Friday, May 2, 2008

Workin' for the Man! Part Two: The Fast Food Years

Welcome to the second part of my Workin’ for the Man! Series: The Fast Food Years. When we last met I went over my early years of money making. From my picking and selling fruit to the adventure that is working as a paper carrier, I did what a kid could to have a little spending money.

I was 16 years old when I severed ties with the Tri-City Herald. I had finally reached a point where I had enough. The one problem with having a paper route in the Tri City area is that you have to collect all the money yourself. I tried at one point to get everyone on my route to pay by mail, but most did not want to. They said that they didn’t want to have another bill to mail off each month. But looking back on it, what they really meant was that it is much easier to dodge a kid trying to get his money at the door then it is to dodge a company calling them up to get their money. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories I would hear from people because they didn’t have the $8.50 to pay me. From, “Oh, I don’t get paid till next Tuesday, not this Tuesday” to, “I had the money yesterday, but now I don’t.” Now I knew that the area I lived in wasn’t the most affluent area in Kennewick, but c’mon, you can’t afford 8 and some change?

Also, I pretty much had hit a wall. I felt that I had already climbed as high as a paper boy could go, and I was ready for my next challenge. So I stepped down. The route was never the same after I left. I would ride my bike down the old streets I delivered, and old customers would tell me how in the past 6 months, they had had 3 different carriers. It was hard for them to swallow after four year of dependable service.

But like I said, it was time to move on. For awhile I went back to selling baseball cards to neighborhood kids, or I would weed the occasional garden for someone. Then, in the spring of my junior year, I started my first real job. A job that I filled a W-2 form for. A job that had set work hours, and a time clock to punch. A job that I had to wear a pastry hat for. Yes, that is right; I worked at Hubby’s Pizza.

It was the spring of 1995, and I was ready to earn some REAL money. I am talking about minimum wage, 4.95 an hour money. Since Zips was not interested in me (after all, I wasn’t a high school drop out, a stoner, or pregnant, so I didn’t really have a shot there. You have to be at least 1 of those things to get hired on at Zips) I heard through the grapevine that Hubby’s was hiring. I went in for an interview, with my PBOY plaque in tow. Needless to say, they fell in love with my charm and hired me. It worked out great, because it was close enough for me to ride my bike to work in case I couldn’t catch a ride from my parents, and it wasn’t McDonald’s.

I started out working in the back washing dishes. After about two weeks, I was bumped up to pizza maker. Now, there are a couple things you need to know about Hubby’s. They aren’t the kind of pizza place where you see a guy toss the dough up in the air. They pre made all the dough circles earlier in the day. And they also made their own sauce. Not just anybody could make the sauce either. You had to be at least 17. Why at least 17 you ask? It was because the sauce had a special ingredient. Wine. Yup, that is right, a few cups of wine. And in the state of Washington, I guess that you have to be at least 17 to dispense wine into a glass. (In fact, the guy that was hired the same day as me was fired after a month, because while making the sauce, he was getting sauced.)

OK, getting back to me making pizzas. When I worked there, I believe that Hubby’s had about 13 specialty pizzas that you had to memorize. They sent me home with 5 by 7 cards that listed the names of the pizzas on them, and another set of cards with the ingredients of the pizza. I was not allowed to use these cards while I was making the pizzas, but I could sneak to the back room and look up on the board where they had them all listed. It didn’t take long until I had them all memorized.

I distinctly remember the first time I went to place a pizza in the 600 degree oven. I had the pizza in place on the wooden serving board, and I had to put it in the top oven in the number 2 position. That was the hardest place to put a pizza, since it was in the back of the oven, in the middle slot. You had to clear the pizzas in front of you, and not hit the ones on the sides. I was doing fine until I went to pull the board out from underneath the pie, when I felt a horrible burning sensation on the back of my arm. Yes, that is right; I touched my arm to the lip of the burning hot oven. I just about severed my co workers’ head off with that wooden plate. I dropped the plate, and twisted my arm around. It looked like a grill line on a Salisbury steak. And I was now christened an official pizza cook. I went on to do that 4 more times during my tenure there. I even still have a faint scar from one of those times.

