This must be the place: ‘Two all-beef patties, special sauce…’
That slow walk from the car.
When I was 16 years old, I entered the American workforce. I was the breakfast and lunch cook for McDonald’s in Champlain, New York. And it was that slow walk from my rusted out 1989 Toyota Camry to the side entrance under the bright yellow arches, into another morning and early afternoon amid the chaos of the fast food world.
The reason I bring up this juncture of my teen years is the mere fact that exact McDonald’s back in my hometown had a “grand reopening” recently. What’s new? You can order from the touch of a button at the self-service kiosks, dine-in table service, and a two-lane drive-thru — all to maximize your experience with Ronald & The Gang.
In February 2001, I turned 16. And, as quickly as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, two things happened — I wanted my driver’s license, and my parents wanted me to get a job. Soon, I had purchased the old Camry for $300. It had over 200,000 miles on it and you could smell gasoline if the tank was over half-full.
Once I was driving, I’d pick up my best friend two towns over. We’d cruise around, smoking cigarettes, smoking joints, turning up the radio, honking at whoever and whatever we drove by. And, since he didn’t have a car of his own, I’d drive him to work at McDonald’s. He was a year older than me, and had been working at McDonald’s since he turned 16. He was head of the drive-thru, and was damn good at it, as myself and other friends would roll up and harass him for extra napkins and ketchup packets.
And during one of those “high rides” with my best buddy, he turned to me and said, “Want a job?” Huh? Where? “With me at McDonald’s, it’d be sick. You and me. Hanging out. Pay is good, too.”
So, he got me an interview. I was nervous, never having sat down for a job interview before. The manager looked over my resume and me in about the same amount of time — quickly from lack of appearance and experience. She said I’d need to trim my muttonchops (sideburns), cut off my goatee, and get rid of my large hemp necklace. After that? I had the job. Minimum wage, make my own hours each week, and side-by-side with my buddy. Heck yeah.
That first day, I got thrown into the grill, cracking hundreds of eggs for breakfast sandwiches and flipping just as many burgers for Big Macs and Quarter Pounders. It was hot back there, and also a tad awkward seeing as the guy doing the same tasks next to me was three times my age, and also my bus driver before I got my license. Awkward not in who he was and what we were doing, but in that he now looked at me as an adult, a co-worker, an equal, whereas I’d never been viewed that way before.
At 16, I didn’t have any bills, per say. I was years out from the unbearable debt that is college loans. This was before I owned a cell phone, let alone any kind of real responsibilities that would require money. At that time, my parents just wanted me to have my own income, which I spent on gas, weed, and whatever it would cost for my older friend to buy my buddy and I two six-packs of Labatt Blue.
That McDonald’s was located right on the Canadian border. It was really the only fast food spot for dozens of miles in any direction. It was the first stop for tour buses going from Montreal to New York City, and the last stop for tour buses heading into Canada. So, you could imagine the look of fear in my co-workers eyes when two of these buses would appear out-of-nowhere, at the same time, filled with unruly senior citizens in search of double cheeseburgers and milkshakes.
Once work was done, I’d clock out and bolt for the door. During that walk across the large parking lot to my car, I could still smell the burgers and fries on my uniform. But, I didn’t care. It was Saturday afternoon and I had nothing to do and nowhere to go, and all was right in the world, in my eyes, at least.
I’d hop into that crappy Camry and pull to the exit. To the left and right, nothing but cornfields in the distance. Straight ahead was a truck stop filled with anonymous faces piloting these massive machines of cargo to destinations unknown, in and out of international boundaries. Behind me was my teenage employer. Next to me was my best friend, just as eager to get out of there, out of that town, as I was.
I’m 32 now, which means I worked at that McDonald’s half-a-lifetime ago. That place, and that person I was, seems so distant and foreign to me. But, I do remember how that experience kick started whatever it was I felt within me that I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure what that “thing” was, but I knew it wasn’t there, or in that town, that someday I’d track down my ultimate path.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The final “Art After Dark” of the year will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 1 in downtown Waynesville.
2 Heidi Holton (blues/folk) will perform at 8 p.m. Nov. 24 at Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) and 6 p.m. Nov. 25 at Andrews Brewing Company.
3 The annual “Lights & Luminaries” will return to the streets of downtown Dillsboro Dec. 1-2 and 8-9.
4 The annual “Christmas On the Green” celebration will kick off Nov. 24 at The Village Green in Cashiers.
5 The rapid-fire tap dancing squad Rhythmic Circus will perform a special holiday show “Red and Green” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Bardo Arts Center in Cullowhee.