It is a cold, rainy night, the latest in a week-long series of identical cold, rainy nights, when I finally decide to journey in search of the elusive Pokémon Happy Meal. After thoroughly covering the unfortunate scalping situation for GameLuster, I have little hope that my efforts will result in success, but I've got car full of optimistic lifelong Pokémon fans who ardently believe otherwise.
With my intrepid partner and co-worker Tim behind the wheel, the weather worsening and myself clad in a Fire Emblem Black Eagles T-shirt because I had realized at the last minute that I didn't actually own any Pokémon clothing, we set out.
The nearest McDonald's is, immediately, a bust. The woman behind the counter looks at a cluster of twenty- and thirty-somethings walking into McDonald's and says, without preamble: "No cards."
Our second attempt bears no more fruit, even though it features a "LIMIT 10 HAPPY MEALS PER FAMILY" sign. (Which is a lot, really. Who has ten kids? Is this particular McDonald's regularly serving Happy Meals to the entire Nurse Joy or Officer Jenny clan?) We are, unfortunately, residents of a college town with a fairly active Pokémon Go community, so, despite the scalper-deterring sign, this place too is entirely out of cards.
I begin to despair. If I had been driving, we would probably have turned around and given up at this point.
But fortunately, I am not.
We have entirely exhausted the very limited supply of local McDonald's locations, and the next one we decide to try is significantly further afield. Getting there is an epic journey filled with wrong turns, angry drivers and faulty Google Maps navigation - but that's a story for another time.
Partway through the trip, someone brings up the idea of calling the place to see if they have cards. What follows is a tense standoff, each resident of the car a Western gunman wielding a revolver loaded with "I have phone anxiety" and "My phone is almost out of battery" and "I don't have service in this weather".
I am not the loser of this standoff. My phone, battery-drained from too much Google Maps use, saves me. I salute the unfortunate person chosen to make the call.
The lovely woman on the other end of the phone has heard the question before, and her answer is the one we did not think we would possibly hear: They have cards!
A few more missed turns and a tense, rainy wait later, each of us is clutching a Pikachu-faced cardboard box to our chest like it is a priceless treasure. (The McDonald's where we finally experienced our triumph, incidentally, also has a "Limit 10 Happy Meals" sign. The Joy/Jenny families strike again!) During the drive home, the boxes start falling apart and falling open. It seems that, although adorable, the Pikachu box is even more flimsy than the standard Happy Meal container.
Finally home, I absolutely devour the Happy Meal's contents in moments. I am so hungry that I briefly forget to open the pack of cards until I have eaten nearly half of the food.
The Chicken McNuggets are better than I remember. The cup of French fries is disappointingly tiny, and I wonder idly how much money and materials is wasted each year just to make a French fry size that is even smaller than a Small.
The apple slices are still crisp and crunchy, and make me feel slightly better about my fast food dinner. (However, the weird Happy Meal-shaped mascot on the bag is downright terrifying, with his too-wide mouth that looks like he would rather consume me than the apple slices. I wish the bag had Pikachu on it instead.) The chocolate milk is the best part of the meal, and is totally worth the embarrassment of being a twenty-something in McDonald's ordering a Happy Meal with chocolate milk in the first place.
The Pikachu box continues to disappoint. I had wanted to save it, but, over the course of the drive home, it quickly becomes too grease-stained to entertain that possibility. I do however, punch out the cardboard ears which come with the box and stick them in the provided slots. It's adorable, but they fall off almost immediately, as the setup has absolutely nothing in the way of structural integrity.
In my head, I begin to compose a scathing review about how the Pokémon Happy Meal is not worth it in the slightest.
Then, I finally reach the bottom of the box, and find the reason we had embarked on our peril-filled journey in the first place: the pack of cards.
Nestled carefully inside their packaging are a Mudkip, a Chikorita, a Pikachu, and the ultimate prize: a holographic Charmander. My first and still-favorite starter. Out of the twenty-five possible "holo" cards, it is, somehow, the one I've been hoping for the most. At the end of this ridiculous night, a stroke of luck seemingly beyond possibility.
The next several moments are a wave of nostalgia as friends show off their cards, haggle for trades, and proudly display their holographic finds within the complimentary cardboard sleeve which also comes with the Happy Meal (and is, thank goodness, significantly sturdier than the box itself.)
The Pokémon 25th Anniversary Happy Meal is a difficult find, and its custom box leaves a lot to be desired, but the cards are a really lovely touch of nostalgia and a great way to celebrate the anniversary of the beloved franchise. If you can get one without having to drive to multiple far-flung locations like we did, then it's definitely worth a buy. (Just maybe also buy an extra order or two of fries, because you will want them.)
The Pokémon Happy Meal is a limited offer available "while supplies last." Many stores are experiencing shortages, but McDonald's has recently released a statement urging stores to implement purchase limits and has stated their commitment to restocking some locations which ran out quickly.