Friday, April 30, 2010

Watching the wheels

I went to Sonic a few nights ago for a late night milkshake. Why there? Because it’s open till midnight and they have a very large drink selection. Though this restaurant and its menu are not the point of this post, there’s no getting to the point without discussing the scene.

Sonic is distinguished from its fast food brethren by its drive-up stalls, where you order from your car while parked, a stationary variation of the ubiquitous drive-thru (which Sonic also has), but with a lick more personality. Winsome girls on roller skates wheel up to your driver-side window to deliver your tater tots and limeades. This set-up is obviously meant to conjure a nostalgia for the 1950s era of drive-in burger joints, soda jerks, sock hops, girls with bows in their hair – real Back to the Future stuff that may or may not have ever existed.

I order a pineapple shake and a short while later, I hear not the whirring of roller wheels, but the clompety-clomp of a lead-footed pedestrian walking (walking!) up to my window. What gives? Maybe this late at night, they figure there won’t be any photo ops with Governor Schwarzenegger, so they lock up the skates and trot out their second tier Bettys. Indeed, the girl who delivered my shake was not exactly what you’d call a “looker.”

So be it, I thought, at least the edible half of the Sonic experience should be tolerable. And then my delivery girl spoke: “I made it myself, so I hope you enjoy it.” By that, you mean you took a cup of vanilla ice cream, tossed in some canned pineapple chunks, and mixed it all together in a machine, according to a company formula? That’s what the cynic in me was thinking. And yet, she seemed completely sincere, like she had done this just for me, and truly hoped I would be pleased.

It’s been said that minimum wage workers, especially in the fast food industry, tend to be looked down upon by customers, and yet I can’t stay that they treat their customers much better. I know this from personal experience having worked in a miserable minimum wage job at a very large and deplorable retail store. But it wasn’t the fact that this girl was nice to me that astonished me; it was the strange notion that she was actually taking pride in her work, in what was surely a minimum wage job.

I’m sure she didn’t need me feeling sorry for her, not for her late shift or her “not-asked-to-dance” appearance or her attendant social status, and none of that is the point of this post. I think somewhere in the writing of this post, I lost track of what my point was.

I came away from that exchange thinking that dumping on people like her is essentially dumping on those who are in some sense helpless. But at the same time, it seems patronizing to try to protect or defend them. Ultimately, the most worthwhile thing to do may be to try to understand, and let understanding guide my feelings. My experience at Sonic made me think about the fact that the vast majority of our encounters with other people are one-shots, so what feeling do you want to leave people with?

Those of my readers who are more inclined to gastronomic than sociopolitical matters are probably wondering: how was the pineapple shake? Quite acceptable, though for a more thoroughly enjoyable and less gimmicky shake, try the definitive pineapple shake mixed at Which Wich.


Henry said...

Was this epiphany accompanied by a montage of all the horrible things you've said to/about random strangers?

If it's any comfort, I can tell you that this "lead-footed pedestrian" probably has some beast of a husband to go home to.

Czardoz said...

No "Metal Gear Solid"-esque gauntlet of murdered souls, I'm afraid.

And considering the girl was probably 16, I sure hope she didn't have any kind of husband to go home to.

Deana said...

Perhaps this girl was truly proud of the pineapple shake that she made. She may be one of the fortunate few who manage to derive pleasure from the simple; unlike the rest of us who are clamoring for all things ultimate. I'm a sucker for sincerity and probably would have been so touched by her authenticity {coupled with the fact that she provided me with enough sustinence to encourage quality cellulite} that I would have offered to become her beast of a husband on the spot. But alas, as you speculated, she was probably "Only Sixteen."