Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 14, 2013

GARY'S WORLD: Play time is over at McDonald’s

By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer

CROSSVILLE — It’s funny how the sight of something can start a wave of memories flowing through your mind.

Last week this happened as I was pulling into McDonald’s parking lot on Peavine Rd. to purchase a cup of coffee. I like their coffee and I occasionally stop in there during the week on my way into work and get a large coffee.

Last week, as I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed half of the lot was roped off with yellow caution tape and dozens of orange cones were blocking off a big portion of the lot. It looked like they were going to start working on the building and I didn’t think much of it and drove on to get my coffee. I asked the girl at the drive though, but she said she didn’t know what they were doing.

Later that evening on my way home I saw lifts up by the indoor playplace and workers taking the glass out and taking apart the indoor slide and play structure.

I immediately knew then, they were going to take it out and remodel. I stopped and snapped a couple of pictures to send to my kids because this, for many years, was a source of entertainment for them and a big part of their childhood.

I know it probably sounds ridiculous, getting all nostalgic over a McDonald’s Playland, but I can’t help it. Seeing this flooded my mind with memories.

All the many birthday parties, fun times the kids had and battles of trying to retrieve my son from the play structure tunnels all made me smile.

I remember when the Peavine McDonald’s first opened in the mid ‘90s. It was a big deal. The Peavine exit didn’t have much to offer back then other than the Bean Pot. On the day it opened there was a grand celebration with a makeshift stage that was crafted from an old flatbed wagon and there were hay bales everywhere to climb up and sit and see Ronald McDonald.

My daughter was three years old and Ronald McDonald was talking to the crowd of people.

“Is anybody having a birthday today?” He hollered.

The crowd was cheering and all of the sudden my daughter raised her hand. It wasn’t her birthday, but I guess she wanted it to be. Before we had a chance to say, “No it’s not.” Ronald reached down and scooped her up and brought her up on stage. The crowd cheered even louder.

“Well, happy birthday, little girl. What’s your name?” He asked.

“Sara,” she said.

“Happy Birthday, Sara, how old are you?”

She looked around and held up three fingers. My wife and I were gradually shrinking down, smaller and smaller.

“That’s great! How would you like a balloon?” Ronald asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

He gave her a ballon and he looked at her and asked, “How does it feel to be three?”

She turned to him and spoke as plain as day into the microphone and said, “Are you supposed to be funny?”

The crowd erupted in laughter and Ronald said, “Yeah, supposed to be.”

He again said happy birthday to her and we left the area of the screaming, cheering children and went inside to see the playland.

During the winter months when it was too cold to play in the parks, we would take the kids to the indoor playland. Many evenings my wife and I would meet there as I came home from working days and she was on her way into work at nights and exchange the kids. We’d stay there a while and let the kids play and then I would take them back home and she would continue to work.

I can’t even count the number of times we met our friends who had kids there. The kids would play together and we would talk and visit.

I know McDonald’s has been remodeling many of their locations in the south, taking out playlands, expanding dining rooms, installing flat screen TVs and offering free wifi for its customers.

A spokesperson from the construction company working on the remodel said they were adding onto the dining room and putting in another drive-thru lane so there will be two, like the one in Crossville.

Ironically, my brother’s sister-in-law, who lives in South Carolina, is one of the people who has been redesigning a lot of the modern, newer upscale looking McDonald’s.

I understand the sales numbers will improve and the productivity will increase, but I will miss seeing the old playland, where my daughter talked a girl down from the top level and my son scared kids twice his age pretending he was a beast, growling and chasing them around the dining room.

To me it’s just another sign of the times in which we live and a sign of getting older. It’s been an adjustment, but it sure beats the alternative. We still have plenty of photos we can look at and remember the fun times.

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Gary Nelson is a Crossville Chronicle staffwriter. His column is published each Friday. He may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com.