Olden Arches

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2016 is:  do not go to McDonald’s even once, for any reason.  I almost made that goal in 2015, but when I was on the road and had missed dinner and was driving at about 8 p.m. one night and McDonald’s was the only option, I gave in.  It was, of course, a mistake.

large_072309-mcdMcDonald’s was once one of the strongest brands in America — but then, so were Blockbuster and TWA.  I remember going to get McDonald’s cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake when I was a kid, 50 years ago, and it was good food.  Those days are long gone, however.  Now McDonald’s food is, in my opinion, virtually inedible.  My last visit, which sealed my resolve to remain happily McDonald’s-free, involved getting a cheeseburger that tasted like it had been sunning itself under the heat lamps for approximately a decade or so.  It was hard and looked and tasted like shoe leather, and the “melted” cheese had hardened to a sharp-edged, rubber-like consistency.  It was so disgusting I couldn’t eat it, and I was starving.

What happened to McDonald’s?  Who knows for sure, but at some point someone must have decided to cut corners, save a few bucks here and there, think that more salt equates to better flavor, and count on old habits and screaming kids insisting on Happy Meals to get the customers to keep visiting the Golden Arches.  But Americans are no more committed to McDonald’s than we are to, say, making calls on land line phones.  We are interested in looking for the next best thing and getting value — and right now we aren’t getting it from McD’s.

I’m not alone in this.  McDonald’s sales have been falling for years, and its new management keeps promising changes that will resurrect the brand. I don’t think they can do it, because McDonald’s operators aren’t innovators or great competitors, they’re used to succeeding just by virtue of being the big dog with a stop on every corner.  Former 800-pound gorillas don’t do well as suddenly underfed chimps.

Speaking of underfed, did I mention that I’m resolved to never eat at McDonald’s in 2016?

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Redshirts

If you’re a sci fi buff looking for a book recommendation for the new year, I suggest John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which was published in 2012 but which I’ve just discovered.  It’s fast-paced, well written, laugh-out-loud funny — and I’m not somebody who use “LOL” very often — and it addresses an important issue.

redshirtIt’s an issue that any fan of Star Trek, the original series, recognized long ago :  namely, the appalling mortality rate among the member of the away team that were sent down to the surface of the planet with Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy.  Those poor anonymous red-shirted bastards — because typically, they wore red shirts identifying them as members of the Security department — were lucky to be given a name or have even one line before they were blown up, devoured by beasts, ravaged by rapidly accelerated old age, cut down by phaser fire, reduced to a cube and then crushed into dust, or otherwise knocked off in painful, embarrassing, and inexplicable fashion before the first commercial break.

Even worse, as the episode went on, you learned that the red-shirted deaths were the result of some colossal misunderstanding or bad decision by Captain Kirk, and the misunderstanding would be resolved, and at the end of the episode Kirk would make some funny comment as the Enterprise left orbit.  And, even as you chuckled at Kirk’s witticism, it became all-too-clear that nobody gave a a second thought to the red-shirted guy who met his maker on Planet Albatron 4.  You couldn’t help but wonder if you thought about it:  how do these red-shirt guys even get insurance?  How much is the United Federation of Planets paying in widows’ and orphans’ benefits, anyway?

This issue has been explored before — Galaxy Quest does a pretty good job with it, through the ruminations of Sam Rockwell’s character Guy Fleegman — but Redshirts takes it to a different level by imagining how the rest of the crew in a similar circumstance in a different TV universe might react to the constant rain of death that was befalling randomly selected “away team” members.  It’s hysterical, and the clever ways in which the desperate crew members try to deal with the issue tell you a lot about Scalzi’s creativity.  He’s a good writer, too.

It’s always fun to find a new author and work your way through his catalog.  I’ve been enjoying Scalzi’s truly excellent Old Man’s War series, too, but Redshirts was a special comedic treat.