Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Celebrating 14 Years of Fast Food Greatness

I just recently remembered that this year marks the 14th anniversary of a special event in my life: the time I worked at Taco Bell for one day.

A lot of people spend several days, sometimes even weeks, working for Taco Bell and other fast food establishments. For me, however, it was just one day, one lone 8-hour shift. It was magical.
I know, dear reader, you are probably asking yourself right about now, "What is this guy talking about?" That, dear reader, is a very good question. Please, dear reader, allow me a moment to explain.
Sometime around the summer of 1998, I moved to the small town of Okemah, Okla. Okemah, for those of you who may not know, is the birthplace of Woody Guthrie. Woody, for those of you who don't know, wrote the famous song "This Land Is Your Land." Every year the people of Okemah put together a festival to honor the local hero. Outside of Woody Guthrie and a local Parks Brothers Hardware store, Okemah didn't have a whole lot going on.

I moved there to take a job working as a youth minister for a small Baptist church. When my family of four joined the church we almost doubled the attendance and brought the average age down to about 63.

I left a lucrative career in sales to become a youth minister. The job is Oklahoma was going to be the job I needed to skyrocket to the top of the youth ministry field.

Since the gig didn't pay a whole lot, I needed to find a part-time job to help make ends meet. I started applying at every little store, haberdashery, bakery and liquor store in town.

Haha. I'm just kidding. Okemah didn't have a haberdashery.

One of the places I applied was the local Love's Country store, where inside there was a small Taco Bell. While Okemah was a sleepy little village, the Love's Country store along I-40 was busy 24 hours a day. About two days after I put in my application, I got a call from the manager saying he had a position he would like to speak to me about.

He said he was impressed with my resume and wondered why I wanted to start my career in fast food. I explained to him about my job as a youth minister and how I probably wouldn't be around long, because I was planning on taking a job as the best youth minister in the world within a year or so, but I needed something to make ends meet until then.

He hired me on the spot. I was set to start the next day, a hot summer day in July.

What I didn't mention at the time was this wasn't my first foray into the fast food business. My family was in the Sonic business before I was even born. My grandfather opened the 18th Sonic Drive-In in Altus, Okla. in the late 1960s. Before he sold out, he owned a piece of more than 40 Sonics all across Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. Mom and dad owned two different Sonics when I was little. By the time I was in sixth grade, I could cook hamburgers, fries, tater tots and pull together a large grape slush (I was also really good and eating all these things). I figured slinging tacos and refried beans would be just as easy.

On my first day, a nice lady was assigned to train me how to work the taco assembly line. She did a nice job showing me how to put just the right amount of taco meat in the taco shell and how to keep the refried beans "happy" when they started getting that little dried layer of refried bean goo on top. I was a quick study.

After a couple of hours of work, I was summoned to the manager's office. He asked me how things were going.

"Everything's fine," I said. "I believe I'll be making Burrito Supremes in no time."

"That's great," he said. "I've been really impressed."

I was doing so well, he offered me a job as a manager trainee on the spot. Here I was on the job for less than three hours and I was already in line for a promotion.

I said I would think about it and went back to work making tacos, making the refried beans "happy" and asking customers if they "would like to add an order of cinnamon twists" to their order.
After my shift, I went home and did some soul-searching.

The next morning, I called the manager and said I wouldn't be showing up for my next shift. One day of work and I quit. He said he was sorry to hear that, but understood. I didn't offer a reason because I really didn't know why. I told myself it was because of Love's Country store served alcohol and as a youth minister who was shooting for the top shouldn't be consorting with known drinkers of alcohol. But in reality, I think I just wanted to go swimming or something else besides work.

Looking back that was a really low time in my life. It wasn't about Taco Bell or youth ministry or people who lot to drink a beer every now and again. That time was all about me being confused and not having a clue about how to be a help to humanity.

It took me several more years to figure stuff out. While I still don't have a firm hold on what life is really about, I do know for a fact what life is not about. It's not about hate and division and judgment and believing my way or else. Love and togetherness and acceptance and an open mind and the occasional order of fast food will keep people, and probably even refried beans, happy. 

To me, life seems to be more fun that way. And, yes, I believe I will have an order of cinnamon twists with that.

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