I knew it was time to leave when one day I went out to start work at 4:58. I went downstairs, donned my apron and pastry hat, and went to go head upstairs for another night of fun and frivolity. As soon as I made it up the stairs and into the kitchen, my manager came over to see me. He wanted to talk to me downstairs. Not knowing what he wanted, I was thinking the best. He must want to tell me how proud he is of me and how he wants to give me a dime raise. I would be over 5 bucks an hour! Oh the things I could do with the extra money! But I was wrong. He asked me to sit down, and went on to tell me how I didn’t get up to the kitchen floor until 5:02. I was 2 minutes late. He said he did not have time for workers that did not respect the schedule and that if I made that mistake again, he would fire me on the spot.

At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked into his eyes, I could see he was serious. I would have never thought that two minutes would have slowed the pizza place time continuum down to critical levels.

This was not the only problem that I had with my boss. He also happened to be the owner of Hubby’s, so pretty much whatever he said, goes. Also, one night when I wasn’t getting off until almost 10 o’ clock, he offered to throw my bike in the back of his truck, and give me a ride home. I was down with his idea, so I put my bike in the truck, and waited for him to come out. While I was waiting, I noticed him going over to the wine station, and filling up a soda fountain cup with it. I didn’t know what to think. Was he really going to bring that along for the ride? At first I figured that he was going to lid it up, and just take it home for the night. But when we got in the truck and he started to drive off, he stuck a straw in it and started drinking away. It was right then and there when I told myself that I was going to find another job, and fast.

I started my search the very next day. As luck would have it, I wouldn’t have to look far. I was out with my mom one evening when we decided to stop by Burger King. While in there, I saw that they had a now hiring sign up. Also, my good friend Tony Carrillo, who I had known since my elementary school days, worked there. Now, I had always told myself that I didn’t want to work at McDonald’s, which is why I started working at a pizza place. But this was Burger King, the home of the Whopper! (Please note: I have nothing against McDonald’s. My brother in law put in a lot of time there, and they do have some of the best fries in the fast food world. But nothing on their menu can stand up to that Whopper goodness.)

At the time, Whoppers were forever on sale at 99 cents, and I would get two of them every day for lunch. The thought of actually being the person in the back wearing the blue polo stained by mustard and pickle juice was very appealing. Oh ya, and every girl who worked there was hot. Never underestimate the girl hotness factor when you are a teen boy looking for a job.

So I turned in my application that night, and within two days I was called in for an interview. I went in all dressed up in my Sunday best, ready to wow the pants off of the manager. I was hired on the spot, and was told to start work the next day in the evening. I was so excited that I was able to go back and tell the manager over at Hubby’s that I was done. And the best part of it all was that I was going to be rich. Yes, that is right; I was going to be rich. I was going from making a measly $4.95 to an astounding $5.25 and hour. Thirty more cents an hour! I was so stoked.

The first day of work at any place is normally a lot of orientation, filling out paperwork, and watching training videos. The kinds of boring stuff that you have to get out of the way before you start performing. But this day was different. They were shorthanded in the kitchen. I was immediately thrown into the kitchen. The first thing that I did was be in charge of dropping down the fries. Now if any of you have read my mother’s blog about French fries, you will see that I left a comment about the fry guy at a fast food place. Usually the person in charge of the fries is doing them because they can’t be trusted with anything else, and there is already someone at the sink washing dishes. Actually, that is being unfair to dishwashers. Even fry guy is below them. So anyway, I am thrust into this position, and I am doing well. Fries go down, I push the number 2 button, ding fries are done, and fries go under heat lamp. Fries are served to the customer, and the whole process starts over again. I was on the fries for about an hour, when the manager must have seen something special about the way I did them, for he switched me over to the chicken/fish station.

I was now in charge of what I like to call the mid level of the fast food kitchen. You move up above the fry guy, but are not quite up to par with the hamburger makers. I stayed at this position for the rest of the night.

