I never wanted to work in the fast food industry. I had been pretty good at getting cashier jobs at stores when I needed income when I was younger. At the time, I had a job doing work-study at the college I was attending. It helped, but I needed a little more to cover other expenses that semester for school as well as my car insurance and phone bill.
My roommate had worked in fast food since we were 14 and had never divulged anything too terrible. I applied all over Conway, finally hearing back from one restaurant. That was when my illustrious career at the local Fazoli’s Restaurant began.
My first day on the job could best be described using one word “vague”. There was no orientation or even tour of the building. They showed me where to stow my purse and sent me back into the kitchen to get instruction from the manager on duty. During the week, the manager on duty was another college student who had transitioned into their role of management simply by outlasting others who had worked there and quit.
That day, the manager on duty turned out to be a youngish fella, who did not have the time or inclination to show some new gal the ropes. He jerked his head quickly to the left and said, “You can start with dishes” and walked away. I looked over and there was a large, industrial sink along the far wall. Left on my own, I walked up to the sink. There was a large area covered in dirty pans on the right, a deep stainless-steel sink right in front of me and a drying area to the left.
I looked around to figure out how to operate it. There was a nozzle hanging in the air high above my head. I reached up to try and grab it, extending my arm all the way and going up onto my tippy toes to no avail. I could not reach the nozzle. Other employees buzzed past me in a hurry. “Excuse me!” I said on numerous occasions, but none of them appeared to hear me or even notice my presence at all. Perhaps I was a ghost, and the eternal purgatory I’d been sent to had been this restaurant.
Finally, a young woman with her light blond hair swept up under her Fazoli’z hat accidentally made eye contact with me. “I don’t know how to work this” I told her. She rolled her eyes as she turned away from me. Suddenly she yelled at another worker, “This new girl needs help!” and she left me standing there. A young man approached at her directive. He was very tall and had long brown hair that was pulled back into a tail. He looked me over, head to toe, and sighed. He reached up past me and grabbed the nozzle pulling it downward. Handing me the nozzle he said, “You use your foot to turn on the water down here.” He gestured with his foot to the pedal on the floor.
“Thanks” I said to him, but he was already walking away. I began to wash the dishes. Once I had finished that task, the process started all over. After several stops and starts, I was assigned to do breadsticks. Fazoli’s was known for their breadsticks. As it turned out, there was a large vat of garlic butter. This large vat looked suspiciously like an otherwise unused trash can. Sheets of breadsticks lay next to it, and whomever was working the station applied the garlic butter with none other than an otherwise unused large paint brush.
Another worker showed me the process. I dipped the bristled brush into the large sea of garlic butter. Then the butter was quickly slathered over the entire tray. The tray was then stacked in a tall rack with other trays. Repeat. The employee turned me loose. I spent the rest of that shift doing nothing but breadsticks. My interaction with other humans was limited, as no one that worked there seemed to have any interest in talking to the new girl whatsoever.
When I got in my car to go home that evening, I was exhausted. It was weird to have spent hours there and really had very little interaction with anyone. When I got back to my dorm room, I put my clothing in my laundry basket in the closet. My roommate was working in the Seafood Department at Price Cutter, and her closet was next to mine. The mixture of the scents of seafood and garlic butter that wafted around made our dorm room smell like a Red Lobster sorely in need of a carpet cleaning. That likely describes the current condition of all the Red Lobsters in existence, truth be told.
When I talked to Steven on the phone, he asked how my first day had gone. We’d been dating a few months at that point. I told him how weird the whole thing had been. He assured me that’s how it was in basically all fast food jobs. He was something of an expert. He had worked at McDonalds, Rally’s and Burger King. He’d also randomly quit some of them.
