It was a Tuesday.
I’d been taffin’ about inside a McDonald’s near Sens, which itself isn’t so far from Paris. What business had a taffer like me in McDonald’s? Well, it is so that McDonald’s has built a very successful business out of people being unsociable bastards. What this means is, you can walk into their restaurant, order from a computer, and take a seat in the corner without even having to speak with an employee.
What this means is, you can walk into a McDonald’s in the morning, buy a single coffee for €1.60, plug in your laptop and stay there with free wi-fi and socket-power until the place closes.
For a writing, coffee-addicted and internet-reliant traveller like me, this is invaluable. All I have to do is grow numb to the screaming babies, the teenage girls, and learn how to deal with the incredible, – incredible hunger.
It’s not that I’m above eating from McDonald’s. It would probably be quite healthy for me, since most days I just eat baguettes and cheese from Lidl. If I’m feeling particularly wild, I might buy some carrots, or even – slow down here – some ham for my sandwich. You see, I try not to spend more than €5 in a day.
Except, perhaps, for when I buy a cinema ticket and spend the whole day hopping between movies…
Wow, maybe I’m a terrible person?
I remember meeting a woman who posed to me that there are two kinds of people in the world. She asked me to consider: if one leaves a shop having been given too much change, there are those who would turn around to give back the extra change (‘the good ones’, she called them), and those who would keep it (‘the bad ones’).
… She was capitalist swine.
Actually, to apparently rid themselves of my ilk, all McDonald’s’ in Paris have their sockets blocked or de-activated. But this is exclusive to Paris. I was in Sens, and having no problem hiding in a corner. I tapped for hours on my computer, and the hunger grew, and grew.
I used to know an American baker who made rough calculations of how much of her taxes went towards military spending. Upon working it out, she refused to pay her full taxes; she took out the portion she assumed would go towards the military.
Actually, this wasn’t a woman I knew – it’s a character from Stranger than Fiction… One of my favourite Hollywood films, if I’m honest. It involves Will Farrell not being loud. Seriously, it’s him in a romance. And it’s a great movie.
But back to the point, in the movie the character’s tax evasion is just kind of given up because she falls in love with a tax-man and – well – she doesn’t explain why she gives up her protest exactly. I suppose, ‘for love’. But what’s important is that she falls in love with a tax man. And he falls in love with her; a tax dodger.
I illegally downloaded that movie. I like it a lot, but would never consider buying it. I can’t remember ever having bought a movie. My family rented films sometimes when I was young, but – that was – before we discovered PirateBay.
Since then I’ve downloaded more movies than I can count. Eventually I downloaded books, games, even software. Even cheap ones from indie developers. Without doubt, I’ve downloaded tens of thousands of euros worth of materials. Of course, I would never have gotten all those things without downloading. I probably wouldn’t have so much of a care for movies in that case.
When I was young I hadn’t even been introduced to the notion that pirating was stealing until I asked my Canadian cousins why they buy DVDs when they could just download the movies. ‘That’s immoral’, they told me. Not illegal, immoral.
I’m sure most people today are as unaware as I was about legality with the new trend of online streaming. Not Netflix streaming; just random websites. A friend of mine tried to dissuade everyone from this streaming, and encouraged them to download instead.
‘There are ads on those streaming sites’, he said. ‘Someone’s getting money for you watching. But it’s not the film-makers. That’s wrong’.
I’ve never had a problem with any of this.
I’m very certain of myself. Very certain of my philosophy, and even more sure of my morality. I don’t do wrong. I say that with confidence.
(Well, actually, I do lots of wrong to people in conversation. Intentional mind-games, manipulation, accusations and harsh honesty – the likes. But it’s conversation, and I make it unique, so that’s okay, – or something).
Back on that Tuesday, at McDonald’s, – well… It’s like I said, I was starving. I had food in my bag, but I didn’t want to pay for a second coffee just to be able to leave, eat my cheap food, and come back in. I waited until the evening. I timed it so I would have time to leave, eat, find a forest and set up a tent before it would get dark.
I stepped outside, into the parking lot, where my bicycle was chained up.
And there was a McDonald’s on the ground.
A bag, a bag of McDonald’s food. Just lying on top of an empty parking space. I thought its positioning was funny, but I assumed it was empty. Yet, I passed it to reach my bike. I peeked inside, and saw chips.
A happy thought struck me! I immediately concluded, someone must have left their food unfinished. Maybe they left it there because they didn’t want to throw out good food. They must have been giving it to someone on the street… Like me!
I was sure it would be cold, and there were ants crawling around nearby. They hadn’t reached the bag yet, but they could surely climb in.
What if someone did own the McDonald’s? I couldn’t figure out why they would just leave it over a parking space. It was late, there was no one around, and very few cars. The few cars present were all empty.
But still, just what if?..
I continued onto my bike, I unlocked it.
Some teens cycled up nearby.
Ah, that explained it! It was outside a car because those teens had bought it! They were using bikes!
But, they cycled on by. The McDonald’s was left untouched. It wasn’t their’s
I waited beside my bike, just holding its handles. I looked at the McDonald’s. I waited.
No one came.
I looked inside the McDonald’s. A lone ant was crawling around the chips. There was a box for a wrap, another for wedges, and two boxes for burgers. These were all closed, I couldn’t see inside them… This was enough food for two people, and one wrap left over.
I looked up from the McDonald’s. The parking lot was empty of people. I looked inside the restaurant. No one was standing around obviously.
Five minutes had passed.
I looked at the McDonald’s.
I took the McDonald’s.
I cycled away.
Later, at a bench, I pulled over. I took a single chip. I inspected it for ants. No ants were present. I put it in my mouth.
Oh deary – dearest – hoh dread of a thousand armed devils oh dearest of oh –
The McDonald’s was warm.
I am no longer certain of my morality.
I ate it all.