Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Hello, welcome to McDonald's...."

I once read a statistic that claimed 33% of all Americans have worked, at least at one point, at a McDonald's. Given the prevalence of the restaurant throughout the country, I can certainly believe that without taking a leap of faith.

In fact, I am one of them.

Working at McDonald's was my first job. My mother decided that getting a job would be "good for me" when I was about 17 years old. In retrospect, she was probably right. The application process fourteen years ago is probably the best indicator of how the job market has changed--I picked up probably about two-dozen applications from as many chain stores and restaurants as a suburban town can generally offer. In one or two cases, I sat down right away with managers who were all too eager to sign me up for their shop's patented variety of menial labor. I can't say what made me settle on McDonalds exactly, but I am sure my experience would have been about the same, if less grease covered, anywhere else.

I worked there for a year, and overall, it wasn't terrible. I spent a lot of time relegated to the drive-thru window, which was connected to the kitchen via conveyor belt. There were a lot of really great people there, actually, but there was a drawback--the later afternoon and evening shifts were entirely staffed by kids, none of whom had yet reached the ripe old age of 20.

Giving any measure of power to someone under 18 years old is a drastic mistake, and one that the owner of this McDonald's made many times over. None of the managers had yet graduated from the local high school, and good judgement under most circumstances was suspect at best. By far, the worst offender was this guy Sean who was conveniently dating the owner's daughter at the time. Sean would take any and all available opportunities to increase his self-esteem by making other staff members' lives as miserable as possible. At one point, five minutes before my shift ended, he demanded that I mop the floor of the entire restaurant, even though my mother had to come across town to pick me up. Sean quickly recanted this order, realizing that a frustrated, delayed parent could probably curb his power-high pretty quickly. He was also the worst offender when it came to unlocking register drawers and moving money around for no apparent reason--the result of this behavior pattern was my being "sanctioned," which basically meant being closely watched and relegated to the grill, because money had "disappeared" too often from my drawer.

Customers filled in the general bell-curve of cooperative-ness. One guy, a guy I recognized from the local church my family attended, faithfully came to the restaurant and sat in viewing range of the main counter, eerily eyeing the male employees and often offering consistently refused rides home from work. Tuesday night was kids night, with a corresponding reduction on happy meal prices, and the restaurant and outdoor play area would be swarmed with poorly supervised, young children. I'll never forget the one time I hosted a McDonald's birthday party. The staff member originally assigned to the task hadn't showed up that day, so I took the job, and it was a disaster. I'll never forget the general disapproval from the lower-class parental clientele at this event. One of the oddest requests I ever got from anyone was a "cheeseburger happy meal without the meat." Although I applaud a mindful parent, I have to ask why he/she came to McDonalds, of all places, if the main ingredient in all meals is well known to be meat-based protein.

I only worked at McDonalds for a year. The following summer, I opted for a more civilized and higher paying position as a hostess at an Olive Garden.

Recently, the McDonalds of my memory was closed, which surprised me a great deal. How ANY McDonalds can close baffles me, but the owner perhaps decided to focus on the more lucrative, and less crowded by rivals, restaurant he purchased in a neighboring town. Sad to see this staple of the local strip mall boarded up, and I often wonder what happened to the many people with whom I worked and did not stay in touch. One thing is true--when I start talking about working at McDonalds wherever I am and whenever I need to break the ice, at least one or two other people have similar stories.