View from the Bridge: 49

by John Morrison


49: Shady Deals

Despite Milltown's growing reputation ("Isn't that where all the hippies went?"), it's barely more than a village in size. Not big enough, thank goodness, to have caught the eye of the acquisitive fast-food chains. Our sources of on-the-hoof eating - the Wok of Ages, the Kebab Take-away and a shoal of fish & chip shops - still maintain a sturdy independence. Nowhere in Milltown will you be asked: "Is that with fries?" Nowhere in Milltown will you have to reply: "No, thank you. I'm in full control of my faculties. If I'd wanted some chips, I'd have asked for them. Now get me my burger, you brazen young hussy, and be quick about it".

So it's quite a surprise when a stretch limousine arrives in town, and some big guys in suits get out. A crowd soon builds up: a big black car is quite a draw for Milltown folk who assume that a camper van painted with day-glo flowers still represents the height of motoring chic. And, outside of the embalming profession, such formal attire is quite a novelty in Milltown, where a more casual dress-code prevails.

The men are from Burger Chef Inc. They've come to see if Milltown is ready for their unremarkable fast-food fare, advertised with the sort of huge budget that immediately brands the product as thoroughly second-rate. If the food was any good, they could rely more on word-of-mouth recommendation ("Hey, had a Burger Chef burger today." "Any good?" "You bet..."). But it's crap, of course, so names and logos need to be implanted, with almost surgical precision - and hypnotic repetition - into our frontal lobes. It's a scary business. But what's scariest of all is that the unsmiling guys in the expensive suits actually seem to believe every word they say.

Our impressionable councillors are no match for the silver-tongued blandishments of a posse of marketing executives. A handful of unsubtle bribes (a free haircut here, a car-ride there, and a wad of Burger Chef 'two for the price of one' vouchers that expired last year) is all it takes to create a co-operative atmosphere in the planning department. It's depressing - for a dozen different reasons - to find that the price of Councillor Prattle's vote is just a badge with his name on it. Here in Milltown we can't even accept backhanders with any aplomb.

The wheels that grind so slowly for anyone wanting to put up a satellite dish are now spinning merrily, as the planning department discreetly rubber-stamps the application to install a branch of Burger Chef in Milltown. The plan depicts a gaudily-painted fast-food emporium, decked out in the primary colours that, like the burgers themselves, are designed to appeal primarily to the palate and attention span of a particularly hyperactive six-year-old.

Burger Chef's paint-by-numbers approach excludes skill and discretion from the cooking process. Instead of chefs they can hire unskilled, low-wage operatives who, by reading simple instructions and checking the glossy pictures on the wall, seldom go far wrong. Since plates have been dispensed with, even the dimmest of school-leavers can be trained to heap chips on a plastic tray.

Here in Milltown we are unaccustomed to the devious ways of big business. And any acquisitions executive worth his salt would regard the annexation of Milltown into his company's fast-food empire to be an easy morning's work. But the Burger Chef mafia haven't reckoned with Sky and her activist chums.

Our brave eco-warriors have already thwarted plans to build a supermarket on the outskirts of town, using a combination of tact, diplomacy and small-arms proficiency. They'd declared that a new supermarket would contribute further to to the rape of our precious countryside. When the company's lawyer retorted with counter accusations - that the countryside was "dressed provocatively" and "leading them on" - the supermarket plans collapsed into farce. Instead of yet another warehouse offering acres of retail therapy and mindless musak, the people of Milltown have a wildlife park, where the wildebeest can roam across the uninterrupted tundra of Sky's imagination.

Buoyed up by this success, our activists are eager for a new challenge. The men from Burger Chef have been warned.

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