“Welcome to McDonald’s! What can I get for you this morning?” The chipper young female voice crackled through the tinny drive-through speaker, as Jim shifted his weight in the van’s driver seat, and leaned slightly towards his opened window.

“Four-Egga-Muffins-large-black-coffee.” It was the same thing he ordered every morning here, 5 days a week, 12 months a year, for three years now. He waited for the question that also came every morning.

“Cream and sugar for your coffee?”

“No. Black.”

A pause. Another crackle.  “$8.82 at the second window, please!”

Jim paid for his breakfast with a ten-dollar bill, tossed the change on the passenger seat with the bag of sandwiches, and sipped gingerly at his still-too-hot coffee. He pulled the van into the same open parking space in the strip mall lot facing the street, across from “Big Mama Cash” Pawn Shop, Nails For You, Battery World, and Happi Teriyaki. He opened the waxy yellow paper of the first Egg McMuffin and used it to hold on to the sandwich as he ate, listened to talk radio, and looked over his schedule for the day. Three years now he’d been working for Dan’s Cleanest Carpets. Later on in the day, he could be sure, he would be telling a frazzled mother that yes, of course, he could get the cat piss or the smoke smell out, which were lies. He’d accept a can of beer from an old guy with rust-colored shag laid down in the ‘70s, and overcharge him $30 for “spot removal.” He’d tell the man in the fancy McMansion that his carpets would be completely dry in a day, another lie. But he’d smile widely, shake their hands with both of his, thank them for their business because, as it said on the side of the van,  “We (heart) our customers! Since 1998!”

“Ohhhh, yesssss, 7:14AM,” Jim thought as he glanced up to the sidewalk to the attractive 30-ish Indian woman jogging by slowly, as she did every morning at this time, five days a week most weeks of the year, for three years. “Man, what I would do to that body!” he mused in his mind, as he opened the last sandwich. “Bitch is smokin’ hot.”

Rishima felt a sharp twinge in her left foot, cringed, but kept moving. Her podiatrist had long warned her that she needed to take a break from her relentless morning running schedule. Repeated stress fractures were unable to heal, he said, unless she stopped. Already her feet were showing signs of osteoarthritis – they ached all the time, even worse pain when she wore heels. She’d nod her head at her doctor, apologize profusely, ask for more pain meds and cortisone shots, swear she’d look into swimming as an exercise replacement. He’d frown, shake his head, give her the meds and shots anyway. Rishima never mentioned to him that she couldn’t stop running, any more than she could stop eating only salad and yogurt, stop taking five or six scalding hot showers a day, or stop herself firing housekeeper after housekeeper because the house was never clean enough.

She made a quick glance to her right at the white van. That creepy fat guy with the combover always stared at her while she ran past, and he always was eating something from the McDonald’s. “Disgusting,” she thought, every time.

A few jogged steps further down the sidewalk was another vehicle that always seemed to be in the parking lot, Rishima noted – a beat-up pickup truck with a listing, yellowed cab on the back. She suspected a migrant family was living in it, and reminded herself to be sure to phone the local police about it when she got home, after she showered.

The truck was filled with clothes, food and food wrappers, a box of diapers, tools, maps, blankets, and a portable radio. The truck radio had stopped working long ago. Listening to the Spanish-language news station in the front seat, Luis heard the baby starting to rustle in the back, where she had been sleeping next to his wife and 3-year-old daughter in the truck bed. They had been living in the parking lot for two months now, after coming north. The job Luis had been promised by his cousin Carlos had fallen through – too many eyes on the business, he said, since the new immigration law was passed.

He’d walk over to the Home Depot again today to try to get day jobs, but the cops were cruising by more and more. The truck had only a few miles of gas left in the tank, preciously saved for an emergency. Inez and the girls would walk over later to the community center to wash up, but there were eyes there, too.

Luis heard the light tapping on his window, as he had heard five mornings a week for nearly every day of the two months they had been living in the parking lot. “Ashley B.,” read the teenage girl’s McDonald’s name tag. The sharp early morning sunshine made her squint her eyes. She was always smiling, Luis noticed,  such a happy girl. As he rolled down the window, once again Ashley B. handed him two large bags of McDonald’s breakfast food, one filled with little bottles of milk for the girls that would last the day.

“Gracias, mi angel! Dios te bendiga,” Luis whispered to his young benefactor.

“No problem!” Ashley B. smiled, and returned to work.

Behind the McDonald’s by the big green dumpsters, as she took her first smoke break of the morning, Katie R. spoke to Ashley B. after watching her cross the parking lot.

“You’re going to get fired for that someday, you know.”

“No, I won’t. I’ll just have them deduct it from my check if anyone says anything about it.”

“Riiiight. I don’t think so. You’re stealing food. Instant ‘you’re history’ moment.”

“Don’t worry about it! I won’t get caught.”

“Whatever.” Katie B. took a long drag from her cigarette, flicked some ashes on the asphalt, and stepped on them, absently swiveling the bottom of her right shoe back and forth over them. “Did you see “Mr. Egga-Muffin” this morning? I swear he’s fatter and balder every week!”

The two girls giggled conspiratorially as Mr. Egga-Muffin pulled his van out onto the street, heading to the first clean of the day.