Tag Archives: McDonald’s

French Fries


We were four dirty traveling kids heading from Santa Nella, CA to Oklahoma City, OK. They were a Native American family; I don’t know where they were coming from or where they were headed. We met one night at a McDonald’s on Indian Land in New Mexico.

I was with Mr. Carolina, The Okie, and Lil C. Mr. Carolina had met the two young men at a truck stop in Santa Nella. They’d gotten stuck at the truck stop when the cheap bicycles they’d bought to travel across California began to fall apart. They were trying to get to Oklahoma City, then on to Kansas City, MO in time to see Lil C’s mom on her birthday. I’d agreed to rescue them from their truck stop purgatory, but the four of us traveled together through seven states before our time as companions was over.

Mr. Carolina and I had stopped at the same McDonald’s right off I-40 late one night on our way to California. We’d been with Sweet L and Robbie and the couple who had whisper fights several times a day. We’d taken that particular exit because the atlas showed a rest area there. We found the rest area, but a locked gate kept us out. We were all tired, so I pulled the van into the parking lot of the 24-hour gas station/convenience store/fast food emporium. The kids melted into the darkness to find bushes to sleep under, and I spent an uninterrupted night in my van.

Now we were back at that McDonald’s off the 40. The gate to the rest area was still locked, but more than a month later, the late autumn air was quite cooler. We’d all be sleeping in my van tonight, me in my bed; Mr. Carolina on the floor between the back passenger seats, his feet brushing the doghouse in the front; The Okie in one of the back passenger seats; and Lil C in the front passenger seat. It was crowded (more for the boys than for me), but it was worth it for everyone to stay warm.

Before we slept, we went into McDonald’s.

We had a few bucks, enough for each of us to get a McDouble, which only cost a dollar at the time. I don’t remember if we discussed French fries, if one of the boys asked for fries and I had to say we couldn’t afford them or if I silently longed for their greasy saltiness. I envied the other people in the restaurant who had fries, but I didn’t complain about what we lacked. The Universe gave us what we needed, and if The Universe wasn’t offering fries this night, we must not need them.

After being handed our tray of food, the boys and I sat at a table in the middle of the dining room. Our last bath had happened at least a week before, a soapless affair in a natural hot spring. We certainly didn’t look clean. We were probably a little too loud, a little too boisterous, but I tried to keep all of our cursing to a minimum. Even trying our best to appear normal, I’m sure we stuck out.

The Native American family sat one table closer to the counter. They were quiet and conservatively dressed. Maybe they were from Acoma Pueblo. Maybe they were Diné. The adults (parents? grandparents?) were probably in their early 50s; the two boys with them looked to be young teenagers. Each of them had a wrapped sandwich and in the middle of the table sat two large cartons of French fries.

The woman spoke softly to the boys. I wouldn’t have known she was speaking if I hadn’t seen her lips move. One of the boys nodded, picked up one of the cartons of fries, stood up, and carried the potatoes over to our table. His family wanted us to have these, he told us quietly as he gently placed the fries on the tray that still sat in the middle of our table.

We were joyously rambunctious with our thanks. Those French fries made us the happiest people in the room.

I manifested those fries! I thought. The Universe sent them to us because I wanted them so badly!

If the potatoes were a gift from The Universe, it was working through a kind woman who decided to share her family’s small abundance with four dirty traveling kids who couldn’t scrape together even a dollar to buy their own small bag of fries.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-wood-pattern-lunch-141787/.

Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My!


One of the blogs I read is vaninspirations. It’s written by a woman, Liselle, who began the process of living full-time in her van in the summer of 2015.

Unlike me, Liselle is still working a full-time job, and she is sleeping in her van several nights a week in the city where she works.

In a post called Freedom from August 3, 2015, Liselle wrote of her concern about spending money every evening at Starbucks where she was going to charge her cellphone and use the restroom before bed. She wrote,

Things that can use improvement include not eating out so much.  I’ve found this to be a little more difficult than anticipated.  For one thing, in order to use a restroom in the evening to prepare myself for the night, I feel like I need to buy something.  This puts me in a place to have an evening snack at Starbucks.  Last night, I just ordered passion tea though, and that was fine, it’s just that I don’t want to spend an excessive money on these kinds of things.  The idea is to save money so I can do the things that are important to me… and that doesn’t include Starbucks.  Tonight I might try just using a gas station bathroom, but these are usually much dirtier than the one at Starbucks.  I don’t know… maybe it’s worth it to buy something small at Starbucks.

and later in the post

Another issue is that during the week, I need something to do between the time I get out of work and the time I park to sleep.  What I’ve been doing is sitting in my van in a parking lot at a strip mall and playing a game on my phone.  This wasn’t my intention. And it is this that leads me to needing to charge my phone at Starbucks before sleeping.

