Remembering the day as it presented itself: Driving down the highway road ebbing and flowing towards San Bernardino and leaving Big Bear Lake behind with To the 5 Boroughs in the background. My then-partner at the time and I having spent the day on the slopes when we decided to intermittently check out local art on our way back home. Harmlessly, this site popped up. Moderately on the way and already doing some self-educating on the Serrano People of Big Bear Valley, our interests were naturally peeked. It wasn’t until we arrived on the scene to our amazement what a complete barrage of oddities which make up and define the history of those famous “Golden Arches” -a place full of gaudy, weird Happy-Meal trinkets (cherished at one time or another from our childhood) adjacent Route 66 altars.
Having not been to San Bernardino per se in quite some time (give or take five years) I was feeling super green. This is in spite of recent events within the past few years surely doesn’t make it a beacon of halcyon affairs and clearly producing an edge of dystopian anxiety with Google Maps initially directing us to the wrong location –Pyrrho was pertinaciously testing us.
And he had every right to do so. Straight out of a JG Ballard novel, the scene was an epoch of decrepit mid-century once-esteemed establishments portraying the bygone era of 1950s affluence. Chipped and broken sidewalks, many closed mini strip malls accessorizng vacant parking lot panel lighting, running on out-of-date circuits and burnt out bulbs brought our illusory ideas of the iconic Route 66 grandiose persona back to reality. A sense of coming and going had clearly taken over.
Coming up on the location we drove right passed it. The distraction of the neighborhood and where the original McDonald’s converges is the last place you would expect. As we drove, I remember having flashbacks of this one time I was taking a Pacific Northwest road trip with a friend and briefly driving through Idaho…everything completely localized displaying mom-and-pop businesses ubiquitously without a trace of identifiable corporate America anywhere -showed parallels in this neighborhood. This sameness crystalized this idea of forgotten foreverness of preservation in neglect can be anywhere. Not just in these cinematic references to encountering a serial killer in the backroads of Texas or middle America. The spooky indigence was palpable, a place where the meaning of gentrification had yet to be measured.
There was no swaying the outcome at this point. The commitment was present and we were ready for what was on the other side of those doors. Once inside, the parallels of a claustrophobic shit show menagerie made itself completely transparent.
Not having much time to spare (hence we got there roughly fifteen minutes before closing) we surveyed meticulously. There was loads to take in. Looking back it was all a blur -minus the TY beanie baby stuffed animal toys that came in Happy-Meals (during my generational McDonald’s) and the international McDonald’s menu add-on items and variations really are all that I kept with me perennially. I was nonnegotiable in wanting to understand the infrastructure of this restaurant’s history at the time. Though take a look down below, its quite a perspective!
With the whole idea of McDonald’s as a mega-brand, corporatizing automation with fast-food service generating an income through franchising, its easy to jettison what it was originally intended to represent. And I had too abandoned what McDonald’s used to be, up until recently when I decided to give the biopic The Founder a viewing.
The film dug up the learned fainted memory of what happened to the McDonald’s brothers after Ray Kroc; in a historical white-washed film narrative nonetheless, (but would have that been American done any other way?) always calls into question American ethics. You decide. Believe me, with all those unwarranted sediments of opposition to McDonald’s as a fast-food joint, take it out on Ray Kroc not Dic and Mac. All-in-all, McDonald’s does feed 1% of the world’s population daily and has given generously to philanthropic organizations. The main calamity of this being associated with San Bernardino’s Wiki page as a point of reference is that its not listed under the California Historical Landmarks . This will cause strife in the near future as the owners could potentially face being priced out by developers as the housing market begins to shift towards the area in the coming years.
Because after all, this museum is postulate to the original principle of the McDonald’s brother vision, family and localization. Its in a unexpected place embellished with over-sized Looney Tunes statues and some random recognizable pop culture vehicles on the premises which creates an interesting pitstop on the iconic Route 66 tour just like stopping at the Cabazon Dinosaurs or Hadley’s for a date shake. Yeah, its a bit kitschy and the air smells stale but its quaint and is an amicable representation of familiarity and homely comfort. The most impressive aspect are the two giant murals covering both lengths of the building. In their attention to detail illuminating San Bernardino’s history and the other covering California’s collective history are worth checking out if ever in the area.
Hanging out after closing with sporadic sirens going off every other five minutes into the near distance captures this rare gem’s essence. With a change of heart, I support the original McDonald’s and its authentic creative self for being completely localized and strange.