Laura and I go to McDonald's together, on average, once a year. Like many of you, I'm sure, we've both been lovers of the Shamrock Shake since childhood. It was hard if not impossible to find a McDonald's in New York City that carried those minty cold treasures, so one of the upsides of moving to Chicago was the realization that the advent of the St. Patrick's season once again meant Shamrock Shakes within reach of our greedy little mitts.
Still, we didn't intend to embark on Shamrock Shake Quest 2010 this past Sunday afternoon. My plan was to dedicate the full day to a small freelance programming project I'm working on, but a minor eyeglass-frame emergency derailed that. (Turns out it screws with one's ability to effectively view through progressive lenses when one of your earpieces breaks off.) We rushed down to Lincoln Square to order a pair of replacement frames. It was only as we were returning home that Laura spied the happy gospel proclaimed from a McDonald's sign on Western Avenue.
"Shamrock Shakes are back!" she exclaimed.
"Shall we stop?" I asked.
"Do you have to ask?"
We pulled into the McDonald's drive-thru behind three or four other cars. We were giggled and bounced in our seats, anticipating the cool rush of wintery flavor, as we inched forward through the line.
According to the menu board, a small shake ran (if I'm remembering correctly) $1.99, a medium $2.59. When our turn came, I order one small and one medium.
"I'm sorry," said the disembodied voice from the speaker, "but our machine isn't working."
We felt so punctured and deflated that I think our tires even lost a few p.s.i. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed. "We may as well just kill ourselves now," I said to the speaker, "we're so sad."
The voice on the speaker laughed, and we drove away.
"Well, that was a blow," said Laura.
"There's another McDonald's over on Clark Street," I said.
"Where?" she said with breathless hope.
"Just north of Bryn Mawr."
She made a get-moving gesture. "What are we waiting for?"
We sped the mile or two northwest to Andersonville, our palates more primed than ever. But when we made it to the menu board at our second McDonald's drive-thru, we were shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that a small shake was $2.39 and a medium $2.99!
"That's crazy," I said.
"What do we do?" said Laura.
"What can we do?"
Who would have predicted such a price disparity such a small distance away? But we had come this far. I ordered us a small and a medium.
And the voice on the speaker threw us a curve ball. "Would you like whipped cream?"
Whipped cream? I looked at Laura. Who ever heard of whipped cream on a Shamrock Shake? It's a crime against nature! But Laura was nodding her head eagerly, so I answered, "Okay, whipped cream on the small, but no whipped cream on the medium."
"Pull forward please."
But there were more shocks to come after we forked over nearly six bucks in ransom for our frozen treats. First, the shakes came in clear plastic cups instead of the old familiar opaque paper cups. That was enough of a startlement, but second . . .
"It's half whipped cream!!!" Laura exclaimed as I pulled away. "Look at this!"
Bitterly she held up her shake. Indeed, despite the fact that her cup (unlike mine) was capped with a domed lid meant to house the whipped cream without decreasing the volume of the shake, her cup was filled only halfway with the thick, treefrog-green elixir. The rest was whipped cream. Oh, yeah, with a mocking cherry on top.
"What a ripoff!" I said. "Do you want to go complain?"
Laura sighed. "No, it's okay."
"You can have some of mine," I said. My medium-sized cup was filled with shake right up to its properly flat lid.
"No," she said dejectedly. "I'll just look at it as portion control."
And that's the story of how McDonald's killed our joy. The irony is, we might not even have realized what a shuck they were pulling on us if they'd only stuck with opaque paper cups. Silly product managers.
Will we be back next year? I don't know. What do you think the chances are they'll come up with Shamrock Shake methadone in the next twelve months?