So I decided to do some volunteer work today, to celebrate Memorial Day and to earn some really nice freebies, but mostly because it seemed like a good thing to do. When I say "volunteer," you're probably picturing puppies and invalids and veterans and flowers, but this was a totally different animal. This was Corporate America's new take on volunteer work. Here's the deal:

I show up at Paramount Studio's Kings Island at 10 a.m., dressed in a white polo, khaki shorts, and white tennis shoes. I attend a brief orientation, fill out a time card, and punch in. Then I sign away my pay to the charitable organization of my choice, along with at least nine other people working for the same organization, in exchange for several day passes to the park. I was doing it for an enlisted personnel charity for my office, but the groups show up from everywhere.

It seems that theme parks don't have much need for military intelligence, so we took the next best thing: foodservice. We all had restaurant experience, and being military, we know how to clean and polish things we've never seen before (here's a hint: "...until it shines, soldier!"). I have personally worked almost 7 seasons behind the scenes in a tourist restaurant. I walked on the job with typical military swagger, but the right note of humility, and tell my 15-year-old manager, "I've worked deep fryers, a grill twice as big as that one, I've been a dishdog, and I can learn line cook as fast as you can send me orders. Where do you want me?"

" the register. Thanks."

I thought I was in intelligence. I thought my college degree prepared me intellectually for any cognitive challenge that you could throw my way. I'm quite good with people. But I've never worked a cash register. Ever.

On my fifth customer, I had to learn to void out an order. By my sixth or seventh, we were knee deep in the lunch rush, and I had voided out three more mistakes. Within an hour, I had gotten stuff under control, and then


"I'd like the double-bacon cheddar combo meal, no onions, with the sports quart refill (here's my cup), and can I get cheese on my fries? Oh, and I have this coupon."

That's like, seventeen keystrokes, in order. Like, for real, dude. And there is no void key, clear key, or no sale--once you make a mistake, you have to go through a ten keystroke sequence to void the order, pop the register open and closed, and start over. The "no onions" is a red herring--there is no "no onions" button, since you don't reduce or increase the price to leave off a standard item. After about seven iterations, I finally settled on an intriguing strategy: since I'm a volunteer, my register doesn't have to come out even when the manager counts it, and the manager isn't accountable (I suspect this is why the manager was so eager to station me out front). So, I charged them for the sandwich and figured the coupon and the upgrades would cancel. Karma and stuff, or some junk. Whatever.

I would get the lady who can do math (and the sales tax!) in her head. I mean, I do it, too. But if it's off by less than fifty cents either way, hey, fuck it. This lady tells me that I did the tax wrong (I didn't do the tax at all--the 'puter added it in), and that she owes at least an extra thirty cents. I looked up at her, at the growing line behind her, smiled in a moment of what may have been mistaken as insanity, and said cheerfully, "Sorry, I don't work here," and gave her the change I had tallied.

It was so liberating!!

Lady asks for directions to The Outer Limits?

"Sorry, I don't work here."
Are you sure you charged me enough?
"Sorry, I don't work here."
Do you know where the napkins are?
"Yeah--red bin near the ketchup."
I was hoping you could get me some from behind the counter.
"I have no idea where other napkins are kept."
You don't know where there are any napkins?
"Sorry, I don't work here."

My respect for McDonald's employees and their other fast food brethren increased tenfold today. They deal with a huge cross-section of the American public on a daily basis, and we are a bunch of inconsiderate, selfish, greedy rat bastards, and your tolerance for us puts you somewhere between the Buddha and Mother Teresa on the good karma scale. All the same--if you ever run into a loathsome son of a bitch who you just can't please, or if you're having a bad day, or if you just feel a little non-linear and want to inject a little entropy into the universe, remember:

Smile broadly, make eye contact, and say, "Sorry... I don't work here."
This reminds me of a story...

Back in high school, I actually *did* work there. Well, at McDonald's. Jurph is right, the amount of stupidity that walks through a McDonald's in an average day is simply astounding. It definitely didn't help my cynical view of humanity much, either.

Either way, after a year of working there, at the prime age of 17, I was promoted to shift manager. That's right -- they trusted a 17-year-old who didn't even have a driver's license to run the show. I was vastly underpaid for the amount of responsibility and stress the job came with.. back then (4 years ago precisely) they paid me a mere $7/hour. And I took it gratefully, being 17, I foolishly thought that this was plenty of money for the job. It also got me out of the hot pink shirts that the crew had to wear, which was worth a damn lot. ;)

I started dating a crewmember. Of course, we know, this is against the rules.. I mean, you never know when a manager might show favor to a mere crewmember. I never did, because I couldn't even really think of a good way to even if I wanted to. Either way, I didn't think it mattered much because I was the opening manager, and she usually worked closing.

