Why McDonald's Is the Best Place to Cry
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz
I'm a big crier. I cry over Up-inspired tattoos (never mind the film itself), when I happen upon a wedding photoshoot, and at the end of almost every season of The Voice. It's a beloved hobby that helps me destress, akin to baking or napping. But I hate attention, which is why, despite how romantic—and, to a degree, socially acceptable—the act of public crying has become in recent years, I've also made great efforts to keep my cries private, away from the pitying stares of strangers. As such, I don't say it lightly when I contend that one of my most cathartic cries was in a McDonald's.
I walked into the McDonald's in my boyfriend's small hometown of Corby in the English Midlands following an argument with said boyfriend, brought my Double Cheeseburger meal to the second floor (which was empty, save for a dad and his two young children), and proceeded to bawl my eyes out at a table beside a window.
The man tried his best to pretend not to see me, but his sweet-seeming children looked at me with both concern and curiosity, unable to comprehend why someone would be crying inside a McDonald's. After all, how could anyone be miserable inside the birthplace of the McFlurry, the same place where you get free toys with your chicken nuggets? One of the few facts of life that both adults and children can agree on is that fast food is comforting, and no other establishment in the world epitomizes fast food better than those famed golden arches. For the vast majority of Americans who grew up within a couple miles' radius of a McDonald's, the chain carries a collective element of nostalgia that we maintain well into our adulthood. Big Macs and miniature apple pies are also known to be effective stress reducers. Why not kill two birds with one greasy, sodium-rich stone?
In spite of its purported unhealthiness and creepy clown mascot, the chain provides a safe, familiar solace that can't be replicated by any other fast food chain on such a large scale.
The toys in the Happy Meals may change, and the ingredients list may have been tidied up over the decades, but by and large, the McDonald's of today is the McDonald's of our childhood. In spite of its purported unhealthiness and creepy clown mascot, the chain provides a safe, familiar solace that can't be replicated by any other fast food chain on such a large scale.
Thus, I can only imagine what must've been going through those kids' minds as they looked at me, at each other, and then back at me. She should buy a Happy Meal, I envision them communicating telepathically. Look, kids, the irony that I was crying in the home of a quote-unquote Happy Meal was not lost on me, either. Maybe if I had ordered a paper pail of sanctioned joy instead of my now-cold double cheeseburger, all my tears would've magically dried up.
But I didn't want to stop crying, anyway; I needed to get it all out between sips of my Coke, which, like me, had now turned into an insipid, watered-down mess. While I remember the embarrassment of being six-years-old myself and feeling scorned for my tears and tantrums, one of the most valuable lessons of adulthood is that there's no shame in crying, because, well, everyone does it.And with minimal social interaction, some semblance of peace and quiet, and perhaps most important for some, a meal that fits within any budget, McDonald's makes a fine temple for sadness.
It was that day that I realized that McDonald's might be the greatest place of refuge from the crueler realities of adulthood. Unless it happens to be something extremely obscene or flagrantly illegal, no one—truly, no one—cares what you're doing in a McDonald's, and even if they did, chances are you'll never see them again.
As I turned sideways and looked out the window in a pathetic attempt to cover my wet, reddened face, I wondered for a brief moment whether I should have instead dodged into the cafe across the street. I quickly realized that despite the weight of the children's unflinching stares, I would have been far more humiliated under the collective judgmental gaze of an entire cafe. Cafes are for people who are determined to get shit done: freelancers hammering out their next big feature, or students getting in one last black coffee-fueled cram session before finals, or book critics powering through The Next Great American Novel—none of whom would be able to finish their work if I'm blowing my nose every 30 seconds.
That's the beauty of McDonald's: it's welcome to all. Productivity and tact are of no importance here—for the customers, anyway. It's like being in the eye of a hurricane; while everything around you is blurry and shifting, a moment of calm emerges in spite of the surrounding chaos. Even if someone else in the storm notices you, they're gone by the time you've finished your Quarter Pounder.
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It was that day that I realized that McDonald's might be the greatest place of refuge from the crueler realities of adulthood. Unless it happens to be something extremely obscene or flagrantly illegal, no one—truly, no one—cares what you're doing in a McDonald's, and even if they did, chances are you'll never see them again. If there's a list of the top five professions who have seen it all, McDonald's workers are surely up there.
Crying is an act of self-care, and a very effective one. Throw in the collective state of the world right now, and it's a struggle to not wake up every day with a new reason to weep. The next time you find yourself wandering down the street in a state of abject misery, longing, or frustration, I'd suggest heading into the nearest McDonald's, settling in with a large fountain soda (for rehydration purposes), and letting the tears flow.
And if one day you see a twenty-something brown girl biting into her cheeseburger between sobs and crying into her fries until they're limp shreds of reconstituted potato, feel free to pull up a chair and join me.