When I was 14 years old and, therefore, a year short of the age at which you could then get your license in the state of Mississippi, I wrecked my motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s car. I was sober and it was daylight, but when I backed the big old Buick station wagon out of a friendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s driveway, it somehow swung into a tree. Like everyone else in the Mississippi Delta, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been driving since the age of 11 and I thought I was a pro. Clearly, I was not. My parents were out of town, so the first thing I tried to do was get the car fixed before they returned, an endeavor which turned out to be an impossibility because, one, it was a weekend and no body shop could do the work in time, and, two, I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have been able to pay for it in the first place.
So I did what I thought was the next best thing.Ã‚ Ã‚ I got a job. A menial job that would make me appear so noble that I would avoid getting grounded over the unauthorized use and subsequent wreckage of the Roadmaster. I went to work behind the counter at our local McDonaldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. I had a friend who worked there and sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d told me that the manager was a Ã¢â‚¬Å“nice guyÃ¢â‚¬ and he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind hiring girls who were slightly below the age that the federal government wanted them to be. (We will not dwell on his possible motivationÃ¢â‚¬”at that moment I was grateful.)
When my parents arrived home, I was decked out in my two-toned blue zip-front polyester suit embroidered with a golden arch and then I showed them the car. Unamused by both dent and outfit, they grounded me anyway. Worse, I was forced to use my initial earnings to pay for the repair. I was furious that my ruse didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work. But then a funny thing happenedÃ¢â‚¬”I started to love working at McDonaldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. I loved the camaraderie and the jokes and the hustle. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind that every time I went into the walk-in cooler I came out with hair that smelled like Big Mac sauce. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind greeting the customer with a smile and suggesting a hot apple pie at the end of an order like we had been told over and over again to do. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind covering for the alcoholic manager who mixed Bourbon into one of the Coke dispensers and I still hope I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t serve one to an unsuspecting toddler or member of AA.
I paid for the car and then I was free to buy my own LPs and 8-tracks (this was a long time ago) and clothes (including am incredibly chic brown velvet suit and some Charles Jourdan shoes I wish I still had) and anything else I might want. I realized that working was an excellent way to gain freedom from your elders. By this time I also had a driverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s license and drove myself to work. After a year, I was ready to move on, which was a good thing, since the owner of the franchise had to pay a whole lot of money to the feds once he discovered his manager was hiring underage employees.
I still really, really love a McDonaldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s burgerÃ¢â‚¬”Big Mac sauce is to me like ProustÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s madeleine. It reminds me of high school and my navy blue Mustang convertible and the Bonnie Raitt 8-tracks I listened to every night on my way home from manning the counter. I learned a lot of stuff in my own private Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hamburger CollegeÃ¢â‚¬ not least of which is the importance of keeping it together no matter what it is that you do. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ordinarily quote Snoop Dogg, but he happens to be on the money: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If it’s flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, be the best hamburger flipper in the world. Whatever it is you do you have to master your craft.Ã¢â‚¬ This is also why I get almost ridiculously irritated when I walk into a fast-food enterprise and I am not greeted with a smile. Or worse, no one suggests to me that I add a hot apple pie with my order, maÃ¢â‚¬â„¢am. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want one, of course, but I do know the rules and if I can follow them, anyone can.