When I went in two days later, I figured that I would move back into the chicken sandwich station again. But I was in for a surprise. I guess the night manager saw something in me that first day. He saw a hamburger maker. The hamburger makers are the rock stars of the fast food kitchen. Back in the day when I worked at BK, there was no fancy computer screen for you to read the order off of. No, we didn’t play that way. There were little squawk boxes that the cashiers would call the orders back on, and you had to listen to what you had to write down on the wrapper over all the different noises that were going on in the kitchen. You then had to reach over, grab a burger out of the warmer, take the top off, slather mayo on the top part of the bun, give it some lettuce and tomatoes, and then pass it off to the guy on your left so he could finish it off with the pickles, onions and ketchup, and then wrap it up and place it on the chute for the cashier to bag it. And of course during this whole time orders are still coming back, so the guy in the first position has to remember incoming orders.

My manager placed my in the second position that day. I must admit, it was intimidating after watching these burger gods work the night before. But I was ready for the challenge. After about an hour, I had my system down. I was like a machine. I could hear the crowd out in the lobby singing my praises when I would slide their custom made slice of Whopper heaven down the chute.

Over the course of 6 months I perfected the skill of burger making. I was now making 5.40 an hour. I even was allowed to be in the number one position from time to time when we weren’t busy. But there was rarely a time when we weren’t busy. The Burger King that I worked at is the one on Canal in the old Kmart parking lot. You know the one by the mall? Yes, that one. And when I worked there, there wasn’t an Arby’s down the way, or a Wendy’s up the way, or even a McDonald’s up on Canal and Kellogg. We were the only fast food place in a two mile radius. Because of that, we were one of the busiest Burger Kings in the state of Washington. I mean on Saturday and Sunday doing over 1200 bucks an hour during peak time, which was like from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There would be times when we would have over 40 whopper wrappers piled up waiting to be made.

Around this time I was promoted to store opener on the weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday I would arrive at 5:30 to set up for the day. It was fun because my friend Tony was the other person who opened with me. Some of my best memories at BK were when I was a weekend opener. There was one time when I saw two cute girls at the counter. They ordered Whoppers with cheese, and I thought that I would hook them up with some bacon. I declared to Tony that they would then sit down, taste the bacon, and look to the back to see who the generous employee was, and want my number. And if he was lucky, I would let him tag along. But instead, they came back up mad that their Whoppers weren’t the way they wanted. Tony never let me live that one down.

But I would have to say my most memorable time opening was the day I discovered what happens when you put ice in a vat of boiling hot oil. It started out innocently enough. I threw in a piece of ice, and watched it chug along in the oil, spitting grease this way and that. I was entertained the way a three year old boy is when he sees a big lump in the toilet bowl. (Or in Kristi’s son’s case, give yourself a swirly) And since part of my responsibilities for opening was to change out the old oil, I had a great idea. Since I didn’t want to screw up the new oil, I decided that after I emptied the old oil into the vat we used to dispose of it, I would take a big scoop of ice out and dump it into the oil, and see what would happen.

Now I was only a little boy when Mt. St. Helens exploded, but I imagine that it must have looked something like what I witnessed with that vat of used grease. All you could hear was the churning of oil being spit this way and that. Keep in mind I put a pretty hefty scoop of ice in there, so it went on for several minutes. Once it stopped and I went to dump the oil into the container outside, I noticed that in the bottom of the vat, there was all of this hardened grease mold. It looked as if ice cubes had fallen to the bottom and been trapped in the grease. This was not something that I expected, nor did I think at the time to be that big of a deal. So I went back in and set the vat up so I could empty out the next fryer. What happened next was something I did not see coming. As soon as the hot oil from the fryer hit the hardened oil in the vat, I was engulfed by a large plume of smoke. And I am talking about nuclear warhead mushroom cloud kind of smoke. It filled up the whole kitchen. It filled up the managers’ office. It filled up half the dining room! Good thing we didn’t open for another hour. Tony, I, and our morning manager Crystal tried to decide if we call 911, or wait it out to see if there was any real damage done. We decided to wait, and the smoke ended up dying down, and cleared out of the kitchen. The smoke hung around in the dining room for a while though. And hey, I learned a lesson. Playing with grease and ice is fun. That is until someone dies from smoke inhalation.

