Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 1999

Lee Dresselhaus / L’Observateur / November 2, 1999

So..Have you eaten at a fast food restaurant lately? Wait, let me back up. I should start off by saying that “fast food” and”restaurant” have no business in the same sentence, like “rap” and “music” or “Clinton” and “honesty”, but that’s what they call themselves so for the sake of consistency, if not accuracy, we’ll play along.

Fast food restaurants have become an American institution, as American as apple pie, hamburgers, greasy french fries, and heart disease. As themillennium prepares to roll over, fast food restaurants are everywhere, on every street, every corner, and in every possible minute of TV commercial time. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a kiddie play land in mosttowns, and the accumulated neon from these places could be seen from orbit. Martian orbit.I’m trying to figure out just what these places have that make them so very popular. Granted, their advertising schemes seem to target kids.Every kid in America under the age of 14 thinks that dad is the greatest guy in the world if he either takes them to one of these places or comes home with a large bag of artery-hardening stuff that has sat under a heat lamp for an indeterminate amount of time just waiting for you-know- who to come along. There is a great deal of hype involved in that industry.Madison Avenue has done its job extraordinarily well. If you hypesomething enough, maybe nobody will notice that the product is really not all that good. And kids don’t care. If it’s fun, it really doesn’t have to bevery good.

They target adults, too, with equally tasteless promotions. One of thecommercials that makes me crazy is the one where numerous corporate executives in a mega-dollar business suddenly start salivating like Pavlov’s dogs and make idiots of themselves because someone mentioned that they’re going to this particular grease pit for lunch. They then fall allover themselves to make sure they get their orders in with the unfortunate slob who happens to be making the epic journey, acting the whole time like it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. Groan. Itmakes me want to fall down and flop around like a frustrated fish every time I see this particular slap at what’s left of the intelligence of the American consumer. Not to mention the tattered shreds of dignity weshould be trying desperately to hang on to. And don’t get me wrong, I’m asstupid and gullible as the next couch potato in the patch, so if I’m offended it really has to be bad. I think beer commercials are funny, ifthat tells you anything.

I think they should advertise fast food as the Yugo of the food industry. Ieven have a slogan: It ain’t pretty and it’s nobody’s first choice, but it will do when there’s nothing else.

Anyway, back to the original question: Have you eaten at one of these places lately? The stuff was never very good to start with, and now it seems they’ve managed to make it even worse. Fresh? Sure, it’s fresh.There’s nothing like getting a slab of fish that was cooked just this morning and microwaved just for you. At lunch. Yum yum! There seems tobe little quality control in those pits these days. If you happen to get aburger that has sat under the heat lamp since sometime last year and has little or no resemblance to the succulent picture from which you made your choice, oh well. They grab it, stuff it into the bag like Marlin Perkinscapturing some live beast that needs contained before it gets away, shove it at you, then take your money. And you have to pour your own drink. Last week I stopped at one of those places to get a cup of coffee. Just acup of coffee. I don’t like using the drive-thru because I inevitably getbehind some brain donor who can’t make up their mind and has to study the entire menu in minute detail like it’s the first time they’ve ever seen it.

Or I get behind that idiot executive gofer who is ordering for the entire building he works in. So I went inside to save myself the irritation thatusually accompanies the drive-thru. The line inside was reasonably short,so I figured I had made the right choice.

WRONG! Twenty minutes later, I finally made my torturously slow way to the slack-jawed gumby behind the register and placed my order. He found theright picture on the register, pushed the little button, and told me it was 97 cents. I paid him, and then, guess what? He handed me an empty cup andtold me the coffee was over there. After aging substantially in that lineand watching that thumb chewing Einstein figure out each order like he was doing calculus, I get an empty cup and have to pour my own coffee.

Those people take the “fast” right out of “fast food.”Why didn’t I just leave if it took that long? Because it became a challenge after a certain point.

I wanted it my way.

Lee Dresselhaus is a regular columnist for L’Observateur

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