By Andrew Blumetti
As if writing about Skippy from Family Ties and TGIF hasn’t dated me much so far, I’m certain the following will surely peg me as an ancient McNugget lovin’ dinosaur, cobwebs intact.
(insert semi-horrible Andy Rooney impression here… but without the messy desk)
With the seemingly never-ending onslaught of new-fangled gizmos and gadgets readily available today, every grade-school scamp is virtually a walking Best Buy store with a backpack. If an Apple a day keeps the doctor away, these tweens will live to be nearly a day short of one-hundred.
You have your fancy I-this and your spiffy I-that. Geez cheese Louise, they’re so tethered to their modern electronics, the only thing that you don’t see follow the “I” is “played outside after school with my friends“.
(end impression here.)
Now, I may only be a child of the 80’s— a simpler time of a feathery-haired Tony Danza, infinite cans of Aqua Net, and the gravity-defying locks of A Flock of Seagulls, but rest assured, it’s a cold, cold realization that smacks you square in the jaw when even my generation is starting to sound curmudgeonly.
Even in said decade, growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, there was a wealth of fun activities to occupy a young boy’s time on a sunny summer afternoon– endless games of stickball in the park, weaving in and out of local traffic on your bike, impressing the schoolgirls with the newest skateboarding tricks (or more specifically, “falling off a skateboard”), or perhaps a refreshing dip in a friend’s heavily-chlorined pool was the ideal way to spend your time.
Amongst all that classic-American fun in the sun, certain days really stood out amongst the others. Most specifically, being told that an afternoon trip to McDonald’s was being planned, simple as it sounds, now that was a reason to celebrate.
Sure, the sizzling golden fries were soaked in pure saturated happiness, and the Happy Meal box was filled with LEGO sets that were practically as good as gone by the time we got to the table, but going to Mickey-D’s included one other added attraction, one that wasn’t deep fried or dunked in honey mustard…
Sadly, most current McDonald’s locations don’t feature these outlandish relics anymore– A 4,000 square foot outdoor play-area, not much different than any standard cookie-cutter park playground, but decked-out in classic McDonald’s decor, all topped off with all the behavioral calmness of Lord of the Flies (or Fries?) on speed.
It was a barbarous marriage of the trippy universe of Willy Wonka and the happy-go-lucky freak show that was the advertising campaign of the Golden Arches… Metal slides, swings, and spinning rides that would get hotter than John Travolta’s spoon in Pulp Fiction on a summer day. A fantasy playland, covered in french fry smudge marks and more-than-occasional bratty kids in Bum Equipment t-shirts hogging every ride in sight. This madness was such a blast, it’d require multiple requests from exhausted parents to finally drag their surly kids to finally leave for home.
Fast forward to 2013, and finding a classic McDonald’s outdoor playground is quite the challenging task. Try as I might, I just can’t place my finger on the reason though…
Perhaps they became too costly to maintain? The cancellation of the McDonaldland promotion? Maybe McDonald’s brass considered any kind of exercise offensive?
….or perhaps the real reason McDonaldland Playgrounds ultimately went the way of the dodo is because sunshine-y nostalgic hindsight is clouding our vision of how Rob Zombie-ish that freaky place really was.
CHAPTER I: THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATER
A giant characterless purple blob that pre-dated Barney the Dinosaur. Yes, he literally pre-dated a freakin’ dinosaur.
The aptly-named Grimace was initially introduced as a nemesis to Ronald McDonald. Fast food head-hanchos realized that’s just the most incredibly stupid thing, and went with the slightly less stupid story that he has no story. Luckily his character was so crappy, no one seemed to care… but much like Freddy Kreuger, he would eventually have his revenge… ON YOUR CHILDREN.
In this ominous Buffalo Bill-esque prison, Grimace forced many innocent children put the lotion in the basket. How this thing is better than a real jail is beyond me.
“Thanks for eating our cheeseburgers kids. Now get inside this weird purple thing’s torso.”
CHAPTER II: JAILHOUSE CROCK
Apparently, the McDonald’s brain-trust figured nothing struck a chord with kids like jails, cause here was another one– “Officer Big Mac”, a big giant cheeseburger decked out in a nifty constable uniform who would one day be destined to become a torture pit for youths.
His main job was to pursue the Hamburglar, a ground beef-thief who decided it was wise to wear his prison stripes outside of prison and pilfer your cholesterol away from you.
After looking at this ominous death trap, one wouldn’t have to scratch their head too long to wonder why Officer Big Mac isn’t flashing his once-famous buns around anymore. Speaking as someone who isn’t crazy about heights or tight, enclosed spaces (the dirty, slippery, kid-crowded ladder inside this godforsaken thing was nothing short of a living nightmare straight out of Jacob’s Ladder), I avoided this hepatitis-covered abyss the way Neil Patrick Harris avoids women.
