I left home when I was 17. I had no real skills, oh I could talk a good game but really I was pretty clueless. Somehow I ended up rooming with a bunch of nutjobs with whom I had many adventures. Someday I may tell you about them.
So there I was, no security, no skills and no job. I’m not sure how I ended up at White Castle, but I did and I was hired on the spot. For those of you who don’t know about White Castle, you have really missed something. At some point they were in competition with McDonald’s although obviously Mickey D’s had a much bigger advertising budget. Still, there was something about White Castle that was better to me.
You could get 10 burgers for $1.50 – maybe a little more – but it was dang cheap. We always made jokes about the mystery meat that was in the burger. I started calling them goat burgers because, well I don’t know why, it just sounded right. But man, oh man, the fries were the best. They had a ‘secret’ seasoning they shook on those crinkle cut babies when they were hot out of the fryer and they melted in your mouth.
The bad news was that the uniforms were out of the stone age and I wouldn’t be surprised if they still have the same ones – blue numbers with paper hats and ugly shoes. No pants, oh no, they were little dresses with sewn on aprons and just as pathetic as they could be. And I’m not sure what kind of fabric they were made of, but they always itched.
Back then, I was a lithe, tan, blonde teenager among a herd of big-haired, middle-aged southern girls flipping burgers. In Michigan we had a lot of those gals who came up from Virginia and West Virginia. Things must have been bad in their home states to want to come to Michigan to flip burgers, but there they all were. They were all two-namers – Bonnie Sue, Betty Jean, Myra Joe – but they were all sweet and maternal and could flip burgers to beat the band.
We did it all, cook, serve, flip, clip, chip – oh yeah, we were the original multi-taskers.
We were open late – til 1 a.m. and what would blow through the doors after 10 p.m. was always interesting. The most memorable crowd we had rolled in on a Friday night, just before midnight. About 20, slightly drunk, long-legged, mini skirt wearing, gorgeous black women. I thought maybe they were models or singers or something. They all were wearing similar outfits and high heals with long curly hair and false eyelashes. Showfolk to be sure.
All the big-haired gals were giggling when these ladies came in and I wasn’t sure why. A few of the gals rolled their eyes at me and winked – still, I had no clue what was amusing them so.
I went to the counter to take their orders. The first lady stepped up, looked up at the menu sign on the wall, cleared her throat and said, “I’ll have a….” Now what they ordered was of no consequence and frankly I can’t remember, but the thing that had so amused my co-workers came clear to me then. What came out of that lovely young woman’s mouth was a man’s voice. Not just a man’s voice but a deep, resonant, Paul Robeson kind of voice. You know? Like, I expected her to start singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen” any minute.
This was all too much for my feeble teenaged brain to absorb and so I just took the orders numbly and pretended not to notice that the voice and the outfit weren’t a match. They were all fed and left with their white bags full of goat burgers and fabulous fries, with nary a clue as to how they’d change my life. Forever. The big-haired gals congratulated me on learning yet another fact of adult life. Things aren’t always what they seem.