Nothing quite says #adulting like a teenager’s first job.
Especially when that job is fast food.
I suppose there was certain irony in the fact that I began the first pages of this section sitting in the lobby of a McDonald’s. At the time, I had intentions of drafting an entire book around my experiences at my first job. It was larger than life, and while some moments were pure immaturity, I was definitely #adulting as I made the climb from a simple crew member all the way up to an assistant manager.
Golly, I was cool.
The search for my first legal employment was less than simple. The day I realized I couldn’t live on a non-existent allowance and the annual birthday bonus, I borrowed the Mom Mobile (my mother’s ice-blue Dodge Caravan) and set off at a questionable speed toward the isle of fast food: 17-mile Road in Cedar Springs, Michigan. It was the closest to my house in Rockford, 10 minutes south.
Subway was first. Oh Subway! So delicious with your five-dollar foot-longs and Sun chips! Then I journeyed across the street and placed an app at the McDonald’s (not the one I’m currently sitting in, stuffing my face with a hash brown that’s probably not real potatoes, but what the hell). Then there was Burger King (the BK Lounge, as Dane Cook fans often refer to it) Wendy’s (although the girl with the hair has always secretly given me nightmares) and finally, right behind Wendy’s, I placed an app at the local KFC/A&W. Yes, under one roof, ladies and gentlemen! Root beer floats AND fried chicken!
“I just placed an app at that KFC and A&W place,” I said to my mother over the phone as I sat in the Mom Mobile planning my next move. “I’ll totally work for A&W… but if it’s KFC I’m so not going for it.” I was 16 and disillusioned. KFC/A&W doesn’t employ separate restaurants. It’s all the same, like a giant, overwhelming, bipolar menu where you can eat a chicken leg, and then devour a hotdog.
“What does A&W stand for?” She asked me, curious.
“How should I know? I don’t work there. I hope one of these places calls me. But I would much rather do retail.”
“Might as well apply at the Big Boy across the street,” Mom mentioned, ignoring my desire to fold sweaters for a living.
“MOM. I’m not working anyplace that implies fatness in the NAME.”
And then the waiting game began.
It was weeks before I received the call. I started to lose hope of ever possessing a job to make money toward college. Not that I had any idea what I wanted to do at college. But it would have been nice to have been able to pay for whatever education I would pursue.
Danielle Inc. was on the caller ID. I looked at it with a sneer. “Who’s Daniel?” I murmured to myself before carelessly placing the phone on the cradle and waddling through the kitchen towards the fridge, high hopes of beef jerky bubbling within me (there was none).
The machine picked up the call (yes, this was back when we had landlines and answering machines).
“Hi, this is Monica from KFC/A&W and this message is for Kaitlin, we would like to set up an interview with you…”
I almost peed my pants. I spun around on my heel, my hands seizing the phone. In my haste, I tripped over myself and crashed to the laminate floor.
“Crap!” I jumped to my feet and immediately called them back. I had an interview the next day.
I’ve always been vaguely entertained by the questions one is asked during interviews. My personal favorite is “What are your hobbies?” Honestly, it doesn’t matter, because once I get this job I won’t have any hobbies anymore! And everyone knows the interviewee is going to answer how they’re “supposed” to answer, as opposed to the truth. Can you imagine what would happen if people told the truth?
“I enjoy counting the number of ingredients on packages and chewing gum.”
“I’m quite fond of masturbation.
“I smoke weed on the weekends.”
Instead, we get answers like “Reading. Running. Going to college.” And other bullshit.
I suppose what is even more depressing is that these were the answers I gave: Reading. Running. Writing. Singing.” And they were one-hundred percent true. Yep, I’m that boring.
Whatever the questions asked, and answers given, I was hired on the spot.
“Congratulations, you’ve just become a crew member at KFC/A&W.”
And so, it began.
From the moment I started working, I longed to have the honor of holding employment at an institute which does not force you to wear a uniform that purposefully makes you as unattractive as you could ever possibly look. The first day I put on those black pants, the heinous black shirt, and the hat, I looked in the mirror and said to my pitiful reflection, “Damn, you’re a sexy winner.”
I was trained on front counter my first day, nervously watching as my trainer (who later quit to gallivant about Peru and do something real) pressed the buttons, filling the orders that came to her. The numerous meal combinations and burgers twisted in my head as I attempted to permanently stamp them into my mind. I had to fight not to roll my eyes as I heard for the millionth time that evening, “Would you like that in Original or Crispy?”
Or, what has become my personal favorite, “Would you like that Original or Crispy?”
Seriously? Definitely wasn’t a yes or no question, guy.
