February 2002 – “Yes ma’am,” I said into the sign with all the pictures of colorful food on it. “I would like a burger plain – just meat and bread – and a Sprite.”
“You want a cheeseburger with what on it, sir?” said the voice back to me.
“No, I don’t want a cheeseburger, I want a plain burger with meat and bread only.”
I was ordering for my 12-year-old son, Wesley. I actually like my burgers dressed. There was a short silence. I suspect the young lady was distracted inside. Then she returned.
“So you want a cheeseburger with pickles only and a Sprite. Would you like some fries to go with that?”
I put my head on the steering wheel in frustration, then went for one more attempt. Deep breath.
“No, I don’t want any fries. Listen to me closely. I want a plain burger. Do you hear me? A plain burger with just meat and bread. That’s it, meat and bread. This is not hard. I know y’all can do it. Now, can you repeat back to me what I just ordered, please?”
She thought about it. A few seconds later, she responded, “So you want a cheeseburger without cheese?”
I paused as my tired brain replayed what I had just heard. For me to say anything sarcastic at this point would have only confused things further so I restrained myself. I looked at my three kids and their friend who had heard the entire thing. They were dying laughing by this time.
“That’s right, ma’am. You call it whatever you want to call it,” I said trying not to laugh. “I just want a piece of meat between a top bun and a bottom bun and nothing else.”
When I got to the window she said she was sorry, it had been a long day. I told her it was the first time I had had a hamburger referred to as “a cheeseburger without cheese.” We both laughed.
I’ve often thought that everyone should have to work in the fast food business for at least a few months. You grow as a person. I know I did.
In fact, if you came by Burger King on South Gloster Street in Tupelo, Mississippi, during the summer of 1980, I would have likely had a hand in getting your Whopper, fries or drink to you. But there is no way for me to know if you were at the front counter or at the drive-through window, because my boss kept me in the back, away from customers. Perhaps it was my personality, I don’t know. I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer back then.
So I worked in the kitchen. I was a little slow at first because Mama had always made my burgers for me, but by the end of the summer I could work the fry basket, the drink machine and run the burger line. I was an interchangeable drill bit – a multi-talented, smooth operator.
Still, sometimes, I would peer out the small rectangular window where we, the lowly burger-makers, fry-dippers, and drink-fillers, would place your order when it was ready. I wondered what it must feel like to work the front counter and deal with the friendly, hungry faces of real people. That was a job my boss mostly assigned to the cute, perky, smiling girls. The dull teenage boys like me were sentenced to duties away from the public.
“Wildmon, what are you staring at? Get me that Whopper with cheese now!” was something I heard from the other side of the small rectangular window more than once that summer.
Sometimes I would daydream. Did you ever do that as a teenager?
What’s so appealing about a fast food restaurant with a drive-through window is not only the colorful pictures of tasty food, but also the fact that we can pick and choose what we want and how we want it fixed, and then get it to go. Gulp it down on the run. Kind of like the American version of Christianity these days. Have you noticed?
So many of us treat our relationship with the Lord the same way we order fast food. “Lord, gimme a little of this, some of that, and bless it if you would. Amen.”
Consistency and valued time with the Lord are what I desire more of in 2002. It’s been a challenge for me, spending quality time in devotion, prayer, and worship. I often think I can get by on spiritual fast food, when Jesus says He wants me to come dine at His table of bounty and blessing.
Well, I worked my one summer at a fast food place. That was all I needed. I grew up some. Learned how to treat grease burns. Learned how to fill a Diet Pepsi and a Mountain Dew at the same time. It’s not as easy as you think. I never did, however, learn to make a cheeseburger without cheese.