Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burger King and The Bud

My first job (and I imagine my calc teacher, good ol' Mr. Andreas, rolling his eyes) was burger flipping at Burger King. Any shift of mine comprised of me taking meat from the freezer, feeding it to the broiler (okay, not “flipping” per se), stashing the bubbly gray output in the steamer, and, as the orders popped up, assembling burgers at lightning speed (or I got totally chewed out by the viscious shrew in the office). Sometimes I got to wash dishes.

I was sixteen.  Since then, and in no small thanks to BK, my threshold for pain has risen signficantly, and I'm sure there are a whole lot more people out there with a higher tolerance than me, but—holy crap! —my first job was bloody torture.  Look at it this way: imagine your worst fast food nightmare with all its attendant grease, offal, and cobwebby corners and instead of sitting beyond the safety glass—like from your car! —looking in, you’re actually INSIDE the machine like I was or any other poor employee: a cog implemented in the production of ... well, you know.

Okay, so apart from working there, I like Burger King just fine—but as a PATRON.  I am a Whopper fan.  (And who can criticize the Jr.?)  But, and here’s the parallel, I also like/-d my most recent employment and -er, and, yet, like BK, I am no longer there.  If you read my first entry from September 8, you may recall Bud, Bud, the Uber-Ameri-Man boss with the t-shirts and goatee. You may recall that yesterday (not to mention last year) he was not the vampire; he was not the pimp (though he retained certain vestiges of both); he was the bridge between the then and the now.

I called Bud a week ago and resigned. He chuckled sarcastically and said, “I knew it.”

Backing up:

I have two, and only two, fond memories from my Burger-King days:

The runner-up moment came on an evening shift during a break.  Fifteen glorious minutes.  I poured my free drink (the one perk to working BK back then), grabbed a complimentary newspaper, and headed for an empty booth.  I braced myself for the inevitable acceleration of time, which would immediately and shockingly launch me across space-time at a some ridiculous and entirely unpredictable rate, the moment I sat down.  I opened the paper randomly, scanned a column, sipped my root beer, turned a page, sipped again, and saw it: the Announcement I’d been waiting for!  (To give a little context to the time frame we’re looking at:  It was more than half a lifetime ago that I was sixteen and engaging in my first “real” employment.  I’m 33 now.)  I was thrilled!  I read it again and again.

Harrison Ford had agreed to do a fourth Indiana Jones movie!  (Little did I know all those years ago....)

So that was the lesser of the two great moments, this one providing hope and happiness—yes! there is something good in the world.  The next provided freedom.

It already felt like I’d been working there forever, though it had probably only been a few weeks.  I hated it. My feelings weren’t a mystery.  I talked to my parents about it, and my dad told me in no uncertain terms that I could only quit BK if and only if I found another job, and not bloody well until.  I’d looked around a bit, chased down a possibility or two, and applied, but I hadn’t heard back from anyone yet.

One night, it all finally came to a head.  It got bad enough that I even got up the guts to finally do something about it, AND willfully rebel against my father (and that, for me, was no small deal)!  I was scheduled for the last shift of the evening.  It was my first time closing.  I didn’t know what that meant—no one had told me—and was appalled when eleven o’clock came, went, and I hadn’t been sent home.  “Hey, I’ve done my hours.  It’s time for me to go, right?”  “Forget it, kid,” one of my co-workers said.  “You’ll be here ‘til two ro three more hours, man.  We gotta clean it all first.”  The schedule said eleven. IT SAID ELEVEN!  I got up the nerve asked my supervisor (boy, was she a GEM!).  “One or two o'freaking'clock, if you’re lucky, squirt.  Now mop the floor!”  Really.  She called me squirt.  I was twice her size.

“Can I break first?”

I had my fifteen minutes.  Could I make it in time?  (The absurdity of this concern, considering what I was about to do, didn’t hit me until years later.)

Instead of my typical root beer and newspaper, I speed-walked to my [mom's] car, gunned it all the way home, ran down to the laundry, shrugged out of my uniform and into some cleans (still couldn’t escape the smell), back to the car, back to BK, and stopped aside the drive-up window.

You can guess what I did:

I knocked.

The restaurant was closed.  The drive up was closed.

I knocked again, and the one employee whom I didn’t hate and who didn’t hate me, some older lady—spinster and toothless—answered, though part of me (the then-very, VERY small part of me that actually had a smidgen of confrontational gut to it) really, really wanted it to be my supervisor.  I told her, “I quit.  Would you mind giving these to B_____?  Thanks.”  And I went home.

Oo, it was sweet.

And what’s all this got to do with Bud?  A few things.  First, though it seems thin without explanation, the pleasant symmetry aligning these two jobs: first and last, both quit, no backup plan more than a prayer.  Well, all that plus the fat all-American-ness inherent to both via Bud and the Whopper.

That symmetry is really where it’s at.  But this is where it gets personal and serious, something I didn’t have back then—seriousness—but now, 16+ years later, I’ve got it in spades via my family.  That does something to you—to me.  It means something more than a cool story to tell your friends that, “Hey, yo, I quit my job and don’t have a new one yet!” what you've got kids.

I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores of my most recent resignation.  Suffice it to say I had good reason for leaving.  I hold no ill will for Bud or his enterprise.  In fact, a lot like Burger King, I really love the old Whopper, and what his business plan was trying to accomplish was really pretty great (even if I can’t confess a belief that it would or will ever actually work).

Remember, it was my dad who said I couldn’t quit BK until I had another job.  He never found out about the glorious nature of my departure from Job #1, or the short gap before #2 kicked in, but he knows all about what’s going on right now.  We had a pretty long, pretty serious TALK about the ethics and morality involved in such a decision, stepping into the dark of the unknown on a prayer, and while I can’t say I ever PRAYED that Harrison Ford would do a fourth Jones, that announcement all those years ago—so late, so late in its realization—did in fact give me something positive to hold on to.  Well, I’ve got my own prayers, but what’s even better is I’ve got the prayers of my family, most importantly my wife (and not, “Dear God, fix my idiot husband!").  We’re working side-by-side at this.  I resurrected an old computer, I put all my application files on both, and we hunt and search and apply and follow up all day long. Almost like a date actually (how desperate is that!).

It’s a funny thing, looking back now:  practically the day I started working at Burger King, I swore I would never take another fast food job.  I’ll tell you, it’s nothing but the seemingly-universal fear of employers’ for hiring the “over-qualified” that’s maintained my old, naive vow.  We’re so desperate right now, even Burger King’s looking good.


  1. I miss you. It would be nice to have someone to talk to because I feel exactly the same as you do.

    I start at Arby's on Friday

  2. Good luck with Arby's. I'm doing temp work while my wife and I apply me for EVERYTHING.

    What else are you up to?