Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Secret Life of a Wendy’s Employee

 


Hope Gustason

When I turned fourteen, my parents wasted no time in pushing me out into the workforce. They encouraged me to apply for any jobs that hired kids my age. However, it wasn’t until after two years of filling out applications that I finally landed my first job. After one painfully awkward interview and a grueling training week, I was able to begin work as a Wendy’s crew member. Little did I know that the job of a fast-food employee entailed much more than just taking orders and handing out food. Soon, I would assume the role of a cook, a janitor, a customer service representative, and a confidant. A crew member at a fast-food restaurant may appear as a flat character to customers, but, in reality, we must be jacks-of-all-trades to provide satisfactory service.

After I completed enough training to start working, I discovered that I would be filling the shoes of a cook much sooner than I expected, and I found myself being assigned to the fry station. I later found out that all the new hires were put to work at the fry station. From what I gathered, it was because no one else would take that job. The massive friers full of hot, sizzling oil that popped and stung my arms were intimidating at first. It took some getting used to, but, soon, I was able to balance the orders from both the front counter and the drive-thru and knew when I needed to drop a fresh batch of nuggets or fries. After a few hours of standing over the scorching oil, you begin to feel as greasy as the food you serve, and, after a full shift, a cool shower is the best feeling in the world.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long until I got promoted from the fry station and assumed other duties. A couple of months later, my manager thought that it was time that I learned how to make sandwiches. What began as the most overwhelming, stress-inducing responsibility, soon became a welcomed break from grumpy customers and a chance to catch my breath. Wendy’s serves a variety of chicken sandwiches, burgers, and wraps with a surprising amount of ingredients. For example, there are seven different kinds of sauces alone that are used on Wendy’s sandwiches. It seemed like a lot of steps to remember and keeping up with the constant flow of orders was difficult at first; however, once I noticed similarities between each sandwich, it got much easier to manage. For example, many of the basic sandwiches, such as the Dave’s single, start off with the same two condiments: ketchup and mayonnaise.

Next, I would like to make it known that I’ve had plenty of experience cleaning up after some pretty horrendous accidents. Being the oldest of my siblings, often put me in charge of cleaning sticky spills off the kitchen floor and taking care of any other heinous messes that I will spare you the details of. This being said, I was not at all prepared for some of the scenes that I walked into after being sent to clean the bathrooms at work. In my time working at Wendy’s, I saw everything from bloody vomit to urine to any other bodily substance imaginable spewed or smeared across the floor and walls.

One time, I remember wiping splattered blood off the mirror, trying to imagine a scenario that explained how blood ended up there in the first place. Eventually, I decided I was probably better off not knowing, and, to this day, I still have no idea what happened in the Wendy’s bathroom that day. The good news is that I haven’t been called into the police station to discuss a murder, though. Because of situations like this, we checked the bathrooms for such disasters often, so it was nearly once a day that messes like these were discovered and in need of cleaning.

Of course, not all the messes that I was expected to clean up were horrific segments straight out of a horror movie. Sometimes, frazzled parents with faces full of embarrassment would shamefully approach the front counter to alert me of a spill caused by their obnoxious toddler who they had been struggling to calm down for the last half-hour at lunch. They usually apologized profusely as I gathered the cleaning supplies, and, of course, I assured them that it was no problem and that I was happy to help them. In the back of my mind though, I knew that mopping up this kid’s sticky Sprite would put me behind on dishes, orders, and other tasks that I had the responsibility of dealing with.

One of the primary and most obvious roles of a fast-food employee is being a representative for the customer. You may have heard the popular phrase, “The customer is always right.” Well, I’m here to tell you that, in most cases, that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. For example, I have, on more than one occasion, had customers insist that I entered the wrong order for them. When this happens, you have to repeat the order back to the customer for a second time and sometimes have to get a manager, all the while the customer is usually grumbling something along the lines of, “I ordered the same thing last week, and it didn’t cost this much,” when, in fact, it did. Nonetheless, when you work with people, you must treat even the most difficult customers with utmost respect unless you want corporate breathing down your neck.

In addition to the blatantly rude customers, there are also some that just simply throw their common sense out on the parking lot before placing their orders. One of my favorite stories to tell about situations like this is of one particular man who, in his defense, probably had a long day at work, rushing to pick up his children from school on time and having to resort to Wendy’s for dinner that night. Long story short, he was visibly disheveled when I greeted him in the drive-thru that night.