I was nice back then. Patient. My smile alone welcomed even the meanest vegetarian into the store. But that was years ago. I was just getting started.
It’s not that I wasn’t fond of the sound of crackling grease and hot fryers and all the acne that goes with it. It’s not that I felt a sense of loathing for my coworkers. On the contrary, they were like a second family.
If you’ve ever worked fast food, you don’t even have to ask.
If you’ve never worked fast food…
You have no idea.
My shoes slid across the floor as I tore through the store, the glass door slamming behind me.
“Why am I always late?” I muttered to myself, placing the black cap upon my head and yanking my curly brown ponytail through the hole in the back. I bustled past the line of red booths in the lobby of Kentucky Fried Chicken & A&W (whatever that stands for), grabbing an abandoned food tray as I passed an overflowing trashcan. Silently I cursed the costumers for being so inconsiderate. IF the trash can is full, there’s another one RIGHT NEXT TO IT. I glided past the front counter where an elderly couple stood in front of Monica, my assistant manager. Monica is a spicy, (though never feed her spicy foods, please, God) raunchy woman who cannot control the words that unexpectedly fly out of her mouth. I flashed her a smile and pushed through the employee door.
Immediately the scent of frying chicken embraced me. It overpowered every other scent in the store. I turned the corner and passed the enormous dishes sink. One would never think KFC generates a lot of dishes to be cleaned throughout the day, but that is a common misconception. I dropped my purse in the backroom beside bottles of chemicals such as degreaser and lime-away, then went to search for my timecard in the massive pile beside the office door.
“That’s not my name,” I sang out to the tune of the Ting Ting’s “That’s Not My Name” as I shuffled through the cards. “That’s not my name! That’s no—Op, that’s my name.”
“Alright, let’s have a 411!” Monica shouted, her voice harsh and nasal. She was a middle-aged woman with long graying hair pulled back into a bun beneath her hat. Like the crew, she wore black pants and slip-resistant shoes. But beneath her apron was a red shirt, as opposed to the black donned by the crew members. She shuffled to the back and stood beside the tower of Pepsi boxes.
“Alright, we’re gonna be busy tonight,” she began, looking at the half-bored crew standing around her fanning themselves with their time cards. “Cooks!”
“Don’t run me out of chicken. I don’t want a repeat of last night!”
“Wasn’t my fault,” a cook whined. “The dude ordered like 50 pieces of chicken at once!”
Monica ignored him. “Alright, let’s punch in!”
“Happy Friday,” I muttered to Whitney, a nearly six-foot-tall chicken expert who became a dear friend and later introduced me to my husband. I slid my card into the time clock. 16:00.
And the fun began.
“Thank you for stopping at KFC and A&W, this is Kaitlin speaking, go ahead with your order whenever you’re ready!” The drive-thru introduction was mandatory and second nature. I pressed that headset button and rattled it off like nothing. After three years of practice, I could recite the intro while counting out change and filling a gallon of root beer at the same time.
“I’d like a Potato Bowl please,” the customer squawked all too loudly from the drive-through speaker. I adjusted the headset over my ear and vaguely wondered if people thought I was deaf, or that our speaker technology was really that primitive that they must resort to SQWAKING their order.
“Would you like an ice-cold Pepsi to go with that today?” I asked. Suggestive selling was part of my job. We want to squeeze every penny out of our customers who roll around to our squeaky drive through window, and we won’t go down without a fight, gosh darn it! You want apple turnovers for ninety-nine cents, and you’re gonna like it!
I took a second order and tried some suggestive selling.
“Would you like to try a Potato Bowl today?”
“No… I want a Famous Bowl.”
Potato Bowls and Famous Bowls are the same thing, Lady.
“Can I get a pie with that?” The customer asked.
“Reese’s, Oreo, or Strawberry?”
Oh my God…
“Go ahead and pull forward and I’ll have your total at the window,” I muttered.
Everybody loves money. How could one NOT love money? Part of #adulting is having money. It gets you stuff, makes you happy, and through a complicated and corrupt supply and demand system, the world keeps going around because of it.
Given my employment, I encountered a lot of money (and I mean specific amounts of individual bills as opposed to the total valued amount). Let’s face it: Bill Gates has contact with more money in a single hour than I will in my entire life. Apart from my increased risk of disease and drug contact, and of course how easy it was to collect all the quarters on my collector’s map, I’ve noticed certain things about people and their money.
First, I must admit the biggest pet peeve I possessed was when I opened the window, announced the somewhat over-priced total, outstretched my hand for the cash, and my hand was snubbed, the money instead slapped on the window ledge. Thanks, Guy, I was definitely holding my hand out to catch the breeze, not to collect your payment or anything.
