I wasn’t raised on fast food, and aside from an unending desire for pizza that continues to this day, I never found myself fascinated with it growing up. However, had I been paying attention, I might have noticed the slow fade-out of the golden age of the fast food restaurant. By the 1980’s, it was already over, rendered inert by a changing consumer landscape, oil-crisis recession-era economic hatchet jobs, and general post-Nixonian decay. But the memory of the golden age was still there. On a family trip into the valley we might come across the occasional still-extant Golden Arch of an older McDonald’s franchise, or perhaps an over-sized ceramic mascot, some purple Sesame Street-ish creature or a gilded king, beckoning to us as we drove past.
The food was never good. Taco Bell, for instance, has never had a single item on their menu that wasn’t in one way or another either monstrous or horrendous, but there was a time when the Bell and its fast food brethren at least had some respect for their customers. A sense of showmanship. Once upon a time, they were mini, corporately financed P.T Barnums, dragging wide-eyed kids, parents-in-tow, into their cookie cutter consumer theme parks. “Let’s give them a show, an experience,” you can imagine them saying. “Otherwise, they might go to the Pizza Hut down the street. Or that Sizzler.”