Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Still Better Than Pauly Shore After 50 Years-April 18, 2005

Southern California has given a lot to the world. The “Police Academy” movies for example. And Pauly Shore. Don’t forget the OJ, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson trials. You won’t be surprised to learn that Monica Lewinski and Paris Hilton grew up in LA. It’s a decent bet that the expression “all that and a bag of chips” came from here too.

Sorry about all that.

This week, though, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of something from here that people actually like. Back in 1955, the McDonald brothers started a little burger stand in Monrovia, California called The Airdrome. A few years later, this morphed into a McDonalds restaurant, where the reliably hot burgers and crack-laced French fries had them lined up around the block.

Now, there are so many McDonald’s that the company has been thinking of building a moving sidewalk connecting them all. Even when I was a kid, the stores had an impressive running tally on their signs of the number of burgers McDonald’s had ever served. Store managers would dutifully climb a ladder every couple of weeks and change the number of billions served, but they only had two digits to work with. As McDonald’s got close to 100 billion, we all wondered what would happen. Would they just stop at 99? Would they add another digit? Or would the stars simply start going out in the night sky, one by one, as the world came to a strange end?

So then and now, it’s pretty obvious that people like McDonald’s. A lot of them. They go into McDonald’s all over the world for burgers, fries, and sodas the size of their heads. A Big Mac beats hunger like it talked trash about its mama. The shakes may or may not have any dairy products in them, but they’re still a very pleasant sugar delivery mechanism. And the fries? Dunked in hot oil not once but twice. What’s not to like?

Of course, some people claim not to enjoy McDonald’s. They find the food uninteresting or they resent the lack of healthy options. They’d much rather patronize a local business with some colorful and unique options instead of giving their money to the mega-corporation McDonald’s has become. They have principles and standards, which keep them away from the Golden Arches.

They’re also liars.

All of them, or at least the ones who’ve lived most of their lives in countries not run by a somebody they have to refer to as “Dear Leader,” have had at least one moment where McDonald’s was the most satisfying meal they could possibly imagine. Maybe it was a super late night at work and they wanted something to fill them up while watching “E.R.” before hitting the sack. Or it could be after four days of backpacking and living on canned tuna and jerky. That first sip of icy cold soda and the first few hot fries actually got them all choked up and emotional, they were so happy. No matter what they tell you, this has happened somewhere, sometime, when the thought of going to the vegetarian organic, homeopathic café run by the ex-hippie who’s also a kitchen contractor just wasn’t going to work.

And if there’s somebody who never had one of these moments, they’re probably in serious therapy, and should be. Hopefully, their doctor is advising them to spend less time angry at inanimate objects like burger restaurants and more time taking deep breaths between big bites of cheeseburger.

Now, no one’s suggesting McDonald’s is good for you and should be eaten everyday. Actually, I guess McDonald’s is kinda suggesting that, through commercials and by giving you the general impression that if you go eat there, you’ll probably break into song and make a bunch of new friends at the tables nearby. If they were being more honest, the commercials would center on apartments full of grown men spending all Saturday playing Madden Football and stuffing down burgers between plays. Or it would show a woman leaving work mid-afternoon to “run an errand” as she secretly hits the drive-thru and inhales a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in the car, dumps the incriminating McDonald’s bag in a public trash can and makes the walk of shame back up to the office.

But those aren’t the kind of images we need to think about on the Golden Anniversary of the Golden Arches. Let’s focus instead on the nostalgic picture of fresh-faced teenagers in the 50’s, wearing clean, crisp uniforms and those funny white hats. Non-threatening rock and roll plays in the background and these polite young people have smiles on their faces as they serve the rich-smelling fries and burgers.

MMMM. Burger.

I’ll be ending the column now. I have to go run an errand.


  • At April 27, 2005 at 8:13 PM, Anonymous MathMom said…

    All of them, or at least the ones who’ve lived most of their lives in countries not run by a somebody they have to refer to as “Dear Leader,” have had at least one moment where McDonald’s was the most satisfying meal they could possibly imagine.

    Yes! I've had one of those moments, actually, after spending a month in China, before KFC and Pepsi. Talk about a Big Mac Attack - after a month of eating duck's web, octopus, squid, and other things that taste like fried rubber bands, all I wanted was a Big Mac. And though I'd frequented McDonald's many times, I'd never actually had a Big Mac at that time. I had such a huge deficit of food I recognized that only massive quantities of whatever McDonald's had on offer was what I needed.

    Felt much better after eating it, too!


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