Fast Food

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But the food franchises have also entered our cultural history as “experiences”—which is an entirely different matter. I remember, for example, a night in the middle of the summer sometime around 1970 when I went out to a Gino’s and inadvertently entered into my first and only fistfight. I was a member of the Westfield High School football team and, together with friends, got into a shoving match with rival football players from Clark, New Jersey. We fought it out—two or three punches thrown, one landed—in the restaurant parking lot. On another night I took my girl friend to the same restaurant, and we necked for twenty minutes before going in to dinner. As trivial as these moments appear in retrospect, they were nevertheless rites of passage for me.

 
The early hamburger stands are being lost, and with them an architectural era.

We support the fast-food franchises. We go in station wagons, on lunch hours, and for quick summer dinners. We go to celebrate a Little League victory or a junior high school graduation. In the South I have seen prayer meetings held in an empty bay of a McDonald’s restaurant. We go when our schedules get too busy to cook dinner or when we simply need a break. Many restaurants now offer playgrounds for the kids or special promotional games to keep the children busy while the parents steal a few minutes to relax. People seem to be happy in fast-food restaurants for the most part. They know what to expect; they know what things cost.

We go for the taste—something we should not overlook. We go, too, because massive advertising campaigns push us to go. But in a strange way I believe we also go because the food franchises represent free enterprise. Individuals—friends and neighbors—run the franchises up and down our highways. The idea of opening a business, of making a success, is at the heart of American attitudes. We like to visit food franchises because the concept behind them is something we can grasp. One person can start cooking hamburgers in a different way, or begin churning ice cream with more butterfat, and become a millionaire. The message is clear to all of us: You could do this too. Look, isn’t it easy?