There's no such thing as small any more. 

Big Time

I eat at fast food restaurants more often than I should. That's not exactly true. I rarely eat at the restaurants. I eat food from them. On the way to somewhere, I drive up to a window. Someone inside hands me a paper bag full of food and a disposable cup full of some variation of a soda. I hand some money through the window the food came out of, and I'm back on the road. The place I go to most often for these culinary pit stops is McDonald's. McDonald's is my kind of place when I'm on the road, but not because I have a special fondness for the food they serve. It's a practical thing. I have determined, after years of experimentation, that a McDonald's cheeseburger gripped in one hand while your other hand grips a steering wheel is less likely to drop a glob of condiments on upholstery or any other in- appropriate place than any other fistful of fast food I've found. The other day there was a long line at the drive through. (A lot of these fast food places call it a drive-thru, but I have too much respect for the English language to do that. Besides, drive-by is a much more accurate description. With the exception of those beachside convenience stores that look like car washes, I've never seen a place where you drive through anything to get your food. You drive by a window and they hand it out to you.) Anyway, there was a long line at the window so I decided to go in to get my food. I ordered the usual, so I didn't look at the wall-mounted menu until someone was scooping my fries into a red cardboard container. That's when I noticed there was a size of drink and fries I'd never heard of before. It was bigger than Super Size. They had examples of the containers attached to the wall. They were marked large, Super Size and whatever this new really, really big size is called. Maybe it was a Keg o' Coke and a Flatcar of Fries. Whatever they're called, the new sizes look big enough to work up an appetite every time you lift them. Americans have always had a reputation for going for the biggest, but this seems to be getting out of hand. You can't order a small serving of fries or a small drink anymore. The smallest fry is a large. The smallest drink — unless you're too young to ride your bike out of sight of your driveway — is a medium. This is not a case of semantics. The larges and mediums are not smalls with inflated names. They really are bigger — or Biggie, if you eat at Wendy's. The combo deal I order most often — two cheeseburgers, a mess of fries and a soda — is about twice the size of what McDonald's called a meal when I was a kid. Ronald's folks used to advertise that you could get a meal from them for less than a dollar. The meal was a plain hamburger, a small fry and a drink about the size of what comes with a kid's Happy Meal these days. That old-time full-sized meal was, essentially, a Happy Meal without the toy or the nifty box. What was an adult's meal is now the children's menu. Background singers in Burger King commercials used to chant that it takes two hands to handle a Whopper. Now the Whopper is one of the smallest burgers Burger King sells. It seems that every fast-food franchise with a deep fryer also has some giant burger with two or three hunks of meat, slices of cheese or cheeselike substances and bacon. You want fries with that? Or maybe an angioplasty? This is not just a fast-food franchise phenomenon. Serving sizes have swollen everywhere. Some people reminisce about five-cent Cokes. Those things came in 6 1/2-ounce bottles. Now Cokes come in one-liter bottles that are meant to be single servings. In the olden days, there was something called a Par-T-Pak, a big bottle of soda you could buy when you had friends coming over. I think it held about a quart. Now you can get drinks bigger than that at just about any soda fountain you come across. (That is not, of course, a soda fountain manned by what used to be called a soda jerk. Today's soda fountain is a self-serve machine that lets you draw your own drink. People used to expect someone to bring menus and drinks and then food to their table. Now they walk up to a counter to place an order, get their own drinks, carry their food to their table and clean up when they're done. Next we'll be cooking our own burgers. But that's a rant for another day.) Remember when 7-Eleven's Big Gulp was a big drink? They had to up the ante with the Super Big Gulp and now the 64- oz. Double Gulp. Wendy's used to have a commercial in which someone orders a bunch of Biggie items. When they get their order, it tips their car over. The food portions aren't just too big for people to eat. They're too darn big for an automobile to haul. Though modern burgers, fries, drinks and combo deal meals are huge compared to offerings from the early age of fast food, Americans are apparently eating every scrap of these inflated meals. Maybe that explains why it's so hard to find a small T-shirt at the mall these days. Tim Thornton is a regular contributor to the Back Page. Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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