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Confessions of a McDonald’s employee

Soon after my sixteenth birthday, I took a job at a McDonald’s restaurant near my house. All that summer, I grilled quarter pounders and wrapped Big Macs at the Golden Arches.

And… I saw things, man. Bad things.

Below, I clear the air. Here are some behind-the-scenes insights from my time at Mickey D’s.

  1. Your burger sits out for hours before it’s served. Once the beef is cooked, grill workers stack the patties in a plastic tray, then slide the tray into a warming machine. That’s the “fast” in “fast food”—McDonald’s can deliver your burger instantly because it’s been pre-cooked. Each warmer tray slot has its own timer; when the alarm sounds, the beef must be discarded so that it doesn’t spoil. But here’s a nasty secret: the grill staff ignores the timers. When the warmer beeps, workers often reset the timer and return to whatever they were doing. When a tray runs low, its contents are recombined into another tray and the process starts all over again. In short, no one’s keeping track of how long each patty sits there. Often, the grill sends out dry, congealed burgers, hoping that no one notices.
  2. The staff desperately wants to work more. Throughout that long summer, my manager scheduled me for just a few dozen shifts. Often, I’d work just one or two days per week. Back then, my local franchise probably hired extra workers to cover for flaky employees. These days, underscheduling workers probably helps McDonald’s avoid federal insurance mandates, since part-time workers are exempt. In any case, between these infrequent shifts and my minimum wage, I made very little money that summer.
  3. McDonald’s can be dangerous. One afternoon, I was assigned to clean the back of house, rather than cook. I wandered around the grill area, wiping down random greasy surfaces. At one point, without thinking, I leaned on the grill itself, then immediately yanked my hand away in pain. The 350-degree surface had instantly seared my palm. Somehow, I managed to finish my shift without revealing the injury (thankfully, a first-aid kit near the drive-thru booth included burn cream). I gritted my teeth and endured the throbbing ache until I clocked out. Why not tell my manager? First, I was embarrassed. Second, I would’ve be sent home—and I was already short on hours (see #2 above).
  4. Individual workers may suffer from the division of labor. I worked at McDonald’s for an entire summer, but I spent nearly every shift manning the grill and the re-warming trays. Rarely did I handle the actual bun assembly. Only once did I get assigned to cleaning detail (and that ended badly; see above). The drive-thru was assigned to more experienced workers. The cash register and delivery truck were foreign territory. And I never worked the breakfast shift, which required separate training than the burger-and-fries detail.
  5. Not every worker prizes hygiene. Like any restaurant chain, McDonald’s has high cleanliness standards. Employees are instructed to wash their hands when there’s any chance of contamination. But during the lunch rush, when two dozen customers have queued out front, and the drive-thru traffic loops around the building, cleanliness falls to the wayside. An employee who scratches his nose or touches his hair should drop everything and re-wash his hands. That rarely, if ever, happens.

These aren’t exactly horror stories; nothing here is scandalous enough to make the local news. No, during my McDonald’s summer, I witnessed more of a low-grade grossness. Not enough to hurt anyone—but enough to make me feel queasy every time I stoop to eating fast food.

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Life technology Uncategorized

Buy myself an iPad—and some talent.

Once upon a time, I drew.

When I was twelve, I’d fill the margins of my school notebooks with doodles. These were ridiculous sketches: severed heads, floorplans for elaborate secret lairs, and goofy-looking comic characters. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from a pre-teenage boy.

Unfortunately, that was the pinnacle of my artistic career. I would have loved to take drawing classes, but my underfunded little school offered no fine arts instruction for high schoolers. Over time, any artistic sense atrophied, and my drawing skills calcified at the level of a middle schooler.

Still, twenty years later, I missed drawing. I’d daydream about starting an online comic strip. So, time and time again, I’ve tried to rekindle that long-extinguished interest. I bought instructional books and sketch pads, but those failed to keep me engaged. I splurged on a WACOM pressure-sensitive drawing tablet. That worked—for a little while. But I found the disconnection—my pen moving on the pad, the drawing itself taking shape on screen—to be irritating. Then, when I bought my first iPad, I purchased a cheap stylus and a popular drawing app. But those didn’t do the trick, either; the iPad couldn’t tell the difference between a light touch and a bold, firm stroke.

With each attempt to kickstart my artistic drive, I grew more discouraged. But if I’m honest, the fly in the ointment here wasn’t a subpar tool; it was my subpar passion. A new toy—however feature-rich—is no replacement for discipline. If I hadn’t been drawing with paper and pencil before buying a WACOM or an iPad, what made me think anything would change afterwards? The perfect drawing tools didn’t make me an artist, any more than a Louisville Slugger would make me a ball player.

And yet, I’m still tempted. I still buy into the same delusion—that I just haven’t found the right tool yet. For example, last week Apple announced its jumbo-sized tablet, the iPad Pro. Unlike my WACOM tablet, the new iPad allows you to sketch on the screen itself. And unlike my current iPad, the Pro’s pressure-sensitive “Pencil” accessory allows the user to lightly sketch, tilt the stylus and shade, or bear down for a bold stroke. It’s closer to the pen-and-paper experience than any other digital drawing tool.

And part of me wants to try—one more time—to spend my way into skill.