Relax, this has nothing to do with fast food employee wages, health, or even Morgan Spurlock.
I quit eating McDonald’s a great number or years ago, although I suffered a slight relapse in 2005 when I ate not only McDonald’s but I also everything in sight. But I would honestly wager I consumed something from McDonalds less than twice a year. Only in emergency situations, usually on a road trip and I am exhausted.
No, this has more to do with how it punctuates my childhood psyche.
Like most of my generation, I am a product of a broken home. It’s interesting they don’t use that phrase anymore. The only child of a middle marriage, I have a stepbrother I see weekly, a half brother I see a few times a year and a half sister I have no idea about.
But there was a time, most of my childhood when it was just me. Like many others, I was handed off for the monthly father visits at McDonald’s or a Friday evening similar to the film Bye Bye Love.
But not just any random McDonalds. This McDonalds. Commerce Georgia, Exit 149 off I-85. It is located almost precisely at the halfway point between Mauldin, South Carolina and Marietta, Georgia in both distance and time.
At first, it was the gas station, but in an era before cell phones, when there was a delay, the McDonalds made more sense. Especially if you were saddled with a borderline hyperactive, easily distracted and rather loud male child.
I remember the progression. Once there was an attempt at Arby’s but we quickly returned to the McDonalds. I remember it when it was first built. I remember when it was revamped to include an outdoor playground. I remember when it was revamped again with a railroad theme; complete with a molded plastic train you could sit in and eat. I remember when a giant hamster maze was put it, but by that time I was too big and too apathetic to play in such a world. Shortly after that, I moved in with my Dad and the McDonald’s exchange all but stopped.
Two years later my mother would move to Atlanta. 4 months later she was checked into the detox ward at Grady Memorial Hospital. A month after that, on April 1st she was dead from kidney failure.
But it was stuck in my psyche. Until I joined the Air Force in 1991, every trip to S.C would be punctuated with a stop in Commerce. Rarely at the McDonalds, but like Pavlov’s dog, on every trip I needed to stop there, for gas or snack or something. In 2007 I rode my BMW motorcycle from Montgomery Alabama to Mauldin. For no reason I stopped and topped my tank at the BP station there. It was mostly full and I spent all of $5 on gas, a coke and candy bar.
It’s a bustling town with the nearby Atlanta Dragway and now a very established series of outlet malls. Of course there are a ton of dining options, but McDonald’s, thatMcDonald’s, is still there.
This one has clearly been razed and rebuilt. This past week I was driving back from New Jersey, and all these years later, the urge struck me. So elected to look that 8 ft. monster in the eye and stop in.
So I eased my absurdly oversized RV toward the back, walked my dogs and stepped in. I almost ordered a Happy Meal in some sense of false nostalgia, but realized I had given that up long before the recommended age on the carton. I was always thin as I was growing up but before I was 8 it just wasn’t enough food. So I ordered a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a coke to go.
It was Monday, so I didn’t observe any children being handed from one parent to another under the guise of polite small talk, or just outright hate. I read that starting with my generation divorce rates are down because folks are marrying later in life and staying married longer. I, of course, also remember the vow I would never get divorced, A promise I, and all of my divorced peers made and failed. But I was blessed or cursed enough to avoid children.
It didn’t help much. I remember walking back from the courthouse in Plattsmouth Nebraska. My Ex didn’t even come back for the hearing. It wasn’t required and she was with her new fiancé’, and my former friend living in Pennsylvania.
I was actually dating an amazing woman that would become my wife; I was a few months from college graduation and a new career as an Air Force Officer and aviator. My life had never looked better and I had never felt worse.
It was McDonald’s all over. The product of a second marriage from two people married three times. Hopelessly romantic and irreparably broken I unceremoniously walked home after the final dissolution of my marriage feeling like a failure. You can’t help but feel like a failure after divorce. There is something wrong with you, no one wants you, you don’t belong.
You can’t feel like you belong when you are a child of divorce. I recognize now that my childhood shaped me into the “free thinker” I am now. Which what my more polite supervisors would tell me in annual reviews when trying to get me to adjust to a more conventional problem-solving style. I am a black sheep in my family, but I have found a way to make that work.
It took a really long time, but I like me. Being able to honestly say that phrase has a value the perpetually confident will never know.
I felt hollow, worthless, and of no value. Much like contents of the rolled bag placed on the counter when the girl called my order number. The fries tasted like I remember. I ate them quickly because they are terrible when cold. Then I ate the burger and drank the coke. It settled in my stomach, it didn’t kill me, but it didn’t satisfy me and certainly wasn’t good for me. So even though I skipped the Happy Meal I came to a conclusion about this McDonald’s.
It is unfulfilling, unhealthy stuff, and I should leave it behind.
I pointed my RV south on 85 to my home in Atlanta. I scratched my dogs on the ear and set my cruise control.