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Dispatch / August 12, 2009

McMansions for McDonalds

I’ve been thinking about sleaze and corruption lately. It’s hard not to. Out here in windy, sun-baked Victorville, underhanded swindles are about as common a sight as the tumbleweeds blowing around the Mojave Desert.

The biggest scam now is the revelation that the city of Victorville is probably going to end up paying $9 million to Goldman Sachs, and as much as $175 million to GE, after reneging on a crappily planned power plant project pushed on it by a huckster real estate development/energy company called Inland Group. This “friend” of the city spent half a million paying its staff, and another quarter mil to various people, for “legal services” on a project everyone knew was not going to happen. Now Victorville owes two big scary companies (both of which were bailed out by the government) more than its annual budget. Despite this, Inland Group is still here, advising Victorville on a few more projects, and all the local politicians love it. Campaign funds are getting harder to come by these days, after all. Now Inland Group is involved in plans to build a private train—called DesertXpress—connecting one stagnating nowhere to another: Las Vegas to Victorville.

Victorville City Council

In other news… in the nearby city of Spring Valley Lake, the richest part of the Victor Valley, a city board member stole an undisclosed—but large—amount of cash. And Victorville’s city council members have been getting questioned by a Grand Jury over potential conflicts of interest and shady bookkeeping practices that led to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of debt owed to just about everyone in California.

But there’s a different, more Eisenhower-era type of conspiratorial sleaze blooming in the desert, too. This sleaze is all about grease, as in fast food.

By my low-ball count, there are a minimum of 35 restaurants representing America’s biggest fast food chains here. Jack in the Box has five. McDonald’s has six. Burger King has four. Del Taco has six. Taco Bell has four. KFC has three. Carl’s Jr. has five. And Wendy’s has two. Might not sound like much, but for a city like Victorville, which has 104,00 people occupying an area of 72 square miles, it is.

Doing the math, I come up with 0.6 fast food restaurants for every square mile, or at least 1 fast food joint per 1.7 square miles. Breaking it down by population shows that every single fast food location services just under three thousand people (3,000 people/fast food)… And, like I said, my estimate is lowball to the extreme, and does not take into account good fast food joints like In-n-Out (there are two), and non-traditional/non-American franchises like Panda Express (of which there are at least two) and a whole lot of lesser-known joints like Sonic Burgers. Adding those up would easily get us closer to one fast food location per square mile, a statistic more in tune with the sheer number of fast food places I see occupying every major intersection around town.

But these numbers won’t say much without a comparative analysis. How does VV’s fast food density compare to other cities? For instance, Los Angeles? Let’s do the math:

LA has a population of about 3.9 million. According to McDonald’s website, there are 58 locations within the city of LA. Here’s the calculation:

3,900,000 people / 58 McD = 67, 241.48 people per McD

or

58 McD / 3,900,000 people = 0.0000148 McD per person

Here’s the equation for Victorville:

104,000 people / 6 McD = 17,333.33 people per McD

or

6 McD / 104,000 people = 0.0000577 McD per person

The data clearly shows a 1 to 4 ratio. Yep, Victorville’s per capita McDonald’s density is nearly quadruple that of Los Angeles.

So what does all this have to do with scams? Well, it has to do with McDonald’s pioneering business strategy.

“We are not basically in the food business. We are in the real estate business. The only reason we sell fifteen cent hamburgers is because they are the greatest producer of revenue from which our tenants can pay us our rent.”

—Harry J. Sonneborn, a McDonald’s executive

You heard him right. McDonald’s is a real estate company. Because of Sonneborn, McDonald’s made a decision early on to buy, not rent, all of the properties its franchises sat on. From then on, they didn’t just franchise their food and logo, they also franchised their real estate by charging exorbitant rent on their restaurants. According to some estimates, McDonald’s makes nearly 90% of its economic earnings off its real estate.

Driving around the cul-de-sac mazes of Victorville, I can’t help but wonder if suburb commuter cities like this one are another creative way for fast food monsters to get people to buy even more burgers so they can charge rent. Is Victorville just a cash farm to feed McDonald’s’ executives and shareholders?

