James Franco recently penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he discussed his experiences working at a McDonald’s.
He writes that “I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s. If anything, they cut me slack. And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else.”
Aside from my dashing looks, impeccable talent for accents, and ability to look perpetually confused, I also share with James Franco a storied work history replete with roles in commercials and movies, writings in academic publications, and a job at McDonald’s.
After leaving Dickinson College, I found myself unemployed, unemschooled, and unembankaccounted. To fill the void in my life, even though I would’ve preferred to continue subsisting on Healthy Choice microwave meals, Netflix, and bodyweight exercises (I was down to a hefty 125lbs at my low-point–less than I weighed when playing high school soccer and less than a healthy weight), I applied for jobs at a variety of locations: Best Buy, Gamestop, Wal-Mart, Giant, Weis, Bon-Ton, Sheetz, Subway, and McDonald’s. Literally the only store that offered me an interview was McDonald’s. If anything, one might consider me an elitist, arrogant ass who would rather shave with a rock than deign to devolve to a lower level of intellectual stimulation, but a job is, in fact, a job, so I went to the interview, was offered a job as Fry Fryer Extraordinaire, and started training the next week (after acquiring the most stylish black non-slip shoes $20 could buy).
While initially I felt like I was being talked down to during training (“Well yes, I do understand that after the 3-minute timer goes off, I’m supposed to remove the fries from the fryer”), I quickly came to realize that McDonald’s didn’t take anything for granted: everyone was assumed to be a blank slate and everyone was treated roughly the same.
After settling in to my clock-in-clock-out routine, I was offered the chance to work 3rd shift. Being that I hate social interaction and daylight, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only did I have set hours (11pm to 7am), but I also had more freedom from the rigid hierarchical McDonald’s of the daytime. I had a set list of responsibilities to accomplish each night and I could go about those responsibilities at any time and in any way that I felt comfortable. Hell, some nights it was only 2 employees: me and the manager. I would eat the time-expired food, do pull-ups on the storage racks (sorry OSHA), and read novels when it was especially slow.
Other nights, especially Fridays and Saturdays, there would be 4-5 employees working to feed the stoned and drunk masses. And rest assured that there was not a single description that could be used to define our collective workforce other than “McDonald’s employees.” My co-workers bridged every demographic: high school students to retirees, innocents to felons, black to white to Latino to Asian, locals to transplants, drug users to teetotalers, and so on.
The underlying feature, other than our choice of employ, was that we needed a job and were willing to do whatever job was available. Some people used McDonald’s as main income, some used it as supplemental income–one employee worked a few nights a week to pay for his beer. None of these people were stupid, or scum, or lowlifes (mostly–as with any field, there are your run-of-the-mill sociopaths). They were people. With interesting stories, unique personalities, and standard life expectations. Did any of us aspire to a career in fast food? Probably not. But we did aspire.
And to McDonald’s credit, I gained a respect for hard work and for personal obstacles (everyone is struggling with something, and that becomes very clear talking to a mother in her 30s who lives with her parents, has a boyfriend in prison, and who uses McDonald’s as her sole source of income). And also to McDonald’s credit, I was never yelled at, stressed, or angered. McDonald’s was exactly what I needed to reach somewhat of an even-keel in my mind, and after roughly 3-4 months of working there I re-applied to York College and started taking classes. I continued to work 3rd shift and go to class during the day, and remained employed for a total of 1.5 years until I was offered a work-from-home copy-writing job.
I like to think that without an employer like McDonald’s, I wouldn’t quite have the work ethic, or the appreciation for the service industry, or the skills to deal with absolutely dreadful boredom that I do today.
And while many people look down on McDonald’s for offering unhealthy food and for offering low wages, McDonald’s offered me a job when I needed one. That’s pretty damn awesome in my book. Did my co-workers and I deserve to be paid more? Maybe. Maybe not. I know many could’ve used the extra money for a variety of reasons, but as far as job availability and job stress, McDonald’s wasn’t too shabby.
For those of you who have never worked in fast food, you may have difficulty understanding why I don’t care if I forgot your ketchup, or why it is surprisingly easy to “put too many damn onions on my burger–I asked for extra onion, not the whole onion,” but for those of you who have dealt with smelling like oil and ass all day every day (I’m still convinced I have McDonald’s grease in my pores), kudos. You’ve faced the ugly mug of the average American and lived to tell the tale. And you are probably a much better human being because of it. You can talk up manual labor and “working for a living” all you want, but the horror that is fast food will wear down and fry whatever nerves you have left that may make you want to explode on a minimum-wage worker.