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Can you guess where these photos were taken?20160702_162726

An international airport, maybe?20160702_162740

A ritzy shopping mall, perhaps?20160702_162918

A gilded hotel lobby, you surmise?20160702_162610

No. No. And no.

These were snapped in a three-story McDonald’s at the corner of Sand Lake Road and International Drive in Orlando, Florida.20160702_16310320160702_162807

All we want are six hot fudge sundaes. Sounds pretty straight forward, eh? Again, no, no, and no. The place is a swirling madhouse, and apparently it’s trying to be cutting edge because it has decided that kiosks are the best way to take the visiting customers’ meal requests before setting them loose to wander around wondering where to acquire the food they just ordered.

Okay. So, I’m at the giant touch screen kiosk. It won’t let me order a sundae. I press the button for dessert items and up pops the sundaes, but I press the sundae icon and nothing happens.

I press it again. The young employee circling through the kiosks tells me I just need to press the button for the sundae I want. I tell him I already did. He says to try again. I try again. Nothing happens. I turn to inform him of his incredible wrongness and he’s gone.

Now what?

I press it again. And again. I exit out. I choose the desserts again. I choose the sundaes. I press it again. One more time. There’s the stupid hot fudge sundae right in front of me in all of its high definition glory.

I turn the angle of my gaze so that the fluorescent lights can shine on the particular section of the touch screen where I’m pressing to see if perhaps there’s greasy french fry film… or mucus… or a highly infectious disease obstructing my progress, but I don’t see anything, although bacteria and viruses are quite small.

A line is forming behind me. The young man returns to tell me that I just need to choose the item I want. Before I can speak, he’s gone. I’m starting to think that he’s a figment of my imagination, an apparition of bygone service that I am secretly hoping for.

I choose the sundae again. And again. One more time and it’s finally added to my shopping cart. But just one.

“You mean I have to do this five more times?!”

“No,” Josh says and points to the basket. “Just hit the plus sign to add five more.”

“Yeah, just touch the screen,” I say sarcastically. “It will do exactly what I want.” Ready to take out the van key and scratch “Kilroy was here” into the screen before me, “Let’s give it a shot,” I say and tap the plus symbol a few times to test it.

I now have ten sundaes.

I want six.

No. I want to leave.

Wait, no. I want a shot of whisky.

I can tell you what the manager of this McDonald’s is going to want very soon – an armed security guard.

“Just choose the number of sundaes you want by pressing the plus symbol on the screen,” the apparition appears and says and then flitters away to another kiosk.

“You saw him, right Josh?” I asked the boy and pointed. “I mean, he’s real, yes?”

“Yeah, he’s real.”

“Okay. Just making sure my rage isn’t causing me to hallucinate.”

I press the minus symbol as though I were attempting to pet a lady bug. I do it four times. I now have five sundaes. Why? I can count. Ten minus four is six. Apparently here at Sand Lake and International drive, it isn’t.

I need one more sundae. I press the plus symbol one more time – one very gentle time. I have six – six glorious ice cream sundaes! Hurray and hurrah and praise be!

Now what?

“Thank you for your order” is the machine’s only word.

“Seriously, now what?” I demand of the kiosk out loud. “Where do I go? What do I do?”

I wait for an answer, a fuller bearing to direct my path because I assure you that there’s no way in Hades I intend to try to figure out where to go next on my own. The whole place is full of people wandering around like psychiatric patients asking each other where they are and where they are supposed to be.

“Now make your way to the front of that line,” the apparition appears and motions. “Go straight to the counter.”

Oh, um, no. I don’t think so. There are like twenty people in that line. I’m not going to cut in front of all of those confused and angry people and go straight to the counter. I can smell they’re frustration from way over here. They’re just like me – confused, scared, and teetering on a basic instinct to employ self-preservation tactics. When they see me go straight to the counter, they’ll attack me like a pack of savage wolves, gut me, and string me up on the flagpole out by International Drive. Oh no. I’m getting in line – the very end of the line.

Standing there, I decide to take a private poll from fellow patrons. The results are as I imagined. 100% of those questioned have no idea what’s going on or what to expect. They are standing in the line because that’s the only thing that feels right.

Over the course of a few minutes, a few trays and bags are set on the counter before this gathering swarm of unsated purchasers. The whole group becomes restless.

Time passes. The food waits. Amidst a flurry of workers, one young girl comes trotting by and stops at the orders.

She inspects one of the bags.

“Esssysixmmpplle,” I hear the young girl barely mumble from behind the counter. No one can hear her over the noise, and the fact that she pretty clearly wants to be somewhere else doesn’t help boost her volume.

I look at my receipt. It says 886.

“Essysixmmppllee,” she says again with even less vigor while looking off into the horizon beyond the wild and tangled vacationers before her.

“Is she saying 886?” I ask Josh.

“I don’t think she knows what she’s saying,” he says.

“Did you say 886?” I call above the crowd.

“Hot fudge sundaes?” she calls back lifting one of the bags that had been sitting there for quite some time.

“How many sundaes?” I ask.



Six hot fudge sundaes. Six warm, soup-filled bowls of what was once soft-serve and chocolate.

Moving through the line full of salivating tourists, I reach for the bag and ask in frankness, “Do you have any idea what’s going on in this place?”

“Huh?” she says sounding somewhat startled that a real live human being has asked her a question.

“I have no idea what’s going on in this place,” I say. “Do you?”

“Sure,” she says and gives a grin. “Well, sometimes. This place is crazy.”

“Yeah, it is,” I affirm. “Take care, dear child. Take care.”

I manage to find my family just past the elevator and around the corner near the stairs leading to a second level which houses the play arena – or in Josh’s words, the gateway to the Velociraptor den. He’s right. It sounds like a bunch of children running and screaming while being chased by a bloodthirsty pack of something. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that it is, indeed, a predation event – nature being nature – starving parents who waited in the line for far too long and have elected to catch and eat the more vulnerable members of their families. They’ve got them all cornered in the plastic towers, netted bridges, and swirly slides.

Who cares? We drink our sundaes and we leave.

It takes us one hour to drive twelve miles in the Orlando rush hour traffic. That’s okay. I can understand this line. I know where it leads. I know why I’m here. There are great big green signs to help me if I become downtrodden or flummoxed. I know what I’m supposed to do and when to do it. It isn’t the McDonald’s at the corner of Sand Lake Road and International Drive. It isn’t a surrealistic nightmare.

20160618_200313When we arrive home, it’s time for dinner. After I manage to slice my thumb trying to open a can of mandarin oranges with an opener that doesn’t work, I wrap my mangled digit in paper towels glazed with Neosporin, pour myself a glass of the Deveron 12-year-old (because it’s what I have on hand here with me in Orlando), call up my tasting notes for the Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky, and start to read.

Scanning my notes, I realize that I needn’t say much. Besides, this particular yarn has unraveled much too far and for long enough.

So, how about this…

If you want a whisky that smells like caramel and touchscreen kiosk cleaning solution, has a rather unbalanced palate of vanilla cream imbued with spicy ketchup, and finishes with barely a nip of the promised rye, then this is your whisky. Throw down the $25 and drink up.

Personally, I much prefer the sweet victory won against a less-than-cooperative kiosk in order to gain an ice cream sundae I need a straw to consume, followed by slow-moving rush hour traffic and a gored thumb. But hey, that’s just me. I’m finicky with my booze and I’m on vacation.20160702_182917