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Archive for September 2007

McDonalds on the Strip

Originally published on indyrats.com.

 

I’m a child of the sixties, and like most of my generation, I have a love-hate relationship with McDonalds. 

I’ve  known B.McD and A.McD.—Before McDonalds and After McDonalds. As a pre-teen, I danced on the grave of Gardiner’s in Ft. Wayne, eating my 45-cent All-American meal on the same spot where the icon of integrity and good food gave way to googie architecture and Golden Arches. 

In college  McDonalds was cuisine de choice as antidote for nefarious drugs. Only Crescent Doughnuts in Bloomington trumped McDonalds. 

When I lived on the Swiss/French border, I counted the days until McD’s opened its first restaurant in Geneva. On inauguration, I lined up for a Big Mac. A couple bites, satisfied, I returned to French cuisine.  Once a month, I’d run into town for a “Mac Royale” fix. An imperfect love, but love nonetheless. 

Just this once, just this one time. 

Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation changed.all that. He painted the picture; he showed me what I didn’t want to see. McDonalds was a lyin’, cheatin’ no count cad. Together with Ronald Reagan, McDonalds stomped on and trampled on everything sacred and American. 

 I’m dumping you, McDonalds. No more slumming, we’re over. 

Then Michael Pollan wrote Omnivore’s Dilemma. McDonalds and red-state corn are villains causing all aches, pains, ennui and obesity plaguing Americans.  I started working as a cook next door to McDonald’s. 

I hate you McDonalds. I’m going to put you out of business, one salad, one sandwich at a time. 

Lately though, McDonalds tried to lure me back. What was it about this wayward lover that made me remember the good times and forget the bad? Coffee. Great coffee priced much less than Starbucks. McDonalds coffee, $1.00, Starbucks $1.85. There’s also iced coffee, salads, and no more supersizing. 

Okay, we can never be lovers, but we cah be friends. 

Then I was stuck on the Strip. Vegas is no longer Sin City, it’s a destination. And a destination is a marketing machine designed to empty your pockets while giving little in return. I was walking down the Strip looking for a people watching sight, but the cabanas around the megaresorts charge $6-8 for soda and wait staff push you out as fast as possible so more customers will sit down and spend money.

Then I saw it. McDonalds. Nestled between Harrah’s and Casino Royale, it sat atop a Panda Express and Chipotle, like a treehouse with Golden Arches. The sign at the foot of the steps said, “Water $1.00.” 

McDonalds I love you. Take me back. 

I climbed the steps, went into the restaurant and ordered a medium Sprite for a $1.49. I sat for an hour on the terrace, under the shade of a red umbrella, people watching. 

Why was I taken it by that Berkley liberocrap, that slow food lingo? Price is everything. What took me so long to come to my senses? 

Excited by my discovery, and still not finished with the Strip, I came back the next morning for breakfast. Yes, the coffee, a $1.00 in Indianapolis was $1.49, yes the person at the counter and I had trouble communicating, but so what? Anywhere else in Vegas, coffee and a breakfast burrito costs $20 plus tax and gratuity.   

I walked over to the condiment table, there was no cream. I looked back, everyone was having trouble communicating with the counter staff.  I didn’t want to stand in line again so I decided to drink my coffee black. 

As I made my way to the terrace, I saw a sign that said, “42 ounce soft drink, $.69.”

It’s the new Hugo

:A new McDonald’s menu item is a bit of a stunner. Remember Supersize sodas? They’re back, except this time the chain is trying a new name. Meet the “Hugo,” a 42-ounce drink now available for as little as 89 cents in some markets. A Hugo soda contains about 410 calories. McDonald’s might as well have called it the Tubbo.

 (Huffington Post,  July 23, 2007)

McDonalds didn’t reform, it’s up to its old tricks. 

McDonalds, I hate you.

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Written by Susan Gillie

September 24, 2007 at 2:36 am

Vegas

Originally published on indyrats.com.

I went to Vegas for a needed and earned vacation. 

The Strip morphed since the first time I visited in the early ‘90’s. Changes in states’ gambling laws allowing local casinos, threatened extinction for Sin City. So Las Vegas went family friendly. Gone are the Dunes, the Sands, the Stardust, the tired old ladies of casinos, replaced by McMansion hotels/casinos. 

Paris is not Paris. The hotel/casino occupies the block south of Bally’s, with a façade suggesting the Paris Opera House and Louvre merged like Siammese twins. A half-scale Eiffel Tower straddles the building, a hot-air balloon a la Jules Verne, squished in for good measure. 

Mon Ami Gabi, an al fresco restaurant in front of the casino, invokes Paris sidewalk cafes. Invoke is all it does. The menu is middle America at premium prices, pasta cavatelli appetizer costs $15.00 plus tax and gratuity. 

Bellagio isn’t Lake Como, the Venetian isn’t Venice and New York, New York isn’t Manhattan. 

What Vegas is, is Florida. Its DisneyWorld combined with Miami’s South Beach. Instead of Cadillac El Dorados, hotel parking lots are lined with silver S cars. There’s no body of water or yachts. Las Vegas was built in a desert, but I’m sure someone’s working on small-scale replicas of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf.  

When developers imploded swarthy old casinos, they swept away the buffets of yesteryear and brought haute cuisine to town. Buffets are still around, but they’ve added ethnic foods and cardboard sushi to appease all tastes. Casinos now have restaurant rows filled with Marios, Emeril’s, Wolfgangs and Chef this-and-that and so-and-so to create half-scale replicas of their famous restaurants. 

Kate Silver writes in Las Vegas Weekly about an emerging local foods movement in Vegas, but you won’t find it on the Strip. Food is shipped in by tonnage from all over the world without concern for miles traveled. Culinary elites put their stamp on hotel food.  

On Topicana Boulvard, a few miles east of the Strip, old Vegas lives. The Vegas we know from Martin Scorsese’s Casino survives in the Liberace Museum. Glitz, glamour, feathers and furs housed in a strip mall tell the story of a time when the town was strictly for adults.

Museum volunteers, and visitors who knew Liberace reminisce, telling tales of the man and the era.  Liberace worked half the year. The other half he devoted to antique collecting, caring for his dogs, cooking and entertaining.

According to Karan and Michael Feder, authors of Joy of Liberace, the great man loved to cook and entertain. It’s cuisine of his heritage—Italian, Eastern European, Midwest/Middle American comfort food.  

Tablecloths, silverware, dinnerware were over-the-top, but the kitchen was simple and modern. He cooked lasagna, stroganoff, meat loaf, cucumbers-and-cream, Brawny Austrian Torte. Liberace entertained in the meat-and-gin era when guests didn’t worry about cholesterol.  

Vegas, threatened with extinction, thrives. The operative word is “theme” and each hotel’s is different. But the insides are the same, slot machines, malls, mega-theatres, food courts and restaurant rows. Spaces designed to maximize consumption and spending. 

Restaurants are flush with patrons, millions spent on high-concept décor, overpriced, absent chefs with little effort directed to diners’ enjoyment.  

Food evokes a time, a mood, a place. It won’t be Olives or Japonais that reminds me of Vegas. It will be Liberace’s Noodles with Cottage Cheese. 

That’s Vegas.

Written by Susan Gillie

September 21, 2007 at 2:34 am