Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wendy's Woes

If your read is for D is for Donuts, then you know that my fast food lessons continued at Wendy's. For one long, hot summer, I was their indentured slave. And not happy about it. At all.

For three years I'd worked my way through school teaching gymnastics to kids ranging in age from 2 ½ (yes, they can do it at that age!) to 14. (The teenagers and their attitudes were far harder to deal with than the toddlers trying to do a front roll without losing their diaper.) But I'd taken what I thought was a leave of absence in order to complete my student teaching. Much to my horror, they had filled my job, not with anyone temporary, but had in fact given it away. And I wasn't getting it back. (And yes, I'm still bitter about it.) Do you know how hard it is to find a summer job in a college town? It's flippin' impossible. Unless you're willing to work at Wendy's. I had to pay rent, so willing didn't really apply to me. Necessity was more like it.

The reason I even got the job was that the girl manning the register let it slip that if I indicated that I'd be willing to close, they'd hire me. I didn't want to close! How am I going to see my boyfriend (The Engineer) if he works days and I work nights? It was a horrid schedule. But what can you do. Desperate people will do a lot of things when pushed.

I got the job, and was assigned the closing “back room” shift. This is worse than just working when you'd rather be with your boyfriend. “Back room” is a euphemism for cleaning lady. That poor soul has to do all the dishes, “close down” the chicken fryer, the french fryers, the Frosty machine, MOP, and be the back-up to the front people. If they get swamped, I step in. And leave my cleaning behind. Which means I have to work later, because I don't go home when the clock says, I go home when all the grease is gone.

I wasn't a stranger to grease. After all, I'd done the donut gig. Donuts are deep fried. I just never had to close down the donut fryers, because Stoned Jerry thought it was a waste of our time and told us to just dump more oil in there when it got low. (Did I just ruin your taste for donuts?) Wendy's on the other hand, was really strict about the cleaning. A manager checks your work EVERY night, and if it's not done correctly, you do it again. And sometimes again.

Wendy's goes through a lot of grease, dumping those fryers every night. Into a mysterious hole out back that a big truck comes and sucks up weekly.  Then you clean the fryer with Safety Kleen. Not familiar with this product? It's probably because it comes with more warning labels and alerts than a radio-active core ready for meltdown. I don't know exactly what's in it, but if you dip something greasy in it, it comes out not-greasy. I think the Safety Kleen feeds on grease, because we never seemed to run out. (Thank GOD, because the process of replenishing the vault was the absolute worst job. I managed to never have to do it.) But you're not done with just a dip. No sir, THEN it gets washed by hand. As do all the other things: salad bar containers, prep work instruments (everything is prepared fresh there; real produce comes in and we slice, dice, and shred everything ourselves for the salad bar and the condiment line) the large vats which simmer the chili, the large, aluminum storage containers that live in the walk-in fridge and hold the prepped ingredients ready to be put into the smaller ones that are on the line. It's a LOT of dishes. And just when you think you're done, someone will dump something else in the sink for you to wash.

But dishes and greasy are nothing compared to the “Wendy” shift. This is a special shift on Thursdays when most of the leagues have their softball games. Then the “lucky” slave gets to dress up as Wendy, complete with red wig. And wander around the softball fields passing out coupons. I always got the Wendy's shift because I was the only one who fulfilled the requirement. Which was that the costume fit. This was back in my eating disorder days and I was tiny. So it fit me. There's NOTHING I've had to do that was more humiliating than this. Can you imagine the jokes those men could come up with? About the tamest was, “I've got something hot and juicy for you.” It takes a long time to pass out the volume of coupons they gave me.

I remember my last day as Wendy. I'd about had it and was thinking of quitting. I was sitting in the car, in the parking lot of this week's ball fields, staring at the insurmountable pile of coupons. And contemplating just throwing them in the trash. There's a knock on the window which startles me from my evil plan. It's Dad! He'd driven all the way up to surprise me, and they'd sent him to the park. I started to cry. It was just so wonderful see a friendly face, I broke down. And explained my predicament to him. He told me that I didn't need to expose myself to the teasing and taunting, they could not require me to do this shift. It hadn't occurred to me to protest, I've always been “the compliant child” (DataBoy and Swissie took care of the rebellion and refusal roles quite nicely. And always got away with it.) So we threw those coupons on a bench for people to pick up, and headed out to dinner. (I shed the hideous costume first, obviously.)

And when I returned to Wendy's I told them what I'd done and why, and how many hours to deduct from the time clock. I was completely surprised when the manager (a very nice woman with amazing work ethic) responded with, “I had NO idea what you were going through. You don't have to do it again. And I'm paying you those hours you were gone anyway.” (In retrospect, she was probably protecting herself from a possible sexual harassment claim, but I didn't care why, I was just relieved to be done.)

I finished the summer, and when I was done it was bittersweet to part from some dear friends. It binds you together to work together. We'd all had some great times of fun and mischief, and of hanging out in the quiet, dark, and clean store before leaving, just talking into the dark night about our dreams for the future. Optimistic, excited, we had our whole lives ahead. And none of us EVER considered a career in fast food.  


Jenny said...

I love it. It gives new meaning to the term "do you want fries with that?" What a story. Your Dad rocks!

Brian Miller said...

in high school i interviewed with a fast food restaurant...they wre very honest about the slave labor, so i went to work on the loading docks...

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

sweet and insightful.
thank you for sharing!

Amanda Lee said...

I agree with Jenny-- your Dad rocks! I just caught up on several missed posts on your blog. Love the writing! Did I mention that you rock, too?