Growing up, we occasionally holed up in the corner of McDonald’s when someone’s cool mom dropped some bills on a deliciously greasy birthday party. There was usually a giant mural along the wall with all the McDonaldland characters living fantasy lives in their all-burgers-all-the-time world. If you were lucky, you might even have played on the McDonaldland playground equipment with some of these guys:
• The Hamburglar. He’s dressed in black-and-white striped prison garb so we know he just escaped from the slammer. Maybe he broke out after a couple days of tuna melts and grilled cheeses. Anyway, I’m guessing he’s going to get caught again because that raccoon eye patch, oversized red tie, and Jackie O retro sunhat isn’t a great disguise.
• Mayor McCheese. Even though his head is a giant, wobbly cheeseburger, this guy is as suave as they come. Just look at the top hat, diplomat’s sash, and fancy reading specs. I feel like this greasy politician (hey-ohhhhhh!) stumbled into the Happy Meal universe by accident. He should be at the opera or something.
• Ronald McDonald. Sadly, the red-haired clown was the most boring in the bunch. But then again, even though he looked like a hungover 30-year old in facepaint, he did inspire a generation of goths.
• Grimace. Everybody’s favorite, the purple giant played the lovable clumsy doofus of McDonaldland. Of course, in the original ads he had four arms, lived in a cave, and stole milkshakes. Just thinking about it gives me nightmares.
• Officer Big Mac. His giant two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun head prevents him from running fast enough through town to catch all the escaped convicts. That’s okay though, because his permanently frazzled eyebrows tell us he’s trying.
• Apple Pie Trees, Filet-O-Fish Lakes, and Hamburger Patches. In McDonaldland there were no beef processing plants, deep sea trawlers, or sugar kilns. Instead you just plucked hot hamburgers out of the patch, cast a line for Filets, and kicked the trunk of the Apple Pie Tree for dessert.
• Uncle O’Grimacey. Grimace’s Irish uncle visited in March and brought his delicious Shamrock Shakes with him. On another note, did anybody else ever wonder where Auntie O’Orangey was, because where did those delicious McArctic Orange shakes come from?
• Fry Guys. These guys were called Gobblins, Fry Guys, Fry Kids, Pac-Man Ghosts With Legs, or Rollerskating Pom Poms.
• Birdie the Early Bird. Poor Birdie was the only female in McDonaldland. She got out of bed early to tell us about the breakfast items. After that, I’m guessing she usually hit the pool hall or shooting range with Smurfette.
People, McDonaldland wasn’t a fictional place. No, it existed in the dimly-lit corner by the bathrooms and on the dangerous plastimold playground equipment in the parking lot.
It existed in the hearts and minds of kids everywhere because it was a place where we could be kids. Slam shots of orange drink, throw on some paper hats, play Pin the Arms on Grimace or Stack the Big Mac boxes, and scream as loud as you can. Then get bloated on sundaes, jump in the minivan, and smile a slow, sticky smile on the drive home.
Sure, maybe it was dangerous. Sure, maybe it wasn’t good for us.
But it sure was childhood.
And it sure was
Photos of kids in McDonald’s used with permission of Angela