I ended up working at BK for over two years. I would have been there longer, but I made a critical error. You know that manager that I was talking about earlier? Crystal? Well, I kind of hooked up with her while she was on a break with her boyfriend. At the time, I thought it was so cool that I was dating an older woman. (She was almost 19, and I was only 18) But the allure soon wore off. After about a month, she decided that we were done. Was it because I bragged to my friends about going hot tubbing with her? Who knows, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But the fact of the matter was that she was done with me.

Now I must say, it is a very awkward situation going to work and having your ex be your boss. Especially when you don’t let it bother you, and you act all Joe Cool about it, which just made her mad. So mad in fact she hatched a plan to get me fired. My cousin Karen was getting married up in Seattle, and I wanted to go. I didn’t have a copy of my schedule, so I called work and Crystal answered the phone. I asked her when I worked next, and she told me that I had the weekend off, but I had to be back for a Monday night shift. So I went up to Seattle, and had a fun time. When I arrived to work on Monday evening, I was pulled aside by the store manager, Shaun. He informed me that I was supposed to be at work on not just Friday, and not just Saturday, but also on Sunday. I tried to explain what had happened, but Crystal had gotten to him first. I was told that anytime an employee misses three days of working without calling in and giving notice, it counted as a quit. I tried to plead my case, but he said rules were rules. I left that night shocked. As I walked out of the kitchen that I had made 100’s of whoppers in, I looked over at Crystal. She had a sly smile on her face. A “Mission Accomplished” smile. There was nothing I could do. Oh wait, there was something. I flipped her the bird. It was the only thing I could think of.

I ended up working at that Burger King two more times, but nothing compared to my first tenure there. I worked with a great bunch of people. Hard working people. From the guys who fed the broiler with burgers, to the hot cashiers. Heck, even the incompetent fry techs weren’t that bad once you got to know them, and you made sure to not use words with more than 2 syllables. Even 3 of the 4 managers were great. I still am in contact with several of the people that I worked with there. And I am glad to say that I can still enjoy the food.

Well, that about wraps up part two of what I have now decided to be at least a 3 part series. Up next: The Mall Employee Years. Thanks for reading, I really do appreciate it. And to all the nice people who left the nice comments about my writing, I say thank you. And to the people who made fun of the mullet, well, all I can say is that it was the early 90’s, and I wasn’t the only one. Business in the front, party in the rear. The 7 cut. The NASCAR cut. The Mississippi Mud Flap. All of these are appropriate names for the Mullet. Have a good weekend everyone, and stay tuned next week for part three!


Rachael said...

That is some funny stuff! I missed part one, when I have a good 20 minutes free I 'l go back and check it out! Seriously, a good read right here, great way to start my day.

Mike Brinkerhoff said...

Another excellent article, and you get bonus points for correct usage of "Ding, Fries are Done!"

Mitchellaus Copernicus said...

You forgot Hockey Hair and Kentucky Waterfall. I totally forgot that you worked at BK. I only worked at BK for a year, also my junior year. But mine was the King City one, so we were never that busy, except when we would get buses of ball-players coming from Moses Hole or Spokane. That was the pits. 200 orders of "Whopper, no onion" in 30 minutes. That sucks.

