In San Francisco 2015, where anything artisan is revered and real estate is surreal, it’s no surprise that fast food restaurants are shutting their doors. But I still felt a wave of nostalgia when I discovered that this McDonald’s had closed. It had been years (decades!) since I’d been inside this particular Mickey D’s, but in my younger years this particular McDonald’s was associated with special times and treats.
When as a kid I would go for occasional weekend overnight stays with my dad, this McDonald’s was our first stop. My mother was extremely health-conscious and would never eat in a fast food restaurant, but with my dad’s limited cooking skills, eating out was the only option. And since neither of us had adventurous palates at the time, the all-American burger was our go-to meal. He’d leave me in the car in the parking lot go in and place our nearly identical orders: a Quarter Pounder with cheese, large fries, and a shake. (It’s hard to imagine a time when leaving your child in a car seemed like a good idea, especially knowing the neighborhood today.) Back at his Mission District flat we’d set up our meals on trays in front of his color television—another treat.(My mom and I didn’t have a TV until I got one as a birthday gift as a young teen.)
In the early 1980s, an upscale diner—Max’s Opera Cafe—opened directly across the street from this McDonald’s location. When I was older and independently mobile, I ate many meals with my dad there. By the time I was in my twenties, I enjoyed more variety in the kind of food I ordered and Max’s definitely provided that—in humungous portions. Being more diet-conscious now, I didn’t always order a burger paired with a milkshake but it was nice to know I had the option of reverting back to my childhood menu preferences.
This McDonald’s also featured in other fun food occasions. A few times a year, St. Brigid’s school offered a McDonald’s meal day. We didn’t have a cafeteria so this was a welcome departure from our ubiquitous bag lunches. We’d sign up and pay in advance and then eagerly wait for the special lunch date. The smell of the burgers steaming in their styrofoam containers wafted down the halls in advance of their delivery to our classrooms. The orders were always the same: a Quarter Pounder (with or without cheese), fries, and a soda. Since they didn’t offer shakes, mom allowed me to sugar-splurge with an “orange drink.”(Coke was absolutely verboten.) One time our McDonald’s Day coincided with St. Patrick’s Day so we had the option of getting their green milkshakes. But if chocolate wasn’t involved, I wasn’t interested (some things never change).
As an adolescent, I still indulged in fast food semi-regularly. My high school boyfriend preferred Burger King, but when I was on my own, I was a McDonald’s gal. One solo visit to this location stands out because it helped buffer a traumatic hair experience. In eighth grade I made the bad decision to try a home permanent on top of aggressive, non-professional bleaching. The hair on the crown of my head broke off, leaving an inch of fuzz surrounded by longer, fried-out strands and bangs. It was a terrible blow for my early teen ego and the principal at St. Brigid called me in to scream at me, accusing me of a deliberately executed “punk rocker” fashion statement. After a few months later, a woman taking my order at this same McDonald’s on Van Ness shockingly complimented my “cool hairstyle.” She gave me a glimmer of hope that I might be starting high school with hair that seemed edgy and cool and not horribly tragic.
The golden arches on Golden Gate lost their glory long ago. As with much of San Francisco’s Civic Center area, the locale became increasingly more run-down in the last couple of decades. In recent years, my main association with this McDonald’s was making sure to walk on the opposite side of Van Ness at night since it was a poorly lit block with lots of urban camping action. I don’t lament its passing since I am far more likely to enjoy Mac Sabbath than a Big Mac these days. I hope it might be replaced with something other than luxury condominiums (maybe actually affordable apartments?) but that would be as likely as McDonald’ s offering shakes made with organic milk, gourmet chocolate, and locally-sourced strawberries.