Fast Food

I have a dream that people will stop fucking whining all the time. This week, it’s the “huge” population of vastly underpaid fast food workers. They’re on strike for higher wages, except it’s not really a strike. They just didn’t show up for work so the press would cover it. It’s interesting that in the USA Today story, it mentioned a couple of restaurants didn’t actually close completely and others re-opened as soon as the press left. In other words, this is actually a publicity stunt since they are not organized. Actually, I assume it is organized by the unions who are desperate for new members now that union rules have destroyed the auto industry. I also assume that even though the workers aren’t educated enough to get jobs outside the fast food industry, they are intelligent enough to realize if they’re posturing on the front steps, they’re not getting paid.

Some of the whiners on strike probably haven’t noticed the smarter workers just went to work, because they need the money. They probably haven’t also noticed that the store can run without them because anybody off the street can work fast food. They won’t do it well, but once you learn the motions, it’s not a difficult job, if you can deal with the tedium.

The strikers all need to shut the hell up and get my  damn order right when I go through the drive-thru. Then, they might be worth minimum wage.

If a customer can walk into a fast food restaurant off the street and order their own food by pushing colorful buttons on a register that’s just been turned around backwards, you are not a highly skilled worker. If a customer can walk into a restaurant, choose a steak from a cooler and cook it himself on a grill, you are not a highly-skilled worker. If you can’t feed your family of six on minimum wage, you need to make more than minimum wage, or perhaps you shouldn’t have a family of six. The real issue you have is that once you have a family of six, it’s a bad time to find out you can’t afford them.

If the Churches that are organizing the protests would just provide day care for their members instead, some of the protesters wouldn’t have the issue, and some of their members could have baby-sitting jobs. Problem-solving is better than complaining, people.

I’m still trying to figure out what minimum wage really represents (if anything) – not fiscally, since it’s $7.25 per hour in the USA which is easily researched, but in reality. The Department of Labor just says minimum wage is the least you can legally pay someone. It doesn’t say how that number was calculated. If you work minimum wage forty hours per week for a year, do you make the poverty level? Are you at the seventeenth percentile or some Congressional number? I have a feeling it’s just a number somebody made up at one point, that has been occasionally adjusted for inflation over time when somebody needed re-election.

I finished that last paragraph, and I decided to do the math.

The minimum wage times forty hours times fifty weeks (we’ll assume even the grossly underpaid need a vacation) is $14,500. The poverty level for a household of two is $15,510, according to the US Government statistics. So, if a married couple both worked fast food jobs full-time, they would be above the poverty level. In fact, they could afford a child or two, according to the poverty tables.

I wouldn’t recommend it, since kids are expensive and unpredictable.

So, if the strikers claim they are living in poverty, they’re basically lying, unless they have more than four people in the household or only one worker. It’s also possible they’re not working full-time.  Of course, lately, all the news about people not working full-time has been about companies avoiding paying benefits. I’m sure any of these are the case for some of them. Frankly, that is their problem, not the government’s. Well, the avoiding benefits problem was caused by the government, but that’s another argument.

My assumption on the minimum wage is that it’s not supposed to be a living wage, it’s just a number. However, it’s a number that affects pricing of everything, since it helps businesses calculate their minimum costs for labor.

Before I get the usual hate mail. I will say that I worked in fast food. I worked at Wendy’s for two years in high school and part of one summer in college before I found a job at a liquor store which had much better benefits – discounted liquor beats cheap cheeseburgers.

Working fast food is tedious. You have to learn the proper way to make all the menu items, you have to learn the lingo, you have to learn how long you can keep items before they are trashed (french fries have a shelf life of five minutes), so if you make too much, you’re wasting food which pisses off the manager and if you make too little, the line keeps growing which pisses off the customer, you have to do the same thing over and over unless you change stations, you have to cook items to a customer’s specifications and you have to make sure everything you produce is pretty much the same – all quarter pound cheeseburgers should be the same size, for example. In other words, it’s just like working in a professional kitchen as a line cook – for anyone that watches Food Network or MasterChef or Top Chef.

