Everyday Observations: I like the old McDonald’s and other places of the past


In a coffee shop where I like to do my writing, a small group of people broke into a Spanish worship song. I didn’t expect it but it was nice to hear. The group didn’t look like a religious group. They didn’t have big Bibles with them, and they weren’t wearing crosses. They were just people.

This coffee shop is in Mexico, and as I peeked up from above my laptop screen, I noticed that the folks looked like a mixture of Americans and Mexicans. Maybe there were others too. In between their singing, they shared short messages. I couldn’t hear them too well and I wasn’t sure what they were saying.

They weren’t always singing in tune, and some didn’t know the words to each hymn but they managed and, more importantly, knew that their flaws were what brought them together. These days, we let our flaws keep us apart.

I like coffee shops and places that let you be yourself. Places where you can walk in and say big hellos to the ladies behind the counter. Places where the regulars are happy to see the newcomers. Places where a small table of folks can bring into quiet worship and no one will be bothered.

It seems like these places aren’t too common anymore. People come and go quickly. The doors are revolving now making it easier to get out as fast as you came in. The ladies behind the counter are nameless. The purchases are done on an app or computer screen hanging on a wall. The only reason you walk into places anymore is because it is required. Soon enough, it won’t be.

Maybe that’s not true everywhere. Maybe it’s not that way outside of the sterilized and characterless future of American society. Maybe you can walk into a coffee shop in Mexico or somewhere even farther away to find people you have to talk to when ordering and hear people singing because that's how they start their mornings.

In the 1990s, when I wasn’t of legal age to do anything yet, Tata Abram loved to let us hang out with him at the McDonald’s. The old McDonald’s, not the new one. The old one where you had to go up to the counter to order. The old McDonald’s with an outdoor playground. The old McDonald’s where old people like Tata Abram would gather to get their day started.

I don’t know if Tata knew everyone there, but it seemed like it. People that looked like him and that dressed like him sat around him. He liked to wear the old World War II veteran hat, the black one with the multicolored stripes. I knew the colors meant something special.

Tata liked going to the old McDonald’s because he would meet up with his friends there and see new people too. He could grab as many creamer and sugar packets as he could stuff in his jacket pockets, and no one minded. Kids could be themselves in the outdoor playground. And when everyone had enough, it was time to go home.

I hope the next time you go to a coffee shop, or restaurant, or any kind of place where you have to order and take a seat, that you choose a place that might make you uncomfortable. A place where people of all kinds walk in. A place where you have to talk to others and listen to them laugh or sing.

A place that reminds you of the best things in life. Like my Tata Abram.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at abevillarreal@hotmail.com.