Rainbow: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
a short story. by lisa spicka
anyone who knows me would acknowledge that I am not prone
to fast-food consumption. In fact, most of you who know me
probably at some point have been coerced into a brief "discussion"
of the cons of fast-food life. However, I must admit that
I am not innocent of hypocrisy, and on roughly a quarterly
basis, I get a hankering for McDonald's chicken nuggets. In
addition to pseudo-nutrition, my sporadic visits to McDonald's
provide me with great contemplative fodder as I examine the
different aspects of everyday humanity joined together under
the shameless I-can't-help-but-look-at-it car accident fatherliness
of Ronald McDonald. A recent trip to Mickey-D's spanned the
(has anybody else noticed this spelling bastardization has
swept the nation?) was booming as I pulled my humble '87 Volkswagon
Jetta (god grant him peace) into the lot and walked into the
scantily filled dining room. As I approached the front counter,
third in line, I couldn't help but notice the arch of bright
red foil letters spelling out "We're Loving It!"
on their bulletin board. A closer look informed me that this
particular McDonald's had been recognized for service excellence
by their secret shoppers in April, May, AND June, which secured
them an additional signed certificate for the entire Second
Quarter of 2003.
the staff. This was no ordinary staff. This was a hustling,
bustling, team-talking ("Fries up!" "Thanks,
fries, can you get me two large orders to-go please?!"),
on-top-of-it crew comprised of the expected Lincoln mix of
White, Hispanic, and Native American populations. I wondered
if the success of this crew was due in part to the fact that
many of the staff members were in their mid-30s. Contemplating
the state of the economy, I watched one of the managers as
he attended the people in line. Efficiently making change
and whipping out those beverage cups, he was the epitome of
multi-tasking perfection. His brow gleamed with subdued excitement
as he single-handedly wrangled the waiting line down from
five people to two. But a rush of people stopped by that fateful
noon hour, and he yelled "It's filling up! Let's be ready
people!" Timers sounded, ketchup bottles squirted, and
fry holders filled up in a flurry of activity. To top it all
off, the busy manager even gave me a genuine and proud smile
as he informed me that, indeed, the little "M" (representing
the golden arches) shown on the top of the new McGriddle in
a picture is imprinted on the real-life equivalent.
Tray in hand,
I strolled over to the condiment counter. I located my desired
accessories and helped a gentlemen locate the beverage lids.
He gave me a polite thanks and went on his way. Before I knew
it, a lady came up confused about the straw location, laughing
nervously. Handing her the straw, I assured her that the condiment
section was a completely blinding menagerie of products and
her confusion understandable. She gave me a great smile and
thank you and proceeded to her seat.
I thought about
these brief yet fulfilling interactions and wondered if they
only take place in friendly Nebraska, where there aren't so
many people that you want to ignore all of them. Or was it
just that McDonald's family magic providing that friendly
spark, especially fueled by the staff's incendiary performance
of which these people had not been denied? I took a seat in
a short two-person booth by the door and had these thoughts
reinforced as every single person who walked out the door
looked at me and smiled, nodded, or even said "have a
In the mean time,
I had continued eating my lunch, thinking "this isn't
so bad!" I ate a nugget and dipped it in some hot mustard
sauce. I chewed down on the delectable morsel..."firm
squish." That's what my teeth told me. I worked my tongue
around this affronting morsel and maneuvered it out of my
mouth. Plop. Onto my plastic McDonald's tray tumbled a piece
of cartilage. I thought the beauty of fast-food is that it's
got so many unusable parts put into it that they mash it all
up real good so you won't know it!?! But no, here I have sitting
in front of my eyes, clear as day, exactly one cleanly cleaved
half of that little nub that's at the end of a drumstick.
Come on, you know what I'm talking about.
Then Ray sauntered
Now I had previously
noticed Ray at the fateful condiment counter. I think it was
the way his face anticipated my wandering gaze and tried to
catch my eye as I looked in his general direction that set
off some distant alarms in my head. As it was, I politely
looked away from this man and only offered a half-smile, down
at the floor near him. I hoped it would be interpreted as
a shallowly polite acknowledgement of his existence, no more,
no less. My penchant for second chances and the practice of
non-judgment, however, resulted in me giving him one quick
glance as he approached the door and my booth.
my flitting gaze as he offered a smile that stretched across
his face like moss on a farm pond. A big, full smile -- as
full a smile, at least, as can be had when looking at a weathered
man with all four front teeth missing from his upper jaw.
I scanned his cowboy boots, worn jeans, and button-up plaid
short-sleeve shirt. His stained baseball cap depicted a cowboy
on horseback lassoing a calf.
there!" The eyes had zeroed in; his body language turned
"Have a good
day," I gave him a half smile and looked back down at
what are you up to!" he breathed as he quickly settled
himself down opposite me in my short two-person booth.
a few pleasantries with this man. Have you ever talked with
someone to whom your instant reaction is like "Who is
this? Is it possible that our lives parallel in any manner?
Has he ever pro-created?" Our conversation essentially
consisted of me finding out about the evolution of his farm
operation to a trucking operation (because we all know farming's
going to the dogs and it ain't no joke), the types of cargo
it hauls around the country (he has two refrigerated trucks),
and the geographic area covered by this mobile prowess. At
this point I find out that he trucks all the way down to Laredo,
way down on the border of Mexico with Texas. Now we're getting
somewhere. This appeals to my Latina sensibilities. Is it
possible that this man is really a diamond in the rough? Was
my desire to moderately ignore this person's existence falsely
He mentions cumbersome
customs and export paperwork; I mention that I've worked with
international shipments in the past. Now I couldn't help but
throw that last part in there; it was one of the few comments
he allowed me to enter sideways in this discussion. Unfortunately
about three sentences later he starts mentioning "Yeah,
I'll have to hire someone just to help with the paperwork
pretty soon so's I can keep up with my other work!" About
this time I thought that I was done with my gristle-laden
nuggets and the subtle advances of this man.
I got up to leave
and threw away my trash, mumbling that it was good to talk
to him (damn Nebraska politeness!), but that I'd best be going.
"Well shoot," he said, shyly looking away from me
to his truck highlighted against the black tar of McDonald's
parking lot, "I was thinking that we could even get together
sometime to talk about it more..."
And then it got
actually going to move in a couple weeks," I lied.
What you want to move there for? Just a bunch of niggers out
there!" I spun away from him, walking to my car. I yelled
over my shoulder that I didn't think it would bother me seeing
as how some of my friends are black. He was sure that I would
have a different opinion if I stayed out there for a significant
amount of time.
sometimes you get to a point where you just don't want to
even justify comments by responding. I had expressed my opinion
on the subject. Besides injecting a little slice of my own
worldview, what could influence an opinion in the brief time
span spent in a parking lot under the golden arches?
Disgust. Seduction. Bigotry. Just another day at McDonald's.