CHAPTER III: DAYLIGHT ROBBERY
Rumor has it there’s a deleted scene in the special edition of Saw IV that features this pupil-less Hamburglar’s rusted swings of death, but the MPAA deemed it was too disturbing to achieve an R-rating.
Just make sure to pour out your Dr. Pepper on the sidewalk as a tribute to all the fallen suburban homies who tragically faceplanted while getting off of this wretched thing.
CHAPTER IV: SOMETHING’S FISHY…
This underwater treasure was the thing you were forced to play on when everything more fun was being occupied. Yes, when standing inside the Grimace jail was too exciting, this became the last resort of the desperate fast food playgrounder.
Being a fish is a wild ride. It’s freedom personified… something we as humans will never be able to fully appreciate or relate to. You spend your entire life in the magnificent deep blue sea, travel in schools, and gracefully glide your vibrant scaly body amongst the endless coral, the flowing greenery, and the vivid rainbows that compose your fellow sea-brethren– it’s stunning peace and Studio-54-ish chaos all in one felt aquatic swoop.
Then one random day, you spy a tasty worm just ripe for the picking… the next thing you know, there’s a hook in your stupid cheek, and you end up a processed square patty with a slice of room-temperature cheese on you, stuck on a bun at McDonald’s to be sold in a pair for three bucks.
True, it’s not necessarily the most dignified fate, but man, imagine being the ride based on that sandwich?
Meet the “Filet-o-Fish” ride, a humdrum bouncy piece of junk that didn’t even bounce properly.
Look familiar? You may remember this weirdo as the chestbuster that burst out of Ripley’s stomach while your were nodding off at the end of Alien 3.
CHAPTER V: HOW BIZARRRRRRRRRRRE
No list of forgotten McDonald’s mascots would be complete without nefarious swashbuckler, Captain Crook, the one Mc-imbecile who actually wanted to ride the bouncy fish seat.
A two-bit pirate with a soft spot for both thievery and seafood, this seafaring counterpart to the Hamburglar was yet another immoral advertising idea who wanted to snag your salty food while your back was turned. That’s so absurd, even the Oakland Raiders mascot is pointing and laughing,
Of course, since the McDonaldland Playground was missing a slide, they kindly threw Crook a bone. If avoiding the child Mcvomit at the bottom wasn’t taxing enough, battling the derelicts walking up the slide the wrong way was nothing short of the final battle in 300.
Raise your hand if you’d have rather walked the plank into a sea of blood-thirsty sharks instead.
CHAPTER VI: “I BELIEVE I CAN FRY”
There’s a point when it’s painfully clear you’re just flat out of original ideas.
When Steve Urkel began cloning himself, we knew Family Matters was ready to mercifully be put down, or when Home Alone 3 hit theaters with an entire new cast, the planet shifted off axis as a nation simultaneously rolled their eyes at the offensive shark-jumping.
…and on that dubious note, I present to you, The Fry Guys.
Originally named “The Goblins”(cause they’re “gobblin’ up” your fries- hey, good one!), these are basically cheerleader pom-poms with volleyball-sized eyes that stare straight into your soul. So, basically all of the aspects of cheerleading and volleyball that don’t involve the attractive women.
Yes, this is starting to sound like a quite obvious pattern. Between the Hamburglar, Crook, and these walking Koosh balls, McDonald’s figured the most effective marketing method was to make you believe your recently-purchased food for would be stolen away from you by moronic mascots. Diagnosis: Mc-agita.
To McDonald’s credit, they created a playground ride that aptly matched the excitement of The Fry Guys.
Blumes note: No hands, yet they purchased shoes with laces instead of Velcro. Poor shopping choice, Fry Guys.
CHAPTER VII: SEE, I’M NOT A MONSTER, I’M JUST AHEAD OF THE CURVE
RONALD McDONALD’S CONFESSION LETTER:
To Whom It May Concern,
I, Ronald McDonald, or “Ron” as I wish to be called, hereby admit to the number of charges of being a colossal creep, even by clown standards.
First off, I am not even Scottish, it just rhymes with “Ronald”. Secondly, this is not my natural hair color, I have been hoping to score the part of Little Orphan Annie in an off-Broadway theatrical run of Annie.
Most importantly, I apologize for my maniacal thousand-yard stare, constant serial killer smile, and the fact you’ll see me in your sleep the way you heard creaks and squeaks for weeks following a viewing of Paranormal Activity. When the borderline psychotic Burger King king was still the second-most terrifying fast-food corporate spokesman, I know I did something wrong.
Oh yeah, I also killed Waldo and stole his shirt. He’s buried and decaying under the Hamburglar swing.
See you in your nightmares,
P.S.– I also peed in the all the McFlurry machines in Michigan.
Hey kid- If this is true, your dreams stink.