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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meh Meal

Time for another tale of Little Mongo.

Once upon a time, specifically on a Monday, Little Mongo went to a wonderful place with magical creatures walked and talked and looked something like food. That place was McDonald’s. You see Little Mongo’s Daddy was a member of a service organization that held their meetings on Monday nights and that meant that sometimes Little Mongo got to go Mickey D’s as a treat.

We’d all pack up the family truckster, which at that time was a silver Maverick with black vinyl interior that flayed the skin from your arms and legs in the hot summers. It was complete with an AM radio with the push button presets that made you feel like you were at a vending machine. Still, it got us from point A to point B and at that time, car seats weren’t as required as they are today.

So, there we were at McDonald’s on Route 40 in Uniontown, which was just a couple of minutes away from the restaurant where the Big Mac was created. This McDonald’s, however, was not in a shopping plaza but right off the road main road in a row of three restaurants that made up what I liked to call the primary colors of fast food. McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Burger King all in a line. Further up the road there was a Wendy’s and Hardees, and a Rax, too. There’s a blast from the 80s. But I preferred McDonald’s over the others, even though the Pizza Hut had a cocktail cabinet version of Galaga which was pretty awesome. The two main reasons I chose the Golden Arches over the King or the Hut was that I could get a Happy Meal and sit on a train.

That’s right, in the main eating area of the restaurant there sat a group of seats fashioned into a locomotive and a number of cars, each with a table. The locomotive was a two seater with the table set up as the dashboard of the engine. Not content with sitting anywhere else, I immediately staked my claim to that engine seat and if circumstances [read: obscured visibility] permitted, I was willing to jack someone, Grand Theft Auto style from my seat. I hated facing backwards on that damn thing. Once I was seated and got my nice little cardboard box, with two holes cutout of the base of the arches for little fingers to carry, I was ready to nom nom nom that bad boy up. Life was good. And afterwards, we’d usually play a stupid trick on unsuspecting patrons as we would stack a ketchup packet or two beneath behind their front wheels. When they backed out it looked as if they ran over a small rodent.

If the weather was particularly nice we would go out into the playground area of the restaurant. Back when McDonald’s had their equipment outside and it was primarily made of metal instead of molded soft plastic. Our McDonald’s consisted of a few Fry Guy spring riders, a giant Grimace that you stood inside and just rocked back in forth as if you were a shake and he had just gulped and a Big Mac Climber. I mean Big Mac as in the character from the commercials. You know, the constable or Johnny Law of McDonald land. The thing consisted of a hole in his butt that had ladders. Climbing one ladder put you into his head which was open with metal bars that kept you from falling out. Now if you took another ladder you could end up inside his hat which had holes in it to look out. It was kind of like a sweatbox in a Georgia prison but it was still fun. Something that always troubled me about that Big Mac character, he was a horrible representation of law enforcement. The Hamburgler was always loose, the Fry Guys were always jacking other people’s fries and that Captain Crook character always stole a bunch of Filet-O-Fish and never did any time down at Gitmo.

In later years after I pretty much outgrew the playground equipment, they were removed and now most Playland’s as they are called are indoors. I’m sure there were some pretty horrific accidents that occurred at the hands of a huge metal hamburger that you could potentially fall out of onto the concrete. In fact a quick Google Street View of route 40 shows the horrible truth of my lost childhood. The McDonald’s no longer has the distinct shape it once had. Instead it is now an outdated glass box housing a Playland inside the restaurant. Worse yet, the Pizza Hut down the road is gone, leaving only an empty hut and sign out in the front of the parking lot. It’s a shame.

My interaction with McDonald’s nowadays is limited as I’ve grown up. I still try to eat there once in awhile and look forward to the Monopoly game in the fall, even though it is a rip. Of course, I eat way too many bad things as it is now that I’m into almost into the back nine of my 30s. I’m sure I’ve passed along some quips on my unhealthy love of the Baconator. But, living where I live, now, near the equally busy area around Route 30, I have loads of choices for fast food including the original fast food primary colors of Red/Yellow, Red/White, and Red/Blue/Yellow. But, now I have a two and a half year old who gets to enjoy the prefabricated plastic Playland in the newer McDonald’s Big Mac Museum.

Frankly, it was about time. The store that sat in the spot, previously was sorely outdated. It looked like a rogue Miami Subs mated with a Taco Bell producing the ugliest shades of pastels known to man with a speckled grey color for table tops. Now we have this huge McStarbucks looking thing with weird cushions and mosaic tiles and they have yet to get one of my orders right. But inside the automatic sliding doors lies a huge jungle gymonstrosity. My kid loves it. At first we took it easy letting her just climb around the bottom platforms under close supervision but since she turned two in July of 2009 we’ve loosened up the grip and she pretty much runs wild in there. I do get concerned over the older kids not having the ability to be aware of a smaller child in the area but that was quickly resolved as I witnessed my child taking out a kid twice her size on the slide when the older kid tried to climb the tube from the bottom. She can hold her own.

Gone are the days of the sharp metal chutes and ladders as well as the old train I used to pine for on Tuesday mornings. Now we have hip looking seats and backs like something out of a IKEA catalog. Another drastic change to the iconography of McDonald’s is the Happy Meal. I said before that it was customary to get a small cardboard box that contained a burger, fries and a toy. Growing up, the toy ranged from hot wheels to something tied to a popular movie, usually Disney. Now, the toys are not much more than cheap plastic and the presentation itself of a Happy Meal is in a paper bag instead of the box. I understand the need to be eco-friendly or reduce costs but come on, you could use recycled cardboard and tout yourself as green.

Sadly, my kid will grow up in a world where all of the greatest things about mass consumerism and 80s advertising will be replaced with this madness. In fact, I had a conversation about this with my wife as my kid threw a forearm at line jumper for the slide. Happy Meals aren’t the same, the playground equipment is different, and I bet that a guy like Jim Delligatti could not invent a revolutionary sandwich like the Big Mac in the corporate giant that is McDonald’s, today. Something like that would be constructed at the McLabs with scientists in white coats and no souls. The ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that built the backbone of corporate America has wrought with scoliosis which is corrupt and contrived. Big business goes after the little guy for using just the letters ‘MC’ in something, regardless of the intention to confuse trademark or not.

The world is passing out Meh Meals to our inner child and the toy inside is a lead paint based piece of crap from China called capitalism. I’m am SO NOT lovin’ it.

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