Monday, July 26, 2010

Burgers, Cars, Songs and Memories

We seem to have outgrown McDonald’s. Nobody really mourns this except Lauren.

When the girls were little we used to visit the golden arches a lot more than I had ever dreamed I would be able to do and still waddle away under my own power. This is because the folks at McDonald’s are not stupid. They are a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

Somewhere along the line they realized that their primary market was no longer teenagers – mercurial creatures always searching for something new and exciting – but small children and their parents. Small children seek what McD’s is best at (comfortable, familiar mediocrity) and parents are willing to indulge this if there is something in it for them, such as menu items with a little more pizzazz than just burgers. So they have salads and decent coffee for the grown-ups, Playland and chicken nuggets for the kids, and everyone is, if not happy, then at least satisfied.

But eventually one must move on, and while I do miss their buffalo sauce, I can’t say I really miss the experience overall.

We have graduated to Culvers for our fast food needs.

The food is better, for one thing, with fresh meat and real frozen custard for after. They also serve a great root beer that kept one of our English friends coming back for more. Apparently they don’t do root beer very well in the UK. Another business opportunity for you the enterprising reader to follow up on, and you’re welcome.

For another thing, they are a Wisconsin chain, so we feel patriotic – Wisconsinites could teach Texans a think or two about jingoism. One of the first things Kim told my parents after arriving in Philadelphia was that their toilet had been manufactured in Wisconsin. That, folks, is regional pride.

Our local Culvers also has an endless soundtrack of Top-40 hits of the Baby Boom Generation playing at all times when we are there.

This has become something of a game with Tabitha and Lauren. “How old is THIS one?” they ask me, and then they are amazed when I tell them. Kim is better at the specific years of specific songs, but I am good at the periods – whether a song is mid-50s, late-50s, early-60s, and so on.

“How do you know all this?” they ask. “I grew up with this stuff,” I answer.

When I was their age it wasn’t music, it was cars.

My dad was one of those 1950s teenagers who used to take cars apart and put them back together with his buddies for fun. He still loves those old cars. This is not an attribute that he passed down to me undiluted – the material world and I have serious issues with one another – but I do think those old cars are more interesting than I probably would have had I grown up as someone else’s son.

We’d be driving along and some cast-iron behemoth from Detroit’s golden age would zip by us and my dad would say, “That’s a 1954 Ford!” or “Look at that 1961 Chevy!” And my brother and I would just be agog. “How do you know all this?” we’d ask. “I grew up with this stuff,” he’d say.

It’s odd how memories get transmuted by time and circumstances, how the experience of dads and cars can be so much like the experience of kids and songs, a thousand miles and thirty-five years away.

I think I got the easier end of the deal, though. Cars come and cars go, but the 1950s are the only decade in human history that can be reliably identified by a bass line.

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