The construction of a new McDonald’s near where I live began with the destruction of the old McDonald’s. The reasons are not clear. It may have been an odd tactic in rebuilding sales, or because the employees were tired of sharing a locker with Ronald McDonald, or perhaps because the burgers, like the Clippers, needed a new building. Any of these could have been the reason when a few months ago they powered down the fryer, smashed all the ketchup packets, overturned the stools, and pushed in every button on the plastic lids. McDonald’s was closed.
This was not a renovation but a complete rebirth. The ground was flattened, and save for a few stray Big Mac cartons any sign a burger was served there was gone. Construction then initiated unlike any other building process I had ever seen. There were no trucks, no piles of lumber, and not a single hard hat. On the first day the construction workers merely gathered in a circle of chairs to discuss the place of McDonald’s in the 21st century. Questions that were addressed included “Why build a McDonald’s?” and “What do the arches mean?” and “How will this affect the community?” One worker spoke of his time in the Korean War, and ended his monologue dramatically by stating, “I just hope people know why we were here.”
The next day the outline of the entire restaurant was drawn in chalk, and workers pantomimed handing burgers over the counter, bussing their trays, and playing in the ball pit. One man, pretending to be in a car (“What kind of car am I driving?”), strode up to the drive-thru window where another simulated the act of giving change. It was like Dogville with burgers. While construction workers pretended to cook fries and use the soda fountain, a studious bespectacled man took measurements, drawing markings in the dirt, and occasionally tapping a worker when he had been eliminated.
The following day actual equipment showed up. Four workers carried the central fryer like the Ark of the Covenant, placed it in the center of the plot, and then left in separate cars. A truck labeled OilFast arrived and connected the fryer to a canola oil pipeline, which I have newly learned stretches across the United States. When the main switch was flipped everybody clapped and sat down to have sandwiches, occasionally dipping their food in the newly bubbling oil. One worker, chomping on a Quarter Pounder whose origins confused me, suggested building an open concept McDonald’s without walls or partitions, “like a corporate picnic,” but one of the more aggressive workers put the issue to rest by saying, “If God gets a house, so do our burgers.” Everybody nodded, and I took out another piece of gum, scribbling ferociously.
After laying a short perimeter of bricks, the workers again met for a discussion circle. “Do we want to construct this place around the adoption of a condiment packet system, or are we using the more modern dispenser station approach?” “What about a hybrid approach of packets and dispensers, so if one man wants his own ketchup packet, and another wants to share in the communal ketchup bath, both are satisfied?” “What about a ketchup dispenser at the drive-thru window?” Heated discussion came to a standstill, and everybody decided to go home.
Work proceeded the next day at a quickened pace, due to a crowd of customers already considering their orders. Clowns were auditioned to play Ronald McDonald, ball pit balls were painted by local artists, and fake plants were arranged to assist with “burger flow.” The bricklayers completed the walls and handed out excess bricks to passing school children. Contractors armed with scales and laser rulers came in to test the swing velocity of the garbage bins, to make sure the ceilings were high enough for burger flipping, and to adjust the position of the menu board, so customers were neither looking up at the ceiling nor down at the ground, but somewhere in between. There was some confusion as to how to display the nutritional information, but they opted for a 3D optical illusion.
Once the inside was completed, the workers moved on to the issue of “outside burgers.” In regards to the drive-thru, it was decided to adopt the three-step system: that of menu, pay window, and pickup window. One worker suggested having an additional window for questions and comments, but he was quickly shouted down (“I wish I had a window to complain to right now”). Some discussion ensued as to whether to place the drive-thru windows along a linear plane. One option included having the window directly above the car to accommodate sunroofs, so food could be dropped in; another suggestion was having the pay window on one side and the food window on the other, so both sides of the car could be engaged in a fully immersive burger experience. They settled however on the traditional setup, and sent the roller girls home (“try Red Robin”).
Finally the last step was ready: the raising of the golden arches. I expected the sign to be flown in à la Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and then slowly erected in front of rotating lights and flashing cameras, but it couldn’t have happened more differently. At about dawn, an archaeological team arrived and began digging, slowly unearthing the dusty curve of a yellow arch until the entire set was revealed. Apparently, the arches did not simply arrive, but had been here the entire time, resting underground since before humans evolved. That aside however, they finally raised the arches and opened a few hours later. I went in to order, but not feeling like a burger, decided to leave and get some Thai food.