(excerpt from Confessions of a Fast-Food Worker, Pt. 1)
America, or maybe even the world, has a fascination with fresh fries. People can eat ham, pasta, or pizza cold. However, French fries have an entirely different set of rules. Eyes bulge and drool practically rolls down chins at the site of a full basket of fries rising out of hot grease. People loathe at glistening, golden-brown French fries sitting under a warming lamp with billowing steam and grease dripping of the basket.
Well, I considered myself a smart fry—no pun intended. It didn’t take me too long to catch on to the fascination with fresh fries. I wrapped my mind around the concept and caught on to the customers who requested unsalted fries just to make sure the fries were fresh. Nine times out of ten, those same customers demanded salt packets, ripped them open, and showered the fries while he or she licked their lips. Serving a customer fresh fries, or what he or she perceived as such, wasn’t an issue. Asking for unsalted fries just to get fresh fries added extra work to my underpaid workload. I had to place a big sheet of cooking paper over the salty fry bin then grab the clean fry scooper and strategically scoop fries without pushing them against the bin’s salt-covered walls. Digging the scooper into the hot fry basket and carefully filling a fry box was another option. Sizzling drops of grease usually collided with my fingertips when I did the latter—latex gloves can’t protect the hands from anything that is four-hundred degrees. Either way, I viewed the roundabout way to fresh French fries as an unnecessary, sneaky, asshole move, and it grinded my gears. I caught on to the trick and decided to play my own...
A calm, dark sky took the place of a rainy March day. The night brought balmy, high-speed breezes. The breezes whipped around the outside of the building and carried the scent of artery-clogging fast food great distances. The current pulled cars into the drive-thru, and, of course, Ronny’s was understaffed. Yet again, I was overworked and underpaid as I tossed orders through the second window. The fast-food machinery went smoothly-enough until Chris, the guy taking drive-thru orders at the back window, yelled, “Order three fourteen wants fries no salt!”
“Fuck!” I checked the lobby for nearby customers and walked over to the fry dispenser. With bare hands, I grabbed a handful of frozen fries, dumped the fries into a basket then dropped the basket into the grease. I pressed the timer, hopped over to the heated landing, and waited for sandwiches to fly up from the grill.
Three orders came and went. Order 314 pulled up. I looked over the window ledge, into the eyes of a raggedy Beyoncé look-alike. I smiled. “Your fries’ll be just another minute or two, okay?”
“I wanted the fries with no salt.”
“I know, ma’am. The guy in the back told me. That’s why I’m waiting on them to come up.”
“Okay, I was just making sure. No salt.”
“I understand, ma’am.”
“Honey, you don’t have to get smart.”
I make seven dollars an hour—I don’t make enough to “get smart.” “I’m sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to sound smart. Your fries’ll be up in just a moment. I don’t like all the salt either, so I completely understand.”
I love salt. It fixes everything.
I held her drink over the ledge. She wrapped her chubby fingers around the cup and pulled the cup from my grasp. I retracted my arm, closed the window then walked over to the fryer. A minute was left on the timer. My first instinct was to give the woman undercooked fries—I did this to customers sometimes. However, I was set on giving her just what she asked for, and to not have any problems doing so.
I dropped her sandwich into a bag then hurled the bag across the walkway, into the fry station. The bag slammed into the mirror above the fry bin and fell into the racks of salted fries waiting for departure. I leaned against the fry station. I wonder if she’s…
The timer beeped. I pulled the basket up and forced myself through the extra steps of making a medium fry without salt: finding the clean scooper, scooping fries out of the hot basket then stuffing them into a medium fry box. Scolding-hot French fries tumbled over the sides of the box and grazed my poor, un-health-insured hands.
I dropped the medium, unsalted fry into the bag, carried the bag to the window, and held it over the ledge. The woman snatched the bag then looked inside. She pulled a few fries out and pitched them into her mouth. “Have a good day.” I slid the window ¾ closed, hoping the roof of the woman’s mouth suffered third-degree burns.
“Excuse me, honey.”
I pushed thoughts of ignoring the woman aside, turned, and slid the window open. “Yes?”
