SideLines: McDonalds and memories of youth
I was sitting in McDonald’s, minding my own business, when a group of girls came in. There were five of them, about 12 or 13 years old. From the minute they came in, you couldn’t help noticing them. They were loud and giggling, the way some girls that age can be. They weren’t being obnoxious or rude; they were just excited young girls.
After ordering, they sat down a few tables down from me, where they proceeded to take off their hats and coats and mittens and scarves and sweaters, which they put in a big pile. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t help overhearing what they were talking about; boys, mainly. And other girls. And how their mothers wouldn’t let them do something or other. And how they all liked one of their teachers, but not another. And entertainers, I think; since none of the names were familiar to me that’s who I assumed they were. Unless they were other classmates whom I didn’t know either.
Although they were all joking and giggling, one girl really stood out. She was like a little giggling machine gun. From the instant they came in until they eventually filed out, I don’t think she ever stopped.
Halfway between me and them was a boy, about 15 or 16 years old. He was just old enough to be too old for any of them, and he ignored them, despite their best efforts to get his attention. One of the girls must have known him, because she kept calling him by name. One of her girlfriends would say something, which sent them all into hysterics, and then she would lean over and ask the boy what he thought. Sometimes, the boy grunted some non-verbal response I couldn’t really hear; other times, he didn’t say anything at all. Apparently, his Big Mac and the sports section of the newspaper he was reading were more appealing than a group of shrill girls a little too young for him.
After they finished lunch and it was obvious the boy wasn’t going to talk to them, the girls put on their sweaters and scarves and coats and mittens and hats, got up and left just as noisily and harmlessly as they had entered.
Watching them leave, I couldn’t help remembering what it was like to be that age. I remember going places with my parents when I was 11 or 12 and secretly admiring the teenage boys who would drive up in their cars, come in and pay for their own lunch with their own money. For some reason, that seemed glamorous to me.
I also remember what it was like when I was finally able to go to McDonald’s or Country School or Pizza Hut for lunch with just my friends – the freedom we felt. That was the first taste we had of what it was like to be an adult; or so we thought. It was a heady time. I suppose we were just as excited and loud then as those young girls.
Today, a fast food restaurant is usually a stop on the way to somewhere else, not the destination itself. If I should meet friends, it’s always nice to see them, of course, but it’s commonplace, something you just do. It’s certainly not exciting like it was when everything was fresh and new and fun, when you felt the world opening up to you, sharing some of its secrets.
Of course, when I was the age of those girls, you could get a hamburger, fries and a Coke for a dollar. But that’s another column.