I offered her some advice.

Can you charge your phone at work? Can you get rid of some apps so the phone’s battery will last longer?

Library High Angle PhotroIs there a public or university library you could hang out at before bedtime? Libraries are great because you don’t have to buy anything, they have restrooms, and many of them have electrical outlets where you could charge up your phone. Also, libraries don’t get suspicious if they see the same people every night.

Liselle responded,

There is a library. I didn’t think about that, but that’s a great solution. Thanks for bringing that up Blaize.

I realized I had a lot of experience figuring out where to use the restroom and charge my electronics without spending a fortune. I think the information I’m offering in this post might be helpful not only to full-time rubber tramps but also to folks exploring a new city who don’t  want to buy a meal every time they need to use the restroom or charge a cell phone.

My big disclaimer is that experiences are going to differ depending on who you are and where you are. A McDonald’s in inner city New Orleans is probably going to treat you differently than a McDonald’s off the interstate in the middle of Indiana. If you look like a sweet granny, you will probably be treated differently than a young guy who looks like he’s been hopping trains. Is such different treatment fair? Hell no! Is it the way the society we live in works? Yes. (Whoever lied and told you life is fair, kid? my father used to say to me.)

By all means, protest unfair treatment. Or just say OK and walk away, if that’s what’s best in your situation. I’m writing from my personal experiences, which will not be the same as anyone else’s experiences. Use my experiences as a starting point to figure out what works for you.

As I told Liselle, my number one favorite place to meet my restroom, WiFi, and charging needs is the public library in whatever town I’m in. Every library I’ve ever been in has had restrooms. Even better, I’ve never had to buy anything or answer any questions or even show a library card in order to use the restroom in a public library. People can also read books and magazines at the library for free. Often libraries have free internet access, either through the library’s public access computers or from free WiFi.

I’ve been to some libraries where only people with local library cards could use the public access computers, but I’ve been to even more where “guests” were allowed access. Sometimes I’ve had to show my driver’s license to get guest access, but not always. Frequently libraries have electrical outlets and allow patrons to use them to charge their electronics. Because people are expected and even encouraged to hang out in libraries, it’s unlikely anyone spending several nights a week at one will get any funny looks.

Another great place to spend time is a university campus. While dormitories and gyms might be off-limits, student unions, university libraries and food courts, and even classrooms may be good place to spend the evening hours. Any of the buildings I mentioned are sure to have readily available restrooms. University libraries offer the same access to books and magazines as public libraries, although a student ID would probably be required to use a library computer. Classrooms typically have an electrical outlet and there are usually several empty classrooms in any hall after four o’clock or so in the afternoon. Also look for electrical outlets in the student union or any other buildings where students might spend time between classes.

Even if you are older than the typical college student, there are people of all ages on most large university campuses, especially in the evenings when nontraditional (older) students tend to take night classes. Maybe people will mistake you for a professor if you look older than the average student. Also, some universities off free or cheap lectures, concerts, films and other activities in the evening that are open to anyone in the community.

Often the workers at fast food restaurants and chain coffee shops don’t care if someone sits in the dining room for a few hours charging a phone or laptop, utilizing the free WiFi, and visiting the restrooms when necessary. I’ve been in McDonald’s restaurants, Starbucks coffee shops, and Paneras across the country, seldom buying anything while using the store’s dining room and electricity, and I’ve never been asked to buy anything. (The only time I’ve ever been asked to leave a McDonald’s, I was trying to buy food.)

I think most corporations don’t want to alienate potential customers, thinking even if someone hasn’t bought anything right now, s/he might have bought something from their company earlier in the day or might buy something at a later time.

Of course, fast food restaurants with WiFi don’t necessarily have electrical outlets. Most McDonald’s now have WiFi, but maybe only half of the ones I’ve been in have publicly available electrical outlets. More and more Burger King restaurants have WiFi and electrical outlets. Starbucks and Panera almost always have several electrical outlets to go with their free WiFi. All of those places have restrooms too.

