(Cue Mission Impossible theme music)
“Good morning Mr. Gerard. The world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving around 68 million customers daily in 119 countries, needs your help. This is a highly secret mission that is not without danger. Your contact will supply you with everything you need to complete the mission. As always, should you be caught or killed, the Hamburglar will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Bo!”
The National Puerto Rican Day Parade takes place annually along Fifth Avenue in New York City. The parade, held on the second Sunday in June, honors the nearly four million inhabitants of Puerto Rico and all people of Puerto Rican birth or heritage residing in the mainland U.S. This year they are expecting around 3 million people to line the parade route. In 1980 the attendance was closer to 750,000. That’s where I come in. A friend of mine was the New York area “Ronald McDonald”. There were a large number of “Ronalds” all over the country whose duties included making public appearances, visiting children’s hospitals, and some even performed McDonalds themed comedy magic shows. The company won’t reveal how many actors it uses to portray the clown ("There's only one Ronald," an executive said) but according to marketing experts McDonald's had a roster of about 250 “Ronalds” world-wide in 2003.
So my friend calls me and says that the PR company messed up and had booked him for two different appearances at the same time. He asks if I would be willing to fill in for him as "Ronald" at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. I was not particularly interested in being some large, multi-national corporation’s big-footed shill… but at that particular time in my career “a gig was a gig”. (See May 22nd Blog). He told me I needed to pick up the costume, make-up, and gig details from a guy in Manhattan and gave me the address and an apartment number, but no name! He said to knock on the door and say “I’m here for the package”. This was getting intriguing and a little scary, too. But I just chalked it up to my fertile imagination and took the subway into Manhattan. The old rundown building was in midtown and it was a 5 floor walkup. When I reached the apartment door I knocked and a gruff voice almost shouted from inside “Yeah!?”. My voice cracked as I recited the password, “I’m here for the package”. The door abruptly opened and a middle-aged, unshaven man stared at me for a moment, then shut the door. Had I said the wrong password? Did I not fit the description the contact was given? Should I run now, while I had the chance? The door abruptly opened and the man thrust a large paper bag into my hands and then firmly shut the door.
After following the makeup instruction to the letter and donning the “official” Ronald costume and wig, I looked in the mirror, expecting to see Ronald McDonald. But since the TV Ronald had a much rounder face and a lot more meat on his body than I did, I looked more like a slightly deflated Ronald. “I’m not going to fool anyone”, I thought. When I arrived at the parade’s staging area I was escorted to my float. (A float! Well at least I won’t have to walk the 4-mile route) I was a little worried that I would be spotted as an impostor by the throngs that lined the route, but to my surprise it couldn’t have mattered less how much I did or didn’t look like the TV Ronald. The crowd went consistently and relentlessly wild for me. I could never have anticipated the outpouring of love and excitement the crowd gave me along every foot of the parade. “I was the Ronald. It was HUGE!!!”