The McAl(l)ister’s Effect: Basic Memory and the Simple Things

There is a glitch in the simulation.

Nikki and I have a “fast casual” restaurant that is easily our favorite. This type of eatery isn’t popular in some areas of the world, but they are basically a step above fast food, rather than a casual dining or “sit-down” restaurant. Instead you order your food from the counter, sit at a table, and they bring your food when it’s ready. A club and sweet tea for me, a four-cheese griller and veggie chili for Nikki.

That restaurant is called McAlister’s, a popular chain across the Eastern and Midwestern United States. The food is delicious and the service is pretty good. The name, however, is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. You see, Nikki and I have eaten McAlister’s for practically a decade, but up until three months ago McAlister’s wasn’t spelled that way. It had an extra “L” and was spelled McAllister’s. Don’t you think I know how my favorite restaurant is spelled?


No, Google, I meant McAllister’s.

And yet recently, hungry and walking through the shops in a promenade of a suburb of St. Louis, we see a sign written in a consistent typeface with the rest of the signs in the mall. McAlister’s.

“Weird that they misspelled the name McAllister’s,” I recall saying to Nikki. She gave me a puzzled look. “By giving it only one “L,” I clarify.

“Oh, yeah, that is weird,” she agreed.

Being a P.R. major in undergrad, I totally understand that signs and promotional material get misspelled all the time. Probably someone noticed after production of the sign, but it just wasn’t worth the extra expenses to get it changed for the sake of a missing “L” that only someone like me would notice.

But then we reach the eatery itself and the logo is wrong too. Going inside, all of the insignia displayed on the menus and paraphernalia adorning the walls is also spelled with the singular letter. I was so sure of the spelling of my favorite restaurant. I felt like someone walked over my grave.

Oh, don’t bother looking it up. The internet will insist that I’m wrong. It will tell you the restaurant started in 1989 in Oxford, Mississippi after retrofitting a gas station used in the production of the film Heart of Dixie. Truthfully, I can only find one real reference to the origin of it’s name, found in a 2016 Oxford Eagle article, stating the restaurant was named after the founder’s wife’s parents.

And yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I just know that McAlister’s has two L’s. My eyes still deceive me. It’s right there in the logo — two identical L’s, offset only by the curve of the banner. I even Photoshopped the logo and added an L to make sure it fits — it totally does. Therefore, I am left to draw one of three mutually exclusive conclusions. I believe only one of these could be true.

  1. Time travel is real. Someone went back in time and changed the name of the company at its origin. Somehow I am unaffected by the change in history.
  2. The entire universe is a simulation. The programmers updated McAlister’s to have one L, but somehow was unable to update my consciousness. Lab experiment, perhaps?
  3. Human memory just isn’t that good at fine details.

As compelling as the first option is, I just don’t see the one thing time travelers doing is going back to change a company name, unless doing so will prevent doomsday or something. And the second one… well there’s not much I can do about that. Nope, I think Occam’s razor applies and it’s probably definitely the third one: human memory is incredibly fallible.

This is The McAlister’s Effect: where I’m wrong about something blatantly staring me right in the face. The realization that I was wrong about the spelling of my favorite restaurant was a real moment of self-discovery for me, because I consider myself a person of excellent memory about the small details of life. In my career, I’m required to intuitively remember numbers, letters, colors, and style guides. When writing, I endeavor to have an advanced repository of words to make my points as clearly as possible. And yet, how can I effectively accomplish this when my mind has influenced my memory of something so simple as my favorite restaurant’s name? It’s a wonder I’m ever able to get any work done at all.

I have to wonder what other truths are hiding in plain sight that I’m just missing due to my own bias. And more importantly, what does this mean for my long-term memories — the ones that make up my identity and I look back on with fondness. I want to believe they truly exist and played out exactly as I recall. The trouble is a number of those great memories take place at McAllister’s, a place that doesn’t even exist.

If the solution were of practicality, I’d say just use more brainpower to pay attention to the whole of your surroundings. Journal it constantly if you have to. But humans do not have perfect memory, and that’s why you can get seven different accounts of the same scene from seven different people. Additionally, I get the suspicion that the harder a person tries to remember the excruciating details of an event, the murkier and more distorted they get. Based on our current understanding of long-term memory, this is likely due to re-accessing memories causing them to change slightly and merge together.

Yet, even memory doesn’t completely account for The McAlister’s Effect — the times where I’m wrong about something blatantly staring me right in the face. To combat this, I think I’m going to write down all of my forgone conclusions about the important things in life: relationships, worldview, personality, skills, and so on to make sure I’m not missing something else so glaringly obvious. I may even search for The McAlister’s Effect in aspects of my own life in future posts.

I’m just saying, though, time travel explains everything.

Where in your life did you discover The McAlister’s Effect? What things have you missed which were, in retrospect, right in front of you. They can be as insignificant as a restaurant name, or as important as relationship conflict. As always, I would love to discuss in the comments.

  1. Just this year I discovered that there is no such thing as light(e)ning! My entire life, I’ve been spelling and pronouncing “lightning” this way and in spite of two sisters who were English majors, a masters degree in creative writing, ten years of teaching English, reading thousands of books, writing countless P.R. releases, having numerous stories and poems published and participating in more writing groups than I can count as well, I have never noticed this and no one has pointed it out to me! How can this be? Could it be the McCal(l)ister’s effect? Is it epidemic or a rare disease?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my goodness, the same exact thing happened to me! I figured out the proper spelling of lightning about a year ago, so I got curious and tried to track down the reasoning. Turns out lightening is a word meaning to lighten in color or weight. It’s just a guess, but I have reason to believe someone in my family set the word lightning to automatically change to lightening on Word on the Windows 98 computer we had during the formative years of my education. My mom was never a great speller, so it makes sense. Now every time I type lightning, I have to consciously omit the E. Basically, you are not alone, and thank you for “lightening” my spirits about this.


      • We should check We probably have family genes in common. I can’t blame family members or computers, though, as I was in my thirties before personal computers became common.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Something similar to this came up in one of my favourite tv programs recently, a comedy news show called “Have I got News for You”. They were talking about the rebranding of a chocloate biscuit (no respelling, just slightly different look or something). The biscuit is called Blue Riband. It always has been (and I know this because I always knew this). However when I was a kid I misread it and called Blue Ribbon. That is what my parents called it and everyone I knew. It wasn’t until I was a bit older I realised I had been misreading it. When they were in the news twitter and social media went a bit bonkers (apparently) as people realised they had been reading it wrong the entire time. It was daft. As humans, we sometimes are in a hurry and we look at groupings of letters but don’t focus on them, we simply fill in the presumed gaps from memory and as a result we misread things. It is the same process by which a human reads the panels of a comic and fills in from experience what happens in the gutter (the space between panels where the action that you dont see occurs). It is quite amazing, and as good a justification as any for having proofreaders…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s