The summer after my sophomore year, despite high hopes of résumé-boosting internships, or at least a well-paying restaurant job, I ended up working in the dreaded fast food industry. One moment I was a stellar student at a four year university, the next I was literally asking, “Do you want fries with that?” This was obviously not the glamorous summer that I had spent spring semester dreaming of. However, amidst that greasy fast food haven, I ended up learning about more than flipping burgers.
I didn’t set out to work at a fast food establishment, but as luck would have it, a couple of internships I applied for fell through, and the coffee shop I worked at throughout high school was fully staffed.
I began my job hunt as soon as school let out. In my arrogance, I drove right past the fast food joints, which line every other corner of my suburban hometown. However, on my pursuit one day, I stopped into one particular location for a cold beverage. The clerk handed me an application when I mentioned to him that I was job-hunting. I turned it in the next day and was hired on the spot. Swallowing my pride, I donned a primary-colored tee-shirt and a visor, and began my career in the fast food industry.
I spent that summer taking orders, salting french fries, mopping floors and making countless milkshakes. Every two weeks, I collected a dismally low paycheck, and the cycle continued.
At times, my ethics were challenged at this job. I was well aware of the fact that overproduction of beef and corn is detrimental to the Earth’s environment, as are the copious amounts of paper, plastic and styrofoam we used to package each item. I also knew the nutritionally void food products we sold were detrimental to people’s health. I had a crisis of conscience every time I asked an obese customer, “Would you like to add bacon on your double cheeseburger?”
But of course there were the entertaining moments as well. My co-workers were the beacons of light, adding fun to a mind-numbingly dull job. I learned from them that working in the drive-through is much more fun if you make up a fake name or speak in a fictitious accent, and writing alternate lyrics to the pop songs that played on repeat can pass the time nicely.
On our ten minute breaks, I learned about their hardships, which dwarfed mine in comparison. Supporting children on a minimum wage income, overcoming addiction or living with an abusive boyfriend were some of the situations my co-workers faced, and they were around my age. It made me think how different my life might have been if I were born into slightly different circumstances, or made a few different choices…
As I came back to USF that fall, I felt ashamed to admit how I spent my summer vacation to my classmates. I listened to others talk of their trips abroad, backpacking through Europe or helping orphans in Latin America. When asked what I did all summer, I wanted to mumble unintelligibly and quickly change the subject. As much as I ultimately enjoyed my work that summer, I didn’t think my worldly and sophisticated peers at USF would understand all that I had experienced. In retrospect, however, I learned almost as much as they did that summer, and perhaps should have shared some of my insights.
It may be a bit early to start discussing summer vacation. However, I tell you this tale in order to let you know that if your ideal summer plans do fall through, and you don’t get to explore exotic lands or intern at Fortune 500 companies, you just might find adventure in the greasy kitchen at a fast food establishment near you.