Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Plaid Polyester and Plastic Name Tags


I served my time in the fast food industry, in the early 80's at Le Box du Jacque, and I had a great time. Usually. Once or twice, I had run into the freezer to yell and scream my frustration out. But as with most memories from more than twenty years ago, the good outweighs the bad.

We had fun at work. Half of the staff was comprised of high school band geeks, including BFF Kathy, Knucklehead, and BMWinLaguna. We called our place of employment "Jerk in the Box," "Jack in the Crack," "Jerk Off in the Box" - everything but the actual name.

I started out on fries, and eventually I was promoted to the grill. I loved working the grill because I got to eat the extra hamburgers when they became more than thirty minutes old. I probably made more hamburgers than I was supposed to, even for the dinner rush hour.

Kathy worked the front counter and sometimes the drive-thru. She would bag the hamburgers I had wrapped in the shiny, logo-marked foil before handing them through the window. "What if you took a single bite out of the burger before wrapping it up?" she had asked me once. That still makes me laugh. I can just picture the surprised or pissed off look on some one's face after they drive away and pull the burger out of the bag.

Knucklehead was a year older than me, and therefore much wiser and more dignified. We had been cast mates in the school musical, "The Fantasticks." I was comfortable singing show tunes in front of him while on dish washer duty in the back room. Sometimes I would switch from show tunes to Madonna.

"Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight - starlight."

Knucklehead's tone was thick with condescension. "Oh, those are difficult lyrics!"

The training methods were probably Pavlovian-based. We learned to automatically respond to a series of beeps and boops for taking the french fries out of the fryer before they burned, and for flipping over the burger patties in time, etc.

The taco salad (at the time) was crowned with a ladle full of seasoned, soupy ground beef. The taco meat was kept in a kind of crock pot and would congeal if it wasn't stirred every fifteen minutes.

"Doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo," was what I heard every time the short medley would play over the taco meat crock pot.

BMW, with his perpetually dry wit, came up with original lyrics on his own. "Stir the taco meat, yeah-yeah-yeah," he would sing in perfect pitch.

We had a great boss, Penny, a woman with a blond bun on her head and concerned blue eyes. She would let us eat anything we wanted, "as long as the customers don't see you." I guess she figured that we would end up eating much less that way than if we had snuck around behind her back.

So, we really liked Penny. She got fired. She had been collecting cash from the register drawers, to take to the back and count in the office. She wanted all of the cash in one place, so she grabbed the most logical and handy item available: a logo-marked paper bag. That paper bag got handed out the drive-thru window. The bag contained over $1,000.

It was never seen again.

Penny's career at Junk in the Box may have been cut short, but Madonna's is closing in on three decades.

Eat those difficult lyrics, Knucklehead!

1 comment:

Knucklehead said...

Now THERE'S a repressed memory. I do remember the "FRIES ARE READY" beep with clarity, as well as the Breakfast Jack egg mold. Oh, and the prefab tacos that had the tiny pouch of meaty-bean or whatever it was.

Good times, man, good times.