My mistake, if you would call it that, was in waiting until Florida to eat my last Big Mac. The McDonald's I choose was just off the interstate, a clean, well-maintained operation run by senior citizens and teenagers, with a very present manager who believed that, for the woman who called wondering if she had left her purse there, the purse might still be there. It was that kind of place, but I didn't know that when I picked it. I had just decided that it was time.
There was a scare, a rumor, a few months ago that McDonald's was going to phase out the Big Mac, and while that was nothing but a fast food legend, it did put me in the mind of eating my last Big Mac.
This wasn't going to be a sacrifice or anything like that. At least 25 years have passed since the last time I ate a Big Mac. And but for the rare Egg McMuffin on a road trip, the last time I had been to a McDonald's for any reason had to have been at minimum at least a decade earlier. The many food perversions and general unhealthiness of the menu had pushed me in other directions long ago. Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me had done their jobs. I decided that the Mac was children's food, teenagers' food, and that no adult had any business ever eating another one. Except for one more, because I wanted that last one.
According to Wikipedia, the Big Mac was invented in Pittsburgh, PA in 1967 and was featured there for a year before it went national. I moved to Pittsburgh in 1967.
Today, it is hard to imagine the novelty, the audacity of the Big Mac. Two patties? A double-decker? A sauce besides ketchup? A paper collar to hold the towering sandwich in place? A sesame seed bun? Like the McRib that would follow, the Big Mac pushed the boundaries of what fast food could be, especially for a hick in a Pittsburgh suburb, and it had us, as children, eating things we wouldn't normally eat--like dill pickles.
Hamburgers were decades from their great makeover, quality ingredients and idiosyncratic additions (I almost ordered one in St. Petersburg last week that had peanut butter, bacon jam, and potato chips, among other things, on it) that make none of us blink at paying $12 or more for a beef patty on a bun. The Big Mac, when it came out, cost 45 cents, today about 6 times that.
Even as a teenager, a Big Mac was a treat, a splurge, a drift from the norm, and it was a legitimate alternative, for me, to Arby's or a baked Pittsburgh hoagie.
But the older I get, the grosser fast food becomes. But for the occasional Chick-Fil-A or the nostalgic Arby's, it falls into the category of "things I shouldn't do to my body." After all, there are much better-tasting things I shouldn't be doing.
The thought of a Big Mac, a flattened, mushy gunk of a sandwich oozing orange sauce, its middle layer of bun slogged from sopping up everything else, hard to hold and harder to set down for fear of its collapse was the epitome of my fast food disgust. But I wanted to close that chapter.
The McDonald's off I-75 in Venice is the slowest fast food place I've been in. I say that because, at late morning, with plenty of staff and very few customers, we all stood around waiting for our orders. There was even a "barista" of sorts, whipping up coffee drinks. Slowly. What I didn't realize is that, for whatever reason, this McDonald's was making food to order!
My last Big Mac, when I opened the lid, was perfectly-crafted--the three bun layers were perfectly aligned, the burgers and condiments centered on them. Even the lettuce was on the sandwich, not fallen along the sides. And the bun stood puffed and tall.
So I was doomed at the first bite. My last Big Mac tasted like a perfect mix of ingredients, and I could taste each one. It tasted like a quality burger, one that put more upscale places attempting to recreate the Big Mac to shame. It tasted like childhood, like high school, maybe even better than memory.
I disciplined myself not to eat all of it, and I will stick with my vow not to eat another one, but I am not sorry that I danced with the fast food devil this one last time. The French refer to sex as "the little death." This felt a bit like that. Adieu, Big Mac!