It doesn’t matter whether or not the McRib is back.

“The McRib is Back”, the side of the bus screams at me. This isn’t the bus I’m waiting for — this one goes to Old Town; I need to get home — but I welcome it anyways. It’s the bearer of good news.

“Did you know the McRib is back?”, I ask Peter when I get home. Peter tells me he doesn’t really care. I tell him I’m excited — I’m not really, but I think that being excited for the McRib’s return is in character for me — and that I might go and get the McRib sometime.

Some people care too much about the McRib. There are websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages dedicated to tracking the appearance of a pork sandwich. An online community has sprung up around celebrating the return of the McRib. This community also peddles some conspiracy about the “true reason” behind its impermanence, creating YouTube videos titled “The Real Reason McRib Keeps Disappearing From The Menu” and “The Untold Truth Of The McRib.”

These conspiracy theories spread unfounded speculation, sow seeds of distrust, and are generally irresponsibly spread by large media outlets. Even worse, they are symptoms of a community that has built their identity around a very specific pork sandwich.

The closest McDonald’s is a ten-minute walk from my apartment. It’s really not that far and it’s a pretty nice McDonald’s too. They have those ordering machines that let you avoid human interaction when getting a late-night happy meal (though, once I did have to go back to the counter and talk to someone because they forgot my toy; it was a Pokémon with wheels). Ever since I saw that bus ad, I’ve been meaning to go back and try the McRib. This was five months ago.

It’s February and, by now, regardless of how much I despise the community and however much I may try to deny it, my infatuation with the McRib has become a core part of my identity, though I doubt Peter even remembers our conversation still. I’m sure that my all criticism of the McRib community has just been another manifestation of my low self-esteem.

I still haven’t tried the McRib since it returned; who knows if it’s still available? I don’t want to make that trek to McDonald’s only to end up disappointed. I’ll probably be disappointed either way; perhaps I was eating the McRib through rose-tinted dentures.

It’s surprisingly difficult to find information on the availability of the McRib. News reports only announce the sandwich’s arrival, but never its disappearance. The return of the McRib is a coordinated event and a concerted effort: its most recent resurgence was announced on Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 for its first appearance four days later on Monday. 

It’s easy enough to regurgitate a corporate press release and publish an article about the return of the McRib, like CNN and USA Today did in October, but I’ve yet to encounter any headlines warning about the disappearance of the McRib.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not the McRib is still available. I’ve always been more of a McChicken guy and I’ve never really cared for its porcine pal, but the seasonality of the McRib excites me. Every time I hear that the McRib is back, I want one.

The feeling is universal, I’m sure. The McRib is an extremely popular sandwich (or at least a hotly discussed one) only when it returns, but is rarely discussed during its “off-season,” as I’ve come to call it. Google Trends data reveal that, during this “off-season,” interest in the McRib pales in comparison to the McChicken.

Google Trends comparison of the McRib against the McChicken

Nonetheless, the work by what remains of McRib community after the McRib is gone truly shows the limitless potential of the human spirit. Thanks to the McRib Locator, Chad, on February 12th, 2020, well into the sandwich’s “off-season,” reports sighting a McRib just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Just a day later, “J” finds a McRib in Wuhan, China.

While the popularity of the McRib among the general public may wax and wane, these few dedicated individuals endure the frigid Wisconsin winter and the plague-ridden city of Wuhan (though, now typing it out, I suspect that sighting might have been a joke) to seek out this sandwich that holds their community together. These brave few, along with the rest of the tight-knit McRib community, work together to report on the availability of the sandwich, advocate for the sandwich’s permanence on the menu, and console each other in the absence of the McRib.

I love the idea of the McRib, but I don’t really know it. I can’t even remember the last time that I ate one. I guess I just have a little crush on the McRib, but I’m too much of a wuss to ask it out. It’s not that I’m afraid of rejection, but maybe I know, deep down, that no matter what my McRib eating experience is like, it can’t live up to the pedestal that I’ve put it on.

As much as I’ve pined over the McRib, there’s still a lot I don’t know about it. I’m sure truly knowing this sandwich is just a Wikipedia article away, but that would ruin the McRib for me — it has a certain air of mystery around it: why does it disappear every year, why is the meat shaped like a tiny rack of ribs, am I really eating pork?

Still, the answers to these questions are more important than whatever intangible appeal the mystique of the McRib might hold for me. So-called experts (none list a degree in knowing the McRib in their credentials; it’s like if a doctor didn’t have a biology degree) cite the price of pork trimmings and the creation of artificial scarcity as the driving factors behind the sandwich’s annual disappearance.

The fact of the matter is that as much the community around the McRib might complain about the disappearance of the McRib and advocate for it becoming a permanent item on the McDonald’s menu, the sandwich’s permanence would surely spell doom for the community.

Like most of this community, it’s not that I’ve built an identity around liking the McRib, it’s that I’ve built it around celebrating the annual return of the McRib and dreading its disappearance.

Honestly, at this point, I don’t think that I’ll ever end up eating a McRib, but I still appreciate that it can bring so much unpredictability to my life and create such a sense of community for so many. The McRib’s ephemeral nature is its only permanent quality.

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