I am not saying fast food is the equivalent of top-quality restaurant food. I’m just saying you go through the same motions. (I remember Anthony Bourdain has actually said immigrants (legal and otherwise) run the kitchens of NYC. So, maybe instead of working at Burger King, you should just apply at Les Halles.)

Working at Wendy’s is actually a fun job as long as you are surrounded by your peers – I worked evening and weekend shifts with almost all my neighborhood friends – and as long as you’re not working full-time.

That said, I did work during the day in the summers and I did work full-time whenever I was off from school. I noticed that the older people who worked days were usually much crankier than the people I worked with in my age group. They were also much more protective of their hours, but they didn’t seem to enjoy their time at work.

I remember thinking at that point – “These people have made a bad career choice, and they know it.”

I had no intention of being a line cook for my entire life. My dream at that point was to be a store manager.

I was blessed by managers who either were willing to train an eager recruit or just hated doing paperwork. By the time I was seventeen, I was regularly closing out registers, ordering supplies and I was in charge of new-hire training for all of Dallas. In other words, I did more than was expected of a regular worker. I wouldn’t say I worked my ass off, because some of my friends did just as much work as I did – and a couple moved to another restaurant as managers. I just did more than the minimum. I also got raises – not much, but enough to be more than just symbolic. Again, more than the minimum.

I was one of the few people in my group that figured out that doing the manager’s paperwork was a good way to be excused from cleaning the grill or running the Bissell through the dining room.  (Either that, or everyone else really hated paperwork.) This is one of the important lessons required to have someone suddenly desire to go from blue-collar to white-collar. (Ironically, the Wendy’s shirts were blue and white, so everybody was both. I just realized that.) That was an “ah-ha” moment – “Wait. I can sit in the back in air conditioning, and read a form to a woman on the phone and I don’t have to scrub floors?”

My parents were not pleased with my career plan. At all. They did not consider becoming a fast-food manager a valued career. So, they squashed it. Loudly and cruelly (at least it seemed at the time.)

If I were a Wendy’s manager today, I would have a lot less stress in my life. Mainly, because I could not afford a wife, two cars, a house and five sickly dogs. So, I would be alone in an apartment near my store, because that’s all I could afford. Occasionally, I would try to sleep with one of my co-workers, as long as she was legal, even though that would cause complications down the line. It would be a rather painful (yet quiet) existence.

Hopefully, had I become a store manager instead of going to college, I would be at least a regional manager by now. Then, I might be able to afford the wife and maybe a couple of sickly dogs. I doubt that I could have paid for my son’s college, though.

So, fast food is not a good long-term career. The first clue is that you don’t get paid very much. The second clue is that anything you are required to do you can learn in two hours on a Saturday morning from a seventeen-year old. This means the work is not very complex – and not very complex doesn’t pay well. The last clue has been automation – if they can build a register that anyone off the street can figure out without any training, then the employees running the registers are not very significant.

I understand the plight of people who didn’t make it through school and can only work fast food because it’s one of the few jobs that requires very little training (and it’s indoors, which is critical in Texas). However, as my parents wisely told me (quite loudly), it is not a career choice. It is supposed to be a job that you do while you are learning a skill so you can get a better job or start a career. If you never learned a skill, that’s why you only make minimum wage.

McDonald’s and Wendy’s et al make millions at the corporate level, but you have to remember that many of the restaurants where the workers now think they deserve more than an entry-level nurse are actually franchised operations (and company stores are being converted to franchises regularly) – and those local owners are not usually high margin operations. So, if you take a much higher percentage of the “vast income” from that store, that store is going to close. Then, you can multiply your hourly wage by anything you want, because anything times zero is still zero.

Next time you bitch about your wages, ask who owns your store. I worked for a company-owned store, one of the few in the area. Wendy’s is selling 72 Dallas restaurants to franchisees currently. So, it’s important to know. Corporations love franchises. You sell them logos, fixtures, building designs, and sometimes raw food. Then, you take a franchise fee and a percentage of all sales. It’s a lot less work than listening to under-skilled workers bitch about low wages.