Think about it. Companies like McDonald’s have all the incentives to create a society of commuters; they couldn’t ask for a better setup than Victorville. It’s a city crammed with suckers who spend their mornings and evenings glued to their car seats, listening to Jesus and Rush on the radio. A good chunk of them spend four hours each day commuting to and from work. That’s 20 hours a week, almost one full day! That does not leave them much time to hang out at home and prepare their meals. So for kids and parents alike, it’s off to Mickey-Dee’s or Jack in the Crack every morning and evening.

In a way, Victorville is like a Happy Meal experience for adults. Instead of a Ronald McDonald playpen and bright toys, Victorville residents were lured in with big flashy houses and the glorious myth of homeownership. Life in beefy homes was going to be fun and rewarding, but it was only available with constant purchases of beef burgers, fries and supersize colas. People came here for the starter homes and stayed for the fat.

And let me tell you, obesity is outta control in Victorville. You can see the morbidly overweight everywhere you turn. Even the strip club here, Roxy, the only strip club in town, is not immune. Its dancers look like Eric Cartmen in fishnet stockings; every girl in there could lose 50 lbs. and still be considered overweight.

Victorville’s pointless maze of cul-de-sacs and curvy streets lined with identical homes even looks like it belongs in a fast food joint, their disposable prefab and imitation Martha Stewart-inspired fake luxury is the architecture of a fast food society. The houses with two floors are the Big Macs; the single-story homes just plain ol’ hamburgers.

Fast food corporations pushing a drive-thru culture with drive-thru cities in order to sell drive-thru cuisine–the notion isn’t as out there as it seems. Car manufacturers and oil companies pushed hard to create an America that was good for their bottom line. They worked behind the scenes to take out all and any competition to the personal automobile and the combustible engine, killing trams and cable cars in cities while lobbying for federal funds for highway construction.

Fact is, automobile and fast food industries have a lot in common: they both owe their success to highways, plenty of taxpayer subsidies, and suburban land developments. But unlike cars, the fast food industry seems to thrive in harsh economic environments.

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A look at the price of McDonald’s stock shows that while the rest of the finacial market goes into a tailspin, it steadily inches skyward. In the past three years, McDonald’s stock has posted a 100% growth, while most of the stock market indexes dipped into the red. Yep, McDonald’s thrives on misery and poverty. And that means it thrives in Victorville.

Within walking distance of my house, a coffee shop/bakery recently closed down, and a strip mall down the street is empty except for a liquor store. Businesses are closing shop for good all over the city, but the fast food joints are expanding. On top of the Jack in the Box, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants located within a mile radius from me, a Panda Express with a drive-thru window has just opened up. They are taking over.

The other day, I was driving back from Roberto’s, the kick-ass 24-hour drive-through Mexican joint I haunt about five times a week, and passed a Jack in the Box that’s around the corner. It was just past midnight. The Jack in the Box’s drive-thru had about ten cars lining up to order, while the Mexican restaurant had none. A delicious vegetarian burrito, bulging with rice, beans, avocado, cheese, and all sorts of crunchy vegetables, was resting on the passenger seat next to me. And it only cost $3.00, as cheap as anything comparable Jack in the Box had to offer. Yet, these idiots were shunning it. In this kind of economy, Roberto’s was hanging on by a thread. It needed all the business it could get…

Maybe these people deserve whatever stroke or type II diabetes is coming their way. Or maybe their warped taste buds should be pitied. I don’t know. But what I do know is this: the day Roberto’s gets put out of business by Taco Bell is the day I abandon everything I can’t carry and get the hell out of here as fast as I can, muttering the wise and oft-repeated words of Mr. Kurtz: “The horror. The horror. Exterminate all the brutes!”

Would you like to know more? Check out the rest of Yasha Levine’s Victorville adventures…

This article first appeared on Vice’s blog

Yasha Levine is a McMansion inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.

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26 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. mike from Arlington  |  August 12th, 2009 at 9:45 am

    These stories remind us all of everything that is wrong with this country. Too bad you aren’t video taping all of this. This has the sounds of a Michael Moore style film.

