Al Batt: I like a fast fry and that surely is not a lie

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I hardly ever eat at fast food restaurants.

That’s a lie.

I prefer small-town cafés and I enjoy relaxing meals, but I travel frequently. I’m busy, just as you are. Schedules bark and snarl. The more desirable cafes generally have limited hours. So, I sometimes eat fast food. It saves time.

“I’ve never eaten at McDonald’s. Not even once.”

I was traveling on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry in November — pleased my mother had regularly reminded me to take a jacket — when I heard a woman say that. I was sampling some crumbs I’d found in my backpack. She was enjoying a burger and fries she’d purchased from the boat’s kitchen. We sat together because the ferry was a busy one. I didn’t know the woman with the burger and fries, but a shared friend seated with us, introduced me by saying, “Al is a writer,” prompting the other’s odd declaration.

We had things in common. We were on a ferry, we were hungry and none of our parents had paid bribes so we could go to college by pretending to be water polo players. Never eating at McDonald’s was a feat easier done by someone living in Alaska, as McDonald’s isn’t everywhere, but she was from Oregon. She didn’t appear to be a zombie. Zombies hate fast food. I asked her if she had grandchildren. She didn’t. That made it easier to avoid a Happy Meal.

One rainy spring day, I pulled off an interstate to have a bite at a fast food restaurant. I enjoyed a small bowl of chili and a bantam-weight shake or malt or something in-between. I didn’t pick on anything my size. It was all good. As I savored my repast and watched the miracle of rain turning water into mud, a man wet behind his ears and behind everything else walked in. He was soaked. The rain had found him. I figured he’d carried in a complaint, but he hadn’t. Maybe he wanted a moppy meal. He’d come from the drive-through. It had rained so hard, he couldn’t hear or be heard from microphone or speaker. He’d exited his car, ran inside, gave his order, hurried back outside and waited in his car to pick up his order at the drive-through window. A storybook ending if ever there were one. In a slightly related note, Minneapolis is considering a ban on the construction of new drive-throughs for banks, drugstores, fast food restaurants and other businesses in order to reduce carbon emissions made by idling cars and increase pedestrian safety.

I know a doctor who eats at McDonald’s every day. Warren Buffett, who has more money than Croesus, loves few things more than a McDonald’s breakfast. Why do we eat fast food? Because we have a digestive system. That’s nearly a slogan right there. I grew up eating slow food. On occasion, my family found our way to the A&W Root Beer stand as a pitstop on a Sunday drive. We had a choice between a Papa, Mama, Teen, Baby, Uncle, Buddy or Disgruntled Former Postal Employee burger. Burgers were eaten in the car. That would have pleased the late Anthony Bourdain, who believed burgers should be able to be eaten with one hand.

A friend with a large, unruly beard revels in eating fast food. He claims he can always find a french fry when he needs a snack. I wouldn’t think a fry hiding in a beard improves with age, but we live in magical times.

If someone declared himself the champion eater of fast food, do you know who would come in second? No one, because who wants others to know they eat that much fast food? It’s akin to admitting to watching too much TV or knowing the names of all the Kardashians. Some claim fast food is a crippling addiction. None of the fast food restaurants claim that.

Why do we eat fast food? Three reasons: It’s fast, it’s food and it’s available. Fast food offers simplicity, familiarity and ubiquitous advertisements. It gives us something to do while loitering in parking lots and we might get a toy. Toys were the way I once determined my breakfast cereal purchases.

I see people reading labels in supermarkets. I rarely see anyone reading a label in a fast food restaurant.

Is fast food bad for us? Countless things are — driving a car, sitting too much, playing football, stressful job — the list goes on.

Humans are going to feel guilty about something. It might as well be fast food.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.