If you work fast food and can’t afford to live in New York City, let me tell you – I know people with graduate degrees who make more than minimum wage that can’t afford to live in New York City. Move to Brooklyn, Jersey, or a Red State.

People deserve to be paid for their work. Some work is worth more than other work. If you are doing low-worth work, you will get paid a low wage. The government will make sure it is at least a minimum. That’s how it is. You need to do other work or more work. Bitching doesn’t make your work more worthwhile.

My memories of Wendy’s are very happy ones – it was a very happy place to work, as long as the workforce was a bunch of high school students from good schools who were working for date money (and to meet dates). Over the years, the store staff slowly migrated to people who had made fast food a career choice, usually by the sin of omission. (Like not planning, not finishing school, not using protection and suddenly having mouths to feed.)

As the staff changed from high school students working part-time to career fast food people working full-time, the mood changed. It became a much less happy place, for the staff and unfortunately, for the customers.

After a while, it was a pretty cranky place and nobody was really trying that hard. I would go in and count the inspection violations. It bothered me a lot to see the place fall down before my eyes.

Then, it closed. I drove by one day and it was gone. A few weeks later, it was a fried chicken place. It lasted a few years. Then, it was another chicken place, that lasted months. Now, it’s just there. So, now, people blame the location. It’s not the location.

Minimum wage is not the problem. Minimum motivation is the problem. I don’t think doubling these people’s wages is going to help with their motivation.

You have the right to work. You do not have the right to be rich. That you have to earn.

Flashback

So, I’ve heard a lot of stories about my childhood from my Mom lately. I’ve been thinking about growing up and a lot of the activities of a young man. I even redid the Stagecoach 7 website yesterday evening.

But, I never thought I would flash back to the early 60’s this afternoon.

I did. I took a nap.

It’s been said that you become a grownup the day you start wondering why you didn’t want to take naps when you were younger. Sometimes, it’s just circumstance.

Last night, Murphy the Cocker Spaniel threw up. Four times. So, off to the vet. Luckily, Hillside Veterinary Clinic is open 24×7, and it’s just down the street, so we didn’t have to contend with the emergency clinic. There were a surprising number of people there for 10:30 PM on a Monday evening, but Murphy was whisked off to the back for tests, we talked to the vet, got him some meds, and were back home by just after midnight.

Midnight.

Well, at least I’m working at home today, so I don’t have to contend with traffic.

Did I mention I had a six-hour web conference call that started at 7:30 AM this morning?

So, I was going to double up on the coffee, and hope for the best. Maybe this would be an interesting meeting. You know, the exception to prove the rule.

Finally got to sleep about a quarter to one, because it takes extra time to fall asleep when you’re counting the minutes you have to actually sleep. So, I should have had a good six hours of sleep. Who needs more than that? No problems.

Four AM, the phone rings. I manage to answer it, and hear “This is ADT Security. We have an alarm.” Well, my house was quiet, so it was the Spousal Unit’s problem. We had an alarm going off in one of her late Aunt’s houses in Florida.

This is one of the stupid parts about naming an executor more than one State away – how are you going to get there if there’s a crisis?

Who could possibly be trying to get into a dead woman’s house? Oh, of course. The inheritor aka the new owner. Oops.

The Spousal Unit had given her cousin the code to the alarm. It just wasn’t the code to that alarm. Oops.

So, after finally getting him on the phone (via Facebook message) and talking politely to the police officer who had arrived, everything was back to normal.

At 5:20 AM.

So, not a lot of sleep.

It actually was a good conference call – a very good discussion. I managed to stay awake the whole time, and I only had three cups of coffee.

After the call ended, I crashed for an hour. Well, an hour and a half. The stuffed animals of my childhood were replaced by live dogs trying to push me out of the way, but it was still a nap. A glorious nap.