“Thank you for choosing Wendy’s. Go ahead and order when you’re ready,” I said in my painfully over-friendly customer voice which was met by the shrill squeal of one of his kids in the backseat. The man shushed the child, apologized for his outburst, and told me that it would be a minute.

After a few moments of going back and forth with his three kids, the man asks me, “How many nuggets are in the Kid’s 4-Piece Nugget Meal?”

In case you didn’t catch that, let me reiterate. How many nuggets are in the 4-Piece Nugget meal? At first, I thought it was a joke. After a few seconds of silence, though, I realized that this poor father was so frazzled he didn’t even realize the ridiculous question he asked me.

“There are four, sir,” I responded. Not all customers were rude, some just had a long day and didn’t have time to worry about making dinner.

Working closely with people means that you hear a lot of stories and get a glimpse into the lives of many different individuals. Being a confidant to customers is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Once, a homeless woman came into the lobby, saying that she hadn’t eaten in over three days. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, so I excused myself and rushed to the back in search of the manager on shift. I told him about the woman’s situation and, even though I’m pretty sure it’s against our policy, we gave the woman a free meal. When I called for her and held the tray of food out in front of me, I watched as her eyes welled with tears. She apologized for being emotional, but I didn’t mind. It was a pleasant change of pace to have someone be genuinely grateful for something we did, and knowing that I was able to make even a trivial difference in that woman’s life was rewarding. Listening to stories of hardships and struggles was another part of my job that, when I applied, I had no idea that I’d be doing.

Working at Wendy’s provided me with opportunities to learn and grow as an individual and a member of a team. To say the least, there was never an uneventful day on the job. In fact, I should probably thank my parents for making me apply to nearly every business in North Platte. If it weren’t for them nagging at me for two years straight, I never would have applied at Wendy’s: a place where I made lifelong friends and learned valuable lessons. However, I don’t think you’ll find me working in the fast food industry again anytime soon.

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Crater Chaos on the Dark Side of the Moon

 

Photographer: Jayce Bischoff

This photo was taken last winter on a cold night to reduce atmospheric shimmering, which is why it's so clear. Many of these craters are usually not seen because they are on the "dark side" of the moon that isn't seen by us. There are many more craters on the opposing side of the moon because it isn't as protected from impacts. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Burning the Cake

 

Adriana D.

Flour. Sugar. Baking soda. Combine. I remember whisking my ingredients together that night. I peered through the kitchen to find that they were all still there, but K. was gone. She’s moping again, I thought. But then I heard the shower running. It was the third time in one day. Thinking nothing of it, I added eggs, vanilla, and the butter. Crack, drop, pour, mix. This is her third shower in a day, something isn’t right.

Last time I remember baking a cake, I was in the kitchen of my home whipping it up with the intentions of eating most of it, sharing only a little with my parents, my sister,  and my two younger brothers. K. is a year and a half younger than I am; but we look nothing alike. She is a lanky, skinny figure with large blue eyes taking over half her face. We had fought the night before, so her moping around for a while seemed par for the course.

In a household of six, there is hardly any quiet and chaos is a constant. The boys, 3 and 8 at the time, were constantly battling for each other's toys and K. was running around making everyone laugh. This particular day, though, I noticed that K. had slept the whole day, not saying a word to anyone. The only time she would leave her room was to shower and when my mom forced her to come up and eat dinner with us. I remember thinking that was odd. Why three showers?

We had been down this path so many times with K., that if we were accusing her of nothing, it would just cause her to go down hill. Accusing her of nothing could lead her to cutting her wrists with paper towel dispensers in the school bathroom, or her thighs, or taking pills, or all of the above. Again. But, I also knew that there isn’t one reason in the world that she needed three showers in one day. Leaving my vanilla batter dripping from my whisk, I pulled my mom into her bedroom to tell her.

“K. is in the shower,” I whispered while pointing my finger down the hall.

“Okay? Is that a bad thing?” Clearly she didn’t understand what I was getting at.

“Mom, this is the third one in a few hours. I know it’s a longshot, but you know how she is. She has been sleeping all day. Can you just go make sure?”

“Adriana, I am sure it’s fine. But I’ll go.”

