“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 then 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’ve often thought that everyone should have to work in the fast food business for at least a few months. I did.
In fact, if you came by Burger King in Tupelo during the summer of 1980, I probably made your Whopper. But there is no way for me to know if you were at the front counter or at the drive-thru 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.
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 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 faces of real people. That was a job my boss mostly assigned to the cute, perky, smiling girls. The teenage boys like me were sentenced to duties away from the public.
Well, I worked my one summer at a fast food place. Learned how to treat grease burns. Learned how to fill a Diet Pepsi and a Mountain Dew at the same time. I never did, however, learn to make a cheeseburger…without cheese.
Tim Wildmon is a Lee County resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.