NYTimes: ‘The Food May be Fast…’

I just finished reading the article “The Food May Be Fast, but These Customers Won’t Be Rushed” in the NYTimes and I wanted to share it with you.

The article is a discussion about how the dining rooms of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s is discussed mostly) are starting to look more like the insides of a Starbucks. In other words you see more and more customers ordering just a cup of coffee and taking up space at a table for extended periods of time. This is popular with the elderly (and sometimes homeless) especially at McDonalds. They’ll buy a small coffee and read the newspaper for 30 minutes or longer. McDonalds used to be a place where customers would buy food, eat and leave, but it’s starting to become a place where people do more than just eat.

This trend has annoyed some fast food employees and customers who have a more difficult time finding places to sit, but the article brings up a good point considering public space. The article quotes Don Mitchell, a Syracuse professor of urban geography:

“Whether they have been private property, public property or something in between,” he said, “taking up space is a way to claim a right to be, a right to be visible, to say, ‘We’re part of the city too.’ ”

The coffee drinking patrons could certainly do whatever task they’re doing at home, be it reading the newspaper, their mail or a book, but there’s a sense of participating in society that is gained doing these things in a public space. It’s the reason I love drinking a coffee at Starbucks or in a library; there’s stuff going on around you: conversations, people coming and going, etc. that makes life more interesting. It’s a welcome change of scenery for those who may not have a lot going on at home (some elderly for example). I don’t think this behavior needs to be discouraged. In fact we could use more of it.

Compliance: A disturbing true story

I was able to see Compliance, a thriller that shocked and disturbed its audience at Sundance 2012 before its limited August release. The film is written and directed by Craig Zobel who is probably most well known for co-creating Homestar Runner. It is based on a series of prank calls commonly called the “strip search prank calls”. The film follows the events of the most disturbing of these calls (there were at least 70 reported in all), which took place at a Mount Washington, Kentucky McDonalds.

Without spoiling too much of the movie, basically a guy calls a fast food restaurant and claims to be a police officer who is too busy to come by in person. He instructs the store manager that one of her employees has stolen money and she needs to help him investigate. He tells her he is fully responsible for her actions and the investigation and she won’t be doing anything wrong. She is ordered to detain the employee, and things roll down hill fast.

The film explores how people respond to authority figures and just how far they’ll go to obey an authority even if common sense seems counter to their actions. The entire movie I was writhing in my chair and nearly screaming at the screen. Who would let these events happen? Who would comply with these absolutely insane actions? Why? And this REALLY DID happen!

I highly recommend seeing this movie and reading about the story. Compliance has an 89% Rotten Tomatoes score and is definitely worth a watch.