Life in the fast food lane

The other day I was having problems coming up with a column idea when the editor in chief asked me what I was working on for today.

"I dunno," I said, with a shrug of my shoulders.

She raised the back of her hand to me and said, "Yous better think of a column or I'll slap yous about. Even better, I'll send yous back to your previous employment."

I shuddered as I thought about my old job (and also how the editor in chief sounded remarkably like Laverne DeFazio on "Laverne & Shirley"). I would do almost anything before I would go back there. I was . well, I was young and foolish . I was . a fast-food forking fiend at my neighborhood Dairy Queen. They called me Blizzard Boy. I made the ice cream products.

For all of you who are unfamiliar with the fast-food world or considering a career in it after graduation, I have prepared some uncensored thoughts on the "biz."

1) Don't believe those candy-ass commercials with some kid going to McDonald's University, making great friends on the job and one day becoming assistant manager. That doesn't happen. At most you should aspire to be able to touch the cash register. That's a sign that you're trusted. I was only allowed to work the ice cream machines and forbidden to touch the cash register. Sometimes late at night, fellow Blizzard People and I would stand around the cash register mesmerized by the many symbols on it. One Blizzard Person, Jimmy, didn't make it. He freaked out one shift, ran over to the register and began pressing random buttons. Even the fast-food war has casualties.

2) No matter whether you're Einstein or you have two working brain cells, you will automatically lose IQ points when you put on a fast-food uniform. Before you put on the uniform you could be pondering about the Grand Unified Theory, but once the uniform is on, all you can say is "Do you want fries with that?" or "Sorry sir, we don't have Coke, will Pepsi be all right?" The uniform somehow reverses the evolutionary process and leaves you talking like Captain Caveman.

3) You will get yelled at by everyone from the customers to the frustrated-ex-high-school-jock assistant submanager. If you mess up, you will be severely punished, if not fired.

One day the restaurant owner came in and asked for a Butterfinger Blizzard. Under the watchful eyes of the manager, I made the Blizzard and handed it to the owner. As I handed it to the owner, he said, "Show me it's solid."

The manager said, "He's new. He forgets that he must always turn the Blizzard upside-down to prove how thick and creamy it is."

I turned the Blizzard over. The ice cream oozed out of the cup and hit the counter with a dull, wet thud. All the customers made sure to lean over and stare at the mass of yellow, brown and white that was a testimony to my failure in the fast-food business.

I wanted to say, "Do not blame the Blizzard Boy, blame the consistency of your cheap-o ice cream. Alas, I am a victim of circumstances." But all I could say was "Sorry sir, we don't have Coke, would Pepsi be all right?"

I cleaned the restrooms for the next month.

4) When people you know come into the restaurant, you will find yourself justifying your job. My best excuse was that I was learning Dairy Queen trade secrets and planning to sell them for millions to Baskin-Robbins.

5) Never be the schmuck who dresses up as the mascot for a restaurant. I'm not speaking from personal experience, but I know of several people who would stand on street corners in bulky uniforms and bounce up and down for no good reason.

I had one friend who was forced to dress up as the El Pollo Asado chicken on one particularly hot May afternoon in Phoenix. He was sent to a street corner and supposed to do what a big chicken does. Anyway, it was hot, really hot. He passed out from heat exhaustion and he swears that he woke up in the back of a pick-up truck moving along the interstate. He was taken to a shack in the middle of nowhere and interrogated by a shadowy figure only referred to as the Colonel. He doesn't like talking about what happened, but sometimes he just starts yelling, "Not the Hot Wings! Not the Hot Wings!"

6) I learned two important things from my experiences in the fast food business. The first was humility. I can handle angry letters about my columns after having a banana split thrown back at me by a woman's whose name was probably Bertha.

Second, I learned to respect people regardless of their position in life. It doesn't hurt to wait an extra minute for your hamburger or say "thank you" for particularly speedy service. Everyone deserves respect.

Those are on my thoughts on the fast-food business, and I finally got a column together.

When I handed this column to the editor in chief, she said, "Lookie here, yous turned your little column in late."

"So?" I asked. "It's not too bad and I even squeezed in a little life lesson."

"I don'ts care," she said. "Yous know what yous gotta do."

If you are looking for me anytime the next week, I'll be cleaning the Student Union restrooms.

Jon Burstein is a political science and journalism senior. Like it or not, his columns appear every Tuesday. He really did work at Dairy Queen and he was not allowed to touch the cash register.

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