back when a mc donald's apple pie cost P13

I utterly dislike McDonalds. Rotten Ronnie's. I hate the fatty menu, I hate the greasy smell it emanates, the poorly-maintained interior with the sticky tables, the screaming kids in the playground.

There was a time when I liked McDonalds - in fact I think I even loved it.

My first time at a McDonald's was at some kid's birthday party - I must have been in kindergarten or first grade then. I was introduced to pleasures called "playland" and "french fries". I remember thinking that kid's family must have been rich to afford such a treat. It wasn't known as a cheap, grease-food joint back then - when it was still new, it was a bit of a luxury. It was packaged as a semi-high-end family eatery, a fun, safe place for children.

In the early eighties, there were only three McDonald's branches. The one nearest us was the one in Greenhills. My uncle once took my cousins and I on a no-reason-at-all treat there; he bought us each a quarter pounder with cheese. It had an enormous, inflated Ronald McDonald sitting cross-legged on the roof, nodding to dumbly to guests and passersby. For little kids like us, it was a wonderland.

The quarter-pounder with cheese was my first love. I don't think I could ever finish one, but it tasted like heaven to me.

Quarter Pounders used to be more massive, and they looked like they could've really weighed a quarter pound. In fact everything used to be bigger - and had better quality. There also used to be a lot more lettuce in the Big Mac, and it wasn't all soggy (Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions in a sesame seed bun, I recall). The abomination known as burger McDo was not yet invented.

Happy Meals were a bit happier then. They were more substantial - a burger, fries and drink. They came in - not with - a colorful box with puzzles and games on it. The first Happy Meal "toy" I ever got was a flat Ronald hanging decor. The free toys used to be much simpler, but I didn't care much about the toys; the box in itself was fun.

I would look fondly at that McDonalds branch whenever we drove by on the way to the grocery. The scent of its food could be smelled meters away, and it beckoned to me. I often wished I was in there, eating a quarter pounder with cheese.

The novelty of McDonalds wore off as branches sprouted in different areas of the country. The food became more affordable as the menu was adjusted to fit the Pinoy crowd (e.g., the introduction of rice meals). Eventually it became known as a place for relatively cheap but yummy eats.

I was so excited when a new McDonalds branch was constructed near our school. I was in sixth grade then. It meant a potential hang-out and a place to drive-thru when I craved a cheeseburger. Its then-ultramodern structure veered away from the usual red-and-yellow-and-brown with the slanted roofs; it had blue mosaic tiles on the facade and a unique, streamlined, very '90s look. I spent a lot of hours there after classes (and even during school hours) with my friends. It was the easiest place to meet up, and the most affordable for a student budget.

That was where I had lunch and studied with a friend on exam day.
That was where we met up with the boys from the school next to ours.
That was where I saw a classmate in a then-fashionable tent dress and realized it should never be worn with jeans.
That was where I fake-kissed a guy- friend on a dare.
That was where I saw my crush give a cheap gold bracelet to a girl in the batch below mine.
That was where my dad dropped me off on too-early Saturday mornings when I had children's theater reharsals.
That was where my friends and I made fun of another friend who was then a rising child pop star by singing along to his song as it played on the radio.
That was where kids from the nearby schools experimented with cigarettes and got caught on cam by a concerned citizen who sent it to an ABS-CBN program.

I drove past that branch twice daily and I was teased by the aroma of hash browns in the morning and cheeseburger in the afternoon. Sometimes I would treat myself by driving thru for an apple pie.

An apple pie cost P13.oo when I was thirteen years old. Apple pies used to be a few inches bigger than they are now, and there were two varieties - plain, which came in a green box; and spicy, which came in red.

A budget-meal consisting of a cheeseburger, french fries and a medium Coke was only P25. When the burger McDo came out, you could buy it with a medium drink for only P16.

The double double cheese cheese burger burger was the new item.

There also used to be milkshakes (in every branch), and they came in sizes. A large strawberry milkshake was my weekend treat - until they phased it out in the mid-90s.

By the time I was a teenager, I started getting conscious of my weight and told myself I'd eat less - except on weekends when I hung out at McDonalds Greenbelt with some friends after church.

My pals and I were regular weekend fixtures at McDo Greenbelt. We'd walk about 2.5 km from church to continue our "fellowship" there. Aside from the fact that there weren't many places to eat then, it was the place our non-working status could afford to be at.

That was where we bonded while chatting on the elevated island table that used to be there.
That was where I discovered that fries went well with sundae.
That was where one of my best friends walked out on us so often until it no longer had any effect.
That was where we had a gross conversation, forgetting there were other people around, and this very angry mother walked up to us and gave a lecture (um, more of to me, because I was the one nearest her) for our appalling behavior that made them lose their appetite.

It was in the '90s when I noticed McDonald's began to be packaged as a barkada place. TV ads of attractive-looking teenagers were used for promo. I remember this particular ad where there was this group of four teens, three of them each bought a pack of fries while the fouth one couldn't because he was broke. What the other three did was dump all the fries on the paper tray sheet so everyone could dig in. I thought it was so cool because my friends and I used to do that when we were low on cash - buy some fries, pool them into one, grab some free ketchup, mayo, gravy and salt and voila, we had dinner!

The quality of McDonalds food and service plumetted to disappointing lows through the years. Even the formerly appealing hash brown aroma now stinks. Everything on the menu seemed to have shrunk - and I'm sure it's not because I'm bigger now.

As I grew into a working, earning adult who could afford to eat at decent restaurants, my appetite for any kind of fastfood has waned. There are a lot of other affordable-but-yummy places to eat at nowadays anyway, many of them better than Rotten Ronnie's. Just thinking about McDonald's makes me nauseous - ick gross gross gross I'm not going back there I wont be taking my children there. It's not nausea though - just nostalgia - when I think about those happy thoughts attached to the McDonald's that used to be ... and that grease and cholesterol I didn't mind before.
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