Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tales Of McDonalds... Car-Wash Edition!

Like many young people (and, unfortunately these days, some not so young), my first job was working at a McDonalds franchise outlet, which for me meant a store in Beaverton Oregon. Other than picking strawberries in the summer, which I guess is considered illegal child labor now, I had no experience whatever, but that was not a problem.They needed cheap bodies (I started at $1.55 an hour) and being in high school, I needed a flexible schedule and a way to make a few extra bucks.

Note that I worked for McDonald's in prehistoric times, as in the halcyon pre-breakfast, pre-frozen fries (one of my jobs was slicing and "blanching" hundreds of pounds of potatoes daily) era. Just after the earth-shattering introduction of the ever popular Quarter Pounder. Ahh, for those simpler times.

It was all brand new to me. When I sat down for my job interview, the manager took notes on a specially prepared form, writing his name in the spot marked "manager": "Head." I thought he was joking or trying to make a point, like "get it, I'm the head manager", until I found out his name was actually Lee Head. I think he enjoyed my momentary confusion. Perhaps that very smart and smug young fellow is still working there. We can only hope.

I was also hired back when they still had the three color "hat system" that clarified your status within the McDonalds ranks. A white hat was a base trainee, unworthy of respect. A blue hat was for a trained employee, a status that mostly meant they took just a little less shit. A red hat was for managers.

Ahh, the managers. Now there was a bunch. When you're 16, 22 year olds in authority positions might as well be 60, but in fact, most of the management crew were indeed in their mid-twenties, maybe one or two in their late teens. Being it was my first job it was difficult for me to pass judgement at the time, but looking back? It's clear these people hated their positions with a red hot passion. There were also occasional visits from the owners (his name was "Ollie") and the district manager, a burly graduate of McDonalds University who liked to order trainees to get on their knees to scrub the floor so he could put his foot on their back. I am not kidding. 

Looking back, it's clear that some of their managerial methods would not pass muster in the modern work place. For instance, disciplining an employee by throwing a tray of hamburgers in their face. It happened to me one day when, after being accused of not fully cooking the burgers, I said "no, they're done." This particular manager clearly did not like being contradicted, which prompted the reaction, but that he did it in front of a crowd of customers seemed to a little over the top. Suffice to say, the gesture provoked one of the five times I quit the McDonalds empire (I can still remember stuffing my paper blue hat into the grill's grease trough), only to return months later to make some easy money...

But those are stories for another time. Today I'm going to talk about a car-wash. Specifically, the coin-operated hand-nozzle car wash that was located directly behind this particular McDonalds location.

Remember those hats I mentioned earlier? Well, at this particular McDonalds, the managers and long time employees had come up with a unique and rather sadistic way of celebrating someone's promotion from white-hat trainee to blue-hat regular employee. They would wait for the graduate's shift to end, then forcibly drag him to the car-wash, pump quarters into the coin-op and jam the nozzle spraying scalding hot water down the initiate's pants.

Remember what I said about managers making dubious decisions? I think this one qualifies.

So my graduation day finally came. I was about to dispense with my white hat and step up into the glorious world of blue. All during that shift, the managers and other blue hats were gleefully tormenting me about the hell to come. How there would be no escape. In fact, the manager asked me to point out my car so they could box it in, forcing me to stay on site until the deed was done.

I spent my shift wondering, is this was adult life is like? Waiting for a group of work-mates, most of whom I was friendly with, to turn into snarling animals so they could force the same humiliation on me that they themselves had suffered earlier? (The answer, of course, is yes, but I was still naive back then).

Anyway, the hour neared. Tension built. When quitting time finally arrived, I punched out at the time-clock and walked outside, where a small gang had assembled. "You're not going anywhere, Verheiden," the manager snarled. "Get him!" With a jolt of adrenaline (augmented I'm sure by the gallons of shitty Coca-Cola I'd been drinking all night), I bolted across the parking lot toward my car.

Which, by the way, was not the car they had blocked in. When asked to identify my car earlier that evening, I had, of course, pointed to someone else's weather-worn beater. That car wasn't goin' anywhere.

Me? I threw myself into my '66 Dodge Wagon, gunned the engine and burned rubber across the parking lot. As my headlights washed across the back of the store, I could see disappointment and anger welling on the faces of the mob. Because tonight they would be denied their victim! Enraged, the manager somehow grabbed a pan full of water-soaking dehydrated onions and threw it across my back window, a starry burst of white and wet, but it was too little, too late. I was in the wind...

I left those onions on the car, mostly out of sloth, but also as a badge of honor. I was still picking flecks off the bumper weeks later, and loving it, because this was a total victory. They only got one shot at the car-wash torture, that was also part of the graduation protocol. So I had beaten the bastards, and in the process learned an important life lesson. When someone asks you, "is that your car?", always lie.

I would enjoy another two years, of and on, of McDonalds glory... meaning, more stories to come!

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