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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 / 14 Tishrei, 5762

Steve Young

Steve Young
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Consumer Reports

Playlands, burgers, and family sanity -- Afraid to fly? Economy got you strapped? Vacations out of the question and kids going stir crazy? Need a break from the turmoil churning about us? We all seem to in the same boat. Well, I've got your answers and they're spelled M-c and B-K.

Fast food restaurants have never been considered billboards for family values, but I'm here to say that it's time to cut McDonalds and Burger King a break. As far as I'm concerned, they not only raise family values but they are a boon to family sanity. I'm talking about the industry's decision to build playgrounds in many of their outlets.

It used to be that I'd have to take a week off from work, watch the sorrowful eyes of our family's beloved Rover as we pull away from the vets, pay four or five hundred dollars a piece for airline tickets, then forty to fifty dollars each to get into Disneyland or Six Flags amusement parks. Now I just have to shove the little monsters into the family transport, drive two or three blocks down the boulevard and unload the troops into the local McDonalds.

And why? Free playgrounds!

For the price of a couple Happy Meals, during the next two hours, while the kiddies entertain themselves on the slides, ball rooms, and free Nintendo, I get to catch up on last month's Sunday Times, write that Pulitzer-winning novel I've been putting off, or just meditate on Ronald McDonald's missile defense system against the Hamburglar.

I don't know who the geniuses were that came up with this playland thing but I'd bet dollars to McNuggets they've got kids. It's a no-brainer. Makes you wonder why it took so long.

You give the parents and the kids a reason to go, then you give them a better reason to stay. And what happens when they stay? Well, while parents are overdosing on free soda refills, which I want to thank whomever pushed the country in that direction, the younguns are exhausting themselves climbing up and down the fun matrixes.

Some say that all this is just a ploy to keep you around longer until the kids want something else. "This is where they getcha," they say. Sooner or later the kids are going to come in from playworld for extras like ice cream. Well, here again, kudos must be lavished. A cone at either of the main combatants of the burger wars cost about twenty percent of the same thing at Ben and Jerry's. Again, the lords of gristle are out and out winners.

You get all this AND there's no need to make a stop at the nearby Toys R Us. That's because the two fast food kings have seen fit to throw in some hot, theme, play piece in every kiddie meal. I know a lot of parents may see this deluge of cross-marketing trinkets and super-heroes to set a bad example for our children, I see it as...FREE TOYS! Although I'd like to see them start sticking in some toy fire-fighters, police and rescue workers. Those would be true super-heroes.

Now I realize that the nutritional virtues at most of these fast food empires may be sorely lacking, but for the time being the little bit of sanity it affords parents is well worth the toll it'll take on our children's diet. And anyway, I wouldn't be surprised at all if any day now these promotional wizards won't be marketing the Kiddie Salad Value Meals with a free Pokemon vitamin inside.

Steve Young is a Prism Award winner and a Humanitas Prize nominee for his television writing and is author of "Great Failures Of The Extremely Successful. (Tallfellow Press). Comment by clicking here.

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08/24/01: Pitch day at the Mouse
08/21/01: It Depends On What Your Definition Of "Unlimited" Is


© 2001, Steve Young