A lot of people have a lot of bad things to say about McDonald's, especially after Morgan Spurlock's 2004 movie Supersize Me. I have a few criticisms along those lines too, and plenty for Spurlock, but that's not what this is about.
I've come to praise McDonald's, not to bury it.
Because McDonald's helped to make me what I am today.
It says in the Bible that a prophet has no honor in his hometown, and while I definitely never saw myself as a prophet, I understand what this saying is getting at: the people who think they've known you all of your life will never let you change, and will ask you who you think you're trying to be when you do something different from what they expect of you. This was the case with me in high school. Academically I was near the top, but socially Rodney Dangerfield was getting more respect than me.
That changed when I got a job at McDonald's. You see, while I lived and went to school in East Orange, McDonald's was in West Orange. As a result, this change of venue introduced me to people who didn't know me, and had no preconceived ideas of what I acted like. It was great. I was able to re-invent myself without anyone mocking me for "trying to be something that I wasn't." To them, the West Orange Keith was the real Keith, and I gained a great deal of self-confidence and several life-long friends as a result of working at the Golden Arches.
But the self-confidence wasn't just about the social skills. It was also about learning skills that would help me outside of McDonald's. One of those was the value of a job well done the first time. At home my parents would just yell at me for a poorly done job, but at McDonald's they could fire me, and I didn't want that.
Another was the value of teamwork. I was not an athletic kid, so the only team I was on at East Orange High School was the math team. But at McDonald's I was a valued part of a team because I could "play any position" and play with anyone. I could do fries, work register, make shakes, manage the bin, run the grill; you name it, I could do it. They could put me anywhere someone was needed, and because of that, I got a lot of hours. And, of course, being that valued team member meant that everyone respected me. What a great feeling that was!
Perhaps the most important thing I learned from my time at McDonald's is how to treat service people. Having been the register person who got yelled at by a customer for something that was beyond my control, I am absolutely patient and understanding with waitresses, cashiers, and other front line service people. With that in mind, I think that everyone should have to spend a few weeks running a fast food cash register.
McDonald's was an excellent apprenticeship for all the other things I would do in my life, and that's a very important word to consider. In an age where people are fighting for McDonald's employees to make enough money to support their families, it's important to consider that a fast food job is not supposed to be something you spend the rest of your life doing. It's a low-paid apprenticeship that you're supposed to be able to graduate from to something better.
I served my apprenticeship from 1972 to 1977.