Also, when one’s order is over three dollars, one should consider it utterly rude to pay in change.
“Hi, $7.98 please,” I’d say with my signature smile. Then it’s wiped clean off my face as a handful of change is dumped upon my windowsill. Daily Double! Two pet peeves in one. This must be my lucky day. I never worked on an honors system. When it came to the accuracy of my drawer, I took it quite personal. I WILL be counting your handful of change, and I won’t be giving you a break if it’s short!
I greatly appreciated a costumer having their payment ready and willing as I opened the window. The last thing I wanted to see was a customer’s increasingly large rear-end as they bent over in their seat in search of their purse which had so conveniently slipped off the passenger seat and landed on the floor. As if that wasn’t terrible enough, the same customer would sit and count out exact change to top it off. Don’t get me wrong, I loved exact change. It cut my cash-out time in half. But I wasn’t much for a peepshow of the customer’s backside as they searched for said change.
I found myself involuntarily judging a person based on the physical condition of their chosen method of payment. I was always appreciative toward the simple, single crisp twenty that was handed to me and cashed in seconds. The newer bills kept my drawer looking organized. These people, I presumed, were efficient and responsible adults. They knew how to ensure the safety of Andrew Jackson during his journey from the bank to KFC/A&W. They were often very similar to the folks who simply handed me a credit card. A quick swipe and push of a few buttons, and they were ready to go. The problem with credit cards, however, was that we required a signature. It was much quicker for me to give change than it was to wait for the guy at my window to remember how to spell his unusually lengthy name. Honestly, nobody looks at those things. Just draw an “X” and move on for Sander’s sake.
There was the money folded around the change deal. I understand you don’t want the cashier to drop the coins, but I often didn’t even realize you placed coins inside the inconveniently folded bills. Therefore, not only did I take the time to unfold the money, I also had to search for the coins once they cascaded to the ground. These people, I think, tried too hard to be efficient and therefor were counter-productive.
And how could I ever forget the careless spaz who shoved wrinkled, scrunched up bills into my hand. I guess I just assumed these people hadn’t the slightest clue what a straight line was and carelessly shoved their cash into their pockets where it may be forgotten for weeks at a time. Although I love a forgotten random dollar as much as the next guy, I prefer neatly placing it into my wallet. Not to mention wrinkled cash didn’t lay flat in my drawer and made it look terrible.
Though it’s not right, I found myself making strong, negative assumptions about the girl who handed me $23.00 in ones. All ones. I stared at the stack of cash for a moment, really hoping they hadn’t been placed into her G-string the night before.
Once, someone had folded his dollar bill into an origami sailboat. Don’t get me wrong; I love origami. I’m the origami queen! I can make cranes, butterflies, boxes, flowers, and if given some real time, I can pull off a half-way-decent inflatable frog that hops on a good day. But when it came to origami money on a busy afternoon at KFC/A&W, I’m afraid I just plain didn’t have the time to appreciate such an unexpected, germ-covered work of art, and found myself only annoyed with the extra time it took to unfold the masterpiece and place it in the drawer with all the other normal, crease-free bills.
I took another order. “That’ll be $5.69, thank you and please pull forward,”
“WOO-HOO!” Monica howled at the price. “69!”
I’ve warned you before of the certain dirty mind-ness Monica seems to possess and in turn exploit across the brains of the staff. One does not work at KFC for longer than a few months and NOT pick up some of these… tendencies. I remember how shocked I was the first time I heard Monica drop the F bomb at work.
“I’ll have a cup of coffee,” an old man muttered to me as he dug through his fading leather wallet for a bill.
“I’m sorry, we don’t carry coffee,” I informed him. It was my first summer at KFC/A&W and I tried my best to keep my temper despite the heat.
“You don’t have coffee?!” The man exclaimed. “That’s just ridiculous.” And he left.
I stood in silence, watching him leave, not really caring, yet baffled anyone could care about a cup of coffee this much (this, obviously, is before I discovered McDonald’s Hot Caramel Mocha).
Monica came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s 99 fucking degrees outside and he’s asking for a fucking cup of coffee.”
I don’t know why I was surprised; if only I knew what was to come.
“She clogged the fucking sink!”
“Come on, you fuckers, let’s GO!”
“What the HELL is wrong with you?”
“Well. That just looks like shit, now, doesn’t it?”
“Requests for time off are just that: requests. Stop BITCHING.”
“Shut up, you hunsuckers!” (Still have no idea what that last one even MEANS).
Expanding my vocabulary and arsenal of insults certainly made me feel like more of an adult.
I took another order as Whitney prepared to pack it. We made such a great team.
“Can I help you find something?” I asked after a long moment.
“Just thinking,” the customer responded. Silence again. For several minutes.