As the next week and a half dragged on, I fully expected the work environment to change a bit. By day 2 or 3, I was sure someone would recognize me. It never happened. Each day I came in, they all looked at me as though they had never seen me before in their lives. During one of my moments of figuring out what I needed to be doing, blondie with the rolling eyes told me to go put ice in the coke machine. The fountain drinks were located in the dining area in an island counter. She directed me to a large bucket sitting next to an ice machine in the back. “Fill the bucket here and go dump it in the top of the machine” she directed me. She then disappeared to do something else.
I looked at the bucket, thinking that this whole setup seemed weird. I wondered why whoever built this restaurant didn’t include an ice machine near the actual soda fountain. This had to be one of mankind’s most stupid design failures. I painstakingly filled the ice bucket with ice from the machine. It was heavy. I lugged the wobbly bucket to the front and managed to sit it down on the cabinet next to the machine. There was no way I was going to reach the top of it. I looked around. As usual, no one was paying any attention to me. I briskly walked over to a table and got a chair and dragged it around to the front of the soda fountain.
Standing on the chair I managed to reach the top and get the lid off the machine. I looked down at the heavy bucket full of ice, and sighed. I picked up the bucket and began to lift it up. The bucket wobbled and so did I. I sat it back down to regroup. Breathing deeply, I picked it back up to try again. This time, the young man who had helped me on day one with the spray nozzle came walking over. Standing on the chair, I was almost eye to eye with him. He looked at me, took the ice bucket from my hands and simply reached up and dumped it in the top.
“Thanks” I said to him, awkwardly. He did not reply anything, he simply walked away. I put the lid back up on the ice machine and replaced the chair in the dining room. When I looked up, Steven was standing there. “I thought I’d come by and see how it was going” he said. I smiled and said, “Let me see if I can take my break.”
I put the ice bucket back in the kitchen and found the shift manager sitting in the office. “Can I take my break now?” I asked. Startled, the man looked up and said, “Uh, okay?” That was good enough for me. I went out and sat in a booth with Steven. He had ordered some food. As he ate the food, I told him “They don’t make that here, you know. It’s like a T.V. dinner they heat up for you under this oven thing.” He looked up and said, “That doesn’t surprise me.” For the next 15 minutes we sat and talked, and he made me laugh. It was the best 15 minutes I’d had in that building since I started working there. Before he left, he said to me, “I can come back at this time when I’m not working on other days if you want.” Glad for the distraction, I agreed heartily. 3 more times the next week Steven dropped by and I took my break while he was there. Every single time it cheered me up immensely.
I had developed a real loathing for the restaurant. I had been permanently placed on breadstick duty, since it was the only task I could do without limitation due to my height. There were other short girls that worked there but they were never asked to do the ice or dishes that I saw. It was probably one of those “new guy” jobs. Each day as I got ready for work, I loathed my uniform when I put it on. All my clothes smelled like garlic. I didn’t know the name of a single person who worked with me there and no one knew my name.
I sat down at my desk in my dorm room and calculated how much I would get paid on the first payday. I realized the 1st check would cover the extra expenses the semester had incurred. I decided right then and there that since I’d lived frugally before, I could do it again. I called to quit, and they told me what day to come in and pick up my check. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was free. I also vowed to never eat another Fazoli’s breadstick as long as I lived. I have kept that vow.
When I went back to get my one and only paycheck, a guy tried to stop me from going in the back. “I’m here to pick up my paycheck” I said. He looked at me kind of weird and said, “Who are you?” I told him my name and he walked with me to the office and rifled through some papers. “I’m going to need to see your ID” he said. I presumed young women coming in off the street fraudulently demanding paychecks was a real problem at this store. I dug my drivers license out of my purse and handed it to him. He looked it over and flipped through the papers again. Seeing a check that matched my name he muttered to himself, “huh” as though it surprised him, and gave it to me.
I’m pretty sure the impact I made at that restaurant was a negative 10. It’s okay though because the feeling was mutual. Today, the building holds a David’s Burgers. Fazoli’s is but a distant memory for Conway residents. I can’t say I’m sad about that.