American fast-food restaurants are so ubiquitous, there’s almost one on every other city block. These garish, corporate created islands offering cheap fried excuses for food have long since replaced any semblance of the neighborhood diner.
But for some, fast-food joints double as a kind of 19th century general store or village cafe where local teenage kids and seniors gather and socialize.
However, 21st century fast-food franchise owners have little interest and time for the languid loitering of locals who they feel threaten profits by depriving paying customers of a place to sit and dine.
So when community leaders urged a boycott of a McDonald’s in Queens after the management called 911 several times to get rid of an elderly group of Korean patrons for socializing over a single cup of coffee, the McDonald’s owner, Jack Bert, was forced to compromise.
The group met with Bert at the office of Assemblyman Ron Kim, who announced at a news conference that the group could sit at the restaurant, in Flushing, for as long as it wanted, except from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bert agreed to post signs explaining the policy in Korean and Chinese and to call Mr. Kim’s office for future problems. The group agreed to visit local senior centers during lunch.
Meanwhile in Boston, an afternoon sashay for several senior citizens turned into an unexpected nightmare when their cars were towed from a Burger King parking lot they had used for decades without a problem.
Eight cars had been towed, and the seniors had to each pay $100 to get their vehicles back.
About once a month, this group of seniors hire a limousine-van for a trip into Boston, where they visit the Museum of Fine Arts and hear the Boston Symphony.
They all made a regular habit of rendezvousing at the Hooksett Road Burger King, which some in the group have been doing for at least two decades — until recently when the owner put up customer-only signs warning of a tow.
The average age of the group is 80, and some of the members buy coffee and food at Burger King before boarding the van in the morning.
“Burger King should have put post-its under the windshield wipers (saying) don’t do it again. They couldn’t have been oblivious to the fact we’ve been doing this all these years,” said 78-year-old Kathleen Goulet, a Manchester resident who went on the trip.
“I think it was a dirty trick.”
Kris Hobbs of Bentley’s Towing said the manager called him Friday and instructed him to tow cars that had been there all day.
“I felt horrible when they all showed up. They were sweet little old ladies,” he said. He reduced the tow charges from $165 to $100.
The van driver took the passengers to the tow yard, where they picked up their automobiles. Goulet said she was grateful to Bentley’s.
“All of us together, we can joke or laugh. But any of us by ourselves, it would have been a disaster,” she said.
Hobbs said some of the group’s cars were parked underneath the customer-only parking signs.
Goulet admitted a member of the group saw the new signs. But they ignored the signs since they had been parking there for so many years, and everyone parks far away from the doors.
“We look like we’re customers,” Goulet said. “We thought we were doing Burger King a favor; their parking lot is never full.”