I Have Been to Hell: World’s Largest McDonalds

This past Tuesday I made a big mistake: I had a few drinks too many with some friends after work.

The next day I made an even bigger mistake:  I took a trip to hell on earth.*

Let me explain.  After my big night out, I woke up Wednesday feeling a little under the weather and a little late for work.  After skipping breakfast to get to my office on time, I spent the morning listening to the various sounds my empty stomach was making.  In an attempt to remedy this problem, I sought sustenance from that icon of American cuisine, McDonald’s.  But I didn’t go to just any location, I went to the World’s Largest McDonalds.  (Technically the title is disputed between several restaurants across the country, but even if it’s not the largest, it’s still pretty damn big.  And busy.  Like an Army Navy surplus store in the End Times busy.)

In addition to it’s billing as the World’s Largest McDonald’s, this store is also labeled “The World’s Most Unique McDonald’s.”  This is true, as there are things inside this location that I have never seen anywhere else (thankfully).  This includes barely-working animatronic characters that sputter to life at different intervals, their mouths not even close to being synced up with the music.  Also present are air hockey tables, arcade gamesfull service ice cream bars, and this flag-draped Statue of Liberty guarding a merchandise shop on the second floor for some reason (yes, there is a second floor).  At night the building is visible from space.

All of this is set to an incredibly loud soundtrack of classic rock.  I enjoyed nearly vomiting to such classics as The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”

As crazy and wacky as the restaurant itself is, it could probably run away with the “Most Unique” title based solely on the customers.  Seeing as how this store is in the heart of the tourist corridor, people from all walks of life come to congregate, interact, and fatten.  I took my place in line between a family in matching Wisconsin Badgers shirts and a giant  tour group of Brazilian teens (I couldn’t understand a word they were saying except for the occasional “Big Mac” and “Mickey Mouse.”  What a country).  Since I don’t think it wise to mess with the classics, I elected to order a standard Quarter Pounder with Cheese, although the menu is filled with items that I am pretty sure are not typically available at fast food joints.  After reading it, I wanted to ask the manager if McDonald’s Corporate had signed off on the menu, or if I was dealing with some sort of rogue franchisee.  But given that I was in a bad way from the night before, I decided against it.  That and the thought of discussing the legality of an eggs benedict panini made my stomach even more uneasy.

The ordering system itself is odd, in that you pay at a separate cashier and then are herded into this corral area to wait for your food.  Standing in a corral while waiting for a burger felt a little too ironic for me.  Once I received my order, I navigated my way through the sea of Brazilians and found a reasonably quiet corner next to a bewildered-looking British family.  Between their sunburns and greasy napkins, they could almost pass as locals.

To be honest, the rest of the meal was a blur.  Between my extreme hunger, and desire to leave, I think I set the all-time record for consumption of a Quarter Pounder (Is that an Olympic event yet?**).  I then fled the premises, leaving mid-westerners and foreigners in my wake.

All in all, it was an interesting experience, truly a once-in-a-lifetime event (for me at least).

The moral of the story is, as always, take it easy on Tuesday nights or go to hell on Wednesday afternoons.

For more info, check out this video tour I found online.

* This is not a new expansion of the Holy Land Experience
** Maybe, yes, since they are building this at the Summer Olympics this year.

“Killer Whale” is Not Just a Clever Name

A few years ago, a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando was killed after a killer whale grabbed her ponytail and dragged her around the tank until she was dead.

This was obviously a terribly sad story, and would ordinarily be chalked up as a rare occurrence if not for the fact that this wasn’t the first time this had happened.  Actually, it wasn’t even the first time this same whale had killed a trainer.  Indeed, this particular whale, Tilikum, has actually been involved in three deaths at two different aquatic parks.  Despite having previously killed two people at the Canadian Sealand of the Pacific Park, Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in Orlando where he was the only whale that the trainers were not allowed to swim with, due to his size and temperament.