Her mouth formed a circular shape and pulled air in to alleviate burning taste buds. “Gimme some salt packets.”
Salt and pepper packets overflowed the bins beneath the drink station. “Well, ma’am, I don’t think we got any salt. Let me look for you.”
The woman’s eyes drooped. The skin in her forehead wrinkled. Her lips tightened. “Huh?”
“I’ll check the other bins, but I’m pretty sure somebody told me earlier when I got here that we were out of salt packets.”
French fries without salt on them are just not right—Un-American. I might as well drink sugarless Kool-Aid.
The woman’s eyes burned holes into the back of my shirt as I walked over to the front counter. Salt packets overflowed their bins beneath the registers. Aware the woman watched in suspense, I shook my head and moseyed back to the drive-thru window. “We don’t have any.”
The woman grunted. “You gotta be kidding me. Go check in the back. Ya’ll can’t be outta salt packets. There’s probably some in the back—gotta be.”
Lady, I got all day. “I’ll be right back.”
I walked to the break room, pulled my cell phone out of my jacket pocket, and scanned over new text messages. I strolled back toward the front counter, slid my phone into my pocket then stepped into the woman’s view. “I’m sorry…” I shook my head. “But I didn’t find any salt packets. I guess we actually are out.”
The woman’s eyes bulged like a deer in headlights. “You said you wanted fries no salt, right? I made sure there wasn’t any salt on them. Hope I didn’t misunderstand you.”
The woman’s nostrils flared. She hyperventilated then slammed her bag into her passenger side seat. “I just wanted’em fresh!”
You should be careful what you ask for. I smiled. “I’m sorry. I got fries over here with salt on’em if you’ve changed your mind. They kinda old, though.”
Her head shook as she changed gears. “This is bullshit. Eating fries with no salt. I don’t believe this.”
Believe it, bitch. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
The woman pulled off as I slid the window closed and snickered. Eduardo, the manager, approached me. He had just walked back into the store from spending time with his mistress. He buttoned his top few shirt buttons then smiled. “What that lady mad about, man?”
I chuckled. “I told her we didn’t have any salt packets.”
“But we do, man—bunches and bunches.”
“I know. She asked for fries no salt.”
Felix shook his head. “And then she askin’ for salt packets?”
I nodded. “Yup.”
“I tell’em we don’t have’n any salt packets too, sometimes. What wrong with your people, man? Why don’t they just say’n they want’n hot fries?”
A customer approached the counter. Felix adjusted his collar, checked his fly and belt buckle then walked over to a register. I stepped up to the heated landing to prepare the next order.
Telling customers that asked for fries no salt we didn’t have any salt packets became a regular occurrence. I did not feed the lie to customers in the lobby. They could easily peer over the counter and see the abundance of red salt packets. Through the drive-thru window, customers were at my mercy. I enjoyed the power, especially considering my wage.
Occasionally, a drive-thru customer parked and walked into Ronny’s after being told the store was out of salt packets. Saying salt packets had been found and the bins had “just been stocked” was easy. The wanna-be-sneaky customer parked his or her car then walked all the way into the store. I did not.
The reactions and facial expressions when the horrible no-salt news hit the fan were phenomenal to say the least. Aside from countless stumped faces, comments of disbelief, and somber eyes, the most outrageous occurrence was from a man. The man did what the woman and so many other customers had done: demanded unsalted fries then asked for salt packets.
I told the man the store had run out of salt packets. Like a Major League Baseball player, he hurled his large-sized fry over the ledge. The greasy potato bullets slammed into my stained, red shirt. I jumped back as the man pulled off like a getaway driver in bank robbery. My lips curled into a Grinch-like smirk. My head turned side to side. You paid two dollars and some change for the fries, waited in line for several minutes, attempted to trick me into giving you fresh fries then hurl them over the ledge and drive off? Really socked it to me, huh?
My conscious spoke louder and more clearly as adulthood approached. I forked over however-many salt packets ‘mannerable’ customers requested. However, I kept the No Salt move in the fast-food arsenal for the rudest of the rude.