the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

99 Billion Served


“God, inspire me,” I say as I look up at the stars in the night sky through the window inside McDonald’s, where I sit on the hard, bright yellow plastic bench typical of the fast-food chain, sipping my small, tepid coffee, which cost me only a dollar during a promotion running for the month of November.

God says nothing.

Cindi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” plays on the speakers, but I doubt this is God’s specific message for me.  Nowhere in the Torah have I ever read, “When the working day is done/ Girls – they want to have fun.”

A group of raucous black teenagers eat Big Macs and cheeseburgers at the next table.   Their dialogue about school is as sprinkled with vulgar obscenities as the salt is on their greasy fries.

I gaze out the window again, hoping for a sign.

And there it is — the McDonald’s sign.   Why did I not see it earlier?   It stands tall, in front of me, blocking my view of the stars and the moon like an urban redwood, or the massive monolith in the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey.”

There are words on this sign.  Words that are familiar to me.  And as a writer, I love words.

99 Billion Served.

Once upon a time, the first McDonald’s opened in San Bernardino, California, and they sold their first juicy patty to an eager teenager looking for a quick bite.  Through the years, this young business franchise journeyed throughout the world, and dominated China, Russia, and the Louvre cafeteria.

99 Billion Served.

What all-American man isn’t inspired by the guts and glory, the charisma and cojones — the manly domination — of McDonald’s?

If life is like a McDonald’s hamburger, then my potential is limitless.  There are new markets to conquer, new adventures.   I can add bacon to my burger.   How about living it up with TWO patties?    Or experimenting with a sesame seed bun?

I hear your message, oh sign.  Thank you, God.  I hear you and I understand.

“If you are loved, like a good hamburger, there is no stopping you from achieving your dreams!  You can grow and grow and grow, like Jack’s beanstalk, reaching into the clouds.  There is no status quo.    You can be “99 billion” in the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness lottery, rising and flourishing, bursting forth into the world, constantly reaching for more.”

Yes, I hear you!

“Where is McDonald’s now on the leader board?” I ask myself, stealing a phrase from the judges on Dancing with the Stars.   Is the company close to 100 Billion Served yet?

“Go for it, my friend!” I shout at a poster of Ronald McDonald.   “Will there be a special event planned?  Will coffee be 89 cents during a promotion?”

I go onto my iphone to read about the famed McDonald’s sign on Wikipedia, and my spirit sinks like a balloon-boy-less balloon.

An early-1970s McDonald’s sign in Austin, Minnesota, showing the number of burgers sold. From 1969, the number was displayed in billions, increasing with every 5 billion. When the total reached 100 billion in 1993, the signs of this era were changed to display 99 billion permanently, as there was only room for two digits.

Huh?  Only room for two digits?


So, McDonald’s just stopped changing the sign because there wasn’t enough room for another digit?  Is a major international corporation really so lazy and bloated that they can’t add one more slat into their famous sign so they can accurately portray how many burgers have been served?  Do they care anymore?  Are they just shoving food out of the drive-thru window without tallying up the sales?

I’m no design genius, but couldn’t McDonald’s create two cards that read “10” and “0” so it would read 100 billion and still only use two slats?  I could create these cards at Kinko’s for them myself… overnight!   I could probably even do this on my printer at home!   I understand fear of change — I still haven’t changed my original blog template and design — but there is a big difference between a lone unpaid blogger in Flushing and one of the most famous corporations in the world?

This McDonald’s sign, lit like a neon beacon, is a false Messiah, like so many before.   She is a sparkly whore.   This is not a sign from God, sent to inspire me to greatness.  “99 Billion” was a message from 1993, a crumbling reminder of  lost focus.  This sign is a fraud, a message of “no change,” the sluggish, slurring words of an overweight billionaire who lost any sense of pride, excitement, lust, or creativity 17 years ago, and now lives life like a pet hamster on his wheel, going in circles.

This is not the life I want to lead.  I will never look for inspiration in a fast food restaurant again.

I curse you, McDonald’s sign.  I curse you, God.  There are no messages tonight.


  1. lettergirl

    “There are no messages tonight.” Excellent. Change up your burger anyway.

  2. Phil

    If it helps, almost every sign I see now says “Billions and Billions served”.

  3. Heather

    I think you need to be mad at your phone. You were totally on a roll until you checked out wiki.

    Maybe God was telling you not to wiki anymore!?

  4. Loukia

    Oh, God. Now I am craving a Big Mac HUGE. 😉
    For a while, when I was an intern at CBS TV in D.C., I would eat McDonald’s almost every morning… I know, yuck. But I was convinced I’d do my Masters thesis on the wonders of McDonald’s… like, how, no matter where I went in the world, from Greece to Mexico, the fries tasted the same. And that? Is a beautiful thing. (Oops, that ‘beautiful thing’ is really from Harvey’s… “Harvey’s makes your hamburgers… a beautiful thing!” Okay… must… shut-up…)

  5. Finn

    It’s never boring in your mind, is it? 😉

  6. slouchy

    Oh my God. That is hilarious.

  7. Evan Malater

    Hmmm, I think 99 billion is more compelling than 100 billion because it suggests that there is still a drama, a story, ie. will they do it? 100 billion is like ok, ho hum. McDonalds is trying to tell you a truth greater than the literal truth itself, you must recondider everything. The line about girls just wanna have fun in the torah was lol funny by the way.

  8. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    I think God wants you serve 99 billion. And forgive 70 times 7.

    I’ve also noticed that God doesn’t speak when spoken too. He likes to initiate the conversaton. What’s up with that?

  9. Her Bad Mother

    If life is like a McDonald’s hamburger, then I want to know where my f’ing cheese is. Also, bacon. Where’s my bacon? WHERE?

  10. Deb on the Rocks

    Don’t give up on McDonalds. They just hit a midlife crisis, wondered if the endless increase of billions MATTERED anymore. This is a natural part of life. I’m in one myself. Sure, it’s not pretty to the outside world, but have faith, in McDonalds, in me, in yourself, in all of us will come out on the other side, better for our time in crisis. If only because the alternative sucks.

  11. headbang8

    Apparently there are now more Subway outlets than McDonalds. But McDonalds makes more money. That’s an inspiration, of sorts.

  12. Kelly

    Awesome post. Although, I haven’t trusted McDonalds since they covertly assassinated Mayor McCheese, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird, the Fry Kids and of course, the Hamburglar. These are people that will lie to you…they killed a Mayor and vigilantee’d a burger thief….bad people.

  13. maribeth

    How many burgers would it take for a digital McDonald’s sign to say “Overflow Exception”?

  14. Jack

    Neil- Just finished speaking with God. He apologized for being busy. Apparently Oprah is going out with a bang and he is scheduled as her final interview.

    As soon as he finishes he’ll be in touch.

  15. Ginny

    “I curse you, God.” Um, if you’re sitting in a McDonald’s next to foul-mouthed teens looking for inspiration? Clearly, God cursed you first 😉

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