(This was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on 4/18/97. See also my 11/19/16 essay about trying to find Wembley Fraggle for my son for Christmas one year.)
I hate to admit this, but I will risk the exposure and ridicule. I recently stood in line for twenty minutes at a McDonald’s just so I could get a Teenie Beanie Baby (I got Patti, the purple platypus).
It was dinnertime and my kids did need to eat, so theoretically I had an excuse to be there.
I ignored the drive-through window because there were at least ten cars backed out into the street. And for some reason the parking lot was really full too.
When I got inside I realized why. There were scores of us – moms and dads of all races, ages, and walks of life – there on a mission. One thing united us, you could call it a kinship of sorts. People talked to each other in line, people joked from one line to the next about why they were there, all the while glancing nervously toward the counter. What if they run out?
For those of you who aren’t parents or grandparents, Beanie Babies are these really adorable plush animals that fit perfectly into the palm of your hand or on your shoulder. They are filled with small pellets, they flop around, and they have the most endearing characteristics. (My favorite are the owl and the sea otter. No, maybe the squirrel or the kangaroo. I can’t decide.)
I hope no one thinks I am getting them for myself! That is so ridiculous!
Small children clutched their Beanie Babies with ketchup-stained hands (ruining their collectibility). Parents grinned in smug satisfaction; whatever their shortcomings in the parenting department might be, this could be held as leverage for a while to come.
Meanwhile, an interesting transaction took place in the line next to me. A man who appeared to be in his early 40’s had finally made it to the Promised Land (the counter) and asked if he could just buy the Beanie Babies without buying food. My ears perked up.
“You have to buy the Happy Meal in order to get the toy,” said the counter person.
“Well, I don’t want the food,” the guy said.
“You still have to buy the Happy Meal,” said the cashier. She wasn’t going to be pushed around. She knew her customer. He had to have those Beanies even if he had to buy a dozen fillets of fish.
Instead of blowing up, the dad did a nice thing. He turned to the teenager in back of him, a complete stranger, and said, “Would you like two Happy Meals for free?” The kid, who probably wasn’t tuned into the Beanie Baby craze, said, “Cool.”
So the dad got his Beanies, the kid got free food, and everyone was happy. I like to picture that dad coming through the door to two sweet-faced daughters, and tossing them the Beanies. Squeals of delight and hugs for Dad.
Maybe I’ll go back next week for the little lamb.