Ode to McDonalds, the Land of Free Fun

Trip Start Oct 28, 2004
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, December 6, 2004

Except for the occasional family tip, Molly and I have never been frequent customers of McDonalds. Now that we're on the ultimate road trip however, we have found that there lies a special traveler-restaurant relationship between us and McDonalds and we now stop by as often as possible; not necessarily for the food, but rather for the free fun and cultural experiences.

In our five weeks of traveling, we have made over ten stops and have only eaten at McDonalds three times, yet find ourselves visitng the restaurant at every stop at least two or three times a day. Due mainly in part to our new economic lifestyle, particularly having to live in a van down by the river, we find ourselves taking advantage of the free toilets more often than not. When we are awoken at 7am by Mike, McDonalds is already open and awaiting our arrival and at 9:30pm when we are dressed and ready to go out, McDonalds is there for us to brush our teeth and prepare for bed. WE are usually parked close by since we use the golden arches as a directional reference point, and are comforted each night as we lay in the van and read our books by the glow of the neon sign outside our window.

While most Americans understand the brilliance of the McDonalds toilets (because, let's face it, in an emergency situation you would much rather visit McDonalds than a gas station that ives you a key and tells you to go around the corner), they do not take the time to appreciate the other free entertainment this beloved chain offers. Of course we always enjoy the free New ZEaland Herald as we drink our morning's hot beverage, it is Mike's entertainment the keeps us going each day.

Like any backpacker (excluding those from the UK) money is a precious commodity and with Mike is even more so. NZ is not a cheap place and Mike certainly verbalizes it every chance he gets. Like when he orders his hotcakes and is given just one syrup, he always tries unsuccessfully to charm the teenage employee out of a second packet for free. Much to our amusement, after a minute of arguing, he is always forced to pay the extra 25 cents. However, it is even more fun to see the look upon his face when he is handed packet upon packet of ketchup having had to ask only once. Not only does McDonalds ketchup taste like American ketchup (as opposed to NZ's "tomato sauce" for which Molly and I have not yet acquired a taste) but it is the only place that offers it for free. Since Kiwis eat it on virtually everything, all restaurants make you pay for the tomato sauce condiment, obviously something Mike will complain about. Yesterday, we spent 25 minutes upon our arrival in Taupo searching out a McDonalds so Mike could collect enought free sugar, salt, pepper, and ketchup for his four-day walk and boy did he love the new employee who tried to charge him for it. Said employee was repremanded by his manager and Mike walked away with quite a load of free condiments. Not only did we experience the free fun of driving around downtown Taupo, but more than once we got to hear Mike's story of how he scored free stuff from McDonalds.

I dont want it to be perceived that we do not compensate McDonalds for their continuous hospitality. Molly and I have spent many mornings in the McCafe enjoying our hot drinks and treating ourselves to a large coke once a week. We even got mike to throw a gold coin over the counter for a small drink. Because McDonalds is the only place in NZ that offers fountain drinks, Mike figured he could splurge and spend an evening drinking a bottomless soda. Molly and I sat and wathced Mike drink a cup of every varitey of soda offered for over an hour. He considred it a good deal because he was able to fill his Nalgene up with sprite for later. We didn't let him drive home that night.

Culturally, McDonalds has taught us a lot about NZ life. SInce McDonalds are realively new in most cities we visit, it becomes the local hangout not only for teenagers, but for families as well. WE can spend our mornings reading the paper and overhear the local gossip all while watching the children march to school in their plaid uniforms.

McDonalds has provided us with little details that make us smile. For instance, instead of the bathroom door dispalying "occupied" when in use, it says "engaged". Instead of a sign displaying "now hiring" it says "vacancy". It was the first place we noticed that the light switches work the opposite way than in America and we were amused that the drive thru directs traffice the opposite way. Also, when there is a handle on the bathroom door, dont pull. We can no attest to Vincent Vega's story of a quarter pounder with cheese being called a royale with cheese. I wonder if he has ever heard of a "Mac ATtack". That looks insane.

Molly and I just ate our first actual meal from McDonalds last night. While we were happy making rice and veggies in the wok, we felt it was our duty to buy a chicken royale value meal solely to score the $5 off bookstore coupon. (we are still missing two Harry Potter books). And...on top of the coupons we were given a free postcard. Sebastian did give Molly a hard time when it came to the ketchup, but we figured the postcard made up for that.

A little known fact: one in four Americans will work at McDonalds at one time in their lives. Maybe our time is now and we can have our birthday parties there for free.
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