Yes, sure, I realize that McDonald’s has breakfast regulars, and that breakfast is a meal whose delights are unfairly sequestered into the brisk, single-digit hours. But equally common is the McDonald’s near-miss breakfast. Hungover, lurching through the drive-thru at 10:25a.m. in search of cheap proteins; or skipping through glass doors with kids in tow, having succumbed to their big eyes; or meandering in to kill some time after arriving early for a client meeting in a strange part of town—only to discover that the lunch menus had cruelly flipped into place already.
Even when you wanted one, McDonald’s breakfast was withheld more often than it was supplied. Perhaps it was meant to be. Perhaps the dream of the Egg McMuffin is its truest payload, rather than its shaped meat and egg between English-muffin halves.
Writing in The Atlantic upon the announcement of McDondald’s all-day breakfast, Adam Chandler lamented the violation of well-established ritual. The 24/7 work world turns “morning” into “that time after whenever you woke up,” and all-day breakfast at McDonald’s only spreads a new layer of oil atop an already greasy period of precarity and overwork. “In demanding eternal breakfast,” Chandler mourns, “America is reverting to its adolescence.”
Perhaps so. But also, America is giving up McDonald’s breakfast as an indulgence meant mostly to be missed rather than savored. The Egg McMuffin and its brethren offered different sustenance—spiritual sustenance. Under the fluorescent lights inside its boxy chapel one discovered and not just endured but enjoyed the sensation of inaccessibility. Light door closing on its pneumatic hinge, coat unzipped, cold hands rubbing together, glasses fogging from the temperature change, accidental early birds enter McDonald’s for the anticipation itself. It might be on the way to or from a long drive or a dead-end job or a screaming child or a fouled-up marriage, but a dip into the quick-serve cathedral affirms that the universe is ultimately indifferent: “I’m sorry, sir, we’ve just stopped serving breakfast.”
But far from initiating nihilistic despair, this moment invokes an invitation to rise above it. No hash browns, but perhaps fries. No McMuffin, but a cheeseburger is good enough. It’s good enough! The world restores its gentle sufficiency. The man who just-misses McDonald’s breakfast is a commoner’s Samuel Beckett, trudging ever forward despite the intrinsic absurdity of a 10:30a.m. breakfast cutoff. I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
The great loss in a world of all-day McDonald’s breakfast is not just that of a giant corporation ceding to consumers’ unreasonable whims. That tragedy plays itself out all across commerce and industry, after all. A smaller, more specific misfortune befalls society in this new era of all-day McMuffins: the loss of that 20-minute window around 10:30 when breakfast both might and might not have been available, but it couldn’t be known without looking—Schrödinger's McMuffin. It was sought out to quell not physical but existential hunger.