Ronald McDonald is dead. Long live Ronald McDonald.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the demolition of the McDonald’s on East-West Highway, which was so close to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High that it seemed like an annex to the school cafeteria. The suits at McDonald’s are being cagey about whether a new Mickey D’s will rise there or elsewhere in Bethesda — saying “we do have [an] opportunity [to] be a part of the retail component of the new building. We will continue to evaluate how best to be a part of the Bethesda community in the future” — but in the meantime, plenty of readers have memories of that specific fast-food joint.
Steve Jacobs said he and his B-CC buddies solved all the world’s problems while slumped in its booths, “including how to get Nixon out of the White House. [We] conceptually invented apple ice cream and cooked up plans for singing maudlin Christmas Carols outside General Hershey’s house (at the time the head of the Selective Service). What earnest whips we were, fueled by sugar highs from those milkshakes.”
For Barry Eisenberg, the Bethesda McDonald’s symbolized sanctuary denied. One night after a B-CC basketball game, he and a friend waited in the restaurant’s parking lot for their ride home.
“A group of rowdy guys drove by and yelled something indiscernible to our ears,” Barry wrote. “We yelled a jovial greeting back to them as their car continued down East-West Highway. Well, they came back and were looking to fight.”
Barry was chased and set upon by assailants wearing Peary High School letter jackets. “My friend? I hear him yell, ‘I’ll go get help at McDonald’s’ as he runs toward the safety of the Golden Arches. I wasn’t hurt badly.”
Ted Seale’s memory of that McDonald’s is from 1998 and involves his then-6-year-old daughter, Kathleen. Looking for a change from her regular order of McNuggets, Kathleen asked the cashier for a grilled-cheese sandwich. The woman said it was not on the menu.
But surely, Ted said, the basic ingredients were there. No dice. Wrote Ted: “My daughter looked up at me and produced the face that thousands of little girls make when they wish their fathers will make wrongs right for them.”
Ted scanned the menu and said, “She will have a cheeseburger, but hold the ketchup, mustard, onions and pickle. And hold the burger too.”
“So, cheeseburger, no burger?” the cashier responded.
And that’s what Kathleen got. “Today, a grilled cheese sandwich is available at every McDonald’s in the world,” wrote Ted. “It’s just not on the menu.”
Theodore Banks remembers the McDonald’s from the other side of the counter. He worked there in 1980 and 1981 while a student at Coolidge in the District. “It was my first job,” Theodore wrote. “I have so many fond memories of that place, the people I worked with and the customers I met, some of whom, believe it or not, I befriended. Every time I drove by the place I would proudly tell whoever I was riding with that I worked there.”
R.J. Eldridge remembers attending little-kid birthday parties there, where the highlight was a trip to the freezer. In high school, the highlight was throwing ketchup packets from the patio into the street and watching them get splattered by passing cars. “If only we had smartphones and Facebook,” R.J. wrote. “Imagine all the ketchup packets that would have been saved.”
Speaking of which, Heidi Simanek Smigocki’s 19-year-old daughter recently asked how Heidi kept in touch with friends in high school, seeing as no one had cellphones or computers back then.
“I told her that besides actually talking to friends on our house landline phone we used to meet up at the McDonald’s in Bethesda at night to find out where the parties were,” Heidi wrote. “Sometimes we would return to McDonald’s that same night to get a bite to eat, meet up with more friends to find out where the next party was. McDonald’s was our hub.”
Tomorrow: Readers remember other area high school hangouts.
The Bethesda McDonald’s will not be on the agenda at the seventh annual Montgomery County History Conference on Jan. 26 at the Johns Hopkins Montgomery County campus. Plenty of other stuff will be, though, from a look at how the county’s schools were desegregated to an overview of Civil War memorials in Montgomery County.
The cost is $40 before Friday ($45 for nonresidents, $20 for students; includes breakfast and lunch). For information and to register, go to www.montgomeryhistory.org.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.