So, I’ll work late tonight to cover the missed time. At least, I’ll stay online until everyone on my team leaves.

We should all take naps.

AppleSauce

Apple products are famous for their ease of use and greatness of cost. The cost is actually offset by many by the ease of use (and the “coolness” factor if you’re a dork.) 

Most of the time, Apple products just work. They’re intuitive, they do what you want (mostly) and if you’re not a true geek, you don’t need to ever look at internals or manuals. 

However, this means when they fail, they fail in a spectacular fashion. This is what happened to me. 

Actually, it’s still happening. 

My iPad is apparently full. Usually, I get a warning that I’m almost out of space, and I delete some stuff – the problem goes away. This being an Apple product, you can’t just easily expand the space, which would also solve the problem. You can, however, buy a larger model iPad. 

So, last night, my iPad crashed. Hard. In fact, it wouldn’t turn back on. So, I called it a night. 

This morning, it wouldn’t start. So, I Googled for help, and the Apple site said to reset your iPad, press the Home key and the Start key. I was a bit concerned that “reset” meant “wipe out”, like it does in the rest of the computer world, but this is Apple. It just started up and I was ready to go. 

So, I went to the configuration panel to delete some stuff. As soon as I pressed Usage, the iPad went back to the Home page. Then, it rebooted. 

Oops. 

So, I thought – how do I make this into a hard drive, and I’ll just move some of the files off? 

I attached it to my PC and nothing happened. It mounted as a camera, but there wasn’t anything built-in to download photos. So, my Spousal Unit took over. 

At this point, the universe almost turned inside-out. She is not supposed to be IT support for me. 

She plugged it into her Macbook and Photoshop tried to start downloading files. Then, it crashed. 

I updated iTunes on my backup PC and connected it. It started thinking about syncing, then it crashed. 

Finally, Photoshop started on my PC and began downloading photos. I managed to get about forty at a time (out of over three hundred) before it would reboot. So, progress, I suppose. 

At this point, it looks like I’m going to the Apple Store. Their tech support people are called “geniuses.” I always thought this was a bit over the top. However, sometimes, you do need to be a genius to work around a system that is designed to not let people work around it. 

What is annoying to me is that I AM A COMPUTER PERSON. This should not be difficult. I’ve dealt with out of disk space errors on everything from mainframes to smartphones. Why is this so hard to fix? 

The Spousal Unit said she will take it to the Apple Store, but I really want to go along. I want to learn that if you hold the power button with your left finger while facing Cupertino, pressing the Volume button up and chanting Steve Jobs’ name backwards (“Gates.. Gates…”), the damn thing will just mount as a drive. I would really like to know that. 

I suppose I could also just buy a new iPad, which I think is the actual plan for making you go to the Apple Store to see a genius. 

In the meantime, I have most of my photos off the iPad. So, that’s a start. I guess. 

Long Time Coming

Wow. This posting schedule (sic) has been even more sporadic than I had feared when I started this in the first place. It’s bad enough that Blind John Ellsworth has fallen off the wagon, without me wandering off into the weeds, as well.

So, my list of excuses – which is actually just a bunch of rants that I really needed to get off my chest. If you don’t know me very well, you can skip this one. It won’t make much sense to you without the backstory – and I really don’t have time for all the backstory.

