Before Sarah and I left the US, we generally avoided McDonald’s. Admittedly, we sampled its wares and enjoyed some of them. (Sarah can even plot from memory the price distribution of its frozen yogurt throughout Manhattan – cone cost ranges from $0.90 in Columbia Heights to $1.62 in Times Square. However, most other foods under the golden arches made our stomachs churn.
Perhaps this decidedly un-American abstention from Mickey D’s stemmed from our father, who has boycotted the restaurant since the age of 17, when he noticed that a golden arch had sprung up by a favorite beach. Surveying the greasy red and yellow blemish on the smooth face of the sand, he vowed never to set foot in a McDonald’s as long as he lived.
Such a vow was easier kept in 1968. Over the past year, Ronald McDonald beamed at Sarah and me throughout our treks in Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. His was the consistent friendly face in 23 of the 25 countries we visited. As for Laos and Cambodia, where the big M was MIA, we probably weren’t looking hard enough.
Our perception of the food chain began to transform five weeks into our travels. On one Italian afternoon, the Sisters Bailey and our buddy Bogdan sweltered for over an hour on the side of the highway to Pompeii. The egg-frying July heat drew sweat as we stared collectively towards the horizon, aching to spot our bus in the distance. No bus arrived. Taxis and public transportation were far beyond reach. The only thing in sight was a pair of golden arches.
“If the sun sets and the mafia comes out, we can stay at the American embassy,” Bogdan concluded. He indicated the McDonald’s.
Suddenly, the giant M shone as a welcome beacon of familiarity. We embraced it. For the rest of our journey, the chain’s boldly colored huts provided us with WiFi, English speaking employees, and recognizable edibles. On lucky days, we found outposts that kept soft American cookies baking on hot plates behind the counter.
We salute McDonald’s for its backpacker comforts, in addition to its sumptuous one dollar/euro/pound/lira frozen yogurt.