Like most bad ideas, this one seemed reasonable at first. Kai, a young, rambunctious husky, needed his daily walk. I, a middle-aged, sedentary human, needed to walk him, but I also needed some motivation. Frankly, an hour spent being catapulted between every mailbox, street sign, and hydrant in the neighborhood isn’t as much fun as it sounds. To change things up a little, I decided we’d walk to a McDonald’s a mile away, share a burger lunch, and then walk back home.
McDonald’s would let a dog-walker order from the drive-through lane, right?
After being dragged a mile at breakneck speed by the canine equivalent of a wild horse, I was at last in front of the menu board of one of two McDonald’s drive-through lanes. I knocked on the video screen, spoke loudly into the speaker, and generally tried to get someone’s attention inside the building, to no avail — unless you count the curious looks from the drivers in the other lane, as they successfully placed their orders and drove through.
We will get burgers, I told Kai as I led him out of the way of more drivers. We backtracked to the side entrance, and I spied a trio of construction workers smoking post-lunch cigarettes around the end of a pickup truck. With my expert eye for sizing up a person’s character in 10 seconds, I determined that one of the men could reliably hold Kai on his leash while I ran inside and bought our lunch. The man was a little startled. “Will he bite me?” he asked warily.
That’s a good question, I said. I don’t think so, but I’ll be really fast, and I put the leash in his hand and hurried into McDonald’s. I’ll be right back, Kai, I called over my shoulder. Stay! Kai hasn’t yet been to obedience school and has no idea what that means, but it seemed appropriate to say.
The McDonald’s counter staff could have reasonably assumed I was there with bad intentions, because I kept a nervous watch through the windows while my order was being filled. Kai and the construction worker seemed to be getting along. Kai sat placidly on the pavement, the man holding his leash casually as he talked to his friends. So far, so good. I bought a separate bag of oatmeal cookies for my drafted dog-sitter, as thanks. When the counter clerk handed over the food, I dashed outside and relieved the construction worker, trading cookies for Kai.
The husky and I found a low wall of landscape blocks by the exit drive on which to stage a picnic. I sat on the wall and stripped Kai’s burger of the top bun, catsup, and pickles, offering him just the meat. Kai snapped up the treat, bounding with excitement. His special doggie water bottle comes with a trough, and I took it out of my pocket to offer him a drink. Glancing at the bun and wrapper on the ground, I was surprised to see that ants had swarmed the discards with astonishing speed. My ankle began to burn at the same time.
I had planted my foot in a fire ant nest.
Battalions of fire ants streamed over my shoe and sock, biting and stinging when they hit skin. Kai saw the unattended bun and dove for it, ants and all. I alternated trying to rip what was left of the bun out of his mouth while holding onto his leash and slapping madly at the ants attached to my ankle.
To escape the onslaught, I moved our picnic to a patch of concrete. My enthusiasm for this venture fading fast, I ate half of my burger and let Kai have the rest. Giving Kai a few fries for the road, I bagged the remains and led Kai to the garbage can in front of the restaurant. In a last-ditch effort to snag more fries, Kai stood on his hind legs and planted his big front feet on my shirt. I moved to dislodge him, but his claws caught on the elastic waist of my baggy walking shorts. As he dropped to the ground, Kai dragged my shorts with him, letting go around my knees. I stood in disbelief, depantsed in the plate glass window of McDonald’s during the height of a weekday lunch hour. My brain re-engaged after a few seconds that might as well have been half an hour, and I scrambled to haul up my shorts, tossed the trash, and turned Kai toward home. He launched like a rocket, but this time I didn’t mind the whiplash pace.
My face as red as the fire ant welts that now circle my ankle, I have decided: Dignity is overrated.