However, not even these safety precautions were enough to stop him from reaching out of the tank and taking 40 year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau by the ponytail and pulling her into the tank during a “Dine with Shamu” event in 2010.  For forty minutes, other trainers attempted to rescue Branchaeu from the tank, but were unable to save her from drowning.  The incident was witnessed by multiple park visitors in attendance, many of whom did not realize anything was wrong and were probably more concerned with why their lobster bisque was taking so long.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too.  With three separate fatalities involving this one whale, shouldn’t it be time to contact the glue factory?  This solution would make sense if not for the fact that (A) This is Florida and (B) I don’t think that whales are part of the glue making process (I would assume Elmer’s would be under Sea Shepherd attack if this were the case).

Instead, rather than forcing Tilikum into retirement in some sort of ultramax prison where he could swap tales with other violent sea creatures like Jaws and the Kraken, SeaWorld elected to place him in an isolated holding tank, giving him time to lift weights and plot his revenge.

And, although normal people would think that the isolated tank would be a good place for him to live out the rest of his whale days, SeaWorld instead elected to return him to the show in 2011.  This angered many people, most notably (?) Tommy Lee of Motley Crue who wrote a sternly worded letter to SeaWorld, calling Tilikum SeaWorld’s “Chief Sperm Bank.”*  This is because rather than castrating Tilikum, he has instead been allowed to sire at least 13 calves, many of which were sold for lots of money to other aquatic parks and zoos.  Yes, even though this whale is a three-offender, he has been allowed to reproduce and pass along his genes, which could lead to a potential army of killer Killer Whales.

These days Tilikum spends his days performing and breeding, like a young Rolling Stone, while SeaWorld cashes the checks.

Apparently it’s true even in the animal kingdom that you can be a huge dick as long as you can bring in the money.

*No word yet on how to get such a job.

The Sun

Florida is a land of paradoxes.

For instance: One of the biggest upsides to living in Florida is the sun.  One of the biggest downsides to living in Florida is the sun.

The latter is especially true if you happen to be fair-skinned (guilty) and/or ginger (double guilty). While the near constant presence of the Giant Yellow Orb is a blessing in the winter when it is 70 degrees out in January, it is a terrible curse during the summer months when the whole state can feel like a giant greenhouse.  While this situation is great if you rely on chlorophyll, it is less than desirable if you simply want to walk to the corner store without your shoes mating with the asphalt.

This unfortunate solar dominance would be tolerable, OK even, if not for one thing: YOU CAN NOT ESCAPE IT.  Oh sure, there may seem to be ways to avoid it, but those are just lies we tell ourselves so we believe we can exist here.  Even if you put on tons of sunscreen, you will sweat it off.  Wear long sleeves or a hat? You will feel like you are melting.  Work indoors with air conditioning?  Great – enjoy coming out to the car that you left roasting outside all day.  Wait to go out at night like some sort of ginger zombie?  The leftover heat continues to rise from the pavement until midnight.  Plus, because the sun is an early riser, the sun will even beat you in the morning (my car temperature gauge read 85 degrees at 8:30 this morning).

Since Florida was not designed for human habitation, we have had to come up with a variety of ways to deal with this heat, the most important being air conditioning.  Walk around during the summer and you will be treated to a chorus of humming and chirping.  The humming is from the omnipresent AC units, while the chirping is from the omnipresent bugs who are also complaining about the heat.  (Side note: Prior to the invention and implementation of air conditioning,  Florida’s population did not really spread into the peninsula, staying in the panhandle.  This is why Tallahassee in the northern region of Florida is the state capital, even though it is only the seventh most populous city  in the state.  The more you know!).

However, for all the good that AC brings, it comes at a hefty price, and energy bills spike in the summer months.  However, since the only other options are to stay in the water with the alligators (or sharks depending on where you are.  Did you know an east coast town called New Smyrna Beach is the Shark Bite Capital of the world.  Again, the more you know!) or to just die a slow dehydrated death, I’d say just pay the man.  Besides, alligators don’t send you past-due notices, they are pretty much instant collectors.

