Excerpt from a New Book 20 (draft)

DEC 30th

Of Fords and Fried Eggs

You know, in Spain you can buy a beer at a McDonald’s but you can’t get an Egg McMuffin?  And in the States it’s the other way around.   It’s hard to say who’s got the better end of the deal.  When I first went to Spain at the age of twenty and saw I could order a cup of frosty brewsky to go with my quarter-pounder with cheese, I thought to myself, “This is the greatest country in the world!  I think I could live here.”  Funny thing is, 20 years of living here later, I have yet to order one there.  Never.  There is something about my upbringing that impedes me from sipping a beer while I tinker with my daughter’s Happy Meal toy.  But I think it’s the fact that I could purchase one whenever I wanted to that makes it so cool.

     Some of you may not believe me when I claim that an Egg McMuffin elicits the same kind of satisfaction, but I tell you every time I go back home and drive by a McDonald’s in the morning, that hankering for a greasy fixin’ just overpowers me.  So, I give in to all temptation and willingly pull into the MacDonald’s parking lot on thePost Roadjust off the exit 5 ramp of I-95.

     You may be astounded to know we Grenwegians have even allowed a McDonald’s into our preppy principality and further floored to learn we actually have two of these franchises flanking either end of the town, not to mention a Wendy’s.  Burger King started up one here too years ago, but it withered away decades ago, which is very unusual indeed.  But the McDonald’s have been very popular from the very beginning.

     Ours was the one on West Putnam Avenue, not far from the library, heading towardsPort Chester,NY.  In many ways it would be just like any other Micky-D’s on earth were it not for the array of fancy car dealerships that surrounded it suggesting you were clearly in no ordinary part of the country.  This was where car dealer tycoon, Malcolm Pray started up his business and turned it into one of the town’s icons.  His fetish was German machinery, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche.  During the 1990s, his Audi dealership became the flagship of the fleet as it grew to be the largest and most successful in the country.   Pray laid the foundations for what would eventually convert that nook of the town into the high-end foreign automobile district, which is truer than ever today.  Here is what you are likely to find within a stone’s throw of your dripping Big Mac: BMW, Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Maseratti, Aston Martin, Bentley, Infiniti, Saab and Lamborghini, I believe.

     In a sense, that’s sort of the bizarre paradoxical town that Greenwich is.  A bunch of freaks getting freakier while slurping on a thick milkshake.

     In my home, McDonald’s was often a staple post-Sunday mass meal, something easy and cheap to digest after going to church.  There seemed to be a special need for comfort after forty-five minutes perched on a pew.  It was a rather notable departure from the classic Sunday dinner, I would say, but a true sign of the times.

      Plus, we loved it.  We’d all bark out our orders, then one of my older siblings would do the delivering, motivated by hunger and the need to have it satiated.  It was also a cool way to calm the nerves because, for some inexplicable reason, some of the worst family fights, I mean the ones that would push us to the brink of violating the law, would traditionally erupt just minutes after the priest would conclude “May peace be with you.  Now go with God.”  One of my sisters would take an order as I would call it out as I watched the 1:00 football game.

      As a teenager, Mickey-D’s was the place where me and my friends would make countless evening visits grabbing a bite to eat while waiting for something to happen which, naturally, would never come.  In fact, the minute we had our own wheels, it became a primary destination, as it was as close to a joint as you had in the town.  The real diners for the most part limited their service to breakfast and lunch and were done before the afternoon was gone, and the few that offered late night fare, like the Country Squire in Cos Cob, did so for a price.  “Oh, so, you got the munchies now, is that right?  I’ll get you a fix, but it’ll gonna cost you.”

      McDonald’s provided the first and only real backdrop for my first and only real run-in with the law, which, to a certain degree, I am ashamed to admit, was pitifully banal.

      It was the day our friend Bill came to school brandishing his spanking new driver’s license and jingling the keys to his brown Ford Granada right in front of our eyes in a teasing way.  We were elated and despondent at the same time.  Bill was basically the best-looking kid in our class, and now that we was the first with a car meant we were doomed with the girls.  But at least we were mobile.

     “So, let’s go for a ride.”  The car could fit comfortably five, so we took that as a challenge and doubled it…and then some.  Eleven of us managed to pile, and then squeeze in.  Once inside, Bill gingerly cried out:  “Where to?”

And someone from pile in the back, it wasn’t me because my jaw was pinned against the rear seat window, grunted out “Mickey-D’s”.  For an impromptu snack.