My first day on the job, I got put right on broiler duty, and learned immediately the importance serving the burger technicians. I learned the quickest methods of shaking the grease from the patties in time to catch the next one falling off the grill. I actually was able to do broiler duty and dishwasher without ever going on fry duty or chickin/fish duty. It was nice. I did have to fill in for fry and chicken/fish duty later, but only because it was slow and I was able to make Whoppers and put down some new chicken tenders and fries at the same time. I got so fast at making Whoppers eventually that I beat all my co-workers once when it was slow. We had a Whopper making competition and my mananger automatically by default went into the championship. So basically, every one competed with each other and after making it all the way through the bracket, I made it to the championship Whopper match. It was a close race. I matched her speed in the actual making of the Whopper, but ultimately, it was her speed and finesse at wrapping it that she handed me my first loss of the competition. I gladly accepted defeat, since she looked at me in her most professional demeanor and put her hand on my shoulder and told me, "Mitch, I am very impressed. You're one the best hires I ever made." It was all worth it.

Unfortunately, I can't eat BK food anymore, with the exception of the Whopper. But I have to be really really really in the mood for one to get near the patented BK grease smell emanating from the kitchen.

Nice post brother. BK4Life!!!

My Three Sons said...

I totally could have gotten you a job at Jiffy Car Wash (ha ha) We got minimum wage plus tips, yes tips. Although, being a nice little mormon girl, he stuck me behind the cash register (he thought I was the only one he could trust)where no one tipped. I was a paper girl, too! In fact, I took another one about two years ago and did it for a year! It definitely wasn't worth the money and I hated collecting SO MUCH that I usually went unpaid by several customers! You were right to get out of that "field" :)

Alicia said...

I feel very educated about the inner workings of fast food restaurants now. I always like your posts, they're well written, and have a good humor about them!

SuzanSayz said...

Hey you didn't really get all the facts straight about how you got hired at BK. I had you and Jamie in the car with me and we stopped at the DRIVE-THRU at Burger King. It was taking forever to get up there to the window to get our food and when we finally got there I asked the woman at the window what had taken so long. She apologized and said that two of their workers had just quit that day and they were really hurting. I told her that I had two boys of hireable age in the car with me that really needed jobs. She said great can they come in right now and fill out applications. You and Jamie did that while I waited and I seem to remember that you were hired that night and working there the next day. So I guess this kind of makes me the hero of that story. Tee Hee Hee.
Love Mom

Lisa said... do you do it. Just when I think that your writing has peaked and couldn't possibly get better, you publish this.
By far your best. I know, I know, I say that every time. But it's true. You had me laughing out loud.
I love you.
And Crystal and her very loud, obnoxious dogs.

Nan said...

that was so funny. I worked at a papa murphys all thru high school -so props to the pizza days. I especially liked the comment "gettin sauced while making the sauce". Perfect.

Jan said...

Glad you found Carolyns verbose, because I think you might out do her. Love Hubby's. Now I know why. Its the sauce huh. What a boss. Was he always goofey on wine? Or did you ever notice before that night? That was no good. And you like to play with fire. Burning yourself at Hubbys and then smokin out the BK on canal. That was an experiment at its finest. Glad that you survived the fast food years. Can't wait to hear about the Mall Rat life. Who will be drinking there? What is in the water at the mall? What experiment are we going to hear about? Possibly robbing the wishing water that use to be in there. Did you steal pennies?

meohmyers said...

Once again, a very entertaining read. You've got a knack for that! I have to say though, I worked at a take-n-bake pizza shop back when minimum wage was only $3.85. How's that for lousy!!

You should be writing for the paper you once delivered. Seriously, I was laughing out loud! Can't wait for Part 3!

Yasmine said...

And your book will be coming out when? (Will you sign mine for me?)

lindsay>boo said...

I've enjoyed reading your latest blog entries about working. It was a pretty sweet mullet by the way.

We put your Wii number on our Wii. We tried to send you a message, but you hadn't registered us yet.

Anonymous said...

hey you are a great writer, you made me laugh so hard. Mandy

Bonnie said...

Donald- your seriously killing me:) I thought I had a good memory...Your is in detail....What the heck:) I cannot even believe that girl did that to you! I am so glad you flipped her off..Ha, Ha, Ha!!!!!! Oh, and the hubby's story..I have only went there a few times....Interesting about the boss...People are so weird. there is always someone where you work that is FULL of drama....Ha, Ha:)
Good job! Start your book soon!!!!