After AC, there are a wide variety of tools and methods available for use in fighting the solar tyrant.  These are mostly hit or miss, even though people will swear by them.  For instance, even though people will tell you otherwise, those cardboard windshield things don’t seem to do much, except provide a great way to smack your passenger in the face every time you park your car and struggle to put them up.  Other people stand by farmers’ hats, which are a great way to look like Doug from The Hangover AND sweat out half your body weight.  Another strategy is to carry an umbrella, but come on, let’s be real here, nobody wants to look like they just stepped out of an impressionist painting.

In summary, pretty much the only way to avoid the Florida heat is to avoid Florida altogether.  Or to buy a vacation house in North Carolina.

Zombies!

Ok, let’s do it.  Let’s get it all out on the table.  Let’s talk about the zombie story.

This past weekend, the nation was rocked by a story out of Miami involving a nude, crazed man killed by police after eating another man’s face for breakfast alongside the freeway.

This is one of those stories where I say “please don’t be Florida, please don’t be Florida” in my head as I click the link, all the while knowing that this could only happen here.

Apparently the aggressor (“zombie,” in court parlance), Rudy Eugene, was suffering from “cocaine psychosis” when he attacked 65-year-old Ronald Poppo, devouring most of his face and leaving only his “goatee and little else.”  Chilling.  After some googling, I found that cocaine psychosis is “a drug-induced craze that bakes the body internally and often leads those it affects to strip naked to try to cool off.”  I had always thought that cocaine psychosis is when you won’t shut up at a party because you think that everything you have to say is the most interesting idea in the world.  And if the guy at the keg would just shut up and stop talking about the GD Miami Dolphins for a minute, you could tell everyone your awesome idea for condoms made from recycled tires.  Then you grind your teeth some more.*

Although details are still murky, the attack was witnessed by a AAA Road Ranger who used the loudspeaker in his truck to tell the naked man to stop eating the other guy, which would have to be the most ridiculous statement to ever come out of a loudspeaker.  And yes, I would pay money for the audio recording.  When cops arrived, Eugene was still treating Poppo’s face like a chalupa and refused officers’ commands to stop eating the victim.  He was then shot several times and killed, thus ending the saddest chapter in American history.

Seeing as how this horrific episode may be America’s first true zombie incident,  I would think that Florida is now in first place for the Mayan Doomsday Sweepstakes 2012 (Can you feel the excitement?!?!).  And while many residents are choosing to focus on the negative and preparing for the imminent zombie invasion, there is some silver lining in that this absolutely insane act has led to calls for officials to change the state’s slogan from “The Sunshine State” to “First in Fright”  (Take that, North Carolina).

*”Cocaine psychosis” is also known as “Drugs Gone Wild Syndrome,” which is the last step before you suffer a Charlie Sheen Embolism.

Slow Day Friday

Since nothing particular is catching my attention today (at least not yet), I thought it might be good to just take a cruise around this fine state and find some of the stranger/more obnoxious stories developing.

And.here.we.go:

Let’s start things off with this item (which has made list only because of the extreme journalism skills being employed in the headline): Rocket Launch at Cape Canaveral Could Ignite Florida’s Commercial Space Industry.  Did you see what they did there?  If not, go back and read it again.  It was so clever that you may have missed it.  Anyways, since the US government has apparently decided to just concede the moon to the Chinese by cutting funding for NASA, people on the Space Coast (Yes, that’s what it’s called here.  With straight faces) have been freaking out.

However, it is looking like the private space industry could really take off (See?  I can do it too) and provide employment for the thousands of engineers and contractors who have been employed by NASA and other entities for the last forty years.  Plus, since these are private companies, we can finally get away from all of the safety “regulations” that were holding us back.  Flying cars, here we come!

And now from the “No-Shit-Sherlock” file: FLDOE Changes FCAT Scale After Poor Scores.  To summarize, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (or FCAT) is the standardized tests that all Florida students must take (and pass) to proceed to the next grade level.  For the past few years, people have been complaining that the tests were too easy.  This led to the state changing the grading criteria, which in turn resulted in a decrease of the number of students that passed this year.

