28 08 2009

After my oh-so-exciting consultation with my new doctor, I took the baby sitter home.  Driving back through town I realized that it was nearly 2:30 and I hadn’t had anything to eat since six a.m., so I drove through a Hardee’s drive-thru and got a mushroom swiss burger, curly fries and a coke.  Driving home, those curly fries brought back so many memories!

I worked at Hardee’s during my first year away from home.  I especially liked working opening shift.  My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. (or 0-dark-thirty as my boyfriend used to say).  I would sort of fall into the shower and into my clothes before my body had time to protest.  The walk to work was the best part of my day.  Every day I saw the sun come up.  I heard the birds wake up.  The sky was deep blue pearling to gray.  Campus was impossibly quiet.  A few lone cars hissed softly by.  One man in his pajamas would wave, out in the yard walking his dog.

In the restaurant, the biscuit lady was making biscuits in a big plastic bowl.  She kneaded the lard into the flour mixture with her hands, pressing and leaning rythmically and talking to one of the prep cooks.  No one moved fast in the morning.  I made tea and coffee, pouring pots of hot tea and sugar mix into the dispenser and filling it with water.  The floors were damp and squeaky with a new mopping.  The manager walked around muttering to himself and making last minute changes on the time sheets.

At a quarter to six I opened my register.  On the best days I had the drive-thru.  Working drive-thru is more difficult because everyone is in a hurry and if things don’t go well, you’re to blame.  But it’s also more challenging.  I loved it.  Days flew by when I was on window.  I adjusted the headset over my visor and clipped the speaker button to my belt, and opened the window to breathe in the morning.

The first hour was usually truckers.  Truckers and yard men are extraordinarily polite.  Business men look at you like you’re a bug and don’t even stop talking on their cell phones long enough to say thank you, but truckers like a friendly face and a nice smile with their biscuits.  They always had something nice to say to me.

I think the worst thing I ever did while working with Hardee’s I did to two yard men.  They ordered a big lunch, probably for their whole crew, and paid me with a fifty.  When you’re working window, you’re not just preparing one order, you’re preparing five or six.  You have the tickets laid out on the counter, you put in the special orders, make sure the fries aren’t running out, pull the drinks and set them by the right tickets, lay out napkins and straws, take money, check the fries, bag an order, serve an order, take money and take a new order, make a milk shake, take more money, make change, bag an order, give extra ketchup, take another order…  It can get very confusing.  On this particular day we were impossibly slammed, not only in the drive-thru, but also in the dining room so no one was free to help me.  When I handed the lawn guys their order and said, “Have a nice day!” they just stared at me.    “What?” I asked.  “What about our change?” the driver asked politely, “I paid with a fifty and you haven’t given me my change.”

I froze in panic.  I stared at my drawer.  With the clock ticking and people piling up in line I could not, for the life of me, remember if I had handed out their change or not.  I thought I had.  I could almost remember it.  It was a lot of money, nearly $30.  If they were bluffing me (and people did all the time) the discrepancy would come out of my check and I would automatically be put on probation for losing an amount greater than $2.  I was horror struck.  “I gave you your change,” I said weakly.  “No you didn’t,” the man said very positively.  The shift manager came over to find out why nothing was moving.  The shift manager, a thin, bitter woman who had worked there for God only knows how long, hated me.  “Give the man his money,” she snapped.  “I swear I paid him!” I cried.

The big man, the boss, was a tall, gentle black man who was always very polite and kind to me.  He came out of the dinky little office when he heard voices raised.  He looked at me very seriously and said, “Did you give them their change?”  I burst into tears and said, “I don’t know!  I can’t remember!”  Those two guys in the truck had to pull over in the parking lot and wait while my register was closed down, the totals printed, and my entire drawer counted out.  Another girl pulled her drawer and took my place while I was counting my money under the eagle eyes of the owner.  It came out exactly their thirty-something dollars over.  I was completely humiliated, but the owner only patted my shoulder and took the money out to the men.  He never said another thing about it.

