Hamburger Man

I have got to remember, it is a fine memory, that soft naked lady God meant her to be.

That is how the song goes, but this is a different memory.  A thousand, maybe two thousand years ago I worked at the Burger Chef in my little suburb of Woodsdale.  This was back in the hills of Wheeling, West Virginia. It was a high school  job.  Mike Walen, who I also played football with at Triadelphia worked there too.  His nickname was The Wale.  Mike had a habit of yelling “Duke is on” or  “Duke is off”.   Duke was the older guy who managed the place for the owner.  If The Wale yelled “Duke is on”  everyone knew to put on their best behavior and sparkle things up a bit.  One day Duke somehow got into the building without The Wale knowing it.  The Wale did see Duke’s car out in front as he cooked french fries.  The Wale thought Duke had just arrived when actually Duke was standing right behind him.  The Wale bellowed out “Duke is on” and then turned to find Duke right behind him.

The hamburger dispensary was deliberately designed so customers could look into the cooking area.  Being able to see the entire process meant customers could decide for themselves about the cleanliness.  The place was kept very clean.  Hamburgers were cooked on a chain.  Never since then have I seen such a set up.  The raw patties were put on the chain and as it moved through flames on top and on the bottom the meat was cooked.  The device was like a conveyor belt and could turn out a lot of hamburgers.

Sometimes during exam periods West Liberty students would order hundreds of hamburgers.  To make the math simple all prices were in 15 cent increments.  Once you got to know the multiples of 15 making change was easy. Looking back it was amazing how much math and how many orders you could do at one time.

At the end of the day often there would be some stray cheeseburgers left over.  These became lunch the next day at high school.  A lot of stories still told today took place there.  The parking lot was a gathering place for teens at that time.

Often, particularly on Sundays, a line would build up of people waiting to purchase food.  Some fool would come in and stare at the menu printed on a large board over the counter area.  As the person stared everyone would get irate.  Frustrated I often said, “Next please, please next, can I help you or are you beyond help?”.   This would somehow get the attention of the gawker, and things would go on.

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The pay was less than a dollar an hour, but it kept my budget going.  Pickles for the hamburgers came in large wooden barrels,  the french fries were made fresh.  A large potato peeler machine that basically sanded the skin off operated in the back.  Each potato was put by hand into a device that cut  it into fries.  The Wale cooked the fries and did a good job.  Often he was making fries and dipping a few into the tarter sauce to eat while he worked.  This did his weight no good.

One night I was at the front counter and a customer burst through the front door.  The customer immediately flung a bag of hamburgers at me he had previously bought.  The customer yelled “I don’t have to eat this crap anymore”.   The man was very irate.  I ducked, and the hamburger sack flew into the back of the building.  Sort of panicking I told the man “I don’t cook these things, he does” and I pointed to the night manager.  Somehow they resolved the issue, but it was fortunate the counter was built in a way customers could not get to us.

Another incident I clearly remember because it was so bizarre. The hamburger patties came pre-made. You dropped them quickly on the conveyor chain and let them cook.  The process became so routine no one payed much attention to what was going on, or even closely looked at the finished product.  A customer came back to the counter with a hamburger he had just purchased.  He said he wanted to show it to the manager.  Opening the hamburger there it was.  Right in the middle of the cooked patty was a piece of cowhide.  It had the skin and hair still on it.  Something had gone wrong in the processing.  The manager said to the customer “What do you want me to do about it?”.  The customer said “I want another one”.   The manager was a smart ass, and could not resist.  He replied “We don’t have anymore like that”.  I was surprised the incident was resolved so easily.  The man got another burger and seemed satisfied.

It was my first real job.  I learned a lot.  I learned to show up, shut up, put up, and grow up.  I learned how to treat people, and I learned I could do a lot more in my head than I thought.  A lot more stories could be told about what went on at the Burger Chef, but to protect the people involved you don’t get to read them.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Mike’s blog, Kadizzled. He has generously agreed to look the other way while we pilfer his material that pertains to Wheeling.