Strangely enough, I remember my first couple of stops at the Golden Arches, not because everyone was going there but because the whole McDonalds food-thing was so amazing: walk in, order, and bang! just like that a bag of food is in your hands, a burger or two and a bag of worms, all of it for a pittance. Instant grub. Seems to me those fries, like those first malnourished burgers, were just 15 cents.
Drive-ins weren't new--my sisters worked at one in the town down the road--but the "fast food" thing was amazing. My memory may be rusty, but you walked out of that northside McDonalds with a ton of stuff for a great deal less than you paid at Lloyds or Terry's or any of a dozen places where you could buy a butter-slathered burger on a hard roll.
McDonalds went to war with locals and mostly beat the tar out of them. Who wanted local stuff when you could get instant hamburgers on the cheap?
Besides, wherever you went in America, the burgers were the same cut of thin and fries the same kind of soggy. And always cheap. Way cheap. Always the same. Always exactly the same. You could count on MickeyDs to deliver--LA to NYC to Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
I was in high school. That means, in a backdrop of my own life, the whole McDonalds story is just a bit more than 50 years old.
But here's the news: they're not doing well. It's a mammoth operation, but those cheap burgers aren't moving down the chutes like they used to; sales are down, have been for some time.
Enough customers claimed to want it, so Mickey Ds switched to all-day breakfast menu not long ago, hoping to rekindle some of the old magic. But it didn't work. America's most famous hamburgers are a long way from belly-up, but the gangbuster days are history. Institutions die, just like we do, I guess. Got some extra bucks? You may want to invest elsewhere.
Sometimes it's a sad thing, but it's true--even institutions die.
But before you start to think we're only an afternoon away from the apocalypse, before you sign on to the Donald Trump vision of America that's three-quarters of the way down the tubes, consider this. What food experts claim is that McDonalds is fighting a whole new enemy, something almost unheard of because America is beginning to want their food to be local.
Local. You read that right.
Incredible. Not trucked in, not cooked in a flash.
You want to grab something to eat in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, these days, you might well drive right on past the Golden Arches--it's still there on the north side by the way, and there are more of them. But if you want to eat food from the neighborhood, if you and the rest of America want local food, stop at one of those old places and ask for a burger with the works.
They're what's happening--new life for old burgers.
Senior coffee at McDonalds is still the kind of bargain than draws the old gents, but if you want a real supper in Sheboygan, get yourself a brat on a hard roll and tell 'em not to hold the onions.
These days, that's cool.