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Victor Niederhoffer


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Like an Old Friend, by Victor Niederhoffer

On a trip back from Maine, the first thing that comes to mind is that McDonald's has saved more lives from car accidents than all the safety rules since the beginning of time. Their coffee is excellent and after billions of servings in tens of thousands of restaurants, they've come up with the perfect blend for taste and staying awake. I had such a coffee on my journey and it kept me awake infinitely better than the comparable cups at competing places.

Some other great things about McDonald's:

  1. It's like an old friend. You always know you're going to get the same food and of a high quality anywhere you go. Their limited menu from which billions of people have been served makes the incentive that McDonald's owners and customers alike have to create a better product. This means that each product has evolved so it fits the know-hows and tastes, and aptitudes of all humanity.
  2. Everything is special, unique. The natural flavor in their French fries. The vegetable oil they cook them in. The flavor of their fish fillet. The variety of the goods served range from tofu and ginger salad to yogurt with fresh strawberries and a granola, fruit and walnut salads -- at all of their restaurants now.
  3. Thousands of businesses and millions of employees have prospered and learned about customer service and responsibility from working for or running one, (or many), of the 30,000 McDonalds restaurants.
  4. How many people have been made happy and clean by their clean restrooms, been able to go into a safe well lit establishment for their ease of mind, had their deals closed by young lawyers working late at a 24 hour establishment, had a chance to enjoy a family dinner with their kids or a meeting with their friends without being chased out or harassed, been able to read a book with good lighting -- or in the case of a McDonald's in New Haven, had an opportunity to run a club of antique car hobbyists in their parking lot without hassle and in complete safety.

Not to be minimized is the freedom that McDonald's provides for all families to allow a two wage earner family where the cooking doesn't have to be at home every day. And related to this are all the men that don't have to worry about messing up their home and cleaning the dishes for a breakfast. I once read that something like 15% of the population eats breakfast at McDonald's each day. And considering the opportunity cost of cooking, and cleaning the quality of the Egg McMuffin, this seems like a reasonable choice.

It's a litmus test for the servile people to hate the fast food restaurants because as Durkheim said, such restaurants take away the conspicuous consumption that they were able to achieve by being able to afford a meal away from home that their lower status neighbors or competitors were not able to afford. Don't tell me however that the lack of alcohol at McDonald's, the cleanliness, the lack of smoke, the ability to be with their kids has not done more for the happiness and good of the world than all the do-gooders and tree-huggers combined.

James Sogi comments:

My young kids used to love the playground at McD's, which were better even than the public parks.

Justin Klosek comments:

On Sunday my son and I were at the Boston Children's Museum and we were both starting to fade. I looked at him and said, "Matthew, I really want a cheeseburger." He looked back at me and said, "I want a cheeseburger too."

In less than five minutes we each had what we wanted: a hot, delicious burger, with fries, and a drink. It was inexpensive (even in Boston, less than $8 total for the two of us), and it refueled us for the rest of our afternoon together.

I have to agree with your excellent article: what is so awful about McDonalds? My son and I got what we wanted when we wanted it for what we (I) wanted to pay. Neither of us would have been able to stomach the wait for a more formal restaurant, and the more formal restaurant wouldn't have wanted us anyway, since we were both getting grumpy quickly.

I hope you and yours are well. We have Thanksgiving at our house, and it is by FAR my favorite holiday. Good food, family, friends, some football. What more do I need?

Jason Schroeder adds:

Having eaten too many times, too young to know better, at my slow food haven years past near Spring & Sullivan, I lost the desire for the McDonald's near-taste.

(South African radio advertises the safety effects of a frequent snack break or free cool water break during the insane Easter weekend driving.)

When I have traveled, I have traveled alone without performing any initial research of my destinations. Everything is totally new, very raw. I want to interact with a place like I might belong there. But one McDonalds break in Tokyo or Rome or Reykjavik brings order to a jumble of senses and experiences. Every expectation is unchanged. There is no need to worry that the liturgy of ordering changes. There is essentially no barrier to satisfaction save the noises one utters. ("Minding the gap" of maddening nuances introduced by McDonalds in England.)

I found that I needed a McDonalds about once a week to recharge for the adventure.

