Despite working in the fast food ghetto, there were still some perks: You got to have all the soft drinks you wanted and you could always sneak a fry or two from the fryer when things got slow.
Like the Monkey's Paw, however, this "free" policy carried an exquisitely evil curse. After a few months of working there, drinking nothing but root beer all day (and you have to drink something when you're standing in all that heat next to the fryers and grill), I began to gain weight at an alarming rate. It got even worse when I actually started eating the food there and learning that yes, I really did love the taste of a fresh Whataburger.
And fall in love with the food I did. Larry used to make these little burgers, based on the "Justaburger" tiny bun. But he'd put two junior patties on it, double cheese, and grilled onions. I began to take the mini-burger as my own. Through some strange accounting loophole, the employee discount for a "Larry Special" made it cost about 75 cents, even with the double meat and cheese.
Eventually, after plying my trade at the W, I began to get creative with my own burger. Soon, the legend of the "Omieburger" grew among my friends. It got to where whenever my friends showed up to eat, they'd order "Omieburgers," even if I wasn't working. The Omieburger is as follows:
For a time after I stopped working at Whataburger, I was still allowed to come behind the counter and serve myself up an Omieburger, for old time's sake.
By the time I left, only one other person was left from when I started. All the old managers, co-workers, even one of my high school buddies who unwisely started working the late shift while still in school, had all quit or been fired. When I finally left for college, the only other person standing was Lois, a woman who'd been working the breakfast shift there for 14 years, and who had gotten so many raises over the years that she probably could have afforded to buy the franchise.
There are other memories of course. We had a very cool manager named Jack for a while who had a great, "hate the customers" attitude that was refreshing for us jaded oldtimers.
His greatest fantasy was that he would one day own a Whataburger. He would be anonymous, so nobody would know he owned it. And one day, he'd walk in and get a job off the street as a regular shift worker. He'd wait in silence until the day a 400 lb. woman came in (as they were wont to do at Whataburger in Oklahoma) and order a double meat and cheese, large fries and a Diet Coke.
Jack would serve up the requested items and them serve them to this make-believe woman. Then he would tell her, "You know what lady? That Diet Coke just isn't going to do you any fucking good."
She'd get deeply offended and yell, "I want to speak with the manager!"
And Jack would throw his counter-wipe rag aside fiercely and yell, "Fuck the manager, I'm the owner, now get the Hell out of my store!"
It was a beautiful dream, I have to admit.
There were bad times, too. There was the night I worked a Halloween shift in costume because I thought they were going to give prizes for best costume. I went to a store and rented a big Civil War costume and did zombie make-up. I'm not sure exactly what I was going for. Confederate Zombie (The South Shall Rise Again, Only Deader!) or something.
Then I found out the costume contest had been hours before I arrived for my late shift. So for the rest of the night, I had to clomp around in big ass boots, in full costume, while people in the drive-thru wondered if my zombie make-up was flaking into their French fries.
Another miserable night was when I worked a New Year's Eve. I can honestly say that if the world were to end one of these New Year's Eves, it would still be an infinitely more pleasurable way to bring in the new year than spending it working drive-thru at Whataburger. Every, every customer that came through that night was drunk or most of the way to drunkyland.
I got so tired of dealing with slurry, giggly orders. At one point, a guy in my drive-thru stopped responding, but I could still hear his car parked in front of the speaker. I told Larry what was happening and he went out the side door. Seconds later, I heard on my headset the sound of someone rapping on a window. "Hey buddy, wake up!"
The bastard had fallen asleep in the middle of ordering.
Later that night, I had a guy come through who ordered chicken sandwiches in a clear, steady voice. I got excited. Finally! A sober person in the drive-thru!
I opened the window to a man and his wife. He was clean-cut, friendly and very obviously not drunk. I began to thank him.
"I know this may sound weird, but you're the first sober person to come through tonight. I just want to thank you for not drinking and driving. I really, really appreciate it."
He grinned at me. "Do you believe in Jesus?" he said in an Oklahoma twang.
They had gotten all of themselves in a row. Now it was just a wait until dawn to strike back at the bastard humans.