  • 2. AJK  |  August 12th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Hey Yasha, do you have a link for the source for the Sonneborn quote? I don’t mean this as a “gotcha!” sort of thing, I’m just genuinely curious about the context and what else he said about fast food & real estate.

  • 3. Karel  |  August 12th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    The fake Robert Kiyusaki laso uses the DcD quote

  • 4. Rob  |  August 12th, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Reading articles like this on the eXiled always reminds me of Stendhal’s opinion of the Spaniards during the late Enlightenment:

    “The more a nation is behind the times, the more superiority.. is to be found among the twenty thousand or so patriots isolated in the midst of the riff-raff.

    I never meet one of these noble victims without being amazed at the prodigious effort his mind must have made to rise above the thoughtlessness and false values that have blunted the indomitable courage of the rest of the nation.”

    So in summation, I hope the French invade the USA to spread some Enlightenment values for you.

  • 5. Orville Wright  |  August 12th, 2009 at 11:40 am

    What ‘cul-de-sac maze’?

    Drill down on Gugl Urf until you get all the VV street names. Then buy a pole between 65-90 feet in length. When planning to transit from point A to point B, just draw a direct-route line on the Gugl Urf map. Call LA Center and Edwards Control in advance, then get a run with that pole, plant it in the sand, and LAUNCH.

    10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 … (just like in Terry Southern’s ‘Candy’) JACK OFF!

    You will soar like an eagle . . . might even be interviewed by a passing chopper.

    ‘Cul-de-sac mace’? The term don’t even apply.

  • 6. Sin Fronteras  |  August 12th, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    @5, It all looks much simpler from the sky.

    View Larger Map

  • 7. ibtrippen  |  August 12th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    @mike

    I think Yasha’s articles are generally better researched and more honest than Moore’s documentaries (like the “American History” lesson in “Bowling for Collumbine”, or the crime statistics in the same movie).

  • 8. Mr. Wiggles  |  August 12th, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks Yasha, this was a great post.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one dying to see a video at this point. Especially if it ends in a trip to the supersize-me strip club.

  • 9. Homer Erotic  |  August 12th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Saturated fat consumption isn’t necessarily bad. But when it’s consumed with a lot of sugar (sodas) and starchy carbs (french fries, cooked in trans-fats which are undoubtedly bad) so that it can’t be properly metabolized, it certainly will make people overweight. Another thing that makes fast-food meat unhealthy is all the processing it undergoes, which is probably why that guy who ate nothing but Mickey D’s for a whole month ended up getting liver damage.

  • 10. Will  |  August 12th, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    You’re fucking right on about Los Robertos. I just had a carne asada burrito from there, there was 1 car in front of me in the drive thru. I passed by Weinerschnitzel on the way home and saw that the line was actually backed up into 7th street, with one car holding up traffic as the driver tried to shoehorn himself into the parking lot. Fucking WEINERSCHNITZEL.

  • 11. Nicolai Ceske  |  August 13th, 2009 at 3:35 am

    People get what they deserve. Crap food, obesity, bad government, long commutes, violence, all that.

    If these fools that live such a ridiculous, unhealthy, disgusting lifstyle were any smarter they’d make the changes themselves. They do not change because they don’t see any of it as unjust or wrong. It just IS. And that lack of reasoning is sad.

    I’d like to see an article with Yasha confronting these morons about what a fucked up environment they choose to live in. It would be fascinating to see if they still have the synapses to question it or if they’re simply too dumb and programmed to internalize anything.

  • 12. subzero  |  August 13th, 2009 at 3:57 am

    What came first, greasy coorporations selling greasy food to greasy slobs; or greasy slobs demanding greasy food creating business-opportunities for greasy coorporations. What came first, the monkey or the banana? Who knows?

  • 13. MacGuffin  |  August 13th, 2009 at 8:58 am

    I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant with my son, but given the stats on small business failure in this country, I’d be an idiot to try to compete with the #3combo at BK. Never understood why people think corporate chains are so great when they effectively eliminate most opportunities for anyone to work for themselves. I’m sure Big Pharma likes the cul-de-sac mazes too, when the slobs need their daily doses of lipitor or plavix to degrease their circulatory system.

