some terrible world, the Guys In Charge dramatically reduce funding to public libraries I would take to the streets to urge McDonald’s to fund the cherished book-filled buildings. Maybe they would have to be renamed McLibraries and McBiblioteca, and be painted yellow (an Evian public swimming pool would not be so bad, either).
If this partnership was done carefully, though, and the round table was correctly attended, I am sure Ronald and the book-lovers would realise they actually have a lot in common.