I'm well aware of all of the many arguments against, both dietary and moral, but nevertheless every once in a while I get a craving for something from McDonald's, and it's usually breakfast. Living in Texas, I'm spoiled for burger joints, and most of them serve the real thing, but you don't always necessarily want the real thing. Sometimes you want a McDonald's.
The guy is young and white with a beard of the kind which is really just hair growing on his face, hair with which he might do something but he hasn't yet decided what.
'I'll have a sausage and egg McMuffin.'
I don't recall seeing his name tag so let's call him Steve for the sake of argument. 'Actually I'll have the meal. That's with coffee and a hash brown, right?'
'Sure - medium coffee,' and Steve says something else I don't quite catch. I guess he's asking me whether I require milk.
'White,' I say, and feel immediately weird about it, like we're a couple of Klansmen exchanging secret signals. At the same time the other half of my brain unscrambles the original question, whether I want creamer and sugar. I take another fraction of a second arguing with myself over creamer, and how actually I'd like milk because nobody in the history of the world has ever genuinely wanted creamer, but I'm in McDonald's so it's not really worth arguing. You press the button, stuff comes out, and that's how it works.
'Two sugars,' I say.
'Two of those as well.' I notice how this transaction is going smoothly, or at least more so than what usually happens when I enter a fast food joint. I'm not certain it's that my accent sounds strange so much as that it's simply unfamiliar, so for some people it's as though Prince Charles just came in the door and they freak out accordingly. I had to ask for ketchup four fucking times at Barbecue Station, and yes, use of fucking as a quantifier is entirely justified in this instance. Each time I asked, I pronounced the word ketchup exactly as it is pronounced by everyone else in the universe.
Have you got any ketchup?
What was that again?
You want some milk?
At one point he held up a squeezy bottle of mustard and pointed like that might be what I was referring to with my free-form Dadaist parole in libertà. Anyway, right now it's going well for me in McDonald's, so I get adventurous.
'Can I have an extra hash brown with that?' Somehow this is traditionally the stage at which I come unstuck. I'm a pig and that's why I want twice the traditional quota which comes with the order, and usually this confuses people at least as much as when I ask for ketchup. 'So that's two hash browns.'
Steve presses buttons on the till, which seems promising. 'I guess you're from across the pond.'
'So what brings you here?'
'I live here. I mean, I got married and I live here. My wife is from San Antonio.'
He chuckles. 'How do you like the heat?'
'Well, you know, it's okay.'
'I'm from Seattle and I can't stand it. I'm used to rain.'
I tend to enjoy conversations with strangers, but sometimes the novelty can get in the way. I'm enjoying this one because it seems like no big deal. 'I guess England and Seattle have about the same climate,' I suggest.
He says something about London, something relating to weather, I guess.
'I was a mailman for twenty years so I don't mind it,' - I mean that I don't mind the heat here in Texas, but it probably doesn't matter whether I'm making sense. 'You know, starting every morning at six and it's freezing cold and like there's a whole six months where the sky is just grey all of the time, so I really don't mind the heat at all.'
I assume that made some kind of sense, and I've noticed that I used the term mailman in preference to postman. I consider the city of Seattle for a second, the home of Tad, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Peter Bagge's Hate! comic. 'How come you ended up here?'
'My mom was in the military, Steve explains, 'so I came down here with her, but she moved to California.'
'You didn't want to move with her?'
'I'm twenty-five and I couldn't. It wouldn't have worked out. She bought me a house here so,' and he explains something I don't quite catch about paying rent. Whatever it is, it sounds positive.
There doesn't seem to be anything more to say, so I pick a table by the window with a view of the Austin Highway. My order is numbered 103 on the receipt which Steve gave me. It feels strange to be sat at a table without food, so I return to the counter and wait.
Steve is now mopping the floor. 'You know, it's okay here but I could have lived without Harvey.'
Clearly he's referring to the hurricane. 'Yeah, but I guess we were lucky.'
He talks about Houston and the flooding.
'I know,' I say. 'My wife always tells me we're too far inland for any serious damage, and she's lived here her whole life. I mean I know there were tornadoes in the city last year. I try not to worry about it too much.' This was supposed to sound reassuring, but I somehow managed to get onto the occurrence of tornadoes in a city which traditionally doesn't suffer tornadoes.
Steve shakes his head. 'I tell you one thing, I thought Bush handled Katrina bad, but compared to this guy, Trump - I mean, Jesus - what a mess.'
'I hear you.'
I don't know if the sense of relief was tangible in my voice.
As a white man, I probably don't have a lot to worry about in the great scheme of things, at least nothing specific to my lack of pigmentation; but one minor hazard of being a white guy is when other white people assume that I share their shitheaded right-wing or even racist views. It's not a major problem, but it's enough of one for it to feel amazing when it doesn't happen.
I definitely approve of Steve.
'Wait until Hurricane Irma wipes out New York,' he mutters darkly, still mopping. 'We'll see how he likes that.'