  • 14. I'm McLovin' it  |  August 13th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    @12, You are neglecting the role of Public Relations and Advertising. Generally the product or at least the idea of the product comes first. Then the desire or “need” for the product is branded or programmed in to the masses.

  • 15. Johnny  |  August 13th, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Pictures of the well-upholstered strippers or it’s not true.

  • 16. Antonio B.  |  August 13th, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Your citation is wrong. Bitch.

  • 17. adolphhitler  |  August 13th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    @15 right on johnny….i don’t believe for a minute that yasha has been in a strip club with goy dancers. i can hardly wait to see how yasha censors this but i know he will try as he believes in censorship as opposed to a free press

  • 18. typo  |  August 13th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Either Yasha’s English improved drastically or The Exiled can finally afford good editors now that it is on-line. Still need to check for typos more carefully (right after the graph): “… while the rest of the finacial market goes into a tailspin.”

  • 19. LoJ  |  August 13th, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    13. MacGuffin :

    You’re blaming you inability to own a business on fast food companies? What a whiner you are. You obviously lack the education and savvy to run any type of business.

    Just keep dreaming of your never-to-be-had business success. Many of us are doing just fine. You’re one of those chronic losers who always blames anything, and everything, else for your lowly station in life.

    There is a word for you: “PATHETIC.”

  • 20. captain america  |  August 13th, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    i actually buy the general gist of this article.

    still, what you gotta do, in victorville or elsewhere, is figure out how to beat the system. it isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

  • 21. Tam  |  August 14th, 2009 at 3:45 am

    I don’t often compliment the writers on this website because I feel being an obnoxious arsehole is more in keeping with the spirit of the exile, but this is fascinating stuff.

    Thanks for the brilliant reportage, Yasha. I never really have anything to say about your stuff because the evolving America you describe is so different from our perception of the US that we get in the UK that it almost reads like science fiction,(which isn’t a bad thing of course) but it has consistently been the best stuff on this website. It’s difficult to know if you’re describing a local trend or the future of the entire country but great stuff either way.

    And i want one of those vegetarian burrito. They sound delicious…

  • 22. Roll  |  August 14th, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    9. LoJ :
    Who’s “us” ?

  • 23. chrisv  |  August 15th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Good article, although I think it is a little too paranoid. I don’t think that the fast food companies somehow engineered suburban living, they just saw an opportunity and took it.

    BTW, I think I know why the fast food companies are so much more popular than your little taco place. One word — tv. I bet that most ppl just watch tv, do not really bother to explore the neighborhood, etc. So the possibility of going to your little mexican joint does not really enter their minds. Also there is a false belief in branding — that something you see advertised on TV must be better than a “no brand” product like a small taco place.

    The branding thing may actually be correct for many consumer goods, but it is damn wrong for most services. If you want to get a good deal on anything service related (and that goes from a restaurant to web design to accounting), make sure you go with the people that rely on word of mouth, not advertising.

    But unfortunately, a lot of people cannot figure this out because all their knowledge comes from tv.

    Well thankfully that is changing. People seem to be watching less tv nowadays. And here in LA, fast food franchises are not doing too hot. My local McDonalds is always empty, while cheap mexican and asian joints are prospering.

  • 24. aleke  |  August 16th, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Lookit all these commenters with false consciousness. Nazi Punks Fuck Off!

  • 25. Andrew  |  August 20th, 2009 at 1:09 am

    People are probably going for the fast food more right now because the sugar, fat, and big portios are giving them a legal, relatively cheap, high. A truly vegatarian burrito, particularly if its low on the sour cream and cheese won’t do the same thing. That and we’ve got a generation where being taken to McDonald’s was a reward for good behavior or a birthday treat in childhood.

    And yes Robert Kiyusaki related a smiliar statement from Ray Kroc in his book. McDonalds as a real estate company is well known.

  • 26. Mike Flugennock  |  August 20th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Holy shit, is that foto actually of the goddamn’ Victorville City Council chambers?

    Cripes, man, how can a beat-ass burg like Victorville, CA afford a city council chamber that looks like friggin’ Mission Control?

    Jayzus, can you imagine Jim Lovell calling home from Apollo 13? “Victorville, we have a problem…” Eurghh.


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