  • I’m still getting asked about whether I’m coming to terms with my Dad’s death, but the sad, unfortunate reality is that his death is the least of my worries right now. Work stress and family stress is no way to fix grieving – it just postpones it. I’m pretty sure this is not healthy, but so it goes.
  • Work stress, you say? I’ve had three new managers in my chain of command in the past six months. My first line, second line and general manager are all new. Plus, they all got appointed from lower to upper, so every time someone higher up got appointed, our priorities changed. It’s very difficult to have a good year when you find out what you’re supposed to be doing in August and it has nothing to do with what you were hired to do or what you’ve been doing all along or even what you were told to do in July. Plus, a bunch of people of my approximate age and experience level were laid off in the last resource action.
  • I hate the term “resource action.” You fired people. You ruined lives. You made families suffer. Why? Usually because you’re spending money on the wrong products, or because you keep replacing senior people with people who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Starting from scratch to save money is a really dumb-ass idea, but apparently, it’s the core of every MBA program. You can raise income or cut costs. Why does no manager ever try to raise income?
  • We did have one bright spot at work – the Summer Innovation Camp with Analytics that we jointly produced with SMU’s Richard B Johnson Center for Economic Studies. We had happy students who learned a lot and we got a lot of really good press from the event. So, to anyone who wanted to know if it really took three months to write it – yes, it freakin’ did. I did it from scratch with a very small team and it was worth it. All my bosses said so. Thank you, Dr. Fomby and staff for all your support.
  • I spent this weekend doing a round-trip to Nashville – drove out Saturday, flew home Sunday. Let me just say that 14 hours in a U-Haul makes 90 minutes in a middle seat look tolerable. My son, his wife and my two grandsons moved to Ohio which meant that all the menfolk are all glad he has a real teaching job at last (and before his PhD is technically completed) and the women are all sad they are moving. Men and women will never see the same way on a move. I know this now. So, while spending Friday afternoon keeping the kids busy so Mom and Dad could pack, I realized a good Dad would volunteer to ride shotgun to Ohio in the U-Haul. Mom and kids got to fly to Ohio on Sunday, which meant my son got to drive alone and he had to beat them there, since he had the furniture. This on top of doing the drive alone two weeks ago to start his new job. Since a good Dad would go to Ohio and help unpack, I went to Nashville, bought him dinner, got him a hotel room for the night and then flew home. I never said I was a good Dad.
  • A good Grandfather would make it to the airport to see his grandkids head off to become Yankees (sob!) A Texas grandfather knows a Texan will always be a Texan, so I’m not really fearing the Yankee part. I did manage to get the last seat on the flight before mine – being AAdvantage Gold finally got me to the top of the standby list – so I managed to arrive at gate A11 fifteen minutes before they left from A13. So, I got to carry a car seat to the gate, tell the gate agents they had a pre-board that needed to cut in line and I got to say goodbye. Again.
  • If you have kids moving away, and your wife and Mom have both lost family members in the past eight months, it will be very traumatic for them. This will make no sense to any male, since they’re just a plane flight away – they’re not deceased – but to the womenfolk, it’s the same trauma. So it goes. Be prepared. Also, you might want to start stocking up AAdvantage miles because you’re going to need them.
  • This much trauma in a very short time will take most of the joy out of life. You will start skipping things because you just don’t have the energy – but it’s really that you just can’t get up the enthusiasm to get going. This is very, very difficult to explain to those who have not had the joy knocked out of their life, mainly because I just don’t feel the need to saddle someone with all of my whining. Someday, they will understand – especially if they read all this whining.
  • Last night, we made our semi-annual trip to the emergency room. The Spousal Unit is having strange pains. So, they did a CAT scan, found nothing (which makes sense, she’s a dog person) and sent her home. WTF? The insane amount you charge for a CAT scan wasn’t enough revenue? Surely, there were other tests you could have run at great cost to the insurance company to determine more specifically what “nothing” really means. So, follow-up visits to the doctor later in the week.
  • The emergency room trip was actually the shortest hospital stay this month – my sister-in-law is undergoing chemo and our Shih-Tzu (my late mom-in-law’s dog) was at the emergency vet’s for the weekend with a severe pancreatitis attack. So, six boring hours in the ER (much like 90 minutes in a middle seat after a fourteen-hour drive) wasn’t that bad.

So far, the lesson for 2013 is “There is nothing so bad that can happen that won’t be quickly followed by something worse.” I’m really hoping that is going to change, and soon.

In one bright spot, congratulations to Dan Schmidt and the rest of the Edinburg Roadrunners on their championship run.  Two in a row for Edinburg! So, 2013 hasn’t been all bad. just mostly.