The Goddess Speaks
Fast-food shift offers insight on life
I'm a sucker for fundraisers so when I was asked to be a McTeacher to help raise funds for the junior class, I thought, well, how hard could it be to work a shift at McDonald's?
Prior to this enlightening experience, I used to tell my students that if they didn't get good grades, they would end up working in a fast-food joint, as if that were the least important and easiest job on the planet.
But I discovered that life in the takeout lane isn't all that simple. For one thing, the codes read like Sanskrit. What is a "grn sld & sthwst" exactly? I could figure out "brgr and frs," but something like "dblchsbrg no mt" presented a challenge. And who on Earth would want a double cheeseburger with no meat? That equates to a grilled cheese sandwich with no grilled.
Working the drive-through window is both a stressful and enlightening experience. The smiling part isn't hard, but it's difficult to follow the codes and organize what goes into what bag and in what quantity and to what car -- and handing out sacks of burgers and drinks is an education in the American Dream.
What I learned is that lots of us are gulping full-sugar drinks in very large containers, lots of our children are not safely seated and secured, extremely small numbers of us order salads or milk, and stressed-looking parents are resorting to fast food as the most efficient way to handle dinner.
I also learned from experience that, for the most part, customers are extraordinarily patient, even when I tried to give them the wrong orders, and I only had to deal with a couple of grouches during my brief career of hand-out-the-food-and-smile. All of the workers inside, and most of the car people outside, were friendly, polite and tired.
Life for working parents just isn't easy. Get the kids ready, drop them at school, go to work, leave kids in A-plus or with a neighbor after school, pick kids up after work, drive to nearest fast-food place for a quick burger plus large medicinal coffee for the adults, then drive to games and practices, then home.
Evening might include some help with the math homework, a little TV and a crash landing in bed. The whole cycle starts again very early the next morning with the occasional quick stop for breakfast sandwiches at the local drive-through.
No wonder everyone looks worn as they grab their bags and hand the Happy Meals over to the back seats. Most of the kids are eager, most of the parents are exhausted.
I recently read an article that pointed out that Americans work much longer hours for more weeks in the year than people in any other developed nation, and if you ever want to see the cost of the American Dream in human terms, hang out at the takeout window in a fast-food restaurant at the end of the day.
Cris Rathyen teaches English at Moanalua High School.
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