I’m not normally in town on Mondays, but I was this week, which happened to intersect with THE DARKEST SHAME OF MY LIFE, the every-other-week visit from my cleaning woman. Neither one of us wants me here while she’s working, and somehow I ended up at the newly opened McDonald’s in my neighborhood. They promised, when it was on the drawing board, that they wanted it to become a Starbucky gathering place, with free wifi, so I figured I’d take them up on it.
How many here have ever put on the paper hat of McDonald’s? I know, it’s a visor now, but it was a paper hat when most of us here were likely to work there. Working at Mickey D’s is the classic American first job, and I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve known who earned their first paychecks dishing up fries. I’m now mellow enough that I don’t mind little mistakes in my orders, figuring they’re payback on the millions of mistakes I’ve made in my own work.
This McDonald’s is in Detroit, and of course Detroit is an African-American city, so most of the kids working there are, as well. Also, Grosse Pointe kids get their first jobs clerking for Supreme Court justices or caddying for General Motors board members. Today, this crew is being overseen by a middle-aged woman, black, a clone of every other manager or assistant manager in every other McDonald’s in this part of the world.
When my friend Deb’s son was getting his training at his local McD’s, one of these women came into the room where they were learning the closing procedure and food-handling procedure and all the rest of it. It’s a lot for a 16-year-old to take in. She was carrying a tray filled with french fries. “MAC-Donald’s kicking y’all’s butts yet? How about something to eat.”
The woman Monday afternoon was shepherding her young workers with that mix of absolute authority and indulgent maternal instinct so necessary in this particular environment. One blocked an aisle I was trying to walk through, and she barked, “Make ROOM for this lady — she’s a customer!” before turning back to the kid she was sitting down with.
“Do you know your schedule?” she asked him.
“Um, yeah,” the kid said. Pause. “I think.”
“Tell it to me,” she ordered.
“Saturday, 3-9,” he tried.
“That’s right, honey. You’re doing good.”
It cannot be easy to run one of these places. You’re always hiring, always training, always ready to step in when one of your teenage workers decides not to show up on Saturday, having not yet learned the courtesy of two weeks’ notice. The owner of Zingerman’s once described dishwashing positions as something that change on almost an hourly basis, and any restaurant owner too good to handle that duty isn’t long for the business. You don’t have that problem at McDonald’s, but you better not be too proud to make coffee and shake salt over the fries.
I passed the time writing a letter of recommendation for one of my former students, now trying to get into Berkeley’s documentary program. The advantage of dealing with digital files is, the selection committee won’t be able to see grease smears on the paper.
The kid who took my order was obviously a greenhorn, but like I said: No biggie. The time to worry is when people who are plainly overqualified for the work start turning up behind the counter. During the absolute worst of the recession, I had my bags at Trader Joe’s packed by a guy who took enormous care to use every inch of space wisely. I walked out with two perfectly balanced bags and thought God, I hope this man didn’t go to engineering school.
So. How was your Monday? I see the Petraeus story is getting weirder (and more understandable) by the day, now that we know it features that fixture of Washington scandal — a man sending around shirtless photos of himself:
A federal agent who launched the investigation that ultimately led to the resignation of Central Intelligence Agency chief David Petraeus was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors’ concerns that he had become personally involved in the case, according to officials familiar with the probe.
New details about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the case suggest that even as the bureau delved into Mr. Petraeus’s personal life, the agency had to address questionable conduct by one of its own—including allegedly sending shirtless photos of himself to a woman involved in the case.
May I just offer this word of advice to the men of the world — from Detroit judges to U.S. Congressmen — who feel compelled to send seminude photos of yourself to women you want to bag? Don’t. It doesn’t work. Women appreciate a nice-looking man, sure, but our brains don’t really work like that. Yours do, but not ours. Send a funny note instead, or an iTunes mix, or whatever. She’ll thank you, and you’ll be less likely to end up famous for the wrong reason.
On a more serious note, a Q&A with an expert on education policy worldwide. We’re doing it wrong:
When we think about market mechanisms in education, we think about managing consumer demand. It’s all about school choice.
And then you look at Shanghai, which also believes in market mechanisms, but has a totally different strategy. They operate on the supply side. What Shanghai has done is create incentives to attract the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms. And to get the best principals into the toughest schools. It’s the same kind of philosophy, based on market mechanisms. But they turned the problem on its head and achieved a remarkable improvement in educational outcomes.
Having dispensed with Monday — during which Sunday’s 70-degree temperatures fell 35 degrees — Tuesday is looking far better. Let’s hope so.