I've come to my favorite establishment in Acton. Their latté suits me. With my preferred mix of coffee and milk, others might consider it weak. But as someone who is partial to warm milk over strong coffee, I am content here.
Their large tables by the windows are excellent for my work. I spread out my papers, alongside the latté and my water bottle. I have an apple in my bag for a snack. Air conditioning cools me and bathrooms are readily available.
Hooray for McDonald's!
What, were you thinking I was someplace else?
Inclusion and diversity are not lost on me. I see black and brown faces, and not just of the servers. An African-American family, not a common sight in Acton, sits at the table across from me I wave at their toddler son whose dark curls endear him to me. His face scrunches up, as if he will cry, but then his mother distracts him, and his mouth turns into a smile. A man with sandy-colored hair sits at another table, engrossed in his iPad. Some adolescent boys come in and joke with one another in front of the food counter.
Young and old hang out here. I get concerned when I watch an older man, who could shed a few pounds, eating a big Mac. You could argue that fast food, with its high fat content, draws in poorer people who may not have the luxury to choose what they put into their bodies.
A woman with a cane, something else I don't often see in Acton, walks by me and sits at a table nearby. She watches a well-dressed older gentleman at the counter, who soon joins her with coffee, chicken sandwiches, and fries.
I so appreciate the diversity here. You don't see much difference in Acton. Trust me, I'm aware of this disparity. As a middle-aged, child-free woman, I often feel that I don't fit in.
But its the anonymity of McDonald's which I like best. I never see anyone I know here. Not my former client who works at a more upscale shop, not my neighbors who wouldn't be caught dead here. No one knows that I will stumble if I walk too quickly, or the reason for that. My poor balance gives me an awkward stagger that makes me look drunk. I am not self-conscious here as I am elsewhere in town. Sometimes I don't want anyone's concern nor do I want to need a cane and stand out, like that woman at the table near me, waiting for her husband and food. Maybe later, I will go a few doors down and enjoy shopping at Trader Joe's, where everybody knows my name and my gimpiness. But right now, I prefer the independence of the stranger. I ask myself, “Who will I be today?”
When you are unknown, you can become anything. There is freedom and independence in possibility. Freedom in the lack of expectations. I can practice or pretend to be someone else. I might just surprise you, and me.
But I need people around me as a reminder that I am in this zone of privacy. Writing can be a very private exercise. The irony is that the writer's task involves going public. Perhaps we all have these very different sides of ourselves. I want to be connected. It helps affirm that I matter. But I also want the opposite: the anonymity and independence that are part of my inner, private world.
Sure, other coffee shops have more mellow music, not these tones of KISS 108. And they have dimmer lighting, not these fluorescents and bright colors to charm children and oblivious adults.
But doesn't McDonald's also stand for the commercialism I abhor? Shouldn't I boycott this place? Is Trader Joe's any less commercial?
It's just that sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name.
Dana Snyder-Grant is a social worker and a free-lance writer who lives in Acton. Her book, Just Like Life, Only More So and Other Stories of Illness, is available on the internet at http://www.justlikelifeonlymoreso.com/. You can contact Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org.