J. T. Holley adds:

My McDonald's stories, diatribes, and opinions:

  1. I once got to sit and listen to Lou Holtz speak to a bunch of recruits at PaineWebber. He mentioned that he wasn't a good investor, he thought of buying a McDonalds' franchise but once he saw the sign Millions served he thought he was late to the party.
  2. Being a father of three, I agree with Vic that it has brought families together and given a environment to enjoy a meal in between whatever activity is being done i.e.. Football, soccer, church, pool
  3. The one point that I will disagree with Vic and suggest that cleanliness just isn't there is during flu season. Being a father of three, my wife knows now that when our children go play in the Playground or Spacestation provided by McDonald's then three co-pays totaling 75 bucks and Amoxicillin totaling 15 bucks must be added to the tab. Those play areas are Petri dishes. That is close to a 100 dollar meal!

Kim Zussman adds:

As kids we inadvertently infuriated our mother with our enthusiasm for McDonald's hamburgers and indifference to hers. She made the case that they used low-quality meat whereas hers was ground sirloin. But they had made a science of taste and economy, and poor mom couldn't overcome our animal instincts.

These days at airport and mall food-courts there are various "healthy" fast-food alternatives, including pasta, salads, and wraps. Usually only the McDonald's line is long as preferences, convenience, and economy demonstrate ecology.

Years ago I met Betty Agate, who with her husband opened one of the first McDonald's franchises in the midwest. She loaned me Ray Kroc's book which described their franchise. On the morning of the inaugural opening, Betty's husband put their last $50 in the cash drawer for change. And they needed it since there was a half-block line at the door by the time they opened. Ray Kroc used the Agate's busy, clean restaurant as a showpiece in selling additional franchises. This McDonald's was very successful but eventually the Agates had a falling out with Kroc and sold the business.

Andrew West comments:

On a recent vacation in China, in Shanghai the golden arches lured my daughter to lunch a couple of times. The menu had more variety there, and the localized new items tasted reasonably good, more interesting than a Big Mac at this stage of my life. Do not believe what people say, a public restroom with commode is still hard to find even in Beijing and Shanghai, when out and about, and that in itself is worth the inexpensive price of a meal at a Chinese McDonald's, though I would recommend having only a taste so as to save one's appetite for an evening banquet.

Even more interesting was that KFC in China is superior in almost every way to American KFCs. Not only do they pay greater respect to Colonel Sanders than Americans, their menu offers much more variety, and better quality fried chicken as well.

Thomas Miller comments:

A movie you might not like is Supersize Me, where Morgan Spurlock does a Michael Moore-type documentary about what happened when he ate nothing but McDonalds. for a month, and had the clerks supersize him every time they asked. The big surprise was that doctors told him that his health was suffering from this stunt.

If you eat nothing but the calorie and fat-laden menu items at McDonalds your health would suffer, but they also have added more healthy choices to choose from. I understand Spurlock ate about 5,000 calories a day which is way more than anyone should eat. Because of this, his "documentary" was slanted. He must have learned from the other "documentary" maker who looks like he eats 5,000 calories a day at McDonald's. A woman reportedly ate nothing but McDonald's for 90 days and lost pounds by watching calories and eating healthier choices. .

Management is smart. The stock stumbled from March to July but has recovered nicely since with comparative sales increasing due to new and healthier menu items. They are the 800-pound gorilla of fast food, and although sometimes slow to adapt, when they do they are tough to compete against.

Steve Ellison adds:

Regarding the "servile people," there is an excellent article by Anthony Daniels in the current issue of National Review. Commenting on the Live 8 concerts, he makes the following excellent points:

  1. Ostentatiously showing one cares about African problems gives one an appearance of virtue that is a counterfeit and may in fact prevent one from the much more difficult (but less socially praised) task of showing real kindness to the people with whom one is directly in contact.
  2. It is not at all clear that aid from wealthy nations has benefited Africans at all. Simply handing out money has enabled monstrosities such as Tanzania's forced resettlement of 75% of its population into communes (a 1960s initiative much praised by Western "progressives" at the time). Africa's problems, by and large, are internally generated, and there is little or nothing that residents of wealthy nations can do to solve those problems.
  3. The spectacle of aging rock and rollers waxing moralistic is quite strange.

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