Aug. 1, 1984 tags:  issaquah

Horrible Stories from my Burger King Years

From age 14 to 16, I worked at two Burger King “restaurants” – one in Issaquah, Washington, and another in Lakewood, Colorado. The Issaquah location festers to this day; you can still see the black smoke of its ancient broiler from Interstate 90 exit 15. Like many teenagers, I worked between 15 and 20 hours a week at this menial job, earning $3.85 per hour, making sandwiches, mopping floors, and sexually harassing the other staff (ah, good times).

Once I had to wash dishes for eight hours straight. And you know what? I loved it! To this day, I still enjoy washing dishes; scientists say there is something about washing your hands that calms you and helps you make decisions.

My first manager was a dwarf named Jack. Maybe Jack wasn’t a dwarf, but he was less than five feet tall and he had that pronounced limp of someone who had to use their hip to throw their leg forward. Jack was 30, had a blond biker mustache, and played in a band. Imagine a dwarfish John Denver. He was clever and funny.

After I’d worked a couple of shifts, I brought my mom in for lunch after church. She and I were dressed in our church finest, and she was quite prissy that day. She didn’t say much, just ordered her food while looking up at the menu and let me use my employee discount to pay for our burgers.

On my next shift, Jack pulled me aside. I thought I was in trouble, but he said, “That was really classy of you to bring your mom here.” He sincerely meant it. I liked him.

Jack got married shortly after. I never met his fiancée. But after his honeymoon, he came in and told us all about how his band played the reception for his own wedding, and how much they rocked.

My shift leader was a 17-year-old named Bryan, and he’d been working at BK for years. I idolized him. He was funny and energetic and awesome in every way. He could make a burger faster than anyone else on any shift. Something like eight seconds, which was supposedly a district record. My best time was 45 seconds! While we grunts had to wear these horrible brown uniforms, Bryan got to wear a nice crisp blue uniform that looked like real clothes. Bryan usually closed the store, and he taught me how to do it.

One of the most difficult tasks of “closing” the restaurant (at least from the kitchen) was cleaning the famous Burger King broiler. The broiler was a metal box about six feet tall with an open top. In the middle of the broiler, open flames cooked the burger patties that moved through it on a circular chain shelf. The broiler operated at 800 degrees, or so I was told. Some nights we cleaned the vents over it while it was still cooking burgers in order to get done closing earlier (to go out and party after). Cleaning the broiler while it was lit was against company policy because if you fell in, well, you got cooked. Bryan and I called it “the volcano simulator” and laughed.

One night, while closing, Bryan trapped a small rat in between two fryer baskets. Guess how he dispatched it? Of course he submerged the two baskets in the fryer. The grease in the fryer is 300 degrees Fahrenheit. To this day, I think that must have been the worst possible way to die-- with your skin cooking and your eyes and brain boiling in seconds.

The makeup of the staff varied wildly during the school year, because of course during the day, smart, hard-working ambitious teens like Bryan and me were at school. During the day shift, the staff was a veritable rogue’s gallery: a tattooed parolee who took a smoke break at every possible chance, a retarded guy, and a deformed guy. They were managed by the genial dwarf.

The deformed day-shift worker was born without arms. He had hands, but no arms. His hands stuck straight out of his shoulders. He had to trim his uniform sleeves. He could never bring his hands together, so guess what job they gave him? You guessed it; he was always assigned broiler duty.

Watching him work was horrifying. He would bend sideways, grab a frozen patty and then throw his torso up onto the broiler and slap the patty onto the chain grill. He would then wiggle off quickly before he started to burn. The whole front of his uniform had the black check-marks you see on steaks when you grill them right.

The retarded guy was quiet and usually happy. Too happy, as it turned out.

On some weekends I would “open” the restaurant in the morning. One of prep tasks was opening 2’x2’ square cardboard boxes of fryer lard and dumping them into the fryers. I noticed that some of the boxes had a crude hole about the size of a two fingers cut in the side of them. This mystified me, but, not knowing what else to do, I just used the lard anyway. I mentioned it to Jack the dwarf and he too was mystified.

We would find one or two of these strange holes in the fresh lard boxes each week during the winter of 1986.

One day, Jack hobbled to the kitchen and told us that the retarded guy had been let go because he had been the one cutting the holes in the lard boxes.

“Why did he do that?” I asked Jack.

“Well,” Jack responded, “turns out he was fucking the lard boxes. Okay, back to work, everyone!”

For a moment I marveled at the simpleton’s ingenuity but then got back to work.

Years later it dawned on me that we must have (unknowingly) served bits of fried retard sperm to thousands of customers in that winter of ‘86. But please, don’t let this discourage you from hiring the handicapped when possible. You never know, they might really enjoy their work.

© 2016 David Holmes

Read more from my memoirs