What I Learned at the Rat Hole

At first glance, this is funny.

 Of course, any story with the words “Federline” and “demeaning” is bound to be funny.  But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.

Lately, in news stories and blogs, I’ve detected a “tone” when the subject of restaurant workers comes up, especially fast food workers. (You parents might  get a giggle when you hear me say “Do I detect a ‘tone’?”)  I guess it started when Tracy Moore pulled her “don’t talk back to your betters” stunt.  Although her skewering was warranted on so many levels, in discussions of it, fast food employees were almost given a sort of deference;  the discourse made it sound like these folks had been shanghaied and dragged to America on a slave ship.  I don’t feel fast food workers, per se, are pitiable (although, anyone who interacts with Ms Moore would be, apparently).  As usual, I will speak from experience.

A little personal history.  Here if you were to look at my work history on my resume, it would look like this (in order of promotion):

  1. A Certain Dinner Theater (as a teen; janitor, then “food runner”, then assistant chef)
  2. McDonald’s (working “the grill”, then counter and drive-thru)
  3. Pizza Inn (waiter, delivery driver, assistant manager)
  4. The State of Tennessee (tape drive operator, computer operator (printers), production control)
  5. Sirius Cybrenetics Corp (Production Control, Web/Windows Development)

I’d like to focus on numbers two and three.  I worked these jobs from about age 19 though 25.  It is my contention that I never could have worked my way up through the ranks of numbers four and five had I not had those two “demeaning” jobs.  I learned skills and life-lessons that I could never have learned elsewhere.  Here’s some of them:

  • I learned basic work skills (come to work on time, follow SOPs – but be flexible)
  • I learned improvisation.  Sometimes, you have to make this fit into that using only this.
  • I learned how to handle pressure.  If you’ve never worked the drive thru at breakfast shift on a Friday, I don’t know how to explain to you what it’s like.  The first order comes about 5 minutes till opening.  It doesn’t stop until your shift ends sometime after lunch rush.  Literally.  The boss is rushing you, the customers, half of which are Tracy Moores are rushing you, the grill and fry cooks can’t keep up.  You not only have to deal with all this, but you are the face to the customer when things go wrong.
  • I learned to do 5 things at once.  Breakfast shift on Friday, and all that.  People have often asked me how I keep my cool in the middle of an IT crisis.  This is why.
  • I learned how to hold my tongue in the face of a million Tracy Moores.  This would become an invaluable skill in the corporate world.
  • I learned the value of planning ahead for busy times during slow times.
  • (This is a weird one) I learned what women find attractive in men.  I’m sure every restaurant has this, but the girls who worked with me had a code word to alert one another when a good looking guy came in the store (ours was “grill check”).  I watched and took mental notes.
  • I learned the sting of injustice, and how to deal with it.  I was by far the hardest worker at my McDonald’s.  It was owned by an African American, and about 80% of the employees were AA.  They made a big deal about an upcoming promotion, and EVERYBODY knew I was going to get it.  Instead, it went to a young man that did less than half the work I did.  I don’t know if it’s because I was the wrong color, or that the young man was a distant relation to the owner, but the sting was deep.  To this day I am very, very sensitive about this sort of thing when I see it happen to others.

My point: I would not have had the modest success I’ve had in the corporate world if I had not learned important lessons and life skills at the restaurants.  If I had to quantify it, I’d say those experiences account for at least $20,000 of my current salary.  Why the heck would anyone look back on that time in my life and feel pity?

There was one other thing that came out of that time.  There was a young lady whom I had met once at a party, who would come every single morning after her night shift job and order breakfast, which she hardly ate.  She seemed very talkative for a fast food customer.  I was young and stupid. 

Little did I know that Lintilla had set her sights on me.  We were married two years later.

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2 Responses to “What I Learned at the Rat Hole”

  1. jagadiah Says:

    I think it should be a requirement that every American should have to put in at least a year in either retail or food service. I’ve got over ten years in both (3 or so in retail and almost 10 in f&b) and totally agree with you on the lessons learned.

  2. malia Says:

    I never worked corporate fast food, i.e. McD, but I did work in the “food court” dining halls while I was in college. And retail, lots of retail!

    Anyway…I was at a McD today (not my favorite, but I have PMS and was experiencing a bit of cabin fever since I hadn’t really been out of the house in a couple of days), we (the boy and I) were in line behind a customer who came in with a coupon and an attitude. Mid-age white guy trying to change up how the coupon worked and he knew he’d get resistance. There were two women standing at one register, a brand new employee and the manager (I knew she was the manager because I’ve been to this McD several times in the last several years, she’s apart of that place!) This guy gets all uppity and pretty much requests to see “the manager” as soon as he starts talking. The woman’s, “I AM the manager” response was priceless.


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