Are you familiar with that fast food chain called McDonald’s®? There are at least a handful of them. You might have heard of it.
When I was a little girl, I LOVED McDonald’s. I loved the commercials. I loved Ronald and Grimace and the whole McDonaldland gang. I also loved the outdoor playground.
McDonald’s was magical.
I would beg my mom to go:
But she usually said no. She hated McDonald’s and thought it was gross. Her negativity wasn’t from a “fast-food is bad for you” standpoint (that standpoint was invented later) it was from a “this food is really disgusting” standpoint. She just didn’t like the food.
But every so often (only about once or twice a year, sniff) I would convince her to take me to McDonald’s.
I would get my happy meal and head out front to the most magical playground in the world. (Okay, the most magical playground in the tiny Wisconsin town we lived in – but that was my world then so it counts.)
Sigh. Remember the 80s? Everything was awesome and dangerous in the 80s. Like the metal play structures. The head-trapping burger jail! The knock-your-teeth-out Grimace bouncer! The 3rd-degree-burn metal curly slide! (not pictured but it is totally there, man) I loved this place.
But it also made me nervous.
I knew that the Hamburglar could make an appearance at any moment.
And he would steal my food.
I saw the commercials. I was familiar with his methods. I always secretly feared he would show up and lock me in the burger jail. Then he would run away with my happy meal muttering “robble robble”.
He scared the shit out of me.
So I always inhaled my food as fast as possible. To be safe.
Then I’d happily play on the structures until I got hurt badly enough to go home.
Let’s skip to the more recent past, shall we?
Six months ago…
My kids have never eaten at a McDonald’s. In fact, I don’t think I’ve eaten at one for about ten years.
It isn’t that we’ve avoided going there, it is just that there have always been better options available. Like In-N-Out Burger or Chipotle or even Wendy’s. Or eating paint chips from the side of the car.
We just haven’t been in a situation where we’ve decided to go.
We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with two hungry kids who also had to pee. The McDonald’s was an oasis in the center of nothing.
We park the car. Crappy Papa helps Crappy Baby unbuckle and get out of the car seat. I’m walking through the parking lot with Crappy Boy, who asks:
It occurs to me that they have never been to a McDonald’s!
I daydream about my own childhood experiences and realize that they are in for a magical experience! I start mentioning the characters:
And then I realize that McDonald’s doesn’t even use those characters anymore.
Now I’m really curious to see what they think of it, now that all the fun stuff is gone.
Is it really all gone? Not a single character anywhere?
Yep. Crappy Papa and I look all around the restaurant and can’t even find a single image of Ronald. The magic is gone.
They get happy meals. We sit down at a booth.
Crappy Baby picks up his apple juice box, points at a tiny photo of Ronald McDonald on it and says:
Bingo! Ronald McDonald! He found the one and only image of him.
Wait, he is a clown?
It has never registered in my mind that Ronald McDonald was a clown. He was such an iconic character that I saw him as only him. Not as a clown. I was clown blind.
Then I say this out loud. Big mistake. Crappy Papa teases me for the next five minutes with, “How could you not realize he was a clown? The white face? The big red shoes? You can’t get more clown than that.”
After he finishes, I stick up for Ronald. I try to explain to the kids that he isn’t a scary clown, that he is the mascot. That he helped kids when they were ice skating. He was one of my childhood friends! He isn’t scary!
Ronald is a good guy.
But Crappy Boy disagrees:
And Crappy Baby rejects his juice completely:
Crappy Papa and I are laughing our heads off across the table.
I start to explain more about how awesome Ronald and his pals used to be but then stop myself. Why am I trying to convince them that McDonald’s is awesome? What the hell am I doing? Shutting my mouth is what I’m doing.
Moments later, they are done. They inhaled their food so fast I couldn’t believe it:
Perhaps they were afraid the scary clown would show up?
We leave and forget all about it pretty much.
Time goes by.
Then one day we have plans to do something across town and we mention that we’ll go out to eat afterwards.
We weren’t thinking fast food, we were planning to go to a proper restaurant but the kids had another idea. A worse idea:
I tried to say “No, it’s gross.”
But I just couldn’t stop laughing.
Apparently, the magic is still there. Scary clown and all.
Listen. I know. Fast food is one of those dividing hot topics. Right up there with politics and toilet paper orientation. A few of you are thinking, “Oh no! We only eat healthy food! We would never go to McDonald’s! I can’t believe you did this.” While another few of you are thinking, “Oh no! We ate at McDonald’s today! Are you judging me?”
A. I don’t care what you eat.*
B. Still don’t.
*Cannibalists excluded. Because that is just plain wrong. Well, unless you are really hungry I guess.