To be exact, results show only 27% of fourth graders received a passing score of 4 or better, compared to 81% last year.  And now, of course, everyone is freaking out about the whole thing, as if no one realized that making the test harder would result in fewer kids passing.  It’s like the blind leading the blind here sometimes.  Anyways, they are now revising the grading scale AGAIN and will apply a special one-year exception to get the numbers up.  These kids are getting a head start here; I don’t think I learned about statistical manipulation until junior year of college.

By the way, is it time to leave ALL the kids behind yet?

From the same file, but on a national scale: Postal Service To Begin Closing Plants This Summer.  After posting somewhere around 20 consecutive quarters in the RED, SOMEONE finally has realized that the postal system might not be the most relevant/efficient system anymore.  That’s probably due to the fact that NO ONE MAILS SHIT ANYMORE.  This is because going to be post office is a pain in the neck and postage rates are plain larceny.  I bought a book of stamps a few years ago and I just now paid it off.  Oh, also the Internet may be contributing to this.  But I think that’s just a fad.  As soon as the commercial space industry takes flight (layup joke), we’ll probably all be teleporting our fan mail to the Chinese moonbase.

As a side note, this post is so technologically advanced that your primitive human spellcheck does not recognize the words “teleporting” or “moonbase.”  Pitiful humans.

Speaking of our top-notch Postal Squad: Ex-Postal Worker Says She’s Too Injured to Work, Discovered Running Boston Marathon.  Read the article, it’s basically the script for Rookie of the Year 2: Special Delivery.

This one is just sad, but it goes back to my previous post about people running churches out of houses.  FBI: Central Florida Evangelist Molested Girls.  I won’t get into the specifics, but I will say that if you don’t think that “En Fuego for Jesus” (On Fire for Jesus) is the greatest slogan ever, you need to get out less.

I also like the end of the video when the reporter asks the pastor’s wife what her husband is like and she replies that the reporter wouldn’t understand because he doesn’t have “the discernment from the Lord, and [he] need[s] to get [his] life right.”  In light of the charges facing him, as well as his haircut, I can’t really help but feel that her husband might have been a little low on discernment himself.  The video also features footage from some sort of dubstep concert they put on.  Wait for the beat to drop.

And finally, also cringeworthy: Flesh-Eating Bacteria Consumed Man’s Penis, Says Lawsuit.  I blame poor scheduling, since everyone knows that 2012 is the Year of the Flesh Eating Bacteria according to the Mayan Zodiac.  No word yet on when to expect the Year of Successful Penile Implants.

Let’s get the weekend going!

The Canvas Bags Are Particularly Symbolic

When I first moved to Florida a few years ago, canvas shopping bags were completely unheard of.  Well not conceptually, but using them.

I knew that stores in large cities like New York and DC were pushing for customers to bring their own bags to take home their purchased goods from their stores as a means of cutting down on non-biodegradable plastic bags (as a side note, more customers doing this would also save the retailer some money as well).  However, this trend had not yet taken hold here in Florida.

Sure, the bags were available for purchase, but nobody really seemed too keen on using them.  This was probably because doing so would be a sign that you were some dirty long-haired tree freak who was too busy believing the global warming agenda to support our troops.  Mentioning the fact that Europe has been using them for years with great success would probably be met with a real original (and mature) zinger like, “well, if you think Europe is so great, why don’t you just move there?”  It was better to let sleeping bags lie.

And so the bags sat on the shelves until something changed a few years ago: logos.

College logos to be specific.  That’s right, once the bags were blessed with University of Florida Gator heads and Florida State University Seminoles branding, they suddenly became a much more common sight at the grocery stores and in the parking lots.  With the additional branding, the bags went from being a socialist symbol to conversation piece (the conversation: “I-am-an-FSU-fan-and-screw-whatever-team-you like-because-the-Noles-are-the-single-greatest-program-of-all-time-AND-Jimbo-Fisher-is-the-second-coming-also-please-hurry-up-and-order-at-the-deli-I-am-in-a-hurry-thank-you.”).

