Featuring: Simmons, Todd, Kula, Balaban, Krafft, Skillman
Digital Photography: Agents Kula & Todd
DV Cam (hidden): Agent Kula
About a month ago, I was brainstorming a mission idea with a few friends called “Five Star Fast Food”. The idea was to deck out a fast food joint with all the trappings of a five star restaurant. There would be a Maitre D’ standing behind a podium asking for your reservation, a hostess to seat you, a waiter to take your order, and an attendant in the bathroom. The obvious problem with this idea is that it would very likely be shut down as soon as it begins. I decided to focus on the bathroom attendant aspect, figuring that we could last much longer in a secluded men’s room.
The next step was to pick the perfect restroom. The challenge here is that pretty much every fast food place in New York has a single occupancy bathroom, many of which require a key for entry. I needed to find a single-gender, multi-occupancy restroom. After spending about a week surveying various disgusting locations, I finally found what I needed in Times Square.
The Times Square McDonald’s
The Times Square McDonald’s is a sight to see. Its facade is made to look like a Broadway theatre; in fact, it’s adjacent to the Lion King. It’s three stories tall, has menus on flat-screen TVs, and movie projections on its walls. On the third floor in the very back corner, it has a very large men’s room with three urinals, two stalls, and four sinks.
The men’s room also conveniently had a “Diaper Changing Station” that would double as our amenities table.
The next step was to find our employee. My friend Todd Simmons worked as a professional bathroom attendant for three years in Manhattan. Obviously, he was the logical choice to play the part. His experience would enable him to be totally comfortable and natural throughout the mission. He knew all of the tricks of the trade.
I spent about $50 gathering supplies for the mission. I hit up K-Mart, Rite Aid, and various dollar stores for “travel-size” toiletries. Our attendant had it all: cologne, deodorant, mints, gum, dental floss, Tylenol, Advil, condoms, shaving cream, disposable razors, Q-tips, baby powder, Gold Bond, Band-Aids, cough drops, mouthwash, plastic cups, hair gel, Kleenex, and our crown jewel–a “Barbicide” canister filled with actual Barbicide and several combs. Our wares would be presented on two silver trays on top of a lace tablecloth.
We arrived at the McDonald’s at about 1:45 in the afternoon. We each ordered food and sat down at tables close to the bathrooms. There were two cops finishing up their meal just a few tables away. We figured the male cop would probably use the facilities before leaving, so we waited it out. We were correct; he took a quick trip to the men’s room and then left the scene. We sprang into action. Agent Simmons had a tuxedo concealed under his winter coat. Agent Todd carried a large K-Mart shopping bag with all of the supplies. Within two minutes our table was ready to go.
Agent Kula handled digital video and photography for this mission. He hid his DV camera inside a Kleenex box and pointed it towards the door. We were a little worried about the legal implications of covertly filming men of all ages in a bathroom. Agent Simmons carried a decoy tape in his pocket in case management discovered us and demanded our tape.
Our hidden camera is on the right
Agent Kula checks his camera
Agent Simmons prepares for his first customer
Agent Simmons stood in front of the automatic hand dryers, essentially blocking access to them. He was armed with a dispenser of antibacterial hand soap (much better than the pink industrial soap on the wall) and nice paper towels. If folks were going to wash their hands, they weren’t going to dry them without using our attendant.
Since our McDonald’s was located in Times Square, we received visitors from all over the world. Agent Simmons’ first customers were a group of British school boys, visiting the US on a school trip.
The first British boy
The first two boys to enter were terribly excited about the attendant. They cheerily washed their hands and both took peppermints on the way out
The boys dry their hands with our paper towels
Several IE Agents (Balaban, Krafft, Skillman, & Todd) were sitting just outside of the bathroom to observe the reactions of people as they left. The boys came running out of the bathroom anxious to report back to the rest of the group. “Heather!” one boy cried, “They’ve got a butler in the bathroom and he gave us sweets!”
The group’s chaperone made a trip to the bathroom to investigate the boys claims.
His accent was unbelievably thick, but it was clear he was delighted that there was someone in the room to “help the boys wash up”. He shook Agent Simmons’ hand, explaining “the kids are astonished because they don’t do this in England.”
Several more boys entered the bathroom to take part in the fun. The original boys returned twice to get more sweets, and then stood outside the door bragging to their female classmates.
Things quieted down for a bit after the British group left.
About ten minutes in to the mission, the first McDonald’s employee entered the room. His nametag read “Roman”, and he didn’t seem to speak very much English.
Agent Simmons’ approached Roman warmly. “Hey there. I’m Todd. I’m from Corporate McDonald’s. We’re trying out a new promotion today.” Roman quickly shuffled out of the bathroom with out speaking. He would return several times throughout the mission to sweep, ignoring Agent Simmons each time.
