Having received and written my first assignment, and considering it's my first written one, in a style I like to write about, I'm putting it here for this reason. I think it's not too bad. The idea was to go somewhere public, sit down, observe, notice things, and write about them.
I chose to go to the McDonald’s in Wal-Mart because it’s really the only place one could say I go – normally my breaks at work are taken there, and I know people so there’s some backstory involved.
On a Thursday evening the McDonalds located within the Wal-Mart 3638 – otherwise known as Barrhaven – has a normal healthy scattering of patrons. A family occupied the tables behind me as I sat in the booth walled-in by a small partition, facing the ordering counter. A party of elderly people sat together in one of the window-side booths. What looked like a young man, his girlfriend, and either aunt or mother sat further down at the tables. Typical for a fast-food environment, several kids from the family behind me wined and were otherwise let loose about the general area.
Despite the activity, there were no lines at the counter as people came at infrequent times. The two girls at the counter – one young blonde, obviously still in high school, and an older-looking bespectacled brunette – appeared to be taking inventory of foodstuffs for the smoothie machine, coffee machines and other instruments in between orders. Only one person worked in the kitchen, a broad-shouldered, brown-haired young man just starting university.
I knew something or other about the staff well enough on my own. I worked at the Wal-Mart. I came in on almost all of my breaks. They knew me by face. Probably by order, too. Jamie, one of the swing managers, moved around constantly between kitchen, fry station and the back. I didn’t know much about the two girls other than the names on their badges, but Jamie had been around for awhile (about seven years) and the kitchen person, Ian, knew me well enough both via work and our mutual connection to his sister. It’s normally commonplace for the two of us to randomly exchange glances of mutual familiarity between the dining area and the small gap between the muffin fixture and wall, into the kitchen. In fact he made the quarter pounder I just ate.
Other than the typical small number of Wal-Mart unloaders and associates that often came in during break, of my knowledge there weren’t many regulars at the place but for the person whom everyone knew as the Crazy Lady. A lightly obese older woman with silver hair, glasses, and a high-pitched voice, she always came into the restaurant every single night – either before, during or after shopping at Wal-Mart. Her appearance in that random order parallels the voice-overs the restaurant constantly played over the Wal-Mart paging system – “come in before, during, or after you shop!” – and everyone, both Wal-Mart staff and McDonalds workers knew her immediately. Knew her and very likely loathed her.
The rate of business at a place like a small McDonalds in Wal-Mart is always infrequent almost regardless of the time of day; it was quieter earlier despite the rambunctious children, though now lines sometimes formed. The two girls kept up the orders – one working the register, the blonde running in between conveying fries and burger cartons to trays, Ian cooking and assembling in the kitchen – and just as often the business would fade away. The crowd of people took their meals to go, left the restaurant, disappeared into Wal-Mart territory and beyond. I would guess that it was more likely later in the evening for people to take food to-go rather than dine in, whereas it was more lively during the day with people dining-in. Having the franchise based within a large retail outlet completely shifts the influx of people from those interested only in getting fast food directly from McDonalds to those who are shopping and decide perhaps as an afterthought or as a suggestion to go eat at the restaurant. The audience is different.
As I finish this thought, a girl from the Fashion department not on shift stood with her boyfriend at the counter, waiting for the blonde to run their food to the tray waiting on the counter. That’s one other audience that this outlet does have – Wal-Mart employees, including myself, and those who aren’t necessarily working tonight. It’s a place where these associates even manage to have a light working relationship with the restaurant staff, especially if you’re just out of high school and working in either place.
At this point, it’s quarter to nine and the Crazy Lady hasn’t appeared yet. I might have sat down after she’d left, but I would guarantee that she’s in Wal-Mart as I type this, eventually making her way here. Jamie actively assists behind the counter, moving wherever needed, and he’s a well-liked authority. I could hear him joking with Ian in the kitchen quite a bit while the others worked, and he happily delivered a long-awaited fries to a waiting table before the woman could get up to receive them on her own. The morale seems generally high among the staff whether they’re busy or not, and the customers are satisfied with their food.
Perhaps the best way to describe the harmonious positive energy is something my best friend Shawn said. Shawn used to work at this McDonalds and he’d been here several years. According to him, a chain has to be maintained. Maintained and kept perfect for everything to work out. No sand or dust could get in these gears, and as Jamie has a light conversation with the blonde, Ian and the brunette during a lull in customers, as the patrons at the tables have enjoyable private conversations over fast-food, it’s quite obvious that good morale and harmony are perfect for keeping these gears running.