The Chain Gang

New York Times Discovers Bleakest McDonald’s Ever

A security guard says
A security guard says “Every day, I go through hell.” Photo: David Marsden/Getty Images, Corbis

For the “last few months,” hapless Times reporter Kim Barker has been assigned to periodically stick her head in a McDonald’s just down the block from the paper’s midtown offices (at 490 Eighth Avenue, officially) that, it’s safe to say based on her story today, is probably the saddest McDonald’s anyone’s ever heard about (even by McDonald’s already low standards). Here’s a slice of the life there:

The other day, a man headed straight for the bathroom, pausing only to open his backpack and grab a bag of heroin, known as “dog food.” Another day, a couple shared a McDonald’s vanilla shake at a side table and swallowed “sticks,” the anti-anxiety prescription drug Xanax, and “pins,” the anti-anxiety pill Klonopin. On a recent Wednesday, an ambulance showed up to carry away a regular who had been stabbed in an adjacent doorway, leaving blood all over the sidewalk.

There are people emptying 40s into McCafe cups, a woman named Heaven wandering around looking for fights, and long bathroom lines for the $10 bags of heroin. And the crowd pretty much has the run of the place:

They have won with sheer numbers, and because they always return. They have won despite the “no loitering” sign that sets a time limit of “30 minutes while consuming food.” They have won despite the police, who went there 200 times last year, mainly responding to disorderly conduct calls but also to arrest people selling drugs. They have won despite the security guard, one man against dozens, who has been on the job more than 20 years and sometimes shoos away the customers who pass out on the tables. He was stabbed in the leg by a regular about four years ago.

That security guard says of the job, “Every day, I go through hell.” The Times guesses the ambiance is a result of proximity to a methadone clinic, a needle exchange, and a couple of drug-treatment programs. A variety of drugs are bought and used right there in the bathroom — Yelpers call the location “a drug addict’s paradise” and advise everyone to “stay clear of the meth heads.”

It sounds like most tourists recoil in horror or remain blithely naïve, but seasoned New Yorkers apparently patronize the spot for some kind of old Times Square nostalgic factor, like an 89-year-old nun who tells the paper she comes in and gets a dollar cone and medium fry to match the “salt and sweet of humanity” around her.


New York Times Discovers Bleakest McDonald’s Ever