Remembering the day as it presented itself: Driving down the highway, the road ebbs and flows towards San Bernardino leaving Big Bear Lake behind. To the 5 Boroughs by the Beasties plays in the background. Having spent the day on the slopes with my partner at the time, upon leaving we decided to check out the 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 that to our amazement, a complete barrage of oddities which make up and define the history of those famous “Golden Arches” emerged. A place full of gaudy, weird Happy-Meal trinkets (cherished at one time or another during childhood), the museum sits adjacent to Route 66 and survives as some sort of altar to the past.
In spite of nationally broadcasted events within the past few years that didn’t exactly make San Bernardino a beacon of halcyon affairs, I was feeling super green. I had not visited in quite some time (give or take five years), and the place clearly produced an edge of dystopian anxiety which was felt through Google Maps initially directing us to the wrong site location; it was obvious that 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 Chipped and broken sidewalks, closed mini strip malls accessorizing vacant parking lot panel lighting running on out-of-date circuits and burnt out bulbs, the scene brought our illusory ideas of Route 66’s iconic and grandiose persona back to reality. A sense of coming and going took over.
Coming up on the location we drove right passed it. The present neighborhood distracts from the original McDonald’s creating a beautiful juxtaposition converging on heightened real-time sensibilities and the birth of fast food history. As we drove, I remember having flashbacks to a Pacific Northwest road trip with a friend; we briefly passed through Idaho where everything was completely localized — mom-and-pop shops ubiquitous — and no trace of identifiable corporate America anywhere. The similarity crystalizes the idea of being forever forgotten and that preserving neglect can be found pretty much anywhere — not only in cinematic references to backroad serial killers in Texas or middle America — but here in California as well. The spooky indigence was palpable, a place where the meaning of gentrification had yet to be defined.
There was no swaying the outcome at this point. Our commitment was present and we were ready for whatever was going to meet us on the other side of those lackluster doors. Once inside, the claustrophobic shit show composed of a menagerie of items greeted us like a smack in the face.
Not having much time to spare (we got there roughly fifteen minutes before closing) we surveyed meticulously. There was simply too much to take in. Looking back it was all a blur minus the TY beanie baby stuffed animal toys that came in Happy-Meals (a favorite 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 non-negotiable in my desire to understand this restaurant’s (if you can call it that) history at the time. Though take a look down below, it’s quite a perspective!
Now the whole idea of McDonald’s as a mega-brand, corporatizing automation with fast-food service and generating income through franchising; It’s easy to jettison what it was originally intended to represent. And I too had 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 fainted memory of what happened to the McDonald’s brothers after Ray Kroc; even in a historical white-washed film narrative, (but would have that been American done any other way?), American ethics are called into question. You can decide for yourself who we are as a nation, but believe me, with all those warranted or unwarranted sediments of opposition to McDonald’s as a fast-food joint, please take it out on Ray Kroc not on 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 (sentence needs reworking) is that it’s not listed under as a California Historical Landmark. This will certainly cause strife in the near future when the owners are priced out by developers as the housing and gentrification seeps in..
Because after all, this museum is postulate to the original principle of the McDonald’s brothers’ vision, family and localization. It’s in a unexpected place, embellished with over-sized Looney Tunes statues and some random semi-recognizable pop culture vehicles and the scene 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, it’s a bit kitschy and the air smells stale but it’s a quaint and an amicable representation of both familiarity and homely comfort. Most impressive are the two giant murals covering both lengths of the building; their attention to detail illuminates San Bernardino’s and California’s history, and the other covering California’s collective history are worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.
Hanging out after closing with sporadic sirens going off every five minutes, the near distance capturing this rare gem’s essence. With a change of heart, I support the original McDonald’s and its genuinely creative self for being completely local and strangely simpleton.