The pounding on the door to room 1141 at the Waldorf was too aggressive to be a maid, and I hadn't ordered room service.
"Who is it?"
I looked through the peephole to see three well-fed men in blue blazers.
"You don't look like security," I said through the door.
"We're McDonald's World Security Team, we know who you are and why you're here, now open up."
Most civilians confronted by McDonald's World Securiy Team might ask questions like, "Shouldn't you be out looking for the Hamburglar?" or "Were you deputized by Mayor McCheese?" As a Senior VP at PETA, however, I knew better. McDonald's once hired seven private dicks to scare a pair giving out leaflets showing the impact of Big Macs on animals, health, and the environment; the pair beat McDonald's in court but since then, vegan advocates have been on the lookout for awkward guards whose figurehead is a big scary clown.
One such guard had spotted me earlier as I inspected the Waldorf's ballroom, which was being readied for a dinner at which McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner would speak. Ever since McDonald's refused its own humane advisory board's call to switch to a method of chicken slaughter that spares the birds broken wings and legs and being scalded alive in de-feathering tanks, PETA has led a campaign featuring everything from lively protests with celebrities wearing "I'm hatin' it" t-shirts to a demented viral video with Martin Short and Andy Dick produced for Will Ferrell's FunnyOrDie.com.
But nothing seems to grab the company more than personal attention, so PETA members have appeared at company functions to push the point. I was such an uninvited guest at McDonald's franchisee convention in Tucson and was dragged from the podium. I suppose photos were circulated afterward, because when the man from the meat militia saw me at the Waldorf, he became animated. He trailed me from about ten feet across the gorgeous Deco lobby, and into two different elevators-even pretending to converse on his cell phone while others had hung up because there was no service. Finally, it was just the two of us getting off on the eleventh floor.
"Are you a guest?"
"Yes," I replied, waving my key. I learned the hard way to rent a room in the hotel where you're protesting. My pursuer stormed off, but I sensed there'd soon be others, so I decided to hit the fitness center and ponder my options. I was changing when the rapping on the door began.
"Mr. Mathews, we know you're in there!"
Their job was to intimidate me, but since I was in my underwear I made the impulsive decision to open the door and see who would be more nervous.
"How can I help?"
My agitated visitors averted their gaze to their shoes, down the hall, up to the fire sprinklers, anything but my tighty whities. Finally, the leader of the pack said we needed to speak and asked me to step into the hall.
"I'm not dressed for the hall, so please come in."
They looked around as if they expected to find a chicken costume or cans of red paint but all they saw was a clump of gym clothes on the bed.
"So, you know who I am, but what are your names?"
They shifted their weight and said nothing. Obviously, the special sauce recipe isn't the only secret at McDonald's.
"There's just one reason I ever invite a group of men whose names I don't know into my hotel room," I said, winking. "And I don't think you're here for that reason-or are you?" The oldest McGuard's face turned scarlet and quivered with anger, but the younger one laughed. Their captain said "alright" and wrote a name for me on a Waldorf note pad, along with the name of his boss, Dennis Quiles, who Google informs me was named by Security magazine as the #1 foodservice guard in 2009. I imagine he trained directly under Colonel Sanders.
"McDonald's will not tolerate any more disruptions. We have alerted hotel security and the police, and we're prepared to press charges," I was told.
We made some small talk, my visitors left, and I carried on to the gym feeling a bit deflated that I hadn't been able to turn the CEO's dinner into an Unhappy Meal. But I was still smiling; I knew my colleague Lindsay would have better luck the next morning in Cincinnati where she would suddenly grace the podium alongside McDonald's VP of Strategy Karen Wells at PNC Bank's Distinguished Speaker Series.
Dan Mathews is the author of Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir, now in paperback on Simon & Schuster/Atria Books