McRib-Together

On 10/11/2010, McDonald’s announced on Twitter “Turns out we’re not good at keeping secrets. The rumors are true. McRib returns Nov. 2 for a limited time @McDonalds NATIONWIDE!”

My friend, last-name-and-goes-by Beckner, came up with an idea for a McRib flash mob on November 2nd. Then another friend of his, a guy named Monroe, coined it the “McRib-Together.” Beckner invited me to the McRib-Together and even suggested I document it for the blog. At first, I balked.

My friend Beckner is a cool guy, a fellow pop culture geek, rock and roll nerd, and regular asshole like myself, but I hesitated at the thought of hanging out with of bunch of sauce-stained people eating McRibs at McDonalds. And what would I even write about it? Here are some guys, many without girlfriends, eating McRibs?

But the truth was, I felt left out. The cult and the glory—the return of the McRib—alas, was not for me. I’m a vegetarian. In fact, I became a vegetarian as a result of the very McDonald’s where the McRib-Together was happening, where Beckner and I once worked together when we were teenagers. I cooked the meat, and seared it on industrial grills that filled the length of the kitchen. I watched the thin, runny, red grease pool and bubble on top of the burgers.

But what was worse was the smell. Some of us McDonald’s soldiers became immune to the smell of lingering hamburger meat—a smell of flesh that filled our pores and caked our uniforms—but I never could. I was too sensitive. At night, I dreamed in smells and the suffocating aroma of flesh. Over the years, my steps toward complete vegetarianism have been gradual, but I haven’t touched a hamburger since 1996, when I was just sixteen.

So I certainly wasn’t about to give the McRib a try. But something began to dawn on me. There was a simple brilliance in the idea of a McRib flash mob. I liked the idea of communality and good fellowship implied in the name, McRib-Together. I liked the knowing wink of the dash that joined these two words together. Even as a vegetarian, I could still get behind common ground and fellowship. I decided to show up. A vegetarian, crossing the divide. Election night in America. Let’s put aside our differences on November 2nd, and McRib, Together.

The McRib is an enigma. More legend than sandwich. More mystery than meat. Debuting in 1982, the McRib consisted of a ground pork patty, barbecue sauce, pickles and onions on a bleached bun. The elusive McRib was more of a specialty item than a menu staple found on select menus throughout the nation. Developing a cult following, fans found the McRib through word of mouth and luck, depending on your definition of luck. Later, the cult of the McRib joined up with the Internet when “McRib Locator” sites popped up online.

In the late 1990s, McDonald’s introduced the McRib Jr., but it was only to be a fleeting moment alongside the Arch Deluxe, the McLean, and the McDLT. In fact, the last time we saw the McRib on a nationwide roll out was 1994, sixteen years ago, as a tie-in for the live-action movie of The Flintstones. In 2005, McDonald’s took a page out of the Cher handbook, and launched a McRib Farewell Tour.

And now in 2010, out of the ash, slathered in red sauce, the McRib rises again.

The most beloved aspect of the McRib is not the limpy, strangely-colored meat or the disgusting globs of barbecue sauce—but is is the meat itself, molded to resemble weird fake animal bones. The flavor of the McRib has been described as an imitation of pulled pork, or perhaps an ode to the fabled Rib-a-Que of elementary school cafeteria lore.

People swear this thing is fantastic. But folks, if really you want to know, let me be the one to tell you. The McRib tastes like Yak. I’ve never eaten one. I’m just guessing. And I would be right.

I pulled up to the McDonald’s cautiously in my yellow Chevrolet. On a chilly night, the smell of the hamburger immediately cut through the ice air, a warm wind of beef emitting from the McDonald’s. I turned down the election results I was listening to on the radio. Predictions of a shift in power. A new way forward—or perhaps, I wondered, another step back. I shook my head. I zipped my jacket tighter.

I stepped into the McDonald’s, basked by the familiar glowering, fluorescent lights. A few other McRib-goers were already in line. The cashiers waited at their registers, amused, baffled, bored—all at once—by the random seven o’clock crowd on a Tuesday. The employees seemed taller and thicker than when I was fifteen. Everyone then seemed scrawny and gangly.

