another clown named Ronald

The site of possibly the most famous Big Mac ever eaten has been torn down, a victim of progress' cold march forward. But like the mighty Phoenix, it has risen anew, this time with a shrine to the man who ate the legendary burger.

On October 15, 1984 President Ronald Reagen was heading home from a speech he'd given at the University of Alabama. Whether he was struck by a hankering for special sauce or a "regular guy" photo-op we'll never know, but the motorcade pulled into the lot at the Northport McDonald's in the Northwood Shopping Center.

Inside, the Great Communicator tucked into a Big Mac, large fries and sweet tea, but not before asking and aide "What am I supposed to order?"

Joining him for this historic meal were locals Charles Patterson and Greg Pearson. They talked 'Bama football, which was still in turmoil following Coach Bear Bryant's death two years earlier.

Over the years the mementos of the visit have vanished. The $20 bill Reagen used to pay, photos of the event and the plaque reading "President Reagan ate here."

Rick Hanna bought the landmark 11 years later.

"It is kinda sad," said Rick Hanna, who purchased the restaurant in 1995. "I was telling a guy (Wednesday), 'Over in Italy, they build around their ruins. Here, we tear them down and start over. It's kinda sad that we do that."

The "we" Hanna is referring to is himself. He was behind the demolition of the original store. The new one is slated to open Tuesday. It will feature a bronze bust of Reagen under a warm halo of light 24 hours a day.

"We just felt like we wanted to put something back to carry on that remembrance," Hanna said.

"They need something to pay tribute to President Reagan, because I don't know how many McDonald's he ate at. I would guess it's fewer than many," Pearson said.

One shudders to think how dull life must be in Northport when Hanna says "Hopefully it will give back to the community what they were missing."

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