     More than drive over, the vehicle kind of wobbled downGlen Roadand thenLake Avenue, nearly flipped as it glided around the circle, and then hacked and coughed its way up the hill to thePost Road.

       Due to the excess passenger load, most of us were not sitting in the car, but stacked in the most astonishing and miraculous manner.  We looked like a mobile common grave.  It was a blast, as long as you weren’t on the bottom suffocating, but amid our hearty laughter there lay a latent fear that one of us would let fly a lethal dose of flatulence and provoke unimaginable panicking. Thank God that never occurred.

      As fate would have it, when you overstock a vehicle with humans, you tend to run into the kind of people who do not share in your entertainment.  They also seem to have the need to tell you this all the time.  We passed a patrol car parked in the former Exxon station.  I am sure the officer had been hoping to take a little break, munch on a donut and read the paper or something like that, but a dozen teenagers whooping it up inside a sedan was an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.  So, he flicked on the lights and followed us to our destination, and, in the meantime, called for back up, because I guess we must have posed a threat to town security.  I imagine he alerted the force by saying something like: “Hey guys, something is finally happening here in town.  Come on, let’s do something about it.”

      By the time we got into our parking spot, more cars were trailing and preparing for action.  Back then they didn’t have a helicopter (I still don’t think they have one), because otherwise we would have heard the propeller chopping away at the air too. The Greenwich police simply loves handling these kinds of problems.  It’s the 15-year-old girls who are bludgeoned with a golf club that gets them unnerved.

      Anyway, personal observations aside, there was no question that we were nabbed big time.  Just like a good old-fashioned slapstick silent movie, there was the officer outside the vehicle nodding as we climbed out and were counted: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11.  Yes, that’s right, eleven sophomores in one car.  Plus the driver, of course.

     The cop said, “Great.  Looks like you’ve got yourself a big ticket waiting for you son!”  God knows how many years had gone by before he was finally able to deliver that line.

Of course, that was in the days when a kid with a new license could carry other underage kids along.  That has changed now inConnecticut, and perhaps behavior like ours contributed to that new law.

Years later, there I was at the McDonald’s on the other end of town, and it was an Egg McMuffin moment.

     Now, say what you will about this little sandwich, use all the venomous language you can muster up to describe its total lack of nutritional virtues, but that won’t take away from the fact that the Egg McMuffin transformed the entire fast food industry in this country by making breakfast an appealing feature on the menu.  Up until then, these chains focused mainly on lunch and dinner.   But now they had you coming in at all hours. It was introduced in 1972 and first served inCalifornia, which only proves that not everything that comes out of there is healthy.  I like to remind natives of that state of this point from time to time.  It’s an indefensible flaw in their position.  The Egg McMuffin was the brainchild of a man named Herb Peterson, who had nothing to do with Greenwich, as far as I know, but profoundly affected the lives of its inhabitants.

     Years ago, to say you had eaten one hardly would have roused a reaction of any kind in your listener other than possibly a remark of extreme envy, but today most people I mention the sandwich to sort of step back uneasily as if I had been vacationing in Chernobyl.  They wait for my next move and expect me to glow in the dark.  Some are just surprised they still exist.  Or that I still exist for that matter.

      “Oh, they still make those?”  asked my Dan, who is an expert on nutrition, and especially ill-nutrition.  Then he came up with something to the effect of “You know I think the cheese is also used for cementing the tiles on the space shuttle.  But, hey, enjoy it.”

       They fail to realize that the very fact that I can ingest and enjoy something that is otherwise used to prevent spacecrafts from disintegrating is something I do with pride.  So, I said I would because my philosophy was that I only ate one or two of these a year and so what harm could that do.  Basically, factoring in the time I spent in the USA, I could eat just about anything I wanted and not die.  On top of that, she should have realized that I was restraining myself, because I still hadn’t entered her home with a box of Pop Tarts, though I did taint it with Fruity Pebbles, the single greatest sugar-packed cereal of all time. It makes your feces turn rainbow colors.   Personally I findthat to be an amazing feat by the foodindustry.

       I came home and provided each of my daughters with one in hopes that, by doing so, I would be helping them see the light.  The results were astounding.  Clara was the first to be tested on and, after her first bite, lights literally beamed out of her eyes and her hair began to string out in different directions.  She bounced up and down endlessly as if she were on a trampoline before bolting upstairs to prove to her sister what happiness in the form of a sandwich was all about.  Seconds later, I could hear Ana belt out the first few choruses of Handel’s Hallelujah, and actually leapt from the top step all the way to the bottom with one full bound like a ballerina.

       It was my little contribution to their cultural awareness of my country.  What do you expect?