Welcome to McDonald's. Now Get Out.

“No loitering.” The message seems abrasive; we recoil. “Loitering”—like “spoil, roil and embroil” – wallows in negativity. So does “soil” when used as a verb.

It would seem as difficult to enforce as those “NO STOPPING OR STANDING” signs on city streets. Come on now. Have you ever seen or heard of a citation for either one? Sorta like the puzzling post office door sign: “No Dogs Allowed – Except Seeing-eye Dogs.” (Dogs – and sightless people – can’t read.)

And the sign at school: “In case of nuclear attack, the ban on prayer in public schools will be temporarily suspended.”

The unraveling world we live in provides fertile ground for “thou shalt not” signs to spring up – even at McDonald’s.

Despite Ronald McDonald’s best efforts, ad campaigns that boast of happiness, splashy ad art throughout stores and despite smiling, warm “welcome-to-McDonald’s” greetings, some stores post stern warnings to deter “loiterers.”

On balance, I’m a more-than-satisfied McDonald’s patron. “Mickey D’s” coffee is predictably good and generously “senior priced.” Their soft-serve ice cream is a hit, their restrooms are consistently clean, and they offer free Wi-Fi. Still, the sternly worded warning on the entrance door in downtown Houston seems so “unMcDonald like.”

It emphasizes “manager-enforced” loitering policies. “Loiterers” choosing to go inside face “30-minute time limits, while consuming food.”  The sign is less than one-foot square and is dwarfed by colorful window ads pushing iced vanilla coffee, peppermint mocha and “real pork—really awesome.” But it’s at eye level.

Unshaven that morning, I wondered if I might be “labeled,” and I kept a wary eye out for stopwatches. I could have easily been thought a “loiterer.” Lots of others – perhaps between buses on their way to day work – hurried in and out. I’d say most of ‘em had jobs with no time for coffee breaks, much less “loitering.” An older woman at the next table took a foil-wrapped burrito from her tattered purse, chasing it down with McDonald’s “senior coffee.” Was she a “loiterer?”

Internet postings hint that the sign is aimed at gangs of purposeless teens, roaming aimlessly. (One teen was said to have left his socks on a table.)

In some stores, piped-in classical and operatic music seems to keep the traffic flowing, the result, management maintains, of a subconscious “get-outta-here” response to highbrow musical programming.

Across the pond, they’ve installed outdoor high-pitched sound devices designed to combat mosquitoes. They say the sounds also are displeasing to most humans under 25 (those whose hearing hasn’t been muffled by too much loud music).

Before too long, the warning in Houston may seem tame.

I’ve thought a good deal about the sign for several days, happy I don’t have to enforce it.

The engraved “welcome” on the Statue of Liberty may say more of the way we were than the way we are – “Give me your tired, your sick, your huddled masses.”  Maybe some warnings and disclaimers should be mentioned, too.

Recalled is the sign entering New York City: “If you can make it there, go back.”

By definition, “loiterers” are folks who “linger aimlessly.”  Maybe they one day aimed for higher marks, but somehow missed. Many down-on-their-luck victims of assorted misfortunes have long forgotten what it means to aim high…or even to take aim. They may be preoccupied with worry about finding their next meal and/or lamenting missed ones.

McDonald’s has a $2+ billion ad budget annually to project a shiny image.

Probably not even .0000001% is spent on signs warning “loiterers.” Me, I’m mostly sad about a “coarsening culture” that makes discussion of such topics germane.

As cold winds swirl in downtown Houston this holiday season, I hope some slack will be cut for the poor who, for whatever reasons, “linger aimlessly.”

Few of them, I believe, set out to join the flock Jesus Christ Himself described as the poor we’ll have with us always.

May He provide – in this blessed Christmas Season and beyond – a spirit in us that urges a “reaching out and reaching down” to assist the less fortunate. Christ also said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.” May we know peace on earth, good will toward men.

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

Humorist Don Newbury is author of When The Porch Light’s On. Click here to read about the book and purchase direct from Amazon.

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