I recently participated in an end-of-year poll for my friend Darla Guillen, who runs Eater Houston. In her informal survey of a dozen or so Houston food media wonks, one of the questions Guillen asked was this: "Which restaurants, if any, did you break up with this year?"
This question is easier answered by someone with a more finicky palate than I possess; my problem is exactly the opposite. I have amassed such a collection of restaurants I love, it's difficult chosing one per meal. I am overwhelmed with ideas, choices, and options in this great city. It's not a bad problem to have.
Except when I'm stressed. That's when McDonald's comes in.
I answered Guillen's question truthfully: "I keep trying to break up with JITB tacos and McDonald's coffee, but I think I'm trapped in an abusive relationship." This is true.
Lately, however, I've been choosing McDonald's more and more frequently because it requires exactly zero thought, less than $5, and an excuse not to leave my car. Hit the drive-thru, order a No. 3 with a coffee, eat it in your car because it's quick and easy, and throw half of it away in disgust when you realize partway through your meal that you really ought to know better.
The days have been blending together these past few weeks, a blur of holiday madness and errands and parties and appointments. And in the midst of it all, I found myself suddenly single and on the search for a new place to live as quickly as possible. How do we split the pets? Do I have enough money saved up for a new security deposit? Who's going to help me move? Where will I find the time to pack? Everything was piling up.
And then, this afternoon, a phone call.
"Miss Shilcutt," a bored-sounding woman crackled across the line, "this is the fraud detection division calling in regard to several recent, suspicious transactions on your account." It was my bank. My heart sank. I'd shopped at Target several times over the holidays; my first thought was that my debit card had been compromised in the hacking spree that saw 40 million customers' credit and debit cards compromised.
But then, the fraud agent began reading off the transactions.
"McDonald's, $4.32, December 30. McDonald's, $4.32, December 30. McDonald's, $4.32, December 31. McDonald's, $4.32, December 31. McDonald's, $4.32, January 2. McDonald's, $4.32, January 2."
She droned through several days' worth of McDonald's transactions this way. Each day, at least two or three. I had been ordering the same meal each time, eating very little of it, and forgetting all about it within a few hours. The heat of shame and embarassment burned hotter and more intently from within as I acknowledged each transaction with a simple, "Yes, that was me." For her part, the fraud detection agent didn't break stride; she wrapped up the phone call disinterestedly and left me to stew in my own McDonald's beef-scented juices.
I'd been eating at McDonald's two, sometimes three times a day. I didn’t have Morgan Spurlock's excuse of documentary research for a scathing takedown of the fast food industry; I didn’t have any excuse for it at all. Still, it took my bank's fraud detection agency and an unimpressed customer service employee on the distant end of a cell phone connection to shake me back into reality.
I realize, of course, I could have turned to worse crutches while I hobbled through the end of yet another failed relationship: alcohol, drugs, casual sex on a bed of used hypodermic needles in the mold-scented room of a crumbling Scottish Inn, flashing people at stoplights, shoplifting, even more coffee than I already consume, Real Housewives marathons. And those things are harder to quit than Big Macs. Which I am, starting today, as just one of many New Year's resolutions to address my problems head-on, to get over myself and grow up, to eliminate complacency and thoughtlessness and inertia from my life as much as possible.
I still can't make any promises about the coffee, though.