Stumpf, Bill. The Ice Palace That Melted Away
New York: 1998
Pages 17, 35 and 45
Imagine that McDonald’s restaurants, the world’s largest retailer of hamburgers, were redesigned to honor labor and production as well as merchandising and speed. What would it look like? Imagine that they baked their own buns on the spot. How much better it would smell! Imagine machines making ketchup, mashing tomatoes, and spouting steam. Or machines grinding meat and pressing it into burgers. Perhaps the economies of scale necessary for McDonald’s to sell us their food so cheaply would preclude a bakery in every franchise. But what would happen if we could witness the activity and energy of the staff making our meals—in the heart of the restaurant in full view of you and me.
A restaurant I know of treats its customers to a regular show of chefs and assistants doing a culinary dance behind large glass dividers and the food issuing from the visible kitchen. They aren’t afraid to show anything. A giant material muncher could recycle all the food packaging on the spot and spit out new cups, bags, and trays. We could give children a sense of production that seemed a part of their lives. Rarely in America is labor associated with fun....
Every day, they walked to the farmers’ markets, and on Sunday afternoon they had barbecues at family-oriented taverns. They always bought fresh bread at ethnic bakeries on the corner, had fresh milk and produce delivered to their doors, felt safe in their beds, and even had time to polish what little silverware they owned. Somehow they lived to old age, raised a large family, all of whom went to college, survived prohibition, the Depression, two world wars, rationing, gender inequality, polio, TB, and measles. In short, they were like millions of Americans.
My grandfather never sought permission to live less hurriedly, less like a consumer, less oblivious to time. He never sought recognition for doing so. I would sorely like to have a little of his independence. I often find joy in walking the dog, washing the car, shopping for fresh vegetables, cooking dinner, or hanging up my clothes—the details of life. But somehow looming over me is a great, importunate world where existence and one’s daily routing are measured out in nanoseconds. Sometimes I feel like just another petty functionary enmeshed in the classic carrot-and-stick game, trussed in my work harness, blinders in place, ready to go, eating from a bag tied to my head,
defecating on the street while I work, running in place on my Nordic Track, apparently willing to work myself to death.