Telling travel stories is problematic.
They push audiences to silent malice with insipid and un-relatable anecdotes. Responses, never truly enthusiastic, are peppered with that forced laughter that signifies the torturous death of one’s inner child.
There is but one exception; one event in my personal history so outstanding that it compels listeners to inch forward in their chairs; one coalescence of fate, discovery, and happenstance that has left choruses of “no-fuckin-way” in its glorious wake:
I was in Frankfurt, Germany and I ate a McRib Sandwich.
For those whose mouths are not agape—neither from my captivating retelling nor from the thought of savory boneless pork—perhaps you need a crash course in McRib history.
The McRib is a boneless pork sandwich produced too rarely by McDonald’s. Depending on the time and location of its release, the sandwich comes slathered in barbeque sauce (formerly “Blazing Hot Sauce”) and topped with sliced pickles and chopped onions. This topping triumvirate is swaddled in a 6-inch bun—sometimes sesame seed, sometimes hoagie style—and accented with the laughter of angels.
You see, there was a time—nay, a Golden Era—when the McRib was a consistent staple on McDonald’s menu. Like all legends, the McRib’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but most historians concur that it joined the permanent menu in either 1981 or 1982. It reigned in delicious majesty until 1985, when, due to decreasing sales, it was pulled from the menu. Thus began the Dark Ages in McRib history.
Congealed pork advocates spent nearly a decade without their fix. That is, until the unsung heroes of the McRib—John Goodman, Rosie O’Donnell, and Halle Berry—unintentionally conspired to reinvigorate the nation’s passion for boneless pork patties. The Flintstones live-action remake debuted in the spring of 1994 and McDonald’s brought back the sandwich as a reference to Fred’s car-toppling rib order from the cartoon’s opening credits. Then, like a shooting star, it disappeared from our fast food skies.
Though once again stripped from the nation’s bill of fare, this time it remained in our consciousness. The sandwich developed a cult following. Every few months, rumors circulated about a McRib Renaissance. A few markets that had limited releases and there were unending urban legends about out-of-state McRibs. The late-90s saw hints of a possible McRib reappearance. David Letterman made a few references to its elusive nature. Disney’s Mulan inspired the cross-promotional “Oriental McRib” (seriously). But, by and large, the sandwich’s fans had no place to voice their anger, let alone satiate their hunger.
Then, the internet happened. After people learned how to share porn and steal music, they immediately started founding websites campaigning for the McRib. The McRib locator offers a forum for McRibbers to scour North America and report back on sightings. And, for the tech-savvy, they’re currently developing an iPhone app. One unofficial site (remember when the internet sucked?) features McRib news and a dubious gallery of celebrity McRibbers.
In hopes of capitalizing on the underground hubbub, McDonald’s launched a stealth viral campaign petitioning for the McRib’s return, sponsored by the fictitious Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America (again, seriously).
To this day, the wackiness continues. McDonald’s has hosted multiple McRib Farewell Tours (you can’t make this up), with this month’s triumphant return drawing media attention and watering mouths across the country. It all comes to a (temporary) end on December 5th when, once again, the sandwich will ride into the sunset and out of our congested hearts.
And now the story comes full circle. While the sandwich is in stores, McD’s is holding the “Legends of McRib” contest. The prize? An all-expenses paid trip to Germany and $10,000 cash.
There is but one bastion of fast-food holiness left on the planet, an Eden where barbeque sauce and boneless pork are coupled happily around each smiling corner. And, in the spring of 2009, in a Frankfurt subway station at 1:30 in the morning, I stumbled into this utopia’s epicenter. As it turns out, the McRib is a permanent feature on Deutschland’s McMenu.
Ich bin ein McRibber.