It’s just another Friday night at Burger King. It’s not quite nine o’clock and already the parking lot — what we affectionately refer to as Loser Central — is packed with geeks and freakers and all sorts of scum who come here to drink beer on the hoods of their cars until the cops come and take apart their cars looking for more. After that, it’s a quick jaunt over to Burger King for the rest of the evening’s entertainment.
THWEEP! THWEEP! THWEEP! I haven’t even answered the call yet and already I can hear them giggling in the background. I don’t even bother walking to the register.
“Welcome to Burger King,” I say automatically. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah,” starts the guy. Sounds wasted. “I’d like… a million whoppers please.” There’s a burst of laughter and a screech of tires and the car whips past the drive thru window doing warp factor nine. Well, I guess it was a good thing I didn’t go ahead and call back a million whoppers. It was just a practical joke.
I notice the new guy stocking up the broiler area with frozen meat. I guess his name is JOE; that’s what his name tag reads. It’s a little bit funny to watch JOE totally absorbed in putting frozen burgers in one end of the broiler and running around to take cooked burgers out the other end. But then, he’s the new guy. New guys are always trying to work as hard as the kids in the training videos. They force their faces to smile while doing what essentially boils down to stoking a furnace with meat and dance around the store with boxes and bags, take out the trash and are all generally polite to everyone. Luckily that only lasts about three days. After that I figure JOE will either quit and get a better paying job like building a pyramid for a dead king or he’ll stay on like the rest of us damaged goods. Hating the job, but coming in every Friday night because the French Foreign Legion won’t take any more recruits. I’m sorry. That’s my excuse.
I almost forgot. “Stymie, I’d like my order sometime today.” A real customer is sitting at the window has been waiting for his food for 36 seconds; a lifetime in Burger King terms. We’re supposed to be able to get any order out in 30 seconds or less. At least the smiling kids in the videos do. But then the smiling kids making the Whoppers are probably not as dumb as Stymie, he’s on the edge of retarded. He’s working through the district work program, which means they pushed him into this career path because they didn’t trust him to build the school store. He’s slow; it took him six months to master the fryers. But I can’t really insult him. He doesn’t have a lot of brains, but he works hard with what he’s got. He even got promoted to burger boards; now he gets to make the Whoppers though remembering all the ingredients seems to be taking up an awful lot of his time. It’s sad really. Stymie’s hunched over the stainless steel counter with the box in hand. He takes a burger from JOE and opens it up, puts two spirals of mustard and two spirals of ketchup on it.
“You need to microwave the burger first,” I point out. No problem. Stymie consults the laminated instruction sheet permanently adhered to the microwave door. Next is two swipes of mayonnaise on the top bun, then a handful of lettuce and a slice of tomato —
“Two tomato slices,” I remind him. Two tomato slices. The bottom half of the burger is steaming inside the microwave. Stymie pulls it out, slaps four pickle slices and a piece of onion on it then closes the box and hands it to me triumphantly. And I take it triumphantly — though I only needed a Whopper plain. Oh well. This is the drive thru. If the customers really wanted it right, they’d come inside and order where they could check the food right there and then.
THWEEP! THWEEP! THWEEP! That noise in my headset does to my brain what an earthquake does to an Etch-a-Sketch. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs I answer the call.
“Welcome to Burger King, can I help you?”
“Yeah,” he says with an implied “dude” at the end. Here it comes. “I need a Whopperonlylettuceonlyonionsandawhopperonlycheeseandpickleandheavytomatoandtwowhoppersheavyketchupheavymustardnolettucepickletomatoormayoandfourlargecokes. Got that?”
“Sure,” I reply with my friendliest voice. “Whopperonlylettuceonlyonion, Whopperonlycheesepickleheavytomato, two Whoppersnolettucepickletomatoheavymustardheavyketchup and four large cokes, right?”
There’s a long pause and the laughter I thought I heard in the background is gone. “Uh… yeah. Right.”
“Would you like some fries with that?”
“Uh… no. Thanks.”
“Please pull up to the window,” you moron. I don’t bother calling the order back because nine times out of ten they leave at this point. And sure enough, I see a car slip past the window. I feel a little bit sorry raining on their parade like that. Now they won’t be getting any tonight. But then, I’m not going to get any tonight either. You can forget what they say about a man in uniform.
I happen to walk past the fry station and notice Tricia is hard at work there. We must be hard pressed for help; usually they don’t allow her back in the kitchen. The only thing she’s really qualified to do is sweep the floors. She’s one of those girls that give blondes a bad name. She should be wearing an “I’m Stupid and Proud of It” button or something. Tricia would actually be pretty if it weren’t for the fact she has dead eyes and nothing ever registers.
When she first started working here I’d insult her. It was easy. She started like everyone else putting meat through the broiler. She heard we were busy so she put a whole bunch of meat through the broiler. So much, in fact, the meat filled the catch pan on the other side and was backing up into the broiler again. After all was said and done she had ruined almost twenty pounds of beef and cooked us enough hamburgers at breakfast time to last us until eight the next night. She took my ribbing almost unconsciously. All she could do was complain that no one had explained the job to her. She didn’t know how to tell she was putting in too much meat. Apparently the three foot flames licking the edges of the ceiling hood weren’t enough. On top of that, she didn’t realize that for every meat patty she sent through, a bun had to be sent through as well. Then they put her up front with me on the main register. All she had to do was fill drinks and put them on trays. Not a difficult job; I never even thought about it. Until I was doused by Coca Cola. To save time, Tricia had put the lids on the drinks first before sticking them under the fountain spigots.
Now she was making fries. And not just any fries, but those blanch white soggy kind of fries you only get when you cook them in the wrong oil. One fryer is filled with oil for fries, the other is filled with oil for fish sandwiches and other stuff. I guess the “FRENCH FRIES ONLY!” and “DO NOT COOK FRIES IN THIS FRYER!” signs were enough for her to tell which was which.
“Tricia,” I say slowly so she recognizes her name. “We can’t sell these fries.”
“Why?” she asks. I pick up one of the little bags of veins and give it to her. She takes it with both hands as it must weigh three pounds with all that absorbed oil.
“Would you eat these?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No, I’m a vegetarian.”
I decide to quit while I’m ahead. Shooing Tricia away, I pitch out the albino earthworm fries and drop a basket of good ones. Tricia walks to the back to sweep out the delivery area. Maybe if we get busier, I’ll let her come back and open up the little bags the fries come in. Maybe if we slow down, I’ll ask her to cook two fish filets while holding up four fingers and watch her head explode.
THWEEP! THWEEP! THWEEP! Here we go again.
“Welcome to Burger King, can I help you?” I can hear more giggling in the background.
“We’d like — snort — two Whoppers with Cheese, a — mmph — fish sandwich, three large fries, a coke and two vanilla shakes.” Whatever. If I was going to do something stupid, like prank a drive thru, the least I’d do is have someone who could stop laughing make the order. I actually don’t mind the pranking itself; it’s that they question my intelligence the way they do that makes me mad. I don’t call the order back, but to my surprise the car actually pulls up to the window and stops. The guy hands me the money then they take off; laughing at me and pointing at me and all I can do is hang out the drive-in window. Stunned. I look at their car rapidly receding, then look at the money in my hand. Then look at the car, then look back at the money in my hand. In a minute, it’s going to dawn on them that their joke didn’t quite work out the way they wanted. But by then I will probably be on break — out somewhere — eating out for the first Friday night in months.
AC – 3A81B