If there’s one thing the canvas bags have taught us, it is that adding college logos can help you sell fucking ANYTHING in this state.  Seriously, take a spin through FSU’s online bookstore, where you can view all 45 GD (goddamn) pages.

Why is it possible to get a UF toothbrush?  So you can fight plaque “the Gator way.”

I feel like these gloves would be great attire for a frosty afternoon watching a football game at a stadium nicknamed “The Swamp.”  Yup, they seem very practical.

Also, who the hell thought these were a good idea?  (Haha, jorts!)

I am waiting for the guy that opens the first branded gas station here.   “Fill up like a Bull Gator today!  Come inside for a limited edition Tebow Virginal Foot Long (Now with extra Cheez!)”

Maybe I should design something actually useful, like a University of Miami-branded cyanide dispenser.

The Holy Land Experience

Let’s get something straight.  People in Florida love them some churchin’.

Whether it’s a completely rational, respected pastor threatening to burn religious texts like this guy, or some insane street preacher on a street corner in Orlando, people here just can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet salvation.

In fact, they love it so much that they are more than happy to help you have some too, whether you want it or not.  Drive around any town and you will see churches representing every denomination you can think of, and you will probably also see some that you had never thought of.  In fact, it’s not uncommon to see churches in residential neighborhoods being hosted in someone’s house.  Visions of the church scene from “Coming to America” spring to mind.

In addition to churchin’, Floridians love tourist dollars. So when the opportunity came along to combine the two, how could they possibly resist?

Enter, The Holy Land Experience.

Originally founded by Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish-born New Yorker who would later become a Baptist minister*, in the late 90’s, The Holy Land Experience is a Biblical-themed amusement park designed “to replicate the architecture and themes of 1st century Israel.”  Women, get those veils ready!

However, after a few years of poor ticket sales, the park was sold in 2007 to Trinity Broadcasting Network, an evangelical Christian television group run by the Crouch family, who also has offices located near the park.  TBN is the “third largest over-the-air television station group in the country, besting the station groups of CBS, FOX, and NBC, but behind Ion and Univision.”  No, you didn’t read that wrong.  TBN covers more ground (air?) than CBS, Fox, and NBC.  Who knew there were that many aerial antennas still in operation? What a country.

Almost immediately after purchasing the park, and in an act right out of the Old Testament, the Crouch’s restructured the board of directors, removing anyone without the last name “Crouch.”  Their next step was to lay off an estimated 100 employees.  Watch out, Herod, there’s a new sheriff in town!

It’s also probably worth mentioning at this point that their logo looks like an Ed Hardy print, because I feel like that’s somehow relevant.  Douchebags.

Also keep in mind that they preach the “Prosperity gospel” which is basically an updated version of the Indulgence system used by the Catholic church which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation.  Same shit, different name.  Douchebags, again.

Anyways, I drive by this awesome spectacle every day, and although I have not given in to the temptation to check it out myself  (Although at $40 for an adult day ticket, how much longer can I resist?).  The good news is that if I play my cards right, I won’t have to pay at all.  That’s because the park must offer free admission one day a year in order to maintain their tax-exempt status.  I’m not sure how that works, but that’s what I’ve always been told. They haven’t announced the day for 2012 yet, but I will keep my eyes open.

So speaking of taxes, TBN recently found themselves in a little bit of hot water locally when they attempted to file tax exempt status for two mansions they own in Windermere (Tiger Woods’ neighborhood) claiming the two residences as “parsonages,” or residences for religious ministers (in this case, members of the Crouch family who happen to be ministers).  However, because a parsonage must be the full-time residence for the pastor, and since the Crouch’s already own and reside in several homes in California (seen here, here, and here), their request was denied.

There is a God somewhere.

For additional reading on TBN, check out their Wikipedia page, which contains this gem: “TBN is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or any official financial oversight group; Paul Crouch and his family—as members of TBN’s executive board—control the network’s finances.”  There are some other goodies in the “Controversy” section.

* Seriously.