My first job

My first job ever was at McDonald’s. I was 17, almost 18 years old and in my first year of university. I got the job to finance my moving out of home (which is another story).

The Interview

When I turned up at the McDonald’s restaurant to apply for a position, there were at least 50 or 60 other people there, all after a job. They divided us up into three groups. Each person in each group was interviewed by a manager, for 5 minutes (there were three managers, each interviewing a group’s worth of applicants). Before starting, they gave us some advice: “Show us your personality”.

When it was my turn, the manager interviewing me said,”Tell me something about yourself that’s not on your resume.” I said, “I would rather be infamous than not famous at all.” I guess he chose to interpret that as “Fantastic! She’s bursting with personality” rather than “Stay clear! She could be some sort of psycho”, because they gave me a job.

Here are some fond memories of my time at McDonald’s…

The Letter

One day I went into work and the shift manager gave me a letter and said “Tell your mates not to write to you here. You have got a mail box at home, right?” The letter was addressed to me (first name only – I was the only one with that first name at the store), c/o that McDonald’s restaurant. I thought it was strange – who would be writing to me? The letter inside read something like this:

Hi ______
You probably don’t remember me. I came into the store last week. I was wearing a heavy woollen jumper and glasses. I ordered a Big One with Bacon. My name is…

strangely enough, I did remember him (I tend to remember faces and people). I remembered his jumper because it looked really itchy, and I remembered he had to wait for his Big One with Bacon to be cooked. It went on,

I have enclosed a recent photo of myself – the children in the photo aren’t mine, they’re a family friend’s.

It was a photo of him in a pink tank top with a couple of kids hanging off him.

Anyway, I’d really like to get to know you better, and was wondering if you’d like to go out for a coffee or something sometime…

You get the idea.

Needless to say, I didn’t reply. I knew I wasn’t interested, but I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I just didn’t deal at all. If something like that happened to me today, I would definitely write back, a nice rejection letter, with no return address. If my life were a movie he might’ve had a hope, but unfortunately for him, my life isn’t a movie. Oh, and there was also the issue of me batting for the other team. Heh.

Machine Close

Being assigned Machine Close meant you worked the closing shift and had the responsibility of shutting down and cleaning the shake/soft serve machine. It involved disassembling, washing (in a big bucket of soapy water) and then reassembling parts of the machine. The main thing I remember about this is that there were a lot of rubber rings of different sizes that had to be squeezed off plastic bits, and then rings and plastic bits were washed and put back together again. The big rubber rings were easy to get off, but there were tiny ones that were a bitch to squeeze off – and you had to be careful, because if one went boing! and flew off somewhere when you snapped it off it would be damned hard to find it again. There was no box of rubber ring spares. I remember the first time I was shown how to clean the machine I was told if I ever forgot to put a ring back or if I put something back in the wrong way I could do thousands of dollars worth of damage (and worse, they wouldn’t be able to sell any shakes, sundaes or soft serve cones!). I found it very stressful when I started doing Machine Closes. When I think about it now, I wonder why on earth I didn’t just write everything down. Yep, I memorised it all. Stupid, stupid me!

That was the background, this is the story:
One of the first things you must do for Machine Close is lift up the metal containers with the sundae toppings in them, and remove them from where they sit at the front of the machine, so that you can clean the stainless steel and all the topping drippage that has crusted up over the course of the day (the strawberry topping was the worst… there would always be rubbery congealed strawberry bits stuck on the stainless steel).

The only problem with this was that there wasn’t anywhere good to put those metal containers – they were curved along the bottom and didn’t sit flat i.e. they could be tipped over very easily. There was usually sundae topping left in the containers which would be used the next shift, and this meant 1) they were sometimes heavy-ish and 2) they mustn’t be allowed to tip or the contents would spill. I used to perch the containers on the front counter between a cash register and anything else I could use as a stopper, like a pile of trays. Anyway, this one evening I was doing Machine Close in a hurry. My flatmate’s friend M was coming to pick me up, which was a nice change – usually I had to run to catch the very last train. I wanted to finish nice and early or at least on time so that he wouldn’t have to wait long. The manager was counting money in the office and the guy doing Grill Close was out the back hosing things down, so I was on my own working and listening to that crappy elevator-style background music they liked to have.

I put the three sundae topping containers on the counter. For some unknown reason, I lost concentration for a second and knocked two of the containers over – caramel and chocolate. Unfortunately they both had a decent amount of topping left in them. Think of slow motion me, lunging at the slow motion tipping containers, with slow motion mouth forming the cry of “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” as the gooey, thick caramel and fudge toppings oozed their way across the front counter, creeping under a cash register, slowly dripping onto the floor… I scrambled to get a cloth, paper napkins, anything, to mop up the mess before the manager saw. It seemed like an eternity and the topping was just everywhere and spreading, but I managed to clean up the mess and get back to my rubber rings of joy and the machine. Amazingly, I finished on time and when I finally looked up from my feverish activity I saw M had arrived, and was waving and tapping on the front window. I signaled “5 minutes” with my hand and went to clock off and tell the manager I was done.

M and I walked to his car. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I said. “You’ll never believe what happened tonight.” I could still smell that thick, sickly sweet chocolate fudge and caramel on my hands and up my nostrils. I also had fudge topping on the front of my shirt.

He said “Let me guess… You spilled the sundae toppings all over the front counter?” He started laughing and said, “I got here early and was waiting out the front. I was watching the whole time it was happening! You should have seen your face!
How embarrassing!

And a few short anecdotes and facts:

When the American sailors were in town I got sick of them coming up to the front counter and asking for more ketchup every two minutes on a busy Saturday lunch shift. I put a handful of McDonald’s Fancy Ketchup sachets in a basket on the front counter so they could just help themselves. Unfortunately, the manager didn’t like that, because he felt people would go crazy helping themselves to free ketchup (which they didn’t). He shut down my basket of ketchup.

A sailor tried to give me a tip (no doubt for his excellent ketchup service) but we were not allowed to accept tips. The manager, who happened to be standing next to me when the sailor offered me a tip told him to put his money in the Ronald McDonald House donation box. The sailor thought this was a stupid idea because he wanted me, not McDonald’s (in an American accent), to have the money, and so when he left he tried to sneak me five bucks. I had no where to put it though – those damned McDonald’s trousers didn’t have any pockets. Presumably to stop us from stealing.

If you worked a short shift, which was 3 hours or less you got a free small meal (Cheese Burger or Junior Burger, small fries and small Coke). If you worked longer than 3 hours you could get bigger burger like a McChicken or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with regular fries and regular Coke. The bastards ALWAYS put me on 3 hour shifts. I was always starving at the end of shifts (of course, I am always starving!). Just once, I would’ve liked to qualify for a reasonable-sized meal. I was earning a crappy $9 an hour – I needed all the free food I could get.

I hated that uniform. I hated that stupid visor. I hated the trousers with no pockets. I hated having to iron my shirts. I hated how they made me take my extra earrings out.

I lasted four and a half months.

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