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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

50: A Good Time for the Great Taste

This week’s story is about a trip to McDonald’s. Now Mickey D’s is not known for contributing to our good health. But laughter is a great tonic, and when I re-read this old story, I got a good chuckle.

Personally I haven’t eaten anything from McDonald’s in about 14 years, ever since an overdose of MSG turned me into a shrieking banshee inside of 15 minutes. My four kids had the misfortune of being in the vehicle with me at the time.

But this other incident goes back a full 25 years, to when I still considered the Golden Arches to be a treat. At least it meant I didn’t have to cook. Are you old enough to remember when that jingle played on the radio? “You deserve a break today / So get out and get away / To McDonald’s / We do it all for you!" And then the tag: "A good time for the great taste of McDonald's!"

Here is the story, from February 1988:

It was a Saturday, sunny and cold. The mercury had settled out around minus 30º C. The air was clear, shimmery and sparkly as diamonds. We were headed for town as a family to do a much-needed grocery shopping.

It was one of those grim times in the life of the self-employed when Payables and Receivables were competing to see which could go higher without crashing; a time when Cash Flow was just a technical term in an accounting textbook. A cheque had come from somewhere, which we’d been able to cash personally, and I had also rummaged through all the coat pockets for any forgotten jingles.

The plan was to head for town by 9:30 or 10:00, get the shopping done, and be home in time for lunch. Heaven knows we couldn’t afford to eat out. But plans are one thing; execution another. The truck refused to start on this cold morning. It required an hour and a half of propane torches, stovepipes, methyl hydrate and so forth before we were finally rolling.

But finally, rolling we were: my husband, our sons (Ben, a long three, and Lindsay, not quite two), and I, eight months pregnant with our third. As we passed by McDonald’s, I noticed that Big Macs were on sale, two for the price of one.
“Hey,” said I, struck with my first great idea of the day, “let’s go to McDonald’s after we get the groceries.” I immediately had three agreeing votes. Our boys have understood about McDonald’s since almost before they understood anything else. Ben, long before he could talk, used to go all stiff and start to scream whenever we passed by there without turning in.

When I came out of Safeway, I had a second great idea. “Hey,” I said, “generic apple juice was only 79 cents a litre. Let’s just go through the Drive-Thru, get our burgers and a straw, and we’ll have our whole lunch for less than five bucks.”

Within minutes we were parked in the lot, unwrapping our burgers, passing our litre of juice back and forth. We had moved the boys from the back of the super-cab to sit between us. My husband, in anticipation of selling his truck, had just spent 80 precious dollars having the interior professionally cleaned. I wanted these burgers to stay under control.

It was a little cramped, elbow to elbow, four abreast, not to mention my soon-to-be-born baby resting awkwardly in my lap, but things went pretty smoothly for a couple of minutes. Then Lindsay started to squeal in frustration. As he had worked industriously at the front of his Big Mac, the meat patties had slid out the back. Now they lay on the floor in a little puddle of Super Sauce, the object of my little boy’s rage.

Deftly I scooped them up, got the whole kit re-assembled, and handed it back. With my clean hand, I groped for some of those extra napkins we had asked for.

I returned to my rapidly cooling McChicken, carefully fielding plummeting globules of mayo and wilting lettuce onto the napkin draped over my protruding stomach. Suddenly, for reasons known only to him, Lindsay squirmed sideways and reached for my clean coat with both greasy hands, one of which still clung to his half-eaten burger. I quickly pinned both wrists in one hand, grabbing for more napkins with the other. Meanwhile, Ben suddenly stood up and turned around to see something that was going on behind us. He was hastily straightened out by his father but not before leaving little mustard and ketchup tracks on the plush velour seat-back.

At once I realized I had broken out in a sweat. Excuse me, ladies: bloom. Little drops of bloom were springing out on my forehead below the edge of my wool hat. How could it be so hot in here when it was minus 30º outside the truck? Was it a rush of hormones brought on by Baby Number Three, in utero, or a direct influence from Numbers One and Two? It seemed there wasn’t enough oxygen in the truck for all of us. I fumbled frenetically at the window release and stuck my face out into the delicious bracing chill. As my head cleared, I became aware of Lindsay again, leaning way forward, intently working at something under the dash. I leaned down, too, to have a look. He was inserting the remaining half of his Big Mac into the tape deck.

It was then that I had my third and best idea of the day. “Let’s get out of here,” I said. As we mopped up and drove away, I pondered to myself just what would have happened if he had succeeded in pushing that burger all the way into the stereo set. As quickly as I asked the question, I knew the answer: it would have played “You Deserve a Break Today.”


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