November 26, 2015

Music school and Burger King: a Thanksgiving memory

I began my doctoral studies at Northwestern University in January, 1977. I was a newlywed piano performance major with big plans, big dreams and a taste for Liszt and Rachmaninov. Finances were tight, so both my bride and I got part-time jobs at the Burger King across the street from the School of Music. For any Wildcats out there reading this post, that was the old School of Music downtown, not the shiny fancy lakefront location today's students enjoy. Nope, we practiced and studied in a creaky edifice converted from a women's dormatory. It was..... quaint.
Festive holiday feast, 1978, Evanston IL

But with today being Thanksgiving (and I hope all my Faithful Readers are having a great one!), my thoughts turned to the Least Festive Thanksgiving In Recorded History, and I thought I'd share some Burger King memories with you.

If nothing else, and presuming that you yourself were never employed at a fast-food joint, it'll give you one more thing to be thankful for.

So this was probably November of 1978, and I had to work at the King on Thanksgiving Day. "Well," I thought with remarkable foresight, "it'll make a good story years from now." Was it a slow day? Well, naturally - normal people are interacting with loved ones, arguing about politics and watching football, even though entrepreneurs had yet to give us Draft Kings and betting on the NFL was still largely confined to Vegas and Reno.

Yes, the hours passed slowly through what normally was the time block of "lunch rush". But here's the thing that struck me:

Several of the lunch "regulars" came in as usual, and ordered the same damn meal they ordered every other day. 

Now THAT'S sad.

There was a tall, gangly middle-aged guy with a pasty complexion, a permanently stone-faced expression and military buzzcut who always came in at noon and ordered two plain Double Whoppers, no cheese, just meat and bread, and two small cartons of milk.

Every day, five days a week.

And here he came through the doors on Thanksgiving Day, stepping up to the register.

And ordered his usual.

I wanted to say "Dude!" (Was "dude" a thing in 1978? Not sure...) "It's THANKSGIVING! Put some ketchup and mustard on it! Get some onion rings! Get the apple pie! SOMETHING!"

But of course, I kept my peace, took his money, made change, and handed him a tray of steaming beef and (hopefully, but no guarantee) fresh milk.

It really was part of my education to work at a fast food enterprise. Everyone should do it for a short while. Here are some other random B.K. memories:

When you start working there, the manager schools you in the proper way to apply ketchup on a burger. For the record, you're supposed to swirl it in perfect concentric circles beginning in the center of the patty. In actual practice, of course, it's busy and you're twelve orders behind, the cashiers are yelling at you, and so you grab the ketchup bottle and give one big SPLOOTCH that leaves the burger looking like the victim of an axe murderer. Pretty sure it ends up tasting the same.

Every now and then, when you're working up front as cashier, the manager orders you to push one particular side item or dessert. One time I was instructed to push onion rings with every order. Now, I'm fairly passive by nature and don't like to be pushy in the first place, so this made me uncomfortable. One afternoon, a harried businessman in a three-piece suit hurried in. The following scene ensued:

BUSINESSMAN: Coffee to go, please.
ME: Cream and sugar?
BUSINESSMAN: (testily) No! Black. I'm in a hurry.
ME: (with the manager eyeing me carefully) Would... *ahem* ...would you, um, like... onion rings with that?

This is a family blog (sort of), so I will not print his response. It was colorful.

Here's a tip for you fast-food freaks. Burger King makes a big deal out of special orders, right? One of their vintage TV jingles intoned "Have it YOURRRR way, HAVE it your wayyyyy". The company policy was that if a burger was made incorrectly, the customer could have a new one made at no charge. So people would take advantage of this. Quite often someone would bring back a double cheeseburger with one small bite remaining and complain: "Excuse me, but this was supposed to have no mustard." Sure enough, there was a smear of yellow on that remaining tablespoon of sandwich. They got a new one, no questions asked.

Finally, I remember the time we ran out of buns. That's right: the burger joint ran out of hamburger buns. Not every store manager is blessed with planning skills; they just hadn't order enough. So I, your Humble Blogger, was given a hundred bucks in cash and a mission: drive to every grocery store in Evanston IL and buy up hamburger buns.

That day, customers got their burgers on some unusual buns: some were whole wheat, some had no sesame seeds, and there was no help for it.

I hope your holiday feast is better than a couple of plain double burgers with milk!

...Unless that's your regular...

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