The only way I knew how to block out the sound of my sister screaming in the downstairs bathroom when my parents found her was to turn All Dogs Go To Heaven up as high as I could. R. and J. were way too young to be exposed to everything that was going on. I began to tremble as I led them behind the pillars in the kitchen to distract them from the sound of my dad ripping the door off the hinges and K. screaming for them to “let her die.” R. had tears filling his eyes and stared at me as if I could help him feel less terrified. We were both paralyzed in the moment.  I knew it. I could help, I could calm her down or rationalize or something. But at that moment, I knew I couldn’t leave my brothers sitting on the kitchen floor, the youngest watching Paw Patrol on my phone to stay distracted.

In the midst of this, I had forgotten about the cake. The fire alarm began to sound. The strong, sweet scent of homemade pound cake had been replaced with the horrid smell of burnt chard. J., my littlest brother, began to cry from the sound. I legitimately don’t think he knew or cared what was going on. The fire alarm would startle any toddler, but he was oblivious to the rest. R. and I were fanning the alarm and we could hear my dad: “Why do you keep doing this? How many did you take? How much blood have you lost?” If R. hadn’t fully known what was going on before, which I don’t think he did, he did at that point.

My mom didn’t even notice the fire alarm. She came bolting to grab the home phone and dial 911. The alarm’s piercing shriek finally came to an end. Within minutes, I heard the all too familiar sound of bulky boots running back and forth out of the front door. I heard their conversations on the radio, “ We have a 13 year old girl, slit wrists and overdose at 1--- West 1st street, we are going to need a psych eval.” The lights of emergency vehicles flashing against our brick house, men running through the basement with medical gear, and cars stopping in the middle of the road to stare. This all gave it away to R. With shortness of breath, smoke still stinging my eyes, and my heart falling to my stomach, all I knew was I needed to try and help calm them.

“Hey guys, don’t worry, okay? They’re are here to help us.”

“Why would they need to help us? What’s wrong?” R. asks me.

Shit.

“Sometimes, K. feels sick. They just want to make her better.” I remember saying these words knowing that while J. would be completely distracted by his games, R. was starting to understand.

The questions they asked K. downstairs were the same as the ones my dad asked a few minutes before they got here.  I knew that R. was listening, too. “Hey, you guys want a piece of this?” I joked as I pointed to the charred brick sitting on the counter that was once a spongy dough.

R. began to chuckle through the tears that were gathering in his charcoal eyes. “No thanks, but how did you screw that up so bad?” I laughed so ridiculously hard that for a split second, I didn’t even remember that my sister might be half dead downstairs and I had no way of helping or knowing. The television was still blaring some commercial about consulting a doctor before taking medication to help depression. Wonderful.

R. and I listen to them exit our home as they carry K. out. In a sense, it was calming to let him watch this so he could share the quiet fear jolting through my veins.  I wanted him to understand, but not be afraid. All I can remember is looking out the window as she was loaded up and watching R.’s eyes as they filled with tears and confusion.  After the ambulance drove off, I could hear some more people with deep voices talking to my parents at the bottom of the stairs about facility options to send my sister to.

R. peers over at me, “Is she going to come back?”

“Eventually. We have to let her get better before she can come here.” Saying this helped R. realize the extent of the situation, but it felt like my words came out of my mouth and slapped me right in the face. I didn’t know when I would see her next. I couldn’t believe that she was pouting all day and I didn’t even think that it could have something to do with-

“Hey! Do you think they’re talking about us?”

I look to the left of our driveway and see the neighbors recording our house, chattering, and being nosey. I couldn’t make out any words but by their gestures towards our house, I could tell it was just classic small-town drama to them.  For the love of God. There goes the boys’ shot at normalcy for the next few lifetimes. “Um, do you wanna try and make a new cake?”

“Maybe we can make brownies instead. You suck at baking cakes.” R. was still trying to joke through the pit in his stomach. I could see it myself. I knew this because I was doing the same.

“Yeah, I am sure I can whip up something. J., are you hungry?” I pondered as I walked the cake to the trash.

“No, sissy. Your cake looks gross.” This comment, while absolutely hilarious, reassured me that he had hardly listened to anything that had been going on for the past hour.

“I won’t make you eat the cake, we can make brownies!”

We stayed on the couch all alone for the rest of the night eating the whole pan of brownies.  The only comfort I could find in the world was indulging myself in sugar and knowing that my sister was getting whatever she needed. The warmth of the brownies was the only thing keeping me from panic mode. Needless to say, cake makes me want to barf.