Monday, November 30, 2009

Parental Guidance Divested

Author's Note:  As the "new" Harrisonville McDonald's celebrates its 3rd anniversary, I thought it might be appropriate to pull this column out from the bowels of my hard drive. Unfortunately I haven't gotten any smarter or become a better parent since this column was first written. Oh well, enjoy!

Last summer, without explanation or consultation, the Harrisonville, Missouri McDonald’s fell victim to the wrecking ball—razed without explanation. Our world was suddenly not the same, and we feared for the stability of the food pyramid.

But as we stared at the barren concrete that had, at any given time, held more of our money than our bank, we were relieved to find the seeds of capitalism had already been replanted. A new, better, and more insulin-resistant restaurant would grow back on the same site later in November. And while November, in August, seemed as distant as now seems the return of Jim Talent to the Senate, we pressed on, resolute in our commitment to find other forms of food which was once chicken.

Summer yielded to fall and hope was kindled by rapid construction of new arches. Our anticipation ratcheted to a mighty crescendo when it was announced McDonald’s grand “re-opening” would be at 5:00 a.m. on November 16. Finally, we saw the fries at the end of the tunnel.

Then, in what was perhaps the greatest lapse of parental judgment ever documented in the history of arterial sclerosis, my wife and I (O.K just I) allowed our teenage son and daughter to camp out all night in advance of the 5:00 a.m. re-opening. I would like to admit that I was completely aware of what I was doing when I said “yes” to their request…so I will. In retrospect, I was blinded by the prospect of a year’s worth of Extra Value Meals to the first 200 customers.

Thoughts of free food helped me fall asleep but had no lasting value. At around 2:30 a.m., I awoke in a cold sweat and attempted to call my children on their phones. Neither answered. I feared the worst—they were in jail and the sheriff was on his way to arrest me for endangering the McRib mold. My fears were allayed when my teens returned my call to politely informed me my call had interrupted their drive-in DVD viewing.

The kids returned home at 6:30 a.m., and began to relate stories of deceit, desperation, and self-preservation, the likes of which had not been seen since last month’s elections. They told of a man who, after abandoning his pick-up in the drive-thru to find a bathroom, returned later only to find that thirty individuals had moved it halfway across the parking lot.

Apparently the vigil was attended by people of all ages. Second in line for the Drive-Thru was a 70-something woman who had apparently gone without coffee for three months. In front of her, first in line, a toddler had been hunkered down in the backseat of her mother’s car since 2:00 p.m. (I can imagine the counseling session sometime in late 2034: “But honey, think of the good times we shared…like when we sat huddled together in the new McDonald’s drive thru for 15 hours so you could be the first child in Mother’s Day Out to have a Sausage McGriddle.” )

So young, old, large, and soon-to-be large were united in near-freezing temperatures by one thing: A quest for saturated fat. It was reported this quest spawned a sense of camaraderie among the participants, a certain Esprit de Corps (French for “spirit of Lipitor”) which cemented a bond until about 3:30 a.m. when cars were vacated as lines formed around the doors. Then, at 4:55 a.m., depravity was unleashed in a massive offensive toward warmth.

The evening’s irony was the economic windfall to nearby businesses. Taco Bell handled more customers than ever (its drive-thru becoming a “walk-thru”). Dominoes Pizza boxes littered the parking lot, and the nearby C-Store reportedly ran out of soft drinks. The trickle down effect was textbook Reaganomics. In the end, however, it was McDonald’s who gave us yet another lesson in economic demand, or rather something I once heard about in my sleep called “pent-up demand.”

Later that day, I managed to get within a hundred yards of the new McDonald’s. I observed numerous new features, like a double drive-thru which enhances the speed and ease of testing tort reform after receiving a lapful of scalding coffee. The double drive-thru becomes equally perilous when funneling into one line for payment and food. Except for the gesturing, it’s easier to merge onto a Los Angeles freeway.

But long after the last Extra Value Meal certificates are exhausted, my children will have their memories. It’s fun to think that one day they’ll tell their children how Grandma and Grandpa once let them camp out all night when McDonald’s came back to town. Then they’ll all look at each other and ask in unison: “What….were they thinking?”

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