Monday, August 28, 2006

A scene from our times

Sunday, just before 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I ease the car out of the drive-thru at a McDonalds on Melbourne’s outer south-east fringe.

Our younger girl is clutching a couple of bags containing allegedly freshly-prepared burgers, for which we have had to wait in the holding zone, and already-stale fries. A cardboard tray of soft drinks teeters perilously on her lap.

With these delights, we’re going to drive on to the display home where the missus is about to shut up shop after a rather uninspiring day of trade. There we will chow down on our ‘meals’, which a moment ago we’d been cheerfully instructed to ‘enjoy’. Based on long experience, the chances of successfully executing that directive are only slightly better than even, but for some reason we, sooner or later, always seem to go back for more. One of the great mysteries of our time.

As we slowly ease our way through the carpark, we see up ahead two cars parked opposite each other. A man and woman are briskly emptying the contents of one of the cars into the other, conveying these across the traffic lane, while a couple of tired-looking kids stand idly by. We catch brief glimpses of brightly, even outrageously, coloured bedding – doonas, pillows – and various other nondescript items. “Oh dear”, I intone.

Our girl giggles, “What the... Looks a bit suss!” I’m surprised at her confusion, since the broad outline of the plot should be instantly recognisable in this age of ours. As we drive out into the street, I explain...

That was a mum and a dad, either separated or divorced, who are discharging their tidal custodial arrangements, with their children’s bedding and sundry belongings following as flotsam and jetsam as the tide turns. They have met at McDonalds because either one or the other cannot, or is too tired, to cook, so the allure of McDonalds has won the day. Or perhaps the visit here is intended as a treat for the kids, by way of meager compensation for the non-custodial parent’s absence. Or...

On any Saturday or Sunday, lunchtime or evening, one may enter a typical McDonalds or similar franchise and usually manage to spot a non-custodial parent or two, most often dads, with their kids. Here they enjoy a ‘meal’ before perhaps going on to a footy game, or some other keenly anticipated family outing. They’re at a place where the expression “quality time” has lost its cliché status to become a fervent hope.


Blogger Caz said...

I thought you were going to explain that the car parks at McDonalds are a well known "neutral zone”, a safe haven from the world, even for warring ex-partners, pissed-off terrorists, girl-friends having hissy-fits over stolen boyfriends, men who have just left the toilets - separately, and all known species of adolescent.

Or something like that.

(Small tip: when the kiddies leave, you’ll go through the rest of your life not even registering where McDonalds stores are located.

Unless you’re in need of a safe haven, a neutral ground for extracting yourself from some sticky situation, in which case you will go in search of a McDonalds car park, followed by a soft serve cone, or a sundae.)

30/8/06 6:57 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

That's a nice angle, Caz. I think the one I sketch here is more in the middle, because there are darker sides to it yet. McDonalds as an island microcosm of wider suburbia. I recall some years ago one of the kids telling how one of her classmates was found dead of an overdose in one of the toilets at the local McDonalds here. There's a thousand stories in the naked hamburger franchise, and that was one of them.

30/8/06 9:25 PM  

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