April 22, 2009 marks the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, which means it has been , for an entire decade, older than the age after which the generation that birthed it can no longer trust it. It’s hard to say how far we’ve come in 40 years. This past weekend, an ice bridge holding up the Antarctic shelf shattered. Sixties music icon Bob Dylan went web interactive with his latest song, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.” In March, First Lady Michelle Obama broke ground for a kitchen garden on the South Lawn of the White House. And dreamy Alice Waters, 64, Executive Chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and “mother” of the slow food movement (according to CBS news correspondent Lesley Stahl) was featured on 60 Minutes last month cooking breakfast for Stahl. In an effort to show us how simple slow food really is, Waters broiled an egg in a long-handled spoon over a crackling fire in an open hearth.
I contemplated all this change in our world as I headed west over the Lake Street bridge Monday morning. My husband had tried to encourage me to fry up an egg for breakfast before I, already late for a meeting, left the house, but I waved him off, “I’ll stop somewhere.” “Most important meal of the day,” he called after me. Lake Street is a commuter’s obstacle course: first I swerved around the cyclist, then jerked my steering wheel to the left to avoid the hybrid electric Metro Transit bus that lurched away from its stop with no signaling whatsoever. The rays of the rising sun hit McDonald’s golden arches, which shined like beacon in distance: food, they promised, served fast.
Calculating how many turns of the stoplight at Lake and 31st I’d miss if I stopped for an Egg McMuffin, which has been exalted even by Saveur as a sandwich for the ages. I zipped back into the right lane — the slow lane, which is for meter maids and student drivers, not a busy go-getter, places-to-go, people-to-see woman like me — and steered toward the drive-through window. I ordered, then pressed onward, rounding the corner of the building even before the disembodied voice boomed, “Two forty six at the window. Please pull ahead.” As I reached for my change, an arm thrust out from the next window and dangled a white paper sack before me, like a toreador’s red cape before a bull. Something primal in me wanted to stomp the gas pedal, propel myself forward, and yank the sack out of his hand without even slowing. But, the civilized voice of my mother in her “don’t talk with your mouth full” tone echoing in my head told me I shouldn’t. Beyond the paper sack, the stoplight at Lake and 31st changed to green again.
Why, I thought, after retrieving my breakfast from the arm and murmuring a hurried “Thanks” and waiting for traffic on Lake Street to part, should I even have to stop at the drive-through for fast food? I must have missed two green lights navigating the whole drive-through experience; hardly fast at all. McDonald’s needs to step it up. Why can’t I place a web-order for my McMuffin? I could McText it in. And, when their Bluetooth technology ordering system reading the GPS coordinates in my cell phone detected my approach, they could emit some signal, telling my passenger-side window to slide down, and, as I passed, toss my McMuffin to me. They could hire a teenager out of Cretin-Derham Hall with a good pitching arm or rig up some kind of McCatapult. Charge my charge card automatically, Bluetooth at work again, then text my McReceipt to me. Or, McTweet a tweet-ceipt out to all of that morning’s customers. Oh wait, that won’t work. If they use Twitter, they’ll have to send it direct message. A DM from McD’s. A McDM. I drove with one hand on the wheel and, with the other, jabbed up the volume on my radio. Something about Hillary Clinton talking about climate change at a Global Summit. Still one-handed, I unwrapped my McMuffin and took a bite.
The times they surely are a-changin’. And so must I.
Update: corrected math on Earth Day anniversary. (Thank you taryn.)