We’ve made it to about 1995. I was 22 years old, working full time midnights at McDonald’s making less than ten dollars an hour. I was taking the path of least resistance. I was cruising. Coasting. I mentioned in the previous segment that my man, Chris, and I would read the “Social Studies” section of the Globe and Mail. We read one night about dissatisfaction in the workplace. One thing we read was that if two people have the same job, the older of the two is more susceptible to being unhappy with his position, the thinking being that the older person figures that the younger person has already made it to where the older person is. The older person hasn’t made effective use of those extra years. We looked at each other and busted out laughing. Chris thought it was funny; he should be unhappy because we had the same job although he was older than me.
This, however, got me thinking about the kids I was working with. They were dealing with high school problems, sure, but they were also making plans for the future and having their whole lives in front of them. “I’m going to go to school and be such-n-such”, they would say. “That’s great, young man”, I would reply – and go back to sweeping the floor. What am I still doing here? I would wonder.
I’ve said that, during my two years working midnights at McDonald’s, I was basically alone. Being single, going nowhere, spinning my wheels and working overnight isolated me from people. The only good thing about being alone, I guess, is the time you’ve got. I used the time to start a novel. I wanted to write for a living. I had a novel in me so I wanted to write it and also began to think about a career in journalism. For this, I needed to go to school. For this, I needed money. Plans began to germinate in my head.
In November of 1996, I saw the movie Swingers. This got me a little excited about life again. I began to look forward to the time off I had booked around Christmas. I planned to get together with my friends and do life again – get out and get some kicks and try to scrape the rust off. But the holidays were a bust and that was a confirmation for me that everybody in my life was moving forward. They were either getting married and starting a family or they were getting together with their college friends, with whom they had much in common. And then there was me. I would say I was going in another direction – if I had’ve been moving at all.
As the new year began I knew something had to give. I looked into getting a student loan and got the paperwork together. Without knowing how such things worked, my plan was to get a loan, go to school, work at McDonald’s and write my novel. I had my loan application filled out and was going to mail it off when my mother invited me down to her place in Florida for a week. I left the loan application in my apartment with instructions for Saltarr, who was going to come in while I was gone and feed Reef, my cat. I asked him to mail it off for me mid-week.
In Florida, I got talking to my mom and step-father about my plans. My mother expressed concern that I would have the time to work on my novel when I was both going to school and working. She suggested I come to work at the trailer park they owned back in Canada and run the small diner they had started there. It would be mostly weekend work, I’d be living rent free and would have all the time in the world to write. It seemed monumental to me, leaving Kitchener. I’m not a big fan of change and this seemed huge. Living in a trailer and being the hot dog guy? I dunno, I said. Her argument was simple and effective: would it be worse than what I was doing now? By the end of the week, I had decided to quit McDonald’s and leave town. Huge. Huge for me. I wanted to play straight-up with McDonald’s so when I got back to town I went right in and handed in my resignation, giving them 9 weeks notice.
In the end, my last day would come a dozen days after my 9th anniversary. Big Ta wanted me to stay and hit the 10-year mark because he had already hit that milestone and we would get some award or have some dinner together. I don’t remember but they did something for you when you hit ten years. But it was not to be. Sometime during my last 9 weeks, I started to half-jokingly talk about my last shift. The day after that last shift, I was going to be packing and moving so I would have to get home and get a couple of hours sleep before all the action started. I knew my mind would be racing and I would have trouble falling asleep. I thought it would have taken a LOT of warm milk to do the trick and that thought terrified me (see Part 6). I started to make plans to take a six-pack into work with me on my last shift and drink it so I’d be able to crash when I got home. Thursday morning, at the end of my second-last shift, I was called in to the manager’s office. I was told that, in honour of my 9 years at McDonald’s, I was being given my last shift off with pay. It occurred to me at once that they were robbing me of my ‘victory lap’. Maybe they had caught wind of the plans I had for my last shift – which I likely wouldn’t have gone through with anyways – and thought it was worth it to them to pay me to stay home so I wouldn’t get up to any last-shift shenanigans. After growing from a kid to an adult at McDonald’s, in the end it was “business”. Cutthroat.
This didn’t sit well with me but I guess I couldn’t blame them. And I’m sure it wasn’t something they did just to me. If you’ve already quit, you’ve got nothing to lose; they didn’t want anything broken or stolen. At the very least they probably figured they weren’t going to get any work out of me that night (they were bang on) so why should they pay for that? I left the office, went into the men’s change room and scrawled “THE DREAM IS OVER” across four lockers. And I left.
Chronologically, this part of my life was immediately followed by the events depicted in my post 20th Anniversary of a Life-Changer. Things changed pretty fast when I finally made the move. Inside of three months, I had a girlfriend that would become my wife and I had the job I’m still at twenty years later.
I would sit and regale all of the new people in my life with stories of my adventures under the Golden Arches and they would die laughing. My stories had new life! As I’ve grown older, I find I am a nostalgic person. Things of the past have a tremendous glow for me. This applies all the more to things of my own past. This goes for everything: music I used to listen to, movies I watched back then, streets I walked, people I knew… My time at McDonald’s looms large in my legend. When you think about it, I was there between the ages of 15 and 24. You know the amount of growing up you do between those ages?! And I did all that growing up while I was working at McDonald’s. It’s no wonder I feel about it the way I do. That lightness in your chest, that bittersweet feeling that comes over you when you think about a specific point in your past – I get that when I think of my days at McDonald’s. High school was never about groups of friends for me. McDonald’s was the source of all the hanging out, all the adventures, all the guys and all the girls. It was the home base.
I have zero hard feelings toward the place. On the contrary, I’ve always said that young people can benefit greatly by having a first job like this. Work becomes a very serious thing as we get older – how wonderful to have a lightweight job like McDonald’s. Little is expected of you, low pressure, lots of kicks and socializing and good times. Maybe for some of you it’s been a while since your job included any of those things.
Funny – when I worked at McDonald’s, people would always say “Aren’t you sick of the food by now? I bet you don’t eat there anymore”. That would always confuse me. No, I would say, I’ve got no problem with the food. I never did get tired of eating there. And I never get tired of reminiscing about the place.
Thanks so much for sharing my memories with me. It has been a blast!