They Ate My Hamburgers, part 1
Writing in the middle of a severe thunderstorm is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. But there are plenty of people waiting in line to shout, ” it ain’t the dumbest thing either”. Fine. Here in Chicago we have seen a beautiful and sunny day turn into a torrential downpour. Not since I was a small child during hurricane season in Florida, have I seen a storm system so strong. I can’t even let the dogs go outside to use the bathroom. I had to let them go in the garage. They aren’t too happy about that. The cable just went out and I’m pretty sure it’s a waste of time to even check the satellite dish. It pixelizes on just the threat of rain. The day just changed on a dime. That’s the way life is sometimes. And that brings me to my topic today.
When I was a teenager, my best friend and I worked at McDonald’s. (He’s a surgeon now, living in Santa Fe) The franchise was owned by Mr. & Mrs. Willard Payne, great people, who helped instill a work ethic and honesty in their young employees. It was my first serious job. I was a grill man, serving up hamburgers, cheese burgers, big macs, quarter pounders, filet-o-fish, and even pies. On the weekends, I worked breakfast and made egg mcmuffins. Back in those days, McDonald’s used to live for buses. All types of buses. Greyhounds, Trailways and charters. Buses meant hungry customers, and hungry customers meant $500 hours. I don’t know what today’s rate is, but that was some serious hamburger slinging, back in the day.
If you were a grill man, the best thing you could ever do was to run the grill alone, during a $500 hour. I did that. I saw the bus pull into the parking lot, I pulled out the scraper to clean the grill, and told the bin caller to tell me what she needed. The bin was a big stainless steel open container that held prepared food until it was purchased. “12 macs, 12 hams, 10 quarters, 6 filet,” she yelled. “Working”, I said. The rest of the grill crew were standing along the wall, making bets on whether I could pull it off. A lot of people would lose money on this day.
I laid down 24 one-eighth lb patties, 10 quarter pound patties and put the bottoms of the buns in the warmer. I sprinted around the big stainless steel dressing table and grabbed 6 frozen filets with one hand and shoved them into the fry basket and hit the timers. Buzz! Ten seconds later, the first burger timer went off. It was time to sear the patties, one at at time. Buzz! Then the bun timer went off. I had to pull the bottoms and then put the crowns in the warmer. The bottoms went to the dressing table, where I quickly squirted mustard, mustard, mustard, mustard, then ketchup, ketchup, ketchup, ketchup. Pickles, pickles, pickles, pickles. Buzz! it was time to turn the meat. The crew was getting nervous. I calmly turned then salted and peppered the meat.
Now you are supposed to turn the burgers two at a time. I had a big spatula, so I turned ’em by threes, seared them and put the reconstituted onions on top. I quickly hit the timer button again, then it was back to the dressing table. Mac sauce and pickles. Quarter pounders get fresh onions. Now it was time to ask the bin caller another question, “cheese on 12 hams?”. “Cheese on 7,” she said. It takes some time to separate individual slices of cheese. Buzz! Uh oh, the buns were done steaming for the filets and the buzzer is going off. I can only take them out of the oil, but I can’t pay much more attention than that. The burgers are ready to come off of the grill. Buzz! I pull them just like I turned them–three at a time. I scoop, turn and slide the burgers onto the dressed buns. Then I scrape the crowns onto a tray and transfer them in one motion on top of the burgers. They are warm and juicy and delicious, I know. I place them all on the top of the bin and shout “macs up, hams up, quarters up”. The bin caller doesn’t respond. She’s got to wrap and box all that food. I turn to the filet-of-fish and squirt tartar sauce onto the steamed buns and break each piece of cheese in half (yeah, you only get a half a slice) before placing the fish on the bread and pushing the tray to the top of the bin. We don’t announce filets. I scrape the grill, pleased.
That’s about as good as it gets when you work at McDonalds. And that was pretty good. But then something happened. After all of that labor and intensity, the people ate my hamburgers. They… ate… my… hamburgers. I had nothing to show for all of my work! That made me question what it was all for. Sure, people enjoyed the food, but my name wasn’t on it. I wasn’t recognized for being a great grill man by the people who ate the food. And it made me sad. And it made me decide that I had to do something that lasted, something that counted, something tangible that I could point to years later that I could say I did. I was about to change my path. But I had a lot more to learn.
Part 2 next time.