When I was a kid, McDonald’s had two sizes of drinks: small and large. I started out getting the small, of course. I was pretty small myself. It was a twelve ounce drink, the same as a can of pop. However, I graduated to the large around the time I started school. The large size was sixteen ounces, the same as a Coke you’d get in a glass bottle. My grandparents lived in LaGrange. At the end of their street was one of the first McDonald’s in Illinois. It dated back to when my mom was in high school. They still had the old “Mr. Speedee” sign out front when I was little. After a visit, we usually stopped there and grabbed something to drink for the ride home to Elk Grove Village. One night, my dad went in and came out looking a bit confused. The traditional white cardboard tray was holding three rather tall cups. These were the “new” large size drinks, twenty ounces.
It was just a one-time event for me. I was quickly demoted to the old large size (now a medium) Coke when we went out to McDonald’s. This was the situation for several years until I was in junior high school. As a typical teenager, I could eat my weight in fast food. That sounds more impressive than it was; I think I weighed about eighty pounds and most of that was hair. After my parents got divorced, my dad would pick us up and we’d often head to the nearest McDonald’s to get something to eat. I’d get three hamburgers, fries and – finally – a large Coke to wash it all down. I suppose I could have done without the additional four ounces of pop, but it was only a nickel more and I needed to have something that differentiated me from my much younger brother.
I was in college and actually working at McDonald’s down in Champaign when we started phasing in new packaging. It had been determined the Styrofoam Quarter Pounder boxes were going to outlast the human race in our landfills, so Corporate was switching to biodegradable boxes and larger paper wrappers for the big sandwiches. Ironically, the big drinks were being poured in more permanent plastic cups. They started out as “limited editions”. You would order a special drink and get it in a commemorative Michael Jordan cup or one with the American Olympians on the side. Down in Champaign, we carried ones with the silhouette of Red Grange and the Illini fall football schedule. They were quite popular and we sold out before the season wrapped up. I was surprised to see the replacements were generic; just the regular McDonald’s logo. Soon after, the new menu strips showed up. These plastic cups were now the new large.
It’s natural as you grow up to have changes in perception. Teachers who seemed ten feet tall turn out to be life sized when you meet them again as an adult. Long hallways aren’t as long, backseats aren’t quite so spacious. While I could probably still fit in a washing machine box, I don’t think I’d want to spend hours at a time in one anymore playing “fort”. However, the cups I remembered as being large as a child have not diminished in capacity. The cups still hold sixteen ounces, but – somehow – they’re now considered just small.