A man and his young child visited the bathroom. The father had to pick his son up so Agent Simmons could help him wash his hands. He tipped $1. Agent Simmons made it clear that tips were entirely optional and that his services were provided free of charge. He made small talk with everyone who entered the room, asking them where they were from, if they had seen a Broadway play, etc. He also peppered McDonald’s slogans in to his banter. “We’re lovin’ it today and we hope you are too.” “You deserve a break today.” “We like to see you smile, sir.”
The man pictured above was a tourist visiting from South Korea. He and Agent Simmons had a two minute conversation about the weather. “I always carry an umbrella because I hate rain,” the man said.
Two tourists from the land of New Jersey
The man above was seeking cold water, and was disappointed to hear that the faucets were only providing hot water today.
A second employee entered the bathroom, Rafael. He sweeps and leaves, giving Simmons a suspicious eye, but not responding to Simmons’ friendly banter.
The man pictured about spent over five minutes in the bathroom, brushing his teeth (he brought his own toothbrush and tooth paste). He turned out to be the CFO of Hitachi visiting from Japan.
He had just seen the Broadway musical “Mama Mia!” and gave Agent Simmons a brief review. “It was so-so. The songs were very clever, but that’s all. I like the ABBA songs, but the plot is very simple.” He went on to say that you can “see good musicals in Japan, but in the United States–especially New York–they’re fantastic.”
The young man pictured above was very curious. He asked Agent Simmons’, “This is a good paying job?” He then revealed that his step-father used to be a bathroom attendant in Brooklyn. As Agent Simmons shared a smile with him, a third employee began shouting from the door.
It was a female employee dressed the same as Roman and Rafael. She didn’t speak very much English either, so Agent Simmons had a hard time communicating with her. “Only muchachos,” he tried to explain. She responded, “Nobody else? I go in?” She waited until all of the men had exited the room and then came in to get a closer look at Agent Simmons’ setup. He tried to calm her, “We work together. Te llamo Evelyn?” She quickly left.
Many folks were kind enough to tip throughout the day. Agent Simmons made a total of $6.92.
The international theme continued as the day went on. Agent Simmons’ was visted by a group of Germans, a Russian gentleman, and a couple of guys from Yonkers, NY.
Agent Simmons attends to a Russian man
A German man wanted to know if Agent Simmons worked for McDonald’s or by himself. Once Simmons explained to him that it was a McDonald’s promotion, he decided, “I like the idea. Sounds good.” The bathroom got quite crowded at certain points. All in all, Agent Simmons helped around fifty customers.
Men waiting in line for an open urinal
Evelyn, the female employee, must have alerted the management. A gentleman wearing a tie entered just as Simmons was explaining the McDonald’s philosophy to a customer, “We don’t want to be a part of the same fast food culture as everyone else. McDonald’s is the biggest, the best, and this is Broadway!”
The manager enters
The manager didn’t know how to respond. He stuttered for a moment and finally burst out with “Y-Y-You don’t have any authorization to do this.”
“Yes, I do,” Simmons responded. “I’m Todd. I’m from the corporate office.”
The Manager shook his head and gave his name, Ted. “This is part of a special promotion. They didn’t send you a memo or a fax?”
Manager: I’ll call. They didn’t tell me anything about this. Lemme call.
Agent Simmons: We started in Akron, Ohio and the Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
Manager: You’re sure you’re in the right McDonald’s?
Agent Simmons: I hope so. I sure hope so!
Manager: No problem.
Manager Ted left the bathroom to place a call to corporate. We captured this entire exchange with the manager Ted on our hidden camera.
After the manager left, Agent Kula quickly swooped in and grabbed our hidden camera. We couldn’t risk losing our footage at this point. Agent Simmons remained in the bathroom and continued doing his job. The manager returned about five minutes later.
Manager: My regional manager hasn’t heard anything either. I can’t get in touch with corporate right now because it’s a Sunday.
Agent Simmons: You know, I told them it was a bad idea to do it on a Sunday for that very reason. Why not a Friday or Saturday?
Manager: You’re sure you got the right place?
Agent Simmons: Are there other McDonald’s in the city?
Manager: (shocked) Yeah.
Agent Simmons: Oh.
Manager: Maybe you meant to go to 34th Street?
Agent Simmons: Could be. That definitely sounds familiar.
Manager: Ok. Well I have a message in with corporate. Let’s wait and see what they say when they call back.
Ted left the bathroom again and waited at the other corner of the building for his return call. In the meantime, IE Agents swooped in and disassembled our table. We tossed everything back into our shopping bag.
We quickly left the McDonald’s without being noticed by the manager. The only evidence of our fun was the plastic bowl of peppermints we left behind.
Agent Simmons gave excellent service for nearly an hour in the Times Square McDonald’s. Almost everyone he encountered enthusiastically used his services, and many folks were kind enough to leave a tip. No one questioned Agent Simmon’s story the entire time. Even the manager convinced himself that this wasn’t a prank, but a simple misunderstanding. Surely we were just at the wrong McDonald’s.
It’s only in a camera-crazy tourist haven like New York that you can go into a public bathroom, snap photos of men standing at urinals, and not only will they NOT be angry, they’ll often take out their own camera and snap a pic of that same urinal, thinking, “Huh, this toilet must be famous.”
