During the day, the Bryan Center McDonald’s is frequented by upperclassmen too rushed to wait for Il Forno or first-years too low on food points to eat at the Skillet. But what happens after hours? I committed myself to finding out. 

10:15 p.m.

Fifteen minutes later than scheduled (there were puppies outside Kilgo and puppies are my weakness), I find myself situated in a corner booth facing a very empty McDonald’s. This time on a Saturday night, it’s too early for a Shooters crowd and too late for the lucky few who sleep a full eight hours—no one is waiting for nuggets yet. 

Thirty minutes later, one student extols the healing powers of nuggets.

“This has made me forget about the pain in my thumb,” he tells his friend, eating a single nugget out of a box of 20 before leaving. 

11 p.m.

No sign of life. It is me, my laptop and a bottle of cold brew. 

A quarter till midnight, a couple settles in at the booth across from me, fries and burgers in hand. 

“We’re just coming from a Shooters pregame,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of work, so we only did the pregame and are going to get some homework done now.” 

I ask if this is their pre-homework snack. 

“Yeah, straight to the library after this,” he said. 

Perkins closes in ten minutes. I wish them luck.

Midnight

A few minutes past midnight after getting evicted from Perkins, sophomores Lucy Dong, Nick Simmons—who is a member of The Chronicle's Editorial Board—and Maggie Wang sit down with some fries and a McFlurry to celebrate their friend Hal Lin’s birthday.

“We collectively decided McDonald’s when [Simmons] got hungry and offered either Pitchforks or McDonald’s,” Dong said. 

Though McDonald’s would not otherwise be a first choice for any of them, all agree that for a late night, cheap and fast is a priority. 

“The later it is, the less effort you put into maintaining your life,” Lin said. “McDonald’s is about as unhealthy it gets—and closer to Kilgo.” 

Senior Jesse Pollack and his first-years from pre-orientation program Project Search, including Brian Glucksman, huddle around a table, seeking a post-movie snack. After a late showing of "Thor: Ragnarok," Pollack and his first-years said they impulsively caught a C1 over to West Campus. Pollack bashfully admits he isn’t funding the first-years. 

“I need to conserve my own food points, you know?" he said. "They have plenty of food points.” 

Glucksman disagreed. “I’m actually out of food points already.” 

1 a.m.

By this point, even the menu displays have given up, their screens gone black with no explanation. While waiting for my small Dr. Pepper, I count nine security cameras at McDonald’s—three right over the ice cream machine. I can’t help but wonder why McDonald’s has more security than any of the dorms. 

In the last hour, a smattering of people have shown up, more than a few walking away with ice cream cones. I’ve made very little progress in my readings for Monday. 

There are far fewer inebriated students than I was expecting. I suspect they have taken their food points to Pitchforks, where they can get something a little more substantial, especially since this McDonald's is out of the buttermilk chicken tenders. 

1 a.m. (again)

There’s a moment of disorientation as I watch the time tick from 1:59 a.m. back to 1 a.m. It takes a few moments before I realize daylight saving time ended tonight. I rest assured that I have not completely lost my mind. The McDonald’s menu displays are back. 

Finally, I meet my first pair of post-Shooters students, one in a leather jacket and one in a dress. Rather inebriated, leather-jacket plops down next to me while her roommate goes to get food—including leather-jacket’s order of “ten nuggets with sweet and sour and buffalo and ranch.” They tell me they tried to go to an after-party in Chapel Hill, but could not get in and ended up at Shooters instead. “I’m pretty drunk,” leather-jacket says needlessly, setting her sleeve down in the ranch sauce.  

2 a.m.

I spy a few more people, likely post-Shooters, falling asleep while standing in line. Unclear whether they realize that they need to order to get their food.

Another pair sits down near me, saying they left Shooters a little early. 

“We’re actually going to Pitchforks after this,” she laughs. “But I couldn’t resist the nuggets.”  

The words in my textbook are slowly blurring out of focus, so I get up to stretch my legs and speak to Ashley Rorie, who has been a housekeeping specialist with facilities in the BC since August. She tells me that even though tonight has been fairly calm, nights of basketball rivalry games can get rowdy. 

“If it’s a game night, then they always crazy,” she said. “Once there was someone in the restroom intoxicated on the floor asleep on a night they lost the game. Security had to come. But it’s never aggressive, it’s calm. They just want something to eat."

Scrolling through her phone, sophomore Michelle Wong munches on a sandwich. She tells me she has spent her night studying and is now waiting for a friend, fulfilling their tradition of late-night McDonald's. She is the first person I’ve seen not eating nuggets, and she attributes it to a Round Table event. 

“We had an event at the beginning of the year where we ordered 250 nuggets for our entire rush class to eat,” she said. “I’m kind of sick of nuggets now. It was a very traumatic experience.” 

Wong’s friend arrives, reluctant to divulge how he made it from 300 Swift to the Bryan Center so quickly—especially since he lost his right contact lens. 

3 a.m.

Six hours later, I shuffle through the papers I meant to read, shoving them into my backpack. The seats around me are still empty, and a lone student waits for her food at McDonald’s. ESPN rumbles from the TV, interrupted by occasional beeps from behind the McDonald’s counter. The white noise is almost soothing.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned tonight, it’s that our very diverse student body is united by one thing: after midnight, Pitchforks is too far and fresh nuggets cure all ills.