I started my first fast food job three days before I turned sixteen. When your in high school, fast food's flexible hours are attractive. The work sucks, especially closing the store when all the friers have to be broken down and film of grease scrubbed off the floors with a product called degreaser.
My lot in life kept me in the front of every story I worked out. I was a damned good cashier and I was polite to customers even when it hurt.
As a consequence I've seen people go berserk because their special order burrito or hamburger wasn't perfect. Once customer tried to pull a girl I worked with right through the driver's window. In this case he was rabid over a taco and when she leaned out to take the bag of mistakes back, he grabbed her. She screamed and seven of us dropped what we were doing to come running.
It was late, just before closing and I don't think he realized how many people were working. Seeing it happen taught me a lesson about leaning out of the window too far. Don't do it. I also learned how to avoid quick change artists, free food scams, and that customers would orders that weren't theirs. Some would even return shamelessly to the counter for their order.
When I worked at Pals, a strange but delicious regional joint, we had this one customer who always got the wrong order. Her special hamburger was not rocket science and yet every time she ordered it, we managed to screw it up by epic proportion. More often than not, she got a sandwich she hadn't ordered or paid for. She was never belligerent, because we always apologized and gave her the correct food. But one day, she broke. She cursed up a storm about how we never got her order right.
It's unfortunate, but until she threw her fit, she had been just a face in the crowd. I didn't actually believe her as she screamed at me-- customers have been trained to claim this in hopes of free food. I recoiled from the verbal abuse, hollered what I needed and directed her to pull up indicating we'd bring her the food.
Her order was not complicated. What exactly, I don't know. But I remember being shocked when she came back and it still wasn't right. Three tries, and we got it. I've worked joints with crappy management where repeated mistakes but for a well oiled fast food machine, which Pals is, this many screw ups is not ordinary. And whether you believe it or not, accuracy is point of pride for many fast food workers. This is because even when a job sucks, employees can't divorce themselves from the warm glow of a job well done. Management has to be radioactive to create total apathy in the staff.
At Pals there was true pride extending beyond this. The full time staff had not resigned themselves to the fact that life had not let them be whatever they wanted to be but embraced it. Patty could sling burgers like nobodies business. When she wasn't on shift, it took two people to do what could handle all on her lonesome. There was one full time staffer for each position and during peek hours where cars wrapped around the restaurant and spilled into the main street, Pals functioned like a well oiled machine. No matter how long the line was, customers never hesitated to stop.
We couldn't wallow in our repeated mistakes over the woman's order, but because we had pride, we felt it. We snapped at each other to make sure we each did our part and at last we delivered everything correctly. The next time she came through, I remembered her and issued an order to make sure the food was correct.
It wasn't. These happened a few more times before it dawned on me that this was a thing beyond our control. This woman had a lot in life. Every time she ordered food, it would be wrong. It's such a small thing that God, the great creator, fate, whatever couldn't be bother with such. Well, perhaps the powers that be have a whacked sense of humor, but I think everybody has a thing they can't avoid. For me it's crazy neighbors. The joy of my first apartment was marred by the schizophrenic living next door. Actually, he seemed pretty nice and I tried to keep an open mind when he told me about his issue and said I had nothing to worry about because he was on medication. I could not keep my mind open after he showed up, knife in hand, banging at door one night. Suffice to say, I didn't answer the door.
Well, he had a legitimate mental condition. Most of my neighbors since have been sanely nuts. Despite overwhelming evidence, it wasn't until recently that I realize wherever I move, if my I have sane neighbors to start with, they will promptly leave and the crazy folk move in.
This is just a theory of course. I can't prove it's true, but I think, despite free will, people get a parcel. Life's lot means your friend can do x and nobody will say mum and when you do x you get arrested. There are just certain ways things work and don't work for you. Perhaps it's fate keeping us on our path or perhaps the powers that be have a fucked up sense of humor.
So what's your lot in life? Does it frustrate you? Have you made peace with it?
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).