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.


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.