When I was asked to perform this mission I was intrigued. It sounded like a significant challenge. I had done the work before (as a professional restroom-attendant) in high-end nightclubs and expensive restaurants and they tend to come with a certain type of client. I’d never had the pleasure of working with a fast-food clientele.
McDonalds has been a mega-power in the corporate world as long as I can remember. One that does it their way. With their formula. Their uniforms. Their speed. It works for them and although they’ve seemingly adjusted to societal trends, to some extent, they don’t seem eager to fiddle with the cash cow, as it were. I couldn’t imagine they’d feel very comfortable with outside agents setting up shop within their castle walls.
Having paid my bills for several years as an actual restroom attendant I was curious to see if I still had my chops. “Agent Todd” hoped that I was up to the challenge. I’d always been forced to deal with a wide range of characters in my lavatory work at night clubs and restaurants in NYC and felt that I’d handled the curve balls fairly efficiently. Since “retiring” from the business to pursue other projects, I’d begun work on a one-man show that would explore the life and times of working in the restroom and I felt that another run at it would refresh my memory on the details. I quickly agreed to join the mission. It would be my first mission as an “IE Agent”.
I was not overly concerned with the “civilians” we’d encounter in the McDonalds men’s room. I knew I was a veteran of the trade. I could handle their needs, be it mouthwash, clean combs, or directions to the subway. No. It was the NYPD and the McDonalds management staff that had me concerned. I KNEW we’d be discovered in the toilet with our table of goods happily distributed at no charge (donations would be humbly accepted but by no means required). I was certain that their corporate regiment would make us vulnerable to inevitable confrontation.
It was simply a matter of time.
Upon entering the scene of the mission we paid for some food and headed upstairs to position #1. We sat down to eat. And that’s when we noticed the policewoman. And her partner. And the McDonalds custodial staff busily making their rounds with pan and broom.
It wasn’t going to be a cake-walk.
When the first wave of authority moved along we pounced. The various “agents” sprung into action and together we rigged the restroom with a camera and set up all of our attendant tools and goods on the diaper-changing table. In 3 minutes we were up and running and “open for business”.
And the people came. And they kept coming. English, Russian, Japanese, Korean, and New Jersey. Senior citizens and pre-pubescent boys. This was a blend I’d not yet contended with. These people had special needs. We only had hot water flowing from the taps as I feverishly distributed soap and towels. The room was hot. No real circulation flow. It felt like 90 degrees. And I was wearing a wool tuxedo. I couldn’t stop the perspiration.
Employee #1 entered. His name was Roman. He looked bemused as he swept out one of the stalls. I explained that we worked together now. He shuffled back to the restaurant.
A gaggle of English school boys entered and helped themselves to mints. Followed by their chaperone who came to make sure that I wasn’t some toilet pervert. They quickly recognized how professional our “operation” was and they washed up and left satisfied.
A CFO from Hitachi in Japan entered gave me a review of the Broadway musical “Mama Mia”, brushed his teeth, tipped me and left. And on it went.
McDonald’s employee #2 entered. Rafael. I introduced myself. He swept and left. Various “agents” entered the room and sequestered themselves in a stall to take notes.
A boy came in and told me his step-father is a restroom attendant in Brooklyn. I gave him soap and a towel.
I began to accumulate gratuities. I made it clear that McDonalds wants our customers to have the finest service and tips weren’t necessary. “We’re Lovin’ it and we hope you are TOO!” I don’t need the tips. I was nevertheless forced to accept them. In the end these tips would total $6.92.
Employee #3 knocked. And knocked again. It was a woman. I could sense the urgency in her voice. She’d been alerted. By Roman? By Rafael? Who knows? But she was outside the men’s room door and she wanted to enter to inspect it. I told her there were “only men in here”.
She waited until it was free of clients and entered with her broom. Her face was flush with suspicion and fear. I could sense she was worried about taking the fall on this one. “There’s a man in the restroom in a tuxedo and he appears to have set up a small business” That’s what I imagined she was thinking when she slipped out in a hurry.
Less than a minute later the manager entered. “You have no authorization to be in here”.
I said, “Didn’t you get a fax or memo from corporate?” He hadn’t heard a thing from corporate but he’d go call his regional manager. I said “My name is Todd and I think that’s a good idea”.
Agent Kula quickly entered after the manager’s departure and removed the camera to preserve our research. The manager returned with word from the regional manager. He didn’t know a thing about any authorizing of a tuxedo-clad restroom-attendant either. “There must be some misunderstanding. I’m sorry about the confusion but corporate will be able to clear it up”. He told me corporate is out of the office on Sundays. He left the room.
Agent Todd entered and gave me the clear out signal. Less than 3 minutes later we were on the street. I was relieved to be back out in the chilly February air.
In September of 2006, The McDonald’s Bathroom Attendant worked the men’s room at the IE 5th Anniversary Show:
See our Missions Page for the other 70 missions we’ve pulled off.