When fast food stops being, well, fast, McDonald’s has a problem. That appears to be what’s happening at a particular franchise location in Queens, New York, where a group of elderly Koreans that gathers there every day to gab and drink coffee has gone from being local color to something of an unwitting protest movement.
In a story that weirdly, wonderfully appeared in The New York Times today—under two bylines, no less—the fight between the Koreans, the restaurant’s management, and, yes, the New York City Police Department is detailed. The group of septua- and octogenarian loiterers “who shuffle into the McDonald’s on the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards on walkers, or with canes, in wheelchairs or with infirm steps, as early as 5 a.m. and often linger until well after dark—had, as they seem to do every day, long overstayed their welcome.”
While they do drink coffee, and sometimes split an order of fries, no one is ordering Big Macs in earnest. The McDonald’s is so thoroughly treated as a public space by the group that some leave around noon, go grab a free lunch at the senior center, then return to their seats below a sign that informs customers they have 20 minutes to finish a meal.
That’s a notion these men just can’t accept.
Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?” David Choi, 77, said. “No, it’s impossible.
Unlike students in areas with limited library hours and no home Internet connection who crowd tables at McDonald’s to use the free wireless to do homework, these Korean men are unwanted—to say the least. While the actual cost of that network connection amounts to repeat sales of food and drinks for the chain, making students welcome loiterers, these men buy practically nothing, and management has responded to their unpaying presence by repeatedly calling the police.
What do they do after being thrown out by the police? They just come back. It’s like Occupy Wall Street minus the rhetoric and the People’s Mic. And these 70- and 80-something men are just as determined to hold their benches as OWS protesters were to maintain their presence in Zucotti Park.
Outside the McDonald’s on Saturday, Sang Yong Park, 76, and his friend, Il Ho Park, 76, tried to explain what drew them there. They come every single day to gossip, chat about politics back home and in their adopted land, hauling themselves up from the banquettes with their canes to step outside for short cigarillo breaks. And they could not say why they keep coming back—after a short walk around the block to blow off steam—every time the officers remove them. They said they had each been ousted three times so far.
So if anti-fast-food activists or fast-food strike organizers are searching for new ways to catch the ire of McDonald’s, they may want to look at Occupy Flushing McDonald’s for inspiration.