About twenty people showed up for the McRib-Together, and in the spirit of causing utter distress among the employees in the kitchen, they ordered multiple McRibs a piece. A wait quickly formed. We heard shouts of “five minutes on the McRib.” Another order. Another batch. “I need another McRib!” “Ten minutes on the McRib!”

There’s something about being a former fast food employee that hearing these things creates a sort of wistfulness. I’m fifteen again, back in the uniform again, back in the grill again. Back in the shit again.

Unfortunately for me, McDonald’s doesn’t have a single appetizing vegetarian option. Burger King has a not-bad veggie burger. Taco Bell can substitute beans on everything. Hell, if I’m desperate enough, Wendy’s has a baked potato. McDonald’s though, has nothing, unless you count the pre-made salad that’s been sitting in the walk-in refrigerator for three weeks. So I ordered a cheeseburger without the meat.

Mmmmm, I can hear you say. That’s dehydrated onions, mustard, ketchup, a pickle, and slice of room-temperature cheese on a bun. Yeah, I know. So I tried to liven that party up by adding lettuce. Got to get my five servings of vegetables in.

I couldn’t believe it when they handed me the receipt. They charged me a quarter. For lettuce.

But hey, this is what I deserved for ordering a prissy cheeseburger-less cheeseburger when everyone around me was consuming multiple McRibs. The guy at the table across from me ordered two, and even one for the road. A girl sitting at another table was experiencing her first. My friend Beckner was having his second McRib this week.

This is what I deserved.

Okay, actually I don’t think I deserved the most disgusting piece of lettuce, ever. But you know what? This wasn’t about me. This wasn’t even about the McRib.

It was about a dream. A dream that everyone can put aside our food snobbiness, and say hey, we can all agree that the fries aren’t that bad. If not a McRib, then let’s at least have a sundae. Or a pie. Or just a chat and coffee. A dream that one day a herbivore could sit across from a carnivore and enjoy a meal, together. A dream that Democrats and Republicans could set aside partisanship, and eat fast food, together. Most of all, it was a dream that on November 2nd, a small group of spirited people could take over a McDonald’s and McRib, Together.

One man even ate his tenth McRib, since this weekend. Some McDonald’s began selling the McRib a few days ago when they first got their shipments in. This man was Monroe, co-organizer of the McRib-Together, and he had already plowed through nine McRibs, anticipating the days leading up to the event. He seemed a little out of it. Who wouldn’t be after that many processed pork patties?

Now, I don’t usually post pictures of actual people on my blog. As a writer, I like to run this blog like a novel. These people I write about, myself included, belong to you in your imagination. Things like faces, voices, nuances are as vivid as you imagine them, like characters in a book. Seeing real life always ruins it a little bit.

But I have to break my rule. I had only just met this guy Monroe, but I already admired his absolute dedication. In fact, I admired his unselfconscious fearlessness. I mean, the guy was wearing a Twiztid shirt, a “hip hop” group like Insane Clown Posse where the dudes wear clown make-up. What is this? The 90s? And he was eating his tenth McRib.

Ladies and gentleman, this is the face of a man with resolute, sincere conviction. In what? I have no idea.

You simply have to salute it. Here is his tenth McRib, visually represented by a pyramid of others’ discarded McRib boxes. A McRib-a-mid. The feat is mind-blowing. Inspiring, disturbing. Artery-clogging.

Soon, all of the McRibs were devoured. The last fries were plucked out of the bottom of their oily containers. I took the last bite of my lettuce sandwich. And when it was over, after we had dug through our piles of processed pork and mountains of fries, the tray liner revealed to us a message, perhaps prophetic, and certainly poetic.

So much joy
needs extra
napkins
McRib

McRib-Together 2010 was a rousing success. We discussed the possibilities of an Egg Nog Shake-Together at Christmas, a Shamrock Shake reunion in March. But what went unsaid was what we all knew. The McRib-Together was a rare moment, a bright comet, and we might have to wait sixteen more years for another one.

With that, there is just one more thing for me to leave you with. A MCRIB EXTREME CLOSE UP. Notice the droplets of beading, oily fat. I hope you weren’t enjoying your lunch.

Anyone got a cigarette?