There’s a McApp for That

In my last post I mentioned that we had recently returned from our summer vacation.  Oh, Tahoe time!  What a wonderful week.

It was touch-and-go there for a couple of days.  A week before our trip my husband went to get the car washed and found it in its parking space a few blocks from our apartment, hood crumpled from a collision, with a cryptic note bearing a bum policy number and no name.  Needless to say, we were on the hook for the rather extensive repairs to our dear old ’98 Dodge Stratus (aka The Stratus Symbol) and the garage called at the 11th hour to let us know it probably wouldn’t be done in time for the holiday weekend.

So July 1st found us crammed into a compact Chevy with manual windows (thank you, Geico, for hooking us up with another fine piece of American machinery), Babyman’s feet in his new Lightning McQueen sneakers happily within kicking distance of our arms for the duration of the 4-hour drive to sunny Tahoe City, CA.

On our trip last year, I accepted the fact that summer vacation can — and should — be a time of quick mac ‘n’ cheese, cold cuts and pasta salad, too much frozen yogurt, and lots of juice by the pool for Babyman.  At 33 weeks pregnant, facing altitude-induced breathlessness, this style of cooking looked even more appealing this year, and my mom had (amazingly) stocked the fridge of their Tahoe house with all manner of “treats” for Babyman in anticipation of our stay.

We make the drive to Tahoe about six or seven times a year for various long weekends and family gatherings, and yet we still have not nailed down the best places to stop for lunch.  Part of the problem is that our needs continue to change.  Once it was as simple as reasonably healthy food and a clean bathroom.  Then the question was “do they have a KoalaKare changing station?” and now we get into questions of how far we are from our start or end point, whether Babyman has enough time to settle into a meaningful nap between stops, whether Cars is long enough to get us through the final leg on the portable DVD player, and — lately — is there a place where Babyman can not just stretch his legs but also get his beans out?

And so I am forced to acknowledge that which I hate: those McDonalds people are geniuses.  Sort of.

It was last February when it struck me for the first time, and the conversation went something like this:
Me – “I don’t know where there is a local playground close to the freeway, but don’t a lot of McDonalds have those Playplaces?”
My husband – “Some do, but do you know which ones?”
Me (breezily) – “Oh, I’m sure there’s an app for that.” 

Let me be quite clear: My smartphone is smarter than I am.  Should “smartphone” be capitalized?  I don’t know.  And I certainly don’t know what an app actually is.  (Through sheer will I managed to master Gilt Groupe, which is more a testament to my love of shopping than my tech-savvy.)  But McDonalds has otherwise occupied every niche of the American marketplace, so it seemed safe to assume they’d honed in on this app business.  Now the only question was, how to find such an app — and, once downloaded, how to use it?

Well, I tried and failed.  But I did figure out the McDonalds mobile website (so much to learn!) and eventually on that rainy February day we found ourselves in Roseville at a McDonalds with a Playplace.  And Babyman found himself eating Chicken McNuggets in his stocking feet and asking us (repeatedly) to buy all the little toys on display on the counter.  And I found myself admitting that this marketing machine, insidious and fattening and pro-big-agriculture though it may be, is, quite simply, brilliant.

So if you happen to read this blog from time to time, and one day you happen to see me feeding my kids Big Macs, please do not think me a hypocrite.  At the end of the day, I’m just a mom, with limited tech skills, looking for a playground.

(And let’s be honest: McDonalds french fries are pretty delicious too.)

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