But here’s the weird thing: If I were standing outside this McDonalds, I’d see a Food4Less doing its best to imitate a California Bungalow, some sparsely leafed trees, a side street populated with crumbly actual California Bungalows and a few 1960s apartment buildings, and, in the background, low hills peeking up from the other side of the 110.
The alleged Highland Park McDonalds in the mural sits across from a row of blandly pleasant-looking, four- and five-story buildings with white awnings. It looks like an illustration for a new mixed-use development. Except the cars surrounding it are circa 1970, and the two kids in the foreground are painted with the broad strokes and unstylish timelessness I associate with Babysitters Club books. They’re both wearing narrow, knee-length white shorts and over-sized T-shirts. One has a baseball cap, the other a bowl cut.
Weirdest of all is the landscape. The mixed-use buildings taper to a flat horizon where they meet up with a sky that’s all wispy white clouds and bright blue endlessness. Palm trees line the street.
My hunch is that McDonalds hired a Tucson-based painter who sells oils of mesas and noble-looking Native Americans at a Santa Fe gallery but earns his living doing corporate gigs. On the eve of the Tucson Fall Fest, he painted the McDonalds closest to his house, filled in “Highland Park” on the banner and popped in a couple of palm trees.
The McDonalds near where I grew up in Manhattan Beach, after it was remodeled in the late eighties, featured a row of black and white photos of our local pier. Although that pier was way over-photographed (my MB dentist’s office has roughly the same photos up now), there was no denying it was ours. Still, my most distinct memory is of the pickle slice that someone had plastered to the glass. I think that’s what this mural is really missing—that element of local community participation. If I ate hamburgers, I would take this matter into my own hands.