When I first applied to McDonald’s, I did it as a joke more than anything else. Sure, there was a small possibility that maybe, when all hope was lost, I would resign myself to the reign of the internationally recognized golden arches. Until then, I pitched the idea of working in the fast food industry as a joke to my friends. I would have rather pulled out every hair on my body follicle by follicle.
Now here I sit on a sickeningly bright red bench by the play place. I only have 20 more minutes of break left before I retreat back to the drive thru window for another four painful hours. As a now established McCrew member my pride may be diminished, but my perspective is quite the opposite.
Growing up in Davis, I am fortunate enough to have been exposed to years of eating at farmer’s markets, shopping at locally owned stores, and attending excellent public schools. McDonald’s never seemed to fit the picture I imagined for myself, and certainly did not emblemize my town.
Yet tucked away along Chiles Road there rises the undeniably yellow sign for the one and only Davis McDonalds: an essential antithesis of the city in which is resides. The restaurant is obviously not local, the food is greasy and nutrient poor, and many employees do not have a college degree to their name.
Without knowing much else, many McDonald’s customers treat the employees much worse than they would treat a stranger on the streets. Workers can always count on insults, screaming, threats, and even food throwing to be a part of the daily routine. At this point, someone would have to be devilishly creative if they wanted to hurt an employee beyond the usual McMisery.
These employees, who receive less respect than the foul food they serve, should receive equal or more praise than any of the local Davis storeowners, the vendors at farmer’s market, or the students pursuing higher education. The crewmembers’ stories and their irrefutable representation of this city cannot be found in a search engine and are certainly unrecognized.
Many employees at McDonald’s do not have a college degree. After living in Davis for so long, with higher education essentially shoved down every kid’s throat, the natural reaction to someone without a degree is one of disrespect. There’s a glimmer of judgment in most customers’ eyes as though they’re all wondering how incapable you must be to work a job so societally low.
One shift, as I began to speak, the customer dramatically jolted back and told me how shocked she was that I was “actually smart.” Instances like that tend to be the rule more than the exception as person after person would ask why someone like me was working at McDonald’s. Everyone tended to ask in a way that suggested I did not belong there, and somehow most other workers did.
No one “belongs” at McDonalds. The fast food industry in general is not a cubbyhole where society shoves all the inept humans, although some people treat it as such.
The other day I had my break at the same time as the cook Fiora*. She is a grandmother, and has worked at McDonald’s for a cringingly long amount of time. Originally from Mexico, Fiora saw McDonald’s as one of her only viable work options in America.
Because she works in the kitchen, Fiora does not even have the chance to prove her intelligence to customers. This aging woman, the same one who makes 20-piece chicken nuggets at ungodly hours, can very confidently recount the whole periodic table along with atomic numbers and masses, and she will not blink an eye.
One of the managers, Anna*, began working in Mexico when she was nine years old. At 19, she moved to America where she could only find work at McDonald’s. Now she is 46, divorced, and supporting her son on her meager wages.
It becomes an inside joke between workers that we are actually intelligent people because so many customers think the opposite. As angry customers hurl verbal daggers at our lack of intelligence, I can always find a co-worker wearing the same ironic smirk I am.
One person in particular will always return my coy smile: my manager for the graveyard shift, Sophia*.
She can tell you hundreds of stories about rude customers, including one who launched their food back into the drive thru window. Like the other workers, Sophia gets discounted as someone who was unable to make enough of herself to land a real job.
Meanwhile, she works regular eight-hour shifts through the night and attends UC Davis during the day. Her only time to sleep is at lunch, or in the three hours she has before and after school. Sophia also pays for her own education despite her roots in a town where college is not a popular path to pursue.
Yes, the bright McDonald’s red and yellow definitely clash with Davis’ all green scene. The food is indeed poor, and under-education in the workplace is undoubtedly significant. However what deserves recognition are not those perceivably negative features; instead the limelight needs to shine on the workers.
They all understand and express the value of education even if they may not have it. They all tightly grasp the value of tough grind and elbow grease even if they dislike their job. Most importantly, despite all else, they persist with their work so that someday the food in front of them may not be their discounted burger and fries, but instead real fruits and veggies like at the farmer’s market.
It’s the employees of the Davis McDonald’s who work tirelessly to give themselves and their families a life that many Davis locals, including myself, were already blessed with.