A word to those who have grown weary of the 24-hour news cycle, the blowhard TV pundits and the never-ending stream of political debate and current event analysis:
Stay away from McDonald’s.
I discovered this as I attempted to, for three measly hours, free myself of any BREAKING NEWS, SPECIAL REPORTS, follow-ups to stories only WE have been following, and anything containing EXCLUSIVE DETAILS. The reason?
I wanted to watch the Australian Open men’s tennis final, an epic duel between legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on my DVR after the match had been completed. Without already knowing who won. SPOILER ALERT! Federer, my hero, won. It wasn’t necessary to say that phrase, as the match occurred on Jan. 26. I’ve just always wanted to type it so I can join the legions of TV critics who feel compelled to spice up their bland reviews of hit TV shows like Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead by revealing plot-twisting cliffhangers.
Australia is more than half a day ahead of America, a fact America is reminded of every Dec. 31 when Australians are ringing in the new year while we shop for Champagne and party favors, falsely believing we decide when to flip the calendar. When the tennis match began, I was asleep in an Indianapolis hotel room. My wife, a huge Nadal supporter — our tennis loyalties are nearly as far apart as our political views — was resting in our bed at home, having set the DVR to record the match.
“I’ll drive home, make breakfast and we’ll watch the match together,” I suggested. Seemed like a perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday morning.
“No peeking,” I added, warning her to avoid her phone, lest she see an errant “BREAKING NEWS” text with the results.
“I’m more worried about you,” she said. “I can just lie in bed with the lights off until you get home. You’re out in the real world.”
She had a point. When news infiltrates our being via texts, tweets, annoying crawls at the bottom of every TV program, including cartoon shows aimed at 4-year-olds, and your know-it-all uncle, shutting oneself off from current events requires not only extraordinary discipline, but a game plan.
I plotted my hotel exit strategy like a military general preparing for battle. To avoid using the hotel’s front desk, situated directly across from the lobby sports bar where assorted televisions were tuned continuously to ESPN, I utilized in-room checkout. Yes, that involved turning on my TV but I knew the initial screen would ask only if I wanted to watch regular TV, leave a comment, view my bill or add to it via “adult entertainment.” I knew this because I repeatedly turned the TV on and off before going to bed. The home screen always appeared. No chance to see the score.
I took the elevator directly to the hotel garage where my car was parked. Safely inside the vehicle, I turned on Sirius/XM Radio, first lowering the volume, for I couldn’t remember what I was listening to when I last shut off the engine. Was it a sports station? News or talk? Why risk it?
I tuned to “’80s on 8.” Three commercial free hours of Madonna, Bon Jovi and Duran Duran would be my companion for the ride home. I exited the garage and headed for the highway, my phone nestled in the driver’s console under a box of breath mints. I knew the route home; no need to rely on a navigation app from an iPhone screen. Just to be sure, I turned off my text feature.
Ninety minutes later I stopped for gas at a convenience store, first making sure the pump did not include a TV screen broadcasting Jimmy Fallon highlights, chili dog specials should I choose to step inside and, yes, news updates. I was halfway to my goal’s completion.
Exiting the expressway, a mere two miles from my house, I stopped at McDonald’s to purchase a hot tea for my wife. The drive through line was vast; I parked, went inside and ordered.
And while waiting to receive the simplest item on McDonald’s menu — a cup of hot water and a teabag — I heard a golden-throated voice behind me.
“What a match Down Under! Roger Federer turns back time to claim a record 18th major title!”
“No, no, no!” I screamed. The McDonald’s cashier looked bewildered, quite certain she had gotten my tea order correct.
I paid and stalked to my car, briefly turning to face the golden arches and silently mouthing a question that still perplexes me:
Who the hell thought it was a good idea to air CNN at McDonald’s?