I don’t think McDonalds is even trying anymore.
We almost never went to McDonalds when I was a kid. “Those are not hamburgers,” my dad would insist. He felt they were hockey pucks, drink coasters, base-metal medallions, and any number of dark-colored flattish round objects, none of which qualified as hamburgers. Hamburgers in my dad’s estimation were thick, almost spherical objects, covered with toppings and containing within them any number of adventuresome ingredients the memory of which will to this day give my brother palpitations.
Go ahead, ask him about the “parmesan cheese” phase. I dare you.
On those occasions where we could prevail upon my dad to take us to a fast food burger joint, there were other, less noisome alternatives in the Philadelphia area.
I remember going to Roy Rogers a fair amount. Like its namesake, it was a cowboy-themed attraction. One of my earliest restaurant memories was sitting at a table in one of those establishments while my brother – nearly three years my junior – got to sit in the horse-shaped child seat with the tray attachment in the front. I suppose at some point I had been in one of those too, but it did seem an injustice at the time that I had grown too big for it.
As I recall some friends on the backstage crew of the high school theater made off with the wagon-shaped sign when they closed. I have no idea what they did with it – for all I know it’s still sitting in someone’s garage.
There’s a bank there now.
When Roy’s wasn’t feasible we would sometimes go to a chain called Gino’s, which had two accomplishments that made it memorable to me. One was that they were the first fast-food place in the area to have a salad bar, and if you think teenaged males can’t make a salad that is less healthy than anything else on a burger joint’s menu, think again. The other is that for a while their advertising people insisted on supplying everything in the restaurant with labels. The napkins were imprinted with the bright red word, “Napkin,” in case you couldn’t recognize it for what it was. Similarly, there were objects labeled “Straw,” “Cup,” “Hamburger,” “Fries,” and, I have no doubt, “Cash Register” and “Employee.”
Gino’s folded when I was in college, and now there’s a McDonalds there.
And thus the story comes full circle.
There were any number of McDonalds restaurants around the area when I was a kid, not going to any of them. They all had bright red signs with the standard yellow arches, and underneath the arches was a proud little caption advertising how many billions and billions of people had been served by the McDonalds chain.
It was always fun to see when the number would change. How would they know? Was there somebody counting? Who reported that information, and to whom? It just fascinated me to think that it was somebody’s job to keep track of that sort of thing and then direct the far-flung minions of the empire to change the sign from, say, 87 billion to 88 billion.
And when we’d drive by McDonalds that had different numbers on the sign, well. Somebody surely was in a heap of trouble over that, I thought.
But they don’t do that anymore.
Here in Our Little Town – a decent-sized place by Wisconsin standards, though a rounding error in Philadelphia – we have four McDonalds, none of which are in any danger of shutting down any time soon. When the girls were smaller we ate there quite a bit – predictable mediocrity being a comforting thing for small children – but they’ve kind of outgrown the place now and there are better fast food places in town when we’re in the mood for that sort of thing. So we tend to drive by them.
And you know what?
The signs just say, “Billions and billions served” now. There’s no number. Nobody’s keeping track. Nobody cares about accomplishments anymore. There’s just a vague and unsatisfying hand-wave in the direction of quantity, and that’s it.
They’re not even trying anymore.