As I jumped out of my mom’s banged up Chevy on that cold winter morning, my breath trailed my sleepy words, “Thanks for the ride. I’ll see you after my shift.”
It was five a.m. on a Saturday and as I walked into the dark McDonald’s, I had no way of knowing what my 8 hour shift would entail. Would I be on biscuit duty? On the grill? Drive-thru window? Front Counter?
As was customary, the morning crew was gathering in the breakroom swapping stories of their Friday night adventures. We all looked a sad sort: some sleepy, some hungover, some wired with caffeine. Charlene, our shift manager, called us to attention with a clap of the clipboard on the messy break room table. I can still see the small cloud of flour rise into the air as a result of the attention-grabbing smack. Charlene, in her raspy smoker’s voice, rattled through who was doing what–and being the newest member of the team, I got the dreaded “opener duties.” This entailed walking through the restaurant and prepping it for the six a.m. opening. Was everything stocked? Straws, napkins, ketchup packets, etc? I honestly didn’t mind this as much as the others—I have always had a penchant for organizing things.
While finding the coffee stirrers from the supply closet, I was rattled by Charlene’s irritated tone: “Keith, it looks like the closer last night didn’t mop the floors back in the grill area and prep stations. Get on that first.” As I mumbled some choice words under my breath (for this duty was one I didn’t appreciate at all), I got the dirty string mop ready. The irony in “cleaning” at McDonald’s was that all the cleaning tools were always disgustingly dirty. The mop head: dirty. The yellow “caution wet floor” bucket: dirty. The sanitizer bottle: dirty. The box of disposable gloves: dirty.
The loud, wet, smack of the mop on the brown tile floor aroused my senses and made me acutely aware of the foul floor in the grill area. It always felt like you were skating on ice due to the greasy build up. It never went away. I could barely stomach the stuck-on sesame seeds in the crevices between the tiles. The french fry here, the french fry there. The dirty shoes on the cooks’ feet as I swished the mop around them while they busily prepped the food. Mopping the floor, I quickly learned, was really just a formality. A “check-off” on the to-do list. No one really cared. I knew I had a chance here to make this the last time I had to mingle with that messy mop as I felt Charlene’s eyes checking my work. I hunkered down that morning and scraped the fries off the floor. I got a brush to free the sesame seeds from their greasy destiny. I threw down some dirty (clean) rubber mats for the cooks to stand on. I gave it my all–I even cleaned the cleaning supplies as I wrapped it up.
The pay-off came the following Saturday. As Charlene rattled off the morning duties, she winked at me. “Keith, I got you on biscuits this morning.”
It felt like my own personal graduation ceremony at McDonald’s.