I Chose Working in Fast Food Over High School and College

Life often makes you go in a direction you never thought you would take, and in my case, I always regretted it

Photo by Ilya Mashkov on Unsplash

My clothes smelled of rancid grease and cheeseburgers, but I was too tired to change them. I slipped behind the wheel of my wrecked green Subaru, hoping it would start so I could get home and sleep.

I was at the end of a 22-hour shift, from opening at 4 AM to closing at 2 AM the next day. A perfect storm of the flu season and a cold snap, made it so the other managers were too sick to work their shifts, and I couldn’t find anyone else. I even called other franchises, hoping someone could come a relieve me.

But no one could come.

I woke up that morning with a sore throat, cough, and low-grade fever, but no one could take my shift, so I took a hot shower, guzzled half a bottle of DayQuil, and drove myself to work in the cold and dark, depressed at where my life had taken me.

My two employees who were supposed to arrive at the same time and help me open never showed up and wouldn’t answer their phone or beeper, so I set everything up myself and opened the store. I worked by myself until 9 am, when my very sick employee walked in, shivering from the cold.

I was so feverish and exhausted by the time the lunch rush rolled around that all I could do was collapse in an office chair, but was soon on my feet and preparing french fries because two buses full of high school students pulled in the parking lot.

Neither the store manager nor the other assistant manager were coming to work, no matter how much I begged and told them I was short-staffed and everyone was sick in the restaurant too.

My manager got mad and told me to “just handle it!” before hanging up and leaving me hopeless.

We somehow made it through the lunch rush short-staffed and sick, hoping for 5 pm to roll around and the next shift to take over for us.

But, the night manager called in sick, as did 2 of the 4 people who were supposed to be working that night.

Guess who had to take another short-handed shift with a fever of 102 degrees? Yes, me.

Of course, I had been on the phone with the franchisee, telling him what was going on and asking him if we could close the restaurant. But, under no circumstances was I to lock the door during business hours, and he and his wife would not be coming to help out because they too, were sick.

He told me to “handle it!”

I know the customers who came to the store that night got slow service, and we weren’t very friendly, but we managed to make it until closing at midnight.

We cleaned the place as best we could until 2 am, then bundled up and locked the door.

When I got home, I was too tired and sick to sleep, so I took a hot bath and drank as much water as I could because I felt dehydrated. Spending 22 hours around greasy food made me lose my appetite, so I took some aspirin and sat on the couch to watch TV until I could fall asleep.

An hour later, the franchisee called me and told me I had to go to work and open the store because the morning manager had not shown up, and the store manager wasn’t answering his phone.

After I struggled short-handed through a 22-hour shift while I was sick, he expected me to go and do it all over again with no sleep. I had only been home for an hour.

I told him the same thing I was thinking, but he again told me to “handle it!”

I told him to go fuck himself and hung up, very pleased with myself. I got in bed, careful not to wake my wife, and slept the sleep of the dead.

A week later, I was sitting in a booth, having a meeting with the store manager and franchisee. They had recovered from their illnesses, but I still had body aches and a sore throat.

The handed me a piece of paper, and I read it, getting more incredulous by the second. It seems they were writing me up because, during my 22-hour shift, where I was sick and short-handed, and none of them managed to come and help me, the drive-thru times had been longer than 3 minutes.

The real story was they were pissed that I wouldn’t come in that morning when they demanded, but couldn’t do anything about it, because of labor laws. So they found something they could punish me for.

I put a middle finger in each of their faces and threw the ripped up write-up at them. I wished one of them had gotten angry enough to try something because I was feeling very much like violence was the answer about then.

They just looked at their hands, embarrassed and uncomfortable, and I walked away.

I heard later that when the staff found out what happened to me, half of them quit immediately, and many of them filed complaints with the department of labor for violating their worker’s rights.

I got a new job because I had anticipated that they would do something like this, so I had been interviewing with a furniture rental store, and found out the day I walked out of the burger joint that I had the other job.

There was no more fast food for me for a while.

I had been working in fast food since I quit school at 15. I couldn’t bear to change schools again after moving so much, so I decided that I would work instead. The jobs for a 16-year-old punk with a 9th-grade education didn’t exist except in the foodservice industry, so I got the job I could get.

I did everything they asked me and became a go-to guy. When something needed doing, I was the guy who did it. I cleaned grease from the grease trap and scrubbed the bathroom walls around the toilets. I worked as many shifts as they asked me without complaint. I even allowed them to promote me so they could put me on salary and not have to pay overtime for all the extra hours I worked.

I worked all those years with an undiagnosed mental illness so severe that I had to fight the urge to kill myself every single day when I got home from work. I instead started cutting myself where I knew no one would see because the pain brought me back to myself and allowed me to battle the depression, anxiety, and hallucinations that spoke in my head.

Of course, I wanted more out of life, but I’d spent my teen years covered in bacon grease, and now had a family I had to support, and the idea of getting my diploma and going to college seemed like a pipe dream.

I wanted to be a writer, and I did write when I could get some spare time, but I wouldn’t follow my dream of going to college until much later, and then I didn’t even study writing.

As a kid growing up, they taught me that good Christians didn’t waste their time in college — instead, devoting their time to the preaching work — so I already had a negative bias towards school built-in. And then, I worked so much to support my wife, who wouldn’t work, and my kids, that I never thought I would be able to manage a college schedule.

I traded a better life for not-so-easy money in fast food, until the day that I wasn’t their go-to guy anymore and wouldn’t put up with all the trash they threw at me.

You are a superstar to them until you realize you are are only human and can’t manage to do everything they ask of you anymore.

I eventually escaped, went to college, and moved on to bigger and better things, but for more than a decade, I was a fast food superstar.

Until I wasn’t.

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