I’m clocking in, irritated before the day has even begun. Last minute shift changes annoy me. Cars hanging in the passing lane when they aren’t passing, making me late for my shift, aggravate me, too.
I’m third generation American, of the Italian variety, though you wouldn’t know it by my first name, Janet. I’m a burger flipper by day, aspiring writer by night. A daughter cut off from family funds merely because she (I) failed a semester (or two) of college.
People assume I’m stupid because I work at McDonald’s. My father says that’s not true. People think I’m stupid because I skipped classes and hid out in my dorm room watching soap operas. Fine, dad, you’ve got two other daughters (über over-achievers), you can fawn over. You don’t have to worry about me.
Juan, another burger flipper, wiggles his fingers at me, his way of waving. I call him “Joo-an”— with a “ja” sound, not “ha.”
“Good morning, Hanet,” he says. “You has hash browns?”
“Yes, Joo-an, I has them.” These immigrants—they should go work at Taco Bell. I set the fryer for 325 degrees. Joo-an’s all thumbs at the coffee maker. No equilibrium when he’s around me—ever since I asked to see his green card. The aroma of coffee begins battling with sausage smells, making me wonder how many customers will try to redeem expired coupons for free java with a purchase of a McMuffin. People.
Tammy’s on duty today. Each manager emphasizes something different. She’s big on creating “golden moments” for our customers, especially the younger ones. That means when the old woman with the granddaughter in a wheelchair comes in, and the little imp whines she already has the Easter Island Head toy from “Night in the Museum,” I’ll have to give her Rexy with a smile. Then I’ll have to watch Joo-an come from around the counter and give Meez Hennifer a spin around the restaurant (like it’s really a restaurant). They’ll chit-chat with patrons before stopping in front of Ronald McDonald where Meez Hennifer will drop in her big-bucks-quarter donation.
“Janet,” Tammy says to me as the hash browns brown, “I need you in booth one.” Booth one takes the drive-through orders. I’ll have ninety seconds to get the customer past my window from the time they give me their first menu item at the speaker. That’s when the register’s internal clock begins ticking. Talk about pressure. People usually start their orders and then ask everyone else in the car what they want. Money-fumbling is the norm. Tick-tock.
I also detest when smokers exhale into my face. Then there are the Prius owners who ask how many carbon emissions went into their Big Mac. Shouldn’t all Prius owners be vegetarians? Just asking.
It’s almost noon when Tammy releases me from the booth. I utilize the facilities, gulp down a Coke (yowza—a perk) and take over register three.
Things have slowed down when I look up to see the old woman, the grandmother. She and her granddaughter in the wheelchair come in every Tuesday and Thursday after preschool. Except today, there’s no wheelchair and no Meez Hennifer. Joo-an comes over though he should be helping his customer at register one, a guy in paint-splotched overalls.
“Meezez Trenton, where eez Meez Hennifer?” There’s urgency in Joo-an's voice—not the usual quiver—even though he’s standing in my space.
“She’s really sick, Juan. It's res-pir-a-tor-y.” She demonstrates with a deep breath. “I’m hoping a milk shake will help.”
The painter-guy-customer marches over. “She’s gonna be all right—right?”
“I’m praying, Brian.”
What? These people know each other’s names? This is McDonald’s, for Pete’s sake!
Joo-an slides around the counter and engulfs the grandmother. She burrows into his light blue Oxford shirt, near his nametag. Brian, the painter, pats her shoulder.
I can’t decide if this scene is sappy or tender and sweet, but either way, it’s breaking my heart. My acerbic, little, nineteen-year-old-heart. Acerbic? No, I’m not bitter. That’s for old people. Old people whose lives are empty and meaningless.
“You okay, Hanet?” asks Juan.
“Fine, look—never mind. I’m getting that milk shake.”
Tammy peeks out from the kitchen, a hovering head over the gathering burgers. “What’s going on?”
I want to tell her it’s all good, that people are being served, really served. A golden moment under the golden arches. It’s what I’m thinking, but I can’t bring myself to say something that gooey.
Baby steps, Hanet.
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