I had another run-in with the shift manager not long afterward.  There was a particularly charming old woman who was one of my favorite customers.  She came in frequently, and I always loved to have her in my line because she was so cheerful.  She liked a bit of a chat while she was ordering, and she always ordered the same thing: a plain cheeseburger with a small fry and a senior drink.  One day, as she stood studying the menu, pink-cheeked, adorable, and clutching her big green umbrella, she said, “I think I want to try something new today.”  This was an Event of Some Importance.  I stood ready to suit her slightest whim.   “Oh, I wish I could see them before I order them,” she fretted, “What if I buy it and don’t like it?”  It was essential, I knew, not to waste this meal.  This was not a question of throwing something out and re-ordering if it didn’t suit.  There was only one chance of getting it right, or the meal would be lost until tomorrow.  Maybe it was her only meal of the day; I had no way of knowing.

“I could let you see,” I offered.  “Could you?” she gasped.  “Sure!”  Angela, hero of the Hardee’s franchise, cavalierly grabbed a small delux burger from the waiting line-up and opened the foil wrapper so she could see.  I honestly thought I had touched the burger only with the paper.  She looked at it and was pleased, but she wasn’t quite sure whether she wanted that one or another one, so I re-wrapped the sandwich and put it back in line.  Immediately the shift manager swooped down on me and grabbed it.  She held it up like a dead rat and yelled back at the kitchen guys, “Look at this!  Angela just WASTED this burger.”  She dinged the bell and left it sitting on the special order ledge, then glared at me like I’d swiped sixty bucks from my register.

“How did I waste it?” I protested, “I never touched it.”  “Yes, you did,” she hissed, “I SAW you.”  I didn’t touch it, I argued, more loudly.  I was turning beet red in front of my customer.  She shook her head sadly, miserable that her pitiful little desires had been the source of this scene.  The shift manager pushed her face right up against mine, her black eyes gleaming, and she put every ounce of cruelty into her words that she possibly could, “Oh, I would like to SLAP YOUR FACE OFF,” she spat, then whirled and marched into the back.

“Oh, I am sorry.  I am so sorry,” my lady pleaded.  “It’s not your fault,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes, “but I didn’t touch it, did I?”  “No, of course not!” she said firmly.  She bought one of the new burgers and went off to enjoy it, her back held straight and her umbrella clutched firmly under her arm.  Through the whole shift the manager went around hissing, “Wasted!” at my back and talking (loudly) to the other girls about how deceitful I was and how I lied about everything and how much she hated me.  By the end of the shift, I had had it.  I went to the boss and told him I quit.

The manager’s office was just barely large enough for a steel teacher’s desk and a chair in it.  There were dot matrix print outs all over the walls with our shifts and profit numbers and other random information mounted all over the walls with push-pins stuck straight into the drywall.  The owner had to unfold himself to get up from his desk without banging the chair into the wall.  But he did.  He got up immediately and pulled me back into the cooler room, which was where anyone went for a quite talk.  The lettuce, althought interested, never repeated anything it heard.  “Now, what’s the problem,” he asked seriously.  I poured out the torrid story of the “wasted” hamburger and told him that I had only put it back to keep it warm, I really thought she would buy it, I never touched it with my hands, etc.  He listened for a while, then said, “The problem is, they resent you.”

“What?”  I was completely knocked off balance.  “Yes,” he insisted, “They resent you because you get more hours than they do.  You’re reliable, you’re on time, you don’t miss work, and so you get more hours than they do.  Don’t quit.”  “Ok,” I breathed, nearly breathless to find out that this man gave me extra hours and hard shifts because he liked my work.  “And don’t worry about the manager, I’ll talk to her,” he promised.  Which he did, but she still hated me, and I don’t think it was because of how many hours I worked, either.  With her, it was always something personal.  The owner’s approval draped around my shoulders like an iron shield, though,  and there wasn’t much she could do about it except whisper, “wasted” once in a while when no one else was around.

Her hissed insinuations were even harder to take because, when I went home that night and calmed down, I remembered that I had touched the burger with my hands.  I was wrong.  She was right.




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