This is how the math breaks down when your intention is to go to a nice restaurant but you’re still a parent after all: Three exhausted children (new friends) plus four weary parents (old friends) equals the need for a McDonald’s with a PlayPlace. Subtract a time element (five minutes ago) and transport frustrations (seven people will not fit in that Prius). Add a hotel shuttle with a restriction that includes a 1.5-kilometre radius.
The radius limitation meant the first choice of our local friend, Steph, for the full McD’s experience was out of reach, so he chose the closest with a PlayPlace. I shrugged off his warning: “It’s a bit sketchy.”
The floors were clean, the service friendly, and the tornado of children chaotic enough that I didn’t pause to look around. The play area was fine, with a large window against which was leaning a bicycle piled high with bags and blankets. Across the street there was an old church, green grass, and pup tents against buildings and half-hidden in nooks. “It’s not the best part of town,” Steph said again, and I shrugged, again, and excused myself to use the washroom.
Just outside the play area door, an old man had just told a woman about some ailment he was suffering. She was the kind of skinny people make assumptions about. She wore a long-sleeved shirt with black and dark red stripes and her straight brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail. She wasn’t wrinkled, but she didn’t look young.
“That was one of the biggest killers,” she was saying, “back in the early 1900s. People didn’t get better.”
In the opposite corner, a man had his grubby old backpack on the seat next to him, his feet propped against it, reading a novel with startlingly white pages. He was wearing army greens, but there was nothing about him that spoke to the military. Beside him was a man with a sunworn face and long tangled brown hair, who looked up when one of the girls squealed in the play area and said, as though reciting a fact from an old history book, “I had three girls.”
The doors to the bathroom were in an alcove. The men’s flew open and a tall man in a white t-shirt burst out. “I can get that for you,” he was saying when he nearly ran into me. Then he threw over his shoulder, “But I can’t get involved in this.”
I didn’t want to become inadvertently involved and so shouldered my way into the women’s, where a slim woman with champagne skin had her back to me. She was wearing a pink lace bra and was arched under the hand dryer. She apologized, as though she’d inconvenienced me by monopolizing the dryer. She said, “Not that one,” tilting her chin toward the accessible stall, the floor of which was littered with the rest of her clothes. The bathroom smelled strongly of hand soap.
By the time I was done, she had wiped down the sink and was locked in the accessible stall.
A security guard with a baby face and belly that hung over his belt was patrolling the restaurant, playing watchdog in front of the play area doors, as I made my way back to our crew.
He didn’t make eye contact.