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Thanksgiving Fries

Below is an excerpt from one of the defining moments in my life. I have told this story to countless people because of its eye-opening effect on me. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let us remember the real reasons why we are here at the University of Texas. And rather pretend to be thankful for what we have, we should do something about the issues raised below. With that in mind, I wish you a wonderful well-deserved days of rest, remembering what we have done to merit rest.

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In recent weeks, it seems Texas Governor Rick Perry, unlike most of our nation’s politicians, has been gloating amidst the job debacle. The Lone Star State, Perry boldly declared, has created 40% of all new jobs in the United States under his reign. On the surface, this looks extremely impressive, given the current conditions of the other forty-nine states. But the one scarring fact that is unfortunately hidden away is the type of job that Perry is responsible for: minimum wage jobs, ones that provide intense labor, dismal medical benefits, and enough money to feed an ant. The creation of these minimum-wage jobs is definitely not something to be overtly proud of. Yes, it is a significant step in decreasing our embarrassingly high unemployment numbers. But what about the welfare of some of our poverty-stricken compatriots?

This summer, I happened to be one of the more fortunate souls to be swept up by this wave of new jobs: I was hired at my local McDonald’s. Naively enthusiastic, I ventured out to the restaurant with a grin on my face and room in my pocket for my first check. But was that big wave a stroke of luck or a heinous act of trickery by the infamous clown Ronald McDonald (and, I suppose, Governor Perry)?

Turns out that clown had a lot of tricks waiting to devour me. Scurrying around the establishment, sometimes for more than eight hours without rest, I was expected to sweep crumbs, mop spills, pick up after disgusting children, deal with rude and utterly stupid customers, concoct drinks with a thousand ingredients, see a guy sucking meat juice from his gloves while handling food, craft the best gourmet sandwiches you have ever eaten…there was always something to amuse myself with at McDonald’s. At all times loomed over me like a thick, oppressive fog the expectation to do everything quickly, efficiently, and accurately. As the clueless newbie, I, of course, failed at all three. And it certainly never helped that I was a guy shorter than most girls, for I often found myself climbing shelves and pulling muscles just to grab some cups in boxes near the ceiling. And during the lunch rush one day, I burned my hand when I accidentally dropped a French fry basket fresh out of the oil. By the end of most days, I was often doused in burger grease and my own sweat. The obnoxious hat did nothing to help my poufy hair. Over the course of the summer, I did steadily find a decent, manageable rhythm, but I always had a great deal of respect and admiration to the people who worked alongside me, the people who I helped hinder. Essentially, I was the lone, rusty, dysfunctional gear in a massive, well-oiled machine. Without mercy from the big clown. Can you hear Ronny laughing now?

The most depressing part is that I wore myself out every day for a measly $7.25 an hour. To me, my wage did not seem all that important. Like many of my other high school friends, I tackled this job without many hesitations. All McDonald’s meant to us, at first, was BIG MONEY!! After all, we all had lovely parents who worked high-paying jobs, who put copious amounts of food on the dinner table every day, whose idea of a vacation included not Galveston, but Florida and Europe. So what if we did get fired? No big deal. Our parents were there to back us up.

For many of my older coworkers, however, the general mentality is “I have essentially sold my life to Ronald McDonald and I have no hope of advancing the career ladder.” What may come as surprising to some is that the minimum wage is far from enough to support oneself, let alone an entire family. One of my shift managers (let’s call her Emily), told my friends about her parents who died from cancer when she was very young. Without them, how could Emily and her siblings have anything to eat? As the oldest of the children, Emily sacrificed her education to find work in an attempt to support her siblings. And when Emily’s siblings reached legal working age, they too dropped out to find employment. How else did they expect to survive? Another bright lady, Betty, who I often worked alongside, told me of her painful endeavors to find a second job. Betty pondered not only the stress from supporting her daughter as a single mom, but also the glaring possibility of working, at both jobs, from 5 in the morning until 2…in the morning. And I cannot even begin to describe the amount of skill and finesse both of these diligent ladies harness as they tackle their jobs at McDonald’s.

It is easy to dismiss the plight of my fellow coworkers as something they justly deserve. But how can I look upon such lovely individuals with scorn when they were denied the opportunities to succeed? Clearly, it is not Emily’s fault for her parents’ deaths and not attending school in order to carry out the most honorable duty of caring for her brothers and sisters. And who can blame Betty for struggling to love and support her kid by working two jobs instead of investing more time hitting the books in hopes of someday finding a higher-paying career. What time does she have to begin with? Turns out, Ronny’s just juggling them menacingly so they have no chance of escaping the vicious cycle while the little kids are gawking at his remarkable illusion of skill and finesse, clueless as to the reactants of such beautiful work.

Perhaps that explains why one or two of my coworkers seemed to have a tinge of jealousy at the fact that I will be leaving to attend college soon. To them, my future is a radiant lighthouse amidst the frozen sea of stagnancy. What I have been exposed to this summer was infinitely more valuable than the few paychecks I received. Rather, I was privileged enough to meet hardworking Americans who always hope to ascend the ladder of success. But instead of basking in the riches, they are always kicked in the teeth and thrown down to the bottom of the ladder. So much for the famed “Rags to Riches.” Should anyone be too giddy about the surge of minimum wage jobs in Texas? How about we fight against these clownish wages and instead advocate for sustainable wages instead. It’d be nice if ALL Americans could work a fair amount of hours unshackled and look towards the possibilities of success. I would love it if Emily and Betty could get enough sleep at night or hope to advance high up because of their incredible merits and work ethic. Thank you, clown, for your patriotic support of the most unfortunate and unlucky of Americans and their welfare.

Untitled

Should this be what defines our society? It is time for us to change the system.

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November 18, 2011 | | Comments are closed for this post
photo of Khang