It was a beautiful Spring day-- I remember it well
. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary
. The world bustled with its usual activity, people waking up, going to work, going to school, going about their daily routines. But one thing seemed to fall by the wayside.
In Red River, South Carolina, Jim Harberd usually started his day with a visit to McDonald's
, maybe some kind of breakfast bagel sandwich
. But this day, he woke up early and, not feeling like going back to sleep, made himself breakfast at home. Lois Williston of Hopetown, Massachusetts, overslept, and didn't have time to make her usual stop at McDonald's on her way to work. Alex Kinesis of Palatka, Florida, just didn't feel hungry enough to make his usual morning walk to the McDonald's two blocks down from his apartment. Emilio Lopez made a conscious decision to follow his doctor's advice and avoid fast food places. Linda Cambriel woke up feeling queasy and called in sick. Art Hillnick's wife surprised him with pancakes
in bed a week before his birthday. Rey Sedavillo's cousin called in the morning and asked to meet him for breakfast in a local diner to discuss an 'urgent business proposition.' Mark Jeffson opened his morning paper to bad news about a company he'd invested in; he decided to save a few bucks and skip breakfast altogether. Rene Hollwick found a twenty dollar bill, just laying there on the ground, and decided to treat herself to a more upscale coffee shop. All up and down the Eastern Seaboard, ten, twenty, fifty thousand stories like this played out.
Oh, the employees showed up, swept the floors, heated up the usual numbers of hash browns and cinnamon sticks. Waited patiently at the registers to sell these wares. But nobody came in to buy them. Managers started getting antsy. They went outside to make sure the fluorescent signs were lit, that it was clear their location was open for business. They called other stores to see if they alone were facing such straits, only to confirm that everybody else in their position was as well. They called corporate. Tensions rose. Unease began to bubble up.
Was there some kind of boycott
underway? Something in the news which was keeping customers at bay?
Searches of newspapers, websites, social media, all turned up nothing.
It continued across the time zones and into lunchtime just this way. People who might normally go out had brought a bag lunch. Or had leftovers. Or decided to try a local place for flavor. For some, projects were due and lunch was skipped. Here and there, an office staff decided to order a pizza
, or somebody brought in a very filling fruitcake
. People just went other places, or nowhere at all.
At about 11:40 AM Eastern Time, a raggedy bag-man wandered into a McDonald's in Toscana, Mississippi. He was homeless and penniless. Seeing no customers there, he meekly asked if they were open, and to use the bathroom. The staff, normally guarded against such invasions, shrugged and allowed it. When he came out, they gave him a free lunch -- burger, fries
Forty-five minutes later, an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors was hastily convened by teleconference. The Board members fretted mightily. The CEO kept up a calm appearance. This was, he assured them, a one day fluke. Somebody asked if the company ought to do some media about it. No, the CEO snapped, no press. If the papers started reporting that nobody was going to McDonald's, people might start thinking there was a reason for that. And, since nobody was going, nobody from the media was going, and so nobody was going to see that nobody was going. In the meantime, stores were to keep up their routine and try to keep busy, or at least look busy. Employees were to go, in small groups, in staggered shifts, wearing civilian clothes
, to other McDonald's locations nearby and to eat there, so it looked like there was at least some flow of business. They were to pay as if they were regular customers, and would be refunded later. People were to call friends and family members to see if they would come in for a snack or a meal; coupons and deals would be distributed liberally for the remainder of the day
, and the next day as well.
Following this meeting, the directive was quietly distributed to McDonald's stores across the nation. The employees went to other McDonald's to dine, as instructed. A trickle of relatives and acquaintances answered the calls and showed up to buy a soda or some chicken nuggets. Many cheeseburgers
and chicken salads were given away to those who came, to entice them to stay a while longer. But nowhere were there more than a few people in the entire store, or more than a few dollars spent
. Across the land, closing time came, doors were locked, and inconsequential tills were counted up.
The next morning, things were back to normal. Business was above average, even, with some who'd missed the previous day's routine having a particular hankering for more McDonald's fare. Corporate heads were scratched in confusion, but as the days and weeks flowed by, the day that nobody went to McDonald's became a distant memory, like a bad dream one had barely had.