Anyways, somehow one of the salary managers found out. We all adored Anna, but she had a tendancy to do "the right thing" and she felt that "the right thing" in this case was to tell the store manager. This of course, was not really the right thing. I was leaving in 2 weeks for college anyways, what was the point? But sure enough, the store manager wasn't terribly thrilled. (for pete's sake, I was a KID..)

I was a crew chief again by the end of the day, my keys back in her hands. I still knew all the passwords, including the store manager's, and I should have done the prank I wanted to before I left. (Change the title on the receipts to say "Thank you for stopping at Burger King")

My attitude after that was somewhat.. jaded. The managers knew I knew how to count drawers, and take inventory, and do safety tests, and all that other manager crap, but if I didn't feel like doing any of it, I just said, "I don't know how to do that, I'm just a crewman."

"Can you go count the number of boxes of quarter-pounder patties for me?"
"I don't know how to do that, I'm just a crewman."
"Can you go take the temperatures on those meat patties?"
"I don't know how to do that, I'm just a crewman."
"Can you go clean the shake machine?"
"I don't know how to do that, I'm just a crewman."

It was quite liberating.

Note to the general noding public:

Don't shop at Target alone while wearing a red t-shirt. On the same note, don't shop at Wal-Mart alone while wearing a blue shirt.

I've done each of these at least once without realizing it until someone came up and asked me where to find XYZ shampoo or "the CD by that one band that they play on MTV all the time, my daughter really loves them..."

Now that I think about it, I've also inadvertently worn a blue (hey, blue's a cool color, what can I say?) polo shirt to Best Buy, and the same thing happened there.

The scariest thing is that almost
every time, I could answer these people's
questions without hesitation. The rest
of the time? Sorry, I don't work here.

Sorry, I don’t work here: A common response I’m forced to give the droves of idiots that insist upon asking me technical questions while I’m trying to finish some work in my school’s computer lab.

I think this is a common problem for many people that know anything about computers. It seems that almost every time I am feverishly trying to finish a report or paper that is due within hours someone will interrupt me. “Yeah, I’m having problems using * insert Microsoft program here * can you help me?” Their idiocy forces me to give reply with a death stare and a curt, “Sorry, I don’t work here perhaps a lab consultant can help them.”

Why do these people ask me to help them? I don’t feel as though I look like a computer nerd. Hell, I’m not even in a major related to computers. But yet I receive these questions on a regular basis. It makes me think that perhaps nerds do emit a pheromone that others can detect as suggested by Lisa Simpson.

It's late. You're just stopping in to buy one thing. You wander around the unfamiliar store, find what you need, and proceed towards the cattle race, drawn to the friendly numbered lights announcing that the check-out is open and available. You notice the new array of those self-scan check-outs. You look down the rest of the line of cash registers.

None of them are open.

You blink.
Nope, they're still closed.
"Surely not..." you begin muttering under your breath. Suddenly, a friend in a blue polyester smock appears at your side. Like a moth, you've not wandered far from the light of the only aisles that are lit, thus you stand in the large corral representing the height of the technological rationalization of society.

"Would you like to check out?" says your new friend.
You cast a meaningful glance towards the darkened check-out lanes, turn a quizzical brow to your employee guide, blink again, and begin to stammer "Ummm... yeah... where do I..."
"Right over here!" your guide presents the self-scan with a well rehearsed flourish.
"Sorry, I don't work here." There is no argument in your statement.
"Oh, don't worry. It's very easy--"
"I'm sure it is. I don't work here." Now it is his turn to blink. This was not covered in orientation. He seems to grope for the correct line.
You continue "I will not become a temporary employee. Call it consumer rebellion." You notice a grin appearing on the face peering over the partition from Customer Service.
"You want me to check out for you?" This is stated as if it is one of them new fangled ideas.
"Yes, Please."

He takes your item and seems to pick up the thread of his rehearsed presentation. You're busy wondering if you should try to explain that the success of the self-scans will allow a 75% reduction in check-out staff. You're busy wondering if you're being too annoying. You're busy wondering why that girl in Customer Service is still grinning like the Cheshire Cat. You're not paying attention but it certainly does look easy.

"...then you put the money in this part of the machine."
"Wha? Oh! How much is it?"
"It's printed right here on this screen."

The flourish has returned. You're still standing in the middle of the temporary employee corral, a good five feet from the machine. The irony of the situation seems to dawn on both of you simultaneously. He realizes that you are asking how much it costs, not where to find the total. You discover he expects you to interact with the machine. Before you can speak he turns to study the monitor.

"$3.62" he says.
You dig out four dollars and hand them over. Besides one bill being stubbornly rejected several times, things go smoothly. Your change jangles down into a tray after a few moments.

"Your change." Your bagged item is in his other outstretched hand.
"Thank you."

The girl in Customer Service is still smiling.
You don't know why.

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