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Thursday, July 21, 2011

selective memory with cheese

So here we are, in the continuing saga of my Burger King Summer of ’91, one score ago.
There are things that I remember vividly about those ten weeks. One such thing was the day that I swear I made Burger King history by making a single order of six ham and cheese sandwiches. I don’t think anyone had done it before, and I’m sure it's not been done since.

I didn’t even know they were offered. But they were - buried at the bottom of the menu board - made possible by the new line of International Chicken sandwiches. Yes, the French Chicken sandwich (a cordon-bleu-ish creation) meant that there was ham stocked at the Specialty Sandwich station, and someone at Corporate apparently had come up with the brilliant idea that if the King had ham and cheese on hand, that the King should offer a ham and cheese sandwich.
Working the Specialty Sandwich station was not for the faint of heart or the sebaceous of skin. Responsibilities therein involved working the fryer and keeping the flow of french fries and onion rings going, dropping baskets of Chicken Tenders, chicken sandwich patties and Ocean Catch fillets into the oil when needed (or having sufficient amounts stored in the warming drawers, because they took so much time to cook), and assembling all of the non-burger sandwiches. It was a delicate dance during the lunch rush, to keep so many fried items at the ready, and yet not so many of them that they went to waste. It was not my favorite station, but I was at the mercy of my managers, who saw my ability to follow basic directions and do the work that was asked of me as quite novel indeed. I was moving up the Burger King ladder, fast. Working Specialty was a high rung for someone who’d only been there a few weeks.
But this ham and cheese order did test my abilities, mostly because I didn’t know exactly what it entailed. Sure, you smart-arses, I could figure that there was ham and cheese on it, but how many slices of each, and did it include mayo? Lettuce? Tomato? Cheese stacked on the bottom or on the top? Long chicken bun or round Ocean Catch bun? Was it served hot or cold? If it was hot, what microwave setting did it require? I had to know. I was not a rebel. I’d already learned that lesson:
The fast-food world doesn’t want you to be a rebel. All it wants you to be is speedy and correct and have clean hands.
So when the order showed up on my little screen in the midst of a hectic shift, I seem to recall that my knee-jerk reaction was to yell out to my manager:
What’s a ham and cheese sandwich?
Yeah. That wasn’t quite what I meant to say or how I meant to say it. But College Girl yelled it out for everyone to hear. Including the guy who’d ordered it. 
Ham - particularly the processed kind we used - is slippery and ornery. Especially when you have to fold it and stack it on the heel (bottom) of the bun. It would flop right back open on me. I had to hold down the folded ham slices with one hand and grab the cheese with my other hand. This was made more difficult by the fact that it was standard procedure to make two sandwiches at once. Once the cheese was on top of the ham, creating weight that would keep the ham folded, I could stick the ham and cheese heels in the microwave for melting while I slathered mayo on the bun crowns (tops). When the microwave beeped, I put the crowns on the heels, wrapped them and started over again with two more and two more. Difficult as they were, I cranked those things out with lightning speed. I had to. I was running behind on onion rings. Life stops for no sandwich.
The whole endeavor took only about a minute or two, but it felt like forever, especially under the watchful eye of the customer, whom I was easily able to spot when I slid the sandwiches out, because he was the guy who was standing off to the side waiting and watching me, the girl who didn’t know what went on a ham and cheese sandwich. 
For all I know he was one of those mystery shoppers, testing the franchise’s abilities. But most likely he was just a guy who likes to order the least-likely item at any given place. You know the kind of person I’m talking about... the kind of person who would order yogurt at a Taco Bell or a hard-boiled egg at a steakhouse.
I know what you’re thinking now, and no, I didn’t do anything unsavory to his sandwiches. Even if I was that sort of person - which I am not - there wasn’t time. Onion rings. Tick-tock.
You always remember the things you wish you could forget. And you always forget the things you wish you could remember. For instance, while I still remember making these six sandwiches, I don’t remember the names of any of my coworkers, except for one manager. Maybe that’s because I didn’t look at my coworkers nearly as much as I had to look at the sandwiches. Maybe it’s because, like they say on the reality shows, I wasn’t there to make friends. Or maybe it’s because of this life lesson I learned that summer:
When you are doing something you would rather not do in a place you would rather not be, it’s best to just focus on the immediate task at hand. The time goes much faster that way.
So really, the sandwich insanity actually saved my sanity.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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