At or around hour eleven of our journey I got a rough sort of feeling. I’m not sure if it was the liquid heart-squeezers (5-Hour energy drinks are a helluva drug) keeping me awake or the fact that I had consumed nothing but jerky for half a day, but either way, my body was in the middle of a labor dispute. It seemed the quality-control department in the basement was up in arms about what management upstairs had been green-lighting for consumption. I phoned Nicole that we needed to stop for some “real” food.
By “real” I mean FDA-sanctioned non-toxic edible food-like substance commonly available to consumers at over 35,000 locations worldwide. I’m speaking of course of one of the few institutions available during the witching hour for the desperate travelers of the interstate, McDonalds. I pulled the Beast into the drive-thru after checking the clearance signs and stared at the menu with half-open bloodshot eyes, reviewing the offerings as if it was my first time at a McDonalds restaurant. Big Mac? The fuck is that? Oh BIG mac. Wait do they even sell Big Macs at this hour? The fuck time is it anyway? The clock on the dash read 5:37AM. That can’t be right. Wait. My phone. my phone has a clock. Fuck’s my phone? Maybe I should call it. Call it with what? I know. I’ll call Nicole and tell her to call it. I went on in my delirium without realizing that the intercom had started making noises. Human talking noises.
I put my own inner monologue on mute for a moment, startling myself with a louder-than-necessary “WHAT?”
“WELCOME TO MCDONALDS. CAN I TAKE YOUR ORDER?” she replied, matching my accidental intensity.
My mind stalled; I had not come to this drive-thru prepared for questions. I looked at the intercom for a few seconds blankly, like you might look at someone’s mouth in anticipation of a punchline when you just don’t get the joke. She followed-up with a “Sir?”as I blurted out “BIG MAC,” then a more composed “Big mac. One big mac. If you are selling Big Macs I would like to purchase one Big Mac from you.”
“The meal or the sandwich?” replied the intercom.
Now let me reiterate: at this point I’ve been awake for more than 24 hours, 11 of which have been staring into the animated ass of a Prius on our way across half the country. You could have asked me my name and I might have easily replied “Orange.”
And so this simple question about my order became the most beguiling metaphysical question to plague mankind since the heydays of the Acropolis. I could hear myself trying to come to terms with the what she was really asking: The meal or the sandwich? Isn’t the sandwich already a meal? Or the meal a sandwich? If I say yes to sandwich do I not get a meal? For our purposes let us imagine the Big Mac as existing in a quantum mechanical superposition between two states that were equally true until eaten by the consumer. I was caught up in the kind of profound intellectual quandary usually reserved for teenagers after a massive bong hit.
“Yes.” I said, with an increasing assertion.”Both.”
I clarified at some length my desire for at least one Big Mac without onions, one large order of french fries and one large orange drink, all of which would comprise the hypothetical “meal” I wished to order for purchase from the restaurant in exchange for currency of a predetermined amount agreed upon by both parties involved in the transaction. I’m not sure exactly how long it took me to hash all of that out with her, but eventually she asked me to pull forward to the last window. Sidenote: why do they even have the first window anymore? They never use it anymore. It’s like a kid’s room room after s/he goes away to college. They should just turn it into a craft room with a daybed.
As I reached the second window I saw an arm shoot out haphazardly with a hand preemptively opened to collect payment for the goods about to be received. I drew up parallel to the hand and threw it in park, looking down from on high at the young woman. The look on her face was a cocktail of I’m tired, a jigger of fuck this shit and a dash of this is the last time I cover for Brenda. She repeated the total, hand still outstretched as I fumbled around for my wallet while managing a weak, unreturned smile. After nearly handing her the whole thing I plucked out a card and strained to reach down to her. She snatched it out of my hand and withdrew back behind the closing automatic window. Not 10 seconds later she returned with card. “This is a bus pass, sir.”
“Oh did it not go through?” I responded. Then, slowly catching up “Oh right. Ha ha. Sorry. Uh ..here.” I traded with her using a better-looking piece of plastic. “Here you go.” She examined it quickly before following the trajectory of her own deep eye-roll back inside, giving me a moment to think. Wait. Did I order a meal or a sandwich? Did I ask for no onions? If she asks me about condiments I am so fucked. A minute later she returned with a receipt, the card and a brown bag, wordless as she reached up for the hand-off.
“No onions, right?” I asked.
She just looked ahead, or maybe through me, still holding the bag in the air with a thousand-yard drive-thru stare. Was she asserting through her silence that the order had been fulfilled as requested? I just stared back, looking for some expression of affirmation. It was quite a scene. The two of us, frozen in motion with eyes locked, the gentle gestations of the Beast rumbling against the chirps of newly awoken birds greeting a new day. I don’t know how long we were caught there like that.
She finally doubled down on the silence with an eye-widened, eyebrow-raised jut of the head in my direction as if to ask well? I repeated “No onions?” To which she finally responded in a quit your bullshit tone “They all made the same way.” She jostled the bag in her hand, beckoning me to grab it and get gone.
I hesitated, slowly reaching for the bag with a puzzled look on my face. They all made the same way? They’re all made without onions? They’re all made with onions and I have no control over onion deployment, sir? Before my hand even reached the bag she repeated with more insistence, “THEY..ALL..MADE..THE SAME ..WAY.” I took the paper bag, receipt and card back reluctantly as she recoiled back into the restaurant and the service window snapped shut.
I shrank back into the cab of the truck, bag in hand. I opened it up. Inside were two breakfast burritos and a hash brown. After confirming that they were not in fact two burrito-shaped Big Macs, I closed the bag and laid it on the passenger seat next to me. Turning back to the sunrise straight ahead I sat idling in place for a moment, hands on the wheel, trying to make sense of it all. But there were no answers. Not anymore. Not for me. Not until this place was long behind me.
Somewhere behind me a familiar car horn confirmed it was time to move on with my life. I popped and rolled the Beast out of park and didn’t look back. The universe was all out of Big Macs and I needed to accept it. Daylight was burning along my pilgrim trail to salvation. I ate the fucking breakfast burritos. Angrily. They all made the same way.