I Celebrated My 50th Birthday Working at McDonalds

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I Never Thought It Could Happen To Me

In my younger days I never followed politics. There seemed to be no need. I was a good citizen, somewhat educated, and a hard worker. The things those politicians did in Washington had no affect on my somewhat boring life, at least that’s what I naively thought. When I saw things like the President opening up trade with other countries, it surely wouldn’t affect me, right?

I had spent close to twenty years of my life in a factory located in rural America. We made automobile parts. I started as a temporary worker on the production floor and eventually, through hard work and determination, worked my way up to an Engineering Technician position. It was a job I loved and was good at. My numerous job duties included, among other things, drawing blueprints on CAD and constructing databases.

One afternoon, right before Christmas, I was called into my boss’s office. She and the personnel manager informed me that my job was being eliminated. They emphasized that it had nothing to do with my job performance. They simply had to cut some heads, and the department I was in had too many. It turns out, many of the jobs had been sent to Mexico.

Have you ever tried to re-start a career in your late 40’s? I can assure you, it isn’t very easy. You have to polish up a resume you haven’t seen in years, put on a smile, and sit across from someone younger than your kids and answer their questions, and most of these questions came from some college textbook, not real world experience. Eventually, you quit looking for jobs in your field and start applying anywhere and everywhere, and that’s how I ended up working at McDonalds as a “crew person.”

I never dreamed I’d end up working in an entry level job at a McDonald’s, but my only other option was unemployment, and I really didn’t want that. I’d seen others my age go that route just to get “stuck” in the cycle of discouragement and government assistance, and I was afraid that would happen to me. I wanted to keep working and besides, McDonalds offered health insurance, right?

On my first day, I showed up for “training.” They put me in a small room where the Assistant Manager instructed me to watch a series of videos on how to cook breakfast (I might mention that in the 1-1/2 years I was there I never worked a breakfast shift). He said he’d be back in a little bit. About two hours and several breakfast videos later, I went looking for him. The Assistant Manager I found said that the person training me must have forgotten I was there and had already left. She gave me my uniform and told me to come back the next day.

The next day, I put on the most ill-fitting, unflattering uniform I’d ever worn in my life and, holding back tears, went to work. After about ten minutes, being shown how to clock in and the basics of how the cash register worked, I was on my own. When I did something wrong (and believe me, it happened several times that first day), my teenage co-workers would yell at me in front of the customers. It was very humiliating, and I’m not sure how I made it through that first night. However, I did make it through and I came back the next night, just to get berated by an Assistant Manager in front of the customers for clocking in three minutes early. He informed me that I was stealing from the company by doing that.

In a short time, I did master the job and actually grew quite fond of many of my young co-workers. However, for reasons which I never understood, my Manager didn’t like me and I was informed that I would never be promoted because I “just didn’t have what it takes” to be a McDonald’s Assistant Manager. I guess I’m not sure what it does take; I never called in sick, I was always on time, the customer’s seemed to like me, and my orders were always very accurate. Since I wouldn’t be promoted, I would never get enough hours to qualify for insurance. So much for that idea.

I assumed when I took the job that I would only be there for a couple of months until I was offered a job more suited to my job skills. As the months wore on and it became obvious that this new job was nowhere on the horizon, I slowly became discouraged and quit looking.

I grew used to customers who assumed that because I was older and worked as a cashier at McDonalds I must be stupid. For that reason, it was all right to treat me in a rude and condescending manner. After all, I wouldn’t know any better. I learned to live with it and accepted my fate. I knew not to annoy the management, as it would result in my hours being cut the next week, and I was already watching my meager savings slowly dwindle away to nothing.

Finally, right as I turned 50, something happened which lit a fire under me and made me jump into the job search with new vigor. During a discussion after closing time, the teenage Assistant Manager who was closing called me a “homophobic old witch” (only he didn’t use the word witch). When I mentioned it to another Manager, I was told not to worry about it, it was only a joke. That one statement woke me up out of my self-pity. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had an adult conversation with a co-worker, had a discussion about politics, or been able to say something about my grandkids without someone rolling their eyes. It was time to move on.

It took time, but I finally found a job cooking at another restaurant. It wasn’t the perfect job, but I enjoyed it and it was good to go to work everyday without feeling dread in the pit of my stomach.

Amazingly, people have often asked what it was like to work at McDonald’s. They say they’ve always been curious what a job like that would be like. They also say “I could never work there.” I tell them that they’d be surprised at what they can do. While I hope that I never have to do that kind of work again, I’m glad I chose to go that route and not take government benefits. Many of the people I knew who lost their jobs around the same time I did collected unemployment waiting for a job that was “acceptable.” Some of these people are still waiting. Overall, for me it was a strange experience, but one I will never forget. It’s also nice to know that I can handle it, if I have to.