McDonalding Across America

The author did not plan on stopping, but it became an easy place to pull over.
McDonald’s are easy to see on the road.

Like most anyone else, I’ve done my share of McJokes about the number one burger franchise in America. The McDonald’s chain is an easy target.

There’s so much McMerchandizing of new “Mc” products along with those huge, hulking signs that used to say how many gazillion hamburgers had been sold. And, yes, as a travel writer, I have eaten my share of McDonald’s products. Although, I like to think some cows are alive today because I switched exclusively to the fish filet some years ago.

Recently, I had an occasion to spend four tedious, weather-weary days on America’s interstates as I drove a friend’s car from St. Petersburg, Florida to Denver, Colorado. In fact, I drove in tandem with another car headed the same way. I’ve made this same drive, either from here to there or there to here, several times in the last couple of years. It’s a way of getting a friend’s vehicle transported cross-country while she flies with her pets.

The pay-off for me is that I get some solitary days on the road, away from phones and faxes and e-mail.

This time, though, the weather was threatening almost the whole way. We were driving less than two weeks after the battering of Oklahoma and Kansas by a salvo of tornadoes, and the nation’s mid-section was still in turmoil, like the skies.

On past drives, I have stopped at a variety of oases along the way, letting my hunger or my fatigue or my bladder be the determining factor. Sometimes it was a McDonald’s, other times yet a different chain name, some I’d never seen before in my home state.

This time, though, it became almost like I imagine the original Pony Express was. Every single stop for food or drink or relief was a McDonald’s, each restaurant posted along the interstate like a relay station.

I didn’t set out with this pattern in mind. But I found that as we drove, my car in the lead, we could coordinate our stops with little communication. Once the McDonald’s pattern was established, then it was a snap to signal that one or the other wanted to stop at its next location.

I don’t know if the McDonald’s brain trust exactly planned it this way, but the spacing of franchises up and down the interstates is a terrific marketing ploy. The name, the golden logo, the pattern of predictable tastes and reliable restrooms all work in the chain’s favor.

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