My friend Motley and I have dined in at McDonald’s together at least three times. In high school his dad took us to one and we all got Big Macs because his dad acted like any other order is just child’s play.

In 2016 when the Big Mac’s creator, Jim Delligatti, died, Motley suggested we race over to University Avenue on his lunch break to get one in honor of Delligatti’s passing. I remember that being a pretty solid Big Mac.

When we heard that Grimace had a birthday and he’s 52 years old and there’s some kind of Grimace birthday special, we decided to meet up to try it. Sentimentality is a hell of a food drug.

The Grimace Birthday Meal is a 10-piece McNuggets with fries and a purple milkshake or a Big Mac with fries and a purple shake. Motley, aware as anyone who eats McDonald’s once or twice a year that the milkshake machine is perpetually down, sent me this text before we met up this afternoon: “Well I called University to see if the shake machine was functional and it is not, of course.”

The phone line at the downtown location was busy, so we hoped for the best and thought we’d hit North Little Rock’s Broadway location if all else fails. As it turns out, the Little Rock Broadway shake machine was functional, and the Grimace party raged onward. Several employees were wearing purple Grimace shirts. Signs announcing Grimace’s 52nd birthday celebration were displayed on the digital kiosk and in physical form. We made our way to the real-life counter.

Employee: Hello, welcome to McDonald’s.

Motley: Hi. Um, I would like the Grimace meal with nuggets, please.

Employee: What’s your dipping sauce?

Motley: Uh, dipping sauce, can I go with sweet and sour?  Can I also get a side of hot mustard and Big Mac sauce as well?

Rhett Brinkley: Very good.

M: And then a water also. Rhett, is this on Arkansas Times?

RB: Yeah. I’ll get the Grimace Big Mac meal, please.

Employee: [To Motley] Do you want the free water or the large?

M: Free water.

RB: I’ll get an extra medium Diet Coke.

Employee: OK, your total is $21.54.

M: You guys have any Grimace swag like T-shirts or toys or anything like that?

Employee: Uh, maybe.

M: I’d be interested in a T-shirt if you have one.

The employee walked away and returned after a minute.

Employee: We don’t, the shirts were limited.

I went to the soda fountain and got a Diet Coke. Both ketchup dispensers were empty, so I got blasted in the face with ketchup-scented air that bounced off the counter. I went back to the order counter to ask for some packets. When I returned to the table our food had been delivered, along with several ketchup packets.

RB: Shit, now we got all this ketchup.

M: I asked for a packet of Big Mac sauce because they’ve been advertising that they have prepackaged sides now for 50 cents. They brought this.

Motley opened a small cardboard chicken McNuggets package containing what looked like two or three healthy squirts of Thousand Island dressing.

R: Nice?

M: Did you ever dip nuggets in sweet and sour sauce as a child?

RB: Yes. I thought BBQ was the best dipping sauce for nuggets, but all the cool kids were doing sweet and sour.

M: I’m going to dip the fries in hot mustard. Going sauce crazy over here.

R: Hot mustard’s the way to go.

M: This was a pretty good idea, man. Your article should end with “This promotion is now over so you can’t actually go get this.”

R: Wait, shit, it is?

M: [laughs] Yeah. It ends June 30.

R: People have a week!

M: I’m going in for the shake. OK, the main flavor is vanilla, then there’s a hint of berry or grape.

R: It’s actually pretty good.

M: It’s really good. It has a hint of blueberry, I would say.

Motley takes a horrible picture of my Big Mac.

M: It doesn’t look appealing but that’s reality. It looks like sausage patties.

R: Oh yeah, that’s a terrible photo. Did you ever used to get the chocolate fudge sundae?

M: Yes. And the one with crushed up nuts.

R: Caramel swirl. The strawberry was good, too.

M: Slim Chickens has a dessert sometimes, it’s like strawberry shortcake or something and they put it in an actual little glass mason jar, which is kind of odd to me for a fast food place to be doing.

Motley dips a handful of fries into the Big Mac sauce.

M: Wow, that’s the real deal.

R: So they’re promoting sides, you saw that randomly?

M: In April there were all these articles about McDonald’s creating new burger recipes with better buns and meltier cheese, more Big Mac sauce and stuff like that. And in those articles it was talking about sides of Big Mac sauce, which I think prompted a wave of TikToks or stories about how to make Big Mac sauce. Does that seem like a regular Big Mac or different bun?

RB: The same. Pretty standard.

M: These nuggets are very standard, too. When I was a really little kid I’d dip them in honey. They had honey packets that were shallower than this. Did you ever have a McDonald’s birthday party?

RB: I don’t know. But I went to some.

M: Same. Damn, this is a lot.

RB: If I drink that whole shake I’m going to be sick at the office.

M: Have you ever been to HB’s Barbecue?

RB: I’ve had it but I’ve never eaten there.

M: We should go there sometime. What do you think McDonald’s is like for kids now?

RB: Fucking boring. This is so sterile.

M: It’s definitely different aesthetically. It’s trying to be more polished and modern now.

RB: The one off 67/167 had that playground with the hamburger jail. There was some kind of magical tree too.

M: I never went to that one but I’ve seen them.

M: My parents both worked at McDonald’s in the ’70s. My dad said that back then it was all fresh everything. And things weren’t quite made from scratch, but he said it was never frozen. I read one in seven Americans have worked at McDonald’s.

RB: Do you remember going to McDonald’s on McCain in high school? Brandon was there, he ordered three hamburgers for like 59 cents and smashed them all together into one burger.

M: I remember that. In the early ’90s late ’80s my dad was trying to promote the Christmas tree farm [Motley’s Christmas Tree Farm] and he had a deal with like eight different McDonald’s locations in Central Arkansas to staple a printed post card with information about the Christmas tree farm on every to-go order. It was pre-internet, and we’d drive around like secret shoppers, me, him and my sister. We’d get like an apple pie at one place and fries from the next place, and if they’d stapled the post card to the bag, he’d give them 50 bucks to reinforce it. I doubt they’d allow that now.

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