I don’t know how long McDonald’s has had Happy Meals
available for kids, and I’m too lazy to even bother Googling that stuff, but my
guess is that the whole genius idea was born sometime back in the late '70s or
early '80s when I was a buck-tooth, baseball-card-collecting 7- or 8-year-old
Oh, what delight I used to get when my mom rolled our station
wagon up into the Mickey D’s lot. The scorching summer air would blow my bowl cut
around like wild wheat, my heart would palpitate at the very thought that my little brother and I were only mere seconds away from that flimsy little
cardboard box and that cheeseburger and fries — and best of all: the prize.
Going to the McDonald’s drive-thru was nothing but an act of
godless convenience for a single mom who was tired as hell from working all
day, but still, there was a lot of love involved in it all, too. My mom knew
how much a trip to the Golden Arches meant to us. We were working-class kids
who didn’t have a whole lot. To us, going out to eat meant ordering a pizza.
So going to get a Happy Meal was pure joy, man. We just
enjoyed every damn bit of it, from the moment my mom even mentioned it as a
remote possibility on the way to Little League practice, to the moments when the
dream became reality and we could actually feel the hot food warming our
thighs, that box finally resting in our hooligan laps.
These days, I take my own kids for Happy Meals once a week
or so. And I know what you’re probably thinking over there on your high
parenting horse, but whatever. I don’t care if the food isn’t any good for
kids. I really don’t.
I take my kids to get Happy Meals because I get off on the memories that come flooding back to me every time.
Hell, I’m not even sure I like the fact that they started
giving apple slices in Happy Meals. What kid wants apple slices from
McDonald’s? That’s like going to Las Vegas just so you can visit the library.
I take my kids to get Happy Meals because I get off on the
memories that come flooding back to me every time I make that slow easy U
around the back of the building and pull up slow to that giant menu board.
I get off on the flood of nostalgia I feel whenever I hear
some teenager’s voice crackling at me through the horrific intercom.
And I get off on just how much my kids freak out when they
finally have their Happy Meal boxes slapped down in their own laps, and I watch
them in my rearview as I take my first sip of dishwater McDonald’s coffee — they're like two
baby raccoons rooting around through the overstimulating dumpsters Dad just
bought them from a window in the middle of a high brick wall.
Magic and happiness and french fries that taste like
french-kissing the Messiah, those are things we shouldn’t take for granted in
this world, I don’t think. They don’t come around all that easy or often,
But when you do
know a way to plug into that certain kind of electricity, when you do know that
you can easily make a turn off of the main drag and slide your ride into a
parking lot and spend like eight bucks to make two kids freak out in the
backseat — even before the cholesterol that's about to hit their system hard in 10 minutes has even done its thing, then, the way I see it, you’re cheating the
universe of something really good when you just cruise on by and never stop at