The mid-2010s held the hey-day of child-oriented fast food chains trying to cool-ify themselves and their marketing in an attempt to get adults to eat there voluntarily, perhaps because the United States’ birth rate was dropping and corporations knew their targeted clientele would grow out mascots soullessly staring them down every visit. Somewhere along the line, my beloved childhood McDonald’s location became victim to a brown-and-beige-clean-girl rebrand.I’m writing this as my final send-off to the place where I once loved picking up germs at.
Fuck you, McDonald’s; you will never be a cafe.
Of the 15 locations in Laredo, the location at the corner of Zapata Highway and Zacatecas Street was the last to be knocked down, and for the better part of a year I had held high hopes that it had fallen off the company’s radar and remain the way I’d grown to know and love. Alas, holding onto hope is like holding fistfuls of sand. By the end of the year, I saw devastating renovation signs that became the bane of my existence.
In 2016, the McDonald’s that held all my childhood joy was demolished, remodeled. I refused to step foot in it for 6 years.
Despite my family’s futile attempts to convince me that I was just being dramatic (like, hello, mom, have you met me?) I have remained certain this move was a personal slight directed at me. I know with every fiber in my being that McDonald’s choice to hold out on that specific location’s remodeling stemmed from the sadistic pleasure it derived from torturing me and creating strain on my fragile heart.
I have never made sense that a global conglomerate had the right to destroy the last existing piece of my childhood, taking along with it my baby steps, and the yellow plastic middle booth where I sat with my grandpa every Saturday morning when I wanted pancakes. Even if I could hold onto nothing else, when nowhere else in my life could help me hold on, I knew I could go back to that disgusting-ass play area and pretend I was still that little girl listening to my grandma and grandpa laugh as my cousins and I drowned our nuggets in ketchup and ran, bumping into everything, diving headfirst into our fun-tubes. Now, I can never be that little girl again. I will never exist in the same space with them again. I can’t go home.
I felt a piece of myself die the day I saw the “Now Open” sign, and I’ve been grieving the loss ever since.
Just a few weeks ago, I finally drove into that McDonald’s parking lot because the drive-thru line was short and I wondered: why do we have to be okay with everything meaningful in life being forgotten.
Is it the poet in me that wants to hold onto everything I’ve ever held in life way past its expiration date? Is that the point of being an artist, trying to hold onto a moment in time that mattered to us, or to someone, for as long as anyone will listen? Is this the reason why our grandparents always talk about about the latest person they once knew who died, or the fact that the abandoned building on San Bernardo used to be the Pelican’s Wharf, the same way I drive down that very street and comment on how that tile business next to the Bingo used to be the bar my grandpa liked to spend a portion of his night at when he would visit us on the weekends.
How long until I become like all those old people I used to make fun of, driving around town naming the history of every place I’ve ever set eyes on, telling my kids how that building on 359 used to be a gas station where I’d buy trail mix before visiting my family in Hebbronville as a child but now it’s some oil company’s office, and listing off the names of everyone I know who’s died, trying to hold onto all the memories that built me into my body; we’re all just walking ghosts of things that used to be that on the surface no one seems to remember or care about.
This longing, this ache to hold indefinitely, has always been a part of me; the way I cried when my uncle remodeled my grandparents’ house, my childhood home, and the betrayal I felt when I found a stranger’s handwritten note in a thrift shop book; the way everything seems to scream out at me: “I LOVE YOU. I’M LEAVING MYSELF IN ALL YOUR FAVORITE PLACES. PLEASE DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME,” and my world starts to crumble because nothing ever gets its happy ending because nothing ever stays, and I have to satiate myself with the fact that, at least, for whatever brief period of time, my hands were full.
At some point, memories have to be enough, but I don’t think I can ever forgive, as easily as I will probably forget, the theft of all the spaces which held pieces of me, frozen in time.
That day,I drove away with my frozen Coke and 10-piece combo because that’s all this McDonald’s has for me now.I have to make peace with knowing that this new sad-beige building will hold the baby steps and love and laughter of another little girl, a sad-beige seat she can point to and remember sitting there with her grandparents before running off into it’s sad-beige play area. My blessing is that this clean-girl McDonald’s gives her all the magic it shared with me, something precious to reminisce on for the remainder of her life. I just hope she’s less heartbroken about it than I am.
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