Come high desert or soggy swamp, sojourners traversing the American interstate system can be certain they will find a quaint Irish bistro perched atop nearly every offramp. Known to most as McDonalds (and to me as the Double Humps), this quick-serve eatery dots the landscape much like a severe case of chicken pox.
Menu choices include the bad, the worse, and the downright grotesque, and the ambiance at most of the not-yet-renovated locations (read: most of the locations) is a sort of nursing home and jungle gym melange, with an added abundance of industrial strength formica.
But my travels around the USA have yielded a certain fondness for this most corporate and emotionless food-service empire. When my Samsung / Verizon Mifi box sputters and chokes, the Double Humps is there with its comforting blowhorn of wifi connectivity, assuaging my otherwise-persistant how-will-I-ever-upload-that-press-ready-booklet brand of anxiety. I cough up a dollar plus tax for a medium black coffee, and loiter for as long as I wish. (Even the baristas as Starbucks, where coffee costs 93 dollars for a ‘tall’ start heaving the ‘wrap-it-up’ look in my direction after a handful of hours.)
Each morning of the work week, my wife drops my unshowered and unshaven self at the nearest Double Humps for a worry-free workday. Mostly, I find a table near the back of the restaurant, and trance my way into oneness with the computer, all but forgetting my plasticine surroundings. But with increasing regulatory, I have come to enjoy siphoning the scoop from the bubbling conversations around me. Here’s a sample.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
A woman of 90 years old sits in the booth behind me. She has just traveled here from California on a Greyhound bus (parked for fifteen minutes in the adjacent lot while its passengers fill their bellies and empty their bladders). She is writhing in pain from a leg cramp, and other passengers are shouldering the load of her rotund body, helping her toward the bathroom and back to her seat. Her grunts are loud and squeaky, much like a pig butchered alive.
Nearly all the patrons — including me — are hovered around this woman, generally unable to eat (and work) amid the commotion… with the exception of one. Her husband, a well-groomed older gentleman of tall stature in a flannel shirt and khaki pants, takes his time ordering coffee, ambling over to the table, and enjoying a bite of breakfast, seemingly unaffected by the hoopla and hubbub.
Half Moon Bay, California
A man of middle age and round belly sits in the booth behind me. He is wearing a banana-yellow button down with a faux-Hawaiian pattern of askew palm trees. He breathes heavily between bites of his breakfast as he audibly slurps his way through a styrofoam cup of coffee. A half hour later, a petite woman with white, shoulder length hair enters the restaurant, has a look around, and heads over to his table, sitting on his side of the booth.
They exchange pleasantries about the weather, their previous night’s sleep experiences (both of which were speckled with bouts of insomnia and restroom breaks), and their breakfast selections. She gives him a hard time for purchasing a cholesterol-laden sausage biscuit, and he retorts that she nags him as much as ‘the lady’.
My ears perk up.
The conversation devolves into a heated discussion that is one part amicable, one part bickering, and one part affectionate in a gross, mature-adult sort of way. The two discuss their secret relationship, their problems at home, their disdain for the other’s spouse, the fears they have of hurting their children, their problems finding time to connect, and their strategy for relating in the coming days. Much like a fiery, body-strewn auto wreck, I don’t want to see anything, and yet I can’t seem to look away.
Crescent City, California
Two senior men with crescent-shaped backs and pinpoint knit shirts that seem to be plaid but may be solid, light blue are seated one table over. They finished their breakfasts long ago and have been sipping their coffees for over an hour. They cover a spectrum of topics: the rising cost of medical care, the rising cost of groceries, the rising cost of dental work, the rising cost of their mobile home plots, the rising cost of cable television and internet, the rising cost of utilities. Clearly, I am no longer in San Francisco, because in the minds of these gentlemen, every hardship and scruple can be indubitably traced to the hoodlum-in-office Obama and his insatiable appetite for power. After the two finish their coffees and solve a host of the world’s problems, they depart for their automobiles and rumble down the road.
Tri City, Oregon
I am talking with a client on the phone. A lanky, youngish man in a blue nylon jacket and a red baseball cap waves in my direction. “Hey, can I ask you a question?” I wince and give him the universal symbol for ‘give me a minute’ — the extended index finger. I finish the call and he asks me if I go to a church. He has overheard my client conversation, and he is excited to find out that I work with churches and non-profit organizations. More questions. What is my job like? Why I am working at McDonalds? How long I will be on the road? How many are in my family? …
Finally I turn the tables and ask him if he goes to a church. “Nah,” he grimaces. “I mean, I love God and all, but the church, its just always up in my business. I mean, I just want to go to worship without people asking me a hundred questions about my personal life. People are just too damn nosy these days. Know what I mean?”
Well yes, perhaps I do.
The contingent of retirees at the Silverton Double Humps looks strikingly similar to the morning cabal in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Tri City, and every other McDonalds location I have visited in the past six weeks. Here’s the accounting: eight in attendance, two canes, one Rascal scooter, three pairs of black suspenders, and 7,500 calories strewn across the formica tabletop. Without exaggeration, here is a mostly-complete list of the meeting’s minutes:
- Cheeses: brands and types — where to purchase
- Lawnmowers: brands and types — where to purchase
- Mobile home bathrooms and the art of the unclog
- Medications: brands and types — where to purchase
- The color of McDonalds coffee. Brown or black?
- Farming and cancer (both conversations happening at the same moment)
- Four cylinder versus six cylinder automobile engines
- Mobile home bathrooms revisited
- The ignorant choices of adult children
- We hate Obama
- McDonalds sausage — taste, texture, and a debate about whether it is too greasy or just right
- Regarding the unhealthiness of dessert
- Chris Christie
- Best grocery store chain
The Double Humps may not be the classiest setting for handling graphic design requests, and I must admit to missing my home internet connection, sturdy desk, and fitness-orb-gone-office-chair. But the dollar cover charge is always worth the price of admission to one of the greatest shows on the road. Wherever the conversations of the day may lead, I know I will be in for a treat whenever I walk through the glassy doors under the golden arches.
To read my initial thoughts about getting some work accomplished at the Double Humps, click here.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Tucumcari, New Mexico and headed toward Albuquerque. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!