I overheard someone refer to McDonald’s as a restaurant lately. I don’t exactly know what I’d consider McDonald’s to be, but it certainly isn’t that. “Restaurant” conjures up other images, like the 101 Coffee Shop in Los Angeles; not the local fast-food joint where the rowdies snap the trays into pastel, plastic shivs (while this incident didn’t make the news, others have). Restaurants don’t have sticker-based Monopoly as a passive hook to draw you inside, nor do they have crackheads engaged in mortal combat at the doorway.
If you’ve never been there, the 101 is a glorious little place where the seventies, like some kind of Julian Assange, finds asylum from deportation to the past. A real restaurant (there, I said it) where the vinyl on the banquette seating is the same shade of brown as the gravy on your entree, the first dollar the place earned is framed above the kitchen, and where waitresses, wearing kerchiefs in their hair and tattoo sleeves on their arms, take your order as they dote upon you, their patronage.
Here; take a look (video courtesy of KTLA):
In the 101, line cooks sweat under the devil-red glow of heat lamps, and the flick and intonation of foreign tongues French-kissing the English language can be heard on both sides of the bar. I found myself here at 2 AM one balmy morning, eating a very late (very early?) breakfast hash after taking in a burlesque show with my stateside besties MS and TZ.
Accents are cool, or at least I think so. That’s why ESL bands are the best; I mean, where else are you going to get pretty, well dressed foreign ladies struggling to string together coherent lyrics, ending up with beautifully accented refrains like “I’m just looking for a front line, I’m just waiting for a gunshot fire?” (Kudos to Tying Tiffany for that one).
What accent did our server have? I mused to MS. I wagered something Eastern-Euro, he wagered something south of the equator. Kerchief Girl, aka Girl with the Rose Tattoo Sleeves, sulked over and I asked. “Brazil” she said, slipping a mug of thick diner coffee across the table to me, in those cups only places like this have, made from frosted white pyrex, another throwback in time. MS was right. TZ was sleepy and preoccupied with ordering a second round of French Toast.
My point is, these kind of things never happen in McDonald’s. Only ugliness abounds in the realm of the Golden Arches. Hell, you could have practically ordered it in Supersized portions, until the Supersize ended up outlawed and rebranded as a slightly smaller larger (cause health).
For counterpoint: Also in LA, there’s a McDonald’s on the corner of Warehouse Street and East 7th Avenue that time also forgot. It’s not from the seventies; it’s just a little newer, as in RoboCop probably ate here. Unlike the diner that hides next to a hotel lobby, tucked besides a highway overpass, this place stands terribly in plain sight, marooned in an asphalt moat of a drivethrough, unafraid of any cultural repercussions. Archeologically speaking, it’s at least three eras behind schedule in renovations, pre-dating the years when Marcus Pierson paintings were trendy, but just after the time when floral wallpaper and floating barges were the McNorm.
I’ve been here but twice. Once was in the wee hours of March 2014, fearful for my life, scurrying back to the nearby Greyhound terminal with the merch spoils of a goth-pop concert (yes, an ESL one) clutched under one arm; the second time was to get nummies before visiting the nearby factories of my employer, which we’ll just call “Bankrupt Thread Co.” for the time being. It’s the kind of place where super-serious Latinas actually bother to wear the visors that come with their uniforms in lieu of minimum-wage tiaras, and a burly security guard wearing stab-proof leather gloves paces around the twenty-by-fifteen space that is the dining room, like a bored gorilla in combat pants. His posture is terrible and I swear it’s the same guy from two years before.
Dining room? I’d guffaw at having just referred to it as such, but I don’t know how to write phonetically the sound.
The last time I was there, just this October, a
bum vagrant approached me in the men’s room (which I swear, had glory holes punched in the walls, circa 2014) and asked:
“Hey, aren’t you that guy from the movie?”
I swear to god, this actually happened.
“Nope,” I said, cleansing my paws in ice-cold water burbling from what should have been the hot tap, “I’m nobody.”
If I couldn’t get hot water, I wondered what the line cooks had at their disposal for hand-washing after making a Number Two combo (and I don’t mean the one on the menu either, kids). But we won’t dwell on that just now.
All things considered, said things do not happen in restaurants. Unless, of course, you really are that guy from the movie.
So, McDonald’s is not a restaurant. And yet, a coffee shop seemingly is. Go figure.