The Blog will now be updated every Wednesday. Tune in a next week for the tale of how my hand was broken at school!
When I look at the origin of McDonald’s I can’t help but feel nostalgic for a small hamburger joint started by two brothers where boat sized cars rolled up and milkshakes after school were representation of the imagined 1950s youthful innocence. In that era the titan of McDonald's was born and has since risen to a global corporation recognizable to anyone over the age of two.
In his article “The Empire Strikes Back: Rome and Us” Adam Kirsch ends with this line “Art and poetry leave us awed by such titans; but the historians make us grateful they are gone.” This line comes after a lengthy literature review of books that have come out in the past eighteen months about the 99% Romans, the barbarism of Rome and the exploits of a few choice emperors. The sentiment rings true however, especially with McDonald's and the 1950s which so many long for but the brutality of – especially in the town I currently live in – I have no desire to revisit.
His article is timely and finds fertile ground here in America where comparisons to Rome are often made. I have often had a fascination with that ancient city and have had the great fortune to visit it. I hope to see it again. It still retains its glory and speaks to both the modern world and all the history one imagines. One aspect of that modernity is a high number of McDonald’s. Though the menus add a few extra items (slightly different chocolate shakes) the fast food establishment is much as you’ve known it.
Greenwood has one McDonald’s and has recently constructed another a quarter mile from my school. The town has a population of about 15,000 and draws in many people from the surrounding small towns during the lunch hour. Since it’s been built the drive-thru is always full. When I’ve needed coffee, or a sausage biscuit pick me up, I’ve gotten in that line and happily given my money away. Secreting the greasy items back to my classroom or car and devouring them with a mix of shame and elation.
The construction workers broke ground on the new McDonald’s right when school started. The site stands right where I make my second to last turn before arriving at school giving me an easy monitoring of its progress. At the end of the fourth week of school, the building exterior was done, the new sidewalk finished, the parking lot started and electrical had begun in the interior.
In contrast, Amanda Elzy High School has a leaky roof affecting several classrooms and the main office hallway where parents arrive and staff members use the punch clock. This hallway is often dotted with buckets that collect water and act as a kind of morning slalom for arriving teachers, janitorial staff and cafeteria workers. I don’t bring this up for pity points, but the contrast is alarming. Down the street a restaurant, that most of the world agrees damages our health, is rapidly undergoing development six miles away from the McDonald’s that was newly built two years ago. If I were to raise this point at home while the coffee brewed and my family gathered around the kitchen table to engage in our traditional debate my brother-in-law would raise the point: Isn’t that how capitalism is supposed to work? I wouldn’t be able to argue, but I would, and will now, on principal.
McDonald’s is a for profit institution that has high demand product. A school is a free public service that most if pressed to provide a descriptor would use the words “sucks.” If a school gains any income it is through fundraising, concessions at sporting events or the sale of items to the student body. A McDonald’s can introduce a variation on a hamburger or ribs and have people waiting in line to give them their money.
All the same we have a potentially noble institution that few enjoy and damaging one that people gladly support or snobbishly shun. What matters is that my school continues deteriorate and the McDonald’s will be built and if ever damaged would be remodeled in the time it takes to make fifteen batches of fries. The school has since been repaired. Well, the most egregious hallway has been repaired over a period of 19 weeks.
The reality is that the only major businesses near the school are the cotton processing plant, several gas stations, a country club and now a McDonald’s. The students I teach challenge me, but many possess a talent that far overreaches what surrounds their school or is offered in their town.
I feel it’s best summarized by the MC of Gang Starr Guru in “Code of the Streets,” “I can’t work at no fast-food joint/ I got some talent, so don’t you get my point?” McDonald’s is where many people will be employed and that is positive, but its arrival comes at some larger expense in the name of immediate gratification. If the titan of McDonald’s fell I would feel much more comfortable waxing nostalgic about it instead of watching it gain a foothold near the place where I teach.