“Somebody put a garage over this car!” Whitney finally shouted, tongs flailing in the air.
“Can I get the, uh… three… three col… colonial strips meal?”
Facepalm. Colonel. COLONEL. Like, “KER -NAL”. Not colonial.
“Yep, I can get that colonel strip meal for you,” I said, forcing a smile onto my face. “Will that complete your order?”
“I need some cheese with that,” the customer added.
“Like, melted cheese?” I clarified, slightly confused.
“No,” the customer said, almost annoyed. “Liquid.”
Whitney rolled her eyes but obliged.
“I need strips down!” She yelled back at the cooks, taking the last of them from the window and tenderly (tenders! Get it?! HA!) placing them in a box.
“You want me to STRIP DOWN??” Monica called.
“I also need two breasts,” the customer in my ear added.
I stifled a giggle. “Original or Crispy?”
“Do we have two Original breasts?” I asked Whitney, lifting the headset off my ear so I could better hear her response.
“Oh, yes, my breasts are very original,” Whit smirked.
I laughed. “But really?”
I sold them.
I opened the window as the car sluggishly approached. I had the misfortune of glancing beyond the driver at the passenger… who was clipping her toenails.
Suppressing a gag, I took the man’s money, gave him his original breasts, walked away.
“You know,” Whitney started as she grabbed a broom to sweep particles of crispy breading from the greasy floor. “I think you would really like my brother’s friend. You should meet him.”
Monica shuffled by to withdraw money from my till. “Are you fixing Kaitlin up with a boy? Remember what I always taught you girls. You gotta get the bling bling on your fing fing before you get that ding ding.” She looked at Whit, who was still sweeping. “Make sure you pull out them buns,” she advised, referencing the carts of sandwich buns rolled underneath the sandwich station.
“You’ve got nice buns,” Whit said as she obliged.
“Honey,” Monica snorted, “them ain’t buns. Them are the entire loaf!”
I shook my head as I started the rest of my cleaning responsibilities.
“Excuse me, Lady, I have a bone to pick!” I heard a gravely voice behind me. I turned on my heel to see a man with graying hair and an unkempt beard. He held a crinkled fast food bag in his hand and his bushy eyebrows were malevolently slanted over his eyes.
“Can I help you?” I asked, approaching the counter.
“Damn straight,” he began. “You guys screwed up my fucking order. I can’t believe this. Every Goddamned time. I just want a fucking burger! How hard is that! You all must be stupid.”
He continued like that for a while. I checked out somewhere in the middle, waiting for him to take a breath so I could sneak in a very hilarious observation.
“Sir,” I finally sighed, trying to suppress the smile twitching at the corners of my lips. “That’s a Wendy’s bag. You’re at KFC.”
That’s when the crowd around him erupted in laughter. I’m not typically a supporter of public humiliation, but that guy had it coming. You can’t be that disrespectful and not receive a visit from karma. Red in the face, he left the store in a hurry, tightly clutching his Wendy’s bag. I wish I would have called Wendy’s to warn them. They would have at least had a laugh before being insulted.
Here’s the thing. We are all human. Humans make mistakes. There is no reason to be a douchebag about a mistake. Be polite. The restaurant will gladly fix it for you.
Just saying… you don’t fuck with the people who handle your food.
Are you nuts?
Shortly after, Monica called me into her office.
“What did I do?” I asked as I walked into the office and removed my hat.
“Nothing, gosh!” she said. “I just want to know if you think you might be able to run the store next Wednesday.”
“We have a manager’s meeting up in Big Rapids. Us managers need someone to run the store while we are gone. I should be back to help close and count the drawers, but the shift would be all yours.”
I couldn’t help the smile that was slowly creeping across my chapped lips. Manager? Me? It sounded so… official… so… important… so… grown up. #adulting.
“Yeah,” I finally managed to breathe. “I can do it. No prob.”
And that’s how it started. I would run a shift here and there when the managers needed someone as back up. But eventually I was named an official manager at KFC/A&W.
I spent a total of six years there. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears went into that job. And grease. Lots and lots of grease. And I’m not just talking about the elbow kind.
This job was fundamental in developing my stellar adult personality.
And I was inches away from choosing Wendy’s for employment instead.
Who would I be now?
When analyzing the experience overall, without my experience at KFC, I would never have met Whitney… and she introduced me to my husband. I would never have gotten the management experience that led me to pursue a master’s degree in Strategic Communication Management. I would never have built my vocabulary of sexual innuendos (so important) and wouldn’t have been motivated to be better than just the chicken girl. KFC was a solid foundation for the adult I would someday become.
Still working on becoming one, but I know I’ll be good.