I admit that I was a little aggravated last Friday as I stood in line to place my order at McDonald’s in Indio, California. I had stopped by the fast food restaurant on my way to Laughlin, Nevada, which is about a three-hour drive from my home in Palm Desert, California. I had a simple plan. I would leave my apartment at 8 am and be in Laughlin around 11:30. I decided to stop for breakfast along the way.
Instead of sitting in the long line at the drive-thru, I decided to go inside the restaurant. I was third in line behind a family of five and two elderly gentlemen. I didn’t think this would be a problem. It shouldn’t take me long to get my food and then I could be on my way. There were a few problems though. First, the three children in the family couldn’t decide what they wanted to eat. I tried to keep myself calm but I couldn’t help emitting a few dramatic sighs. My right foot began to tap in a steady loud beat upon the floor. After a few minutes of deliberation, the family finally came to an agreement and placed their order.
Finally, the two elderly men stepped up to the counter. The cashier, who looked to be about seventeen-years-old, took their order and then told the men the price of their meal. “That’s not right,” one of the men started screaming. “You’re over charging me. There’s no way in hell that can be more than 10 dollars.” When my rolling eyes finally settled back down into my face, I looked at the young clerk, and suddenly felt tears threatening to fall. I watched the young girl’s hands shake and heard her voice quiver as she went back over the order with the two men. It all became rather confusing as the two men continued to yell and berate the young woman as she tried to help them.
I suddenly saw myself so many years ago. My first job was at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Kansas. I remember days when I went home in tears because of the vicious words and hateful attitudes of some of the customers. Now, my heart was breaking for this young woman who was just trying to do her job. I felt really ashamed of my own impatience then and took deep breaths to adjust my own attitude as I watched the young cashier bravely try to work with the two men. Finally, one of the managers came up to help and the situation was settled.
I walked up to the counter then and said hello before placing my order. Then as I paid for my food, I whispered to the cashier that she was doing a great job. She smiled at me for just a moment and then bit her lip as shook her head. I stepped away then and stood off to the side as I waited for my food to arrive.
The two elderly men’s order was ready first. I watched as they stepped back up to the counter and then yelled at the young clerk because the order wasn’t correct. The two men laughed to each other and whispered loudly words like “idiot” and “stupid.”
As one of the men walked by me, he stated, “Stupid people here don’t know what they’re doing.”
“Well, you could have a better attitude!” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. I had shocked myself by answering back to him.
“What did you say?” the man suddenly leaned towards me menacingly. “What did you say to me?”
And I said it again. “You could have a better attitude!”
He stared at me for just a moment before shouting, “You try standing in line for 15 minutes and see how you feel.”
He turned to walk away from me as I stated, “I just did. I was standing behind you! I heard every mean word you said. You didn’t have to be so hateful!”
I don’t know if he had heard me because he was already walking to a table as I stepped up to the counter to get my order. I grabbed the bag, said thank you to the clerk, and walked away. I had to pass by the table where the two elderly men were sitting to get to the door. As I walked by I heard one of them muttering, “Damn stupid woman telling me I should have a better attitude.”
I didn’t say anything then, but I walked out of the restaurant with my head held high. A strange sort of energy suddenly filled me. In the past, I never would have said anything to anyone who was so abusive. I would have kept my head down. I would have run for cover. But, now…I am happy that I am beginning to find my own voice…not just for myself but for other people.