(If I get to choose between a Starbucks and a Panera and a fast food joint, I will always pick Panera. Panera sells delicious, healthy food, so I can  something nutritious if I decide to spend money. Also, Panera has an ice dispenser near their beverage dispensers, so I can fill my water bottle with ice before I leave. Finally, Panera offers a customer reward card, so if I do buy something, I earn free food and drinks  down the road.)

To be continued.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/library-high-angle-photro-159775/.




No Backpacks or Sleeping Bags Allowed


I’d been warned the McDonald’s was unfriendly to people who looked homeless. I’d seen for myself all the DO NOT signs posted on the premises, more DO NOT signs than in any other Mickey D’s I’d ever been in. In addition to the common (but usually ignored) NO LOITERING signs, this one had a NO PETS sign in their outdoor seating area and a NO TOOTH BRUSHING sign in the women’s restroom (Really? No tooth brushing in a McDonald’s restroom? I can’t think of a better time to brush my teeth than after eating McDonald’s food.)

I actually was homeless at the time. I’d been living in a picnic pavilion at a rest area in a high traffic tourist area for a few weeks. I’d become part of an arts and crafts community selling handmade items to the tourists. On the day in question, I’d hitchhiked into town to do my meager laundry and get supplies for making jewelry.

I walked along the town’s main drag all morning as I ran my errands, and by early afternoon I was hungry. My money was limited, so I passed all the locally owned restaurants, the ones I suspected served delicious but more expensive food, and I headed to the town’s only McDonald’s. I knew I could buy two McDoubles for two dollars and change. I knew two McDoubles would keep my belly full the rest of the day.

I had my pack on my back. My sleeping bag was strapped onto the outside of the backpack with a bungee cord. Everything else I owned but wasn’t wearing was in the backpack—my boots (carefully stowed at the bottom in anticipation of winter), an extra pair of pants and a t-shirt and a light jacket, my water bottle, a few pieces of jewelry I’d made and tools and supplies to make more jewelry. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had.

I had no plans to linger in the dining room of this McDonald’s. My plan was to get some food and get out, eat the food somewhere away from the restaurant.

I was standing in line at the front counter when a man of late middle age stepped up to me. He had brown skin (but didn’t seem to be African American) and short salt and pepper hair. He was not wearing a McDonald’s uniform; he had on dark pants and a plaid shirt. He told me I couldn’t have my backpack and sleeping bag in the restaurant.

What? I wasn’t only pretending to be confused. I really was confused.

I told him I was in line to buy food, and once I got my food I was leaving.

He shook his head and again said I couldn’t have the backpack or the sleeping bag in the restaurant. He told me there was a sign, as if the sign had magically appeared or had been handed down by Ronald McDonald or maybe Ray Crock himself, as if the directive of the sign had to be followed no matter what, no matter the circumstances.

He gestured for me to follow him. We walked over to the sign and he pointed to it. Sure enough, the sign prohibited the presence of backpacks and sleeping bags in the restaurant.

I tried again to tell him I wasn’t planning to hang out in the dining room with my backpack and sleeping bag. I tried to tell him I simply wanted to purchase food and leave. He wasn’t having it. He said I could leave my pack and sleeping bag outside while I ordered food, but the sign said I couldn’t have the items inside. He acted as if he had not connection to the sign except to enforce its rule.

No way was I going to leave all of my earthly possessions outside unattended while I stood in line inside. I didn’t have much, but I couldn’t risk losing the sleeping bag which was keeping me warm in the cool desert nights or the boots that were going to get my feet through the winter or the jewelry I hoped would earn me a few measly dollars.

So I stalked out of the restaurant, angry and still hungry.

When I thought about it later, I concluded the man who showed me the sign must have been the owner of the McDonald’s franchise. Who else in regular street clothes would have assumed the authority to kick me out? I doubt another customer would have cared enough about me and my backpack to point out the sign and tell me I had to leave my belongings outside. And even a McDonald’s manager would have been wearing a uniform and a name tag.

In retrospect, I wish I had asked the man his name and what authority he had to reject me because of my belongings. I was still timid and afraid back then, afraid of trouble, afraid he’d call the cops and they’d harass me for being homeless and poor.

I’m less afraid now, although I don’t go around looking for trouble. I’d just like to know the name of this man who thought it made good business sense to kick out a paying customer.



To read other stores about my homelessness, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/05/12/the-question/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/11/hummingbird/.