Forget mandatory military service. Everyone should be required to work two years in retail. I actually did a fair amount of retail in my high school and college years — waitressing, sales jobs in clothing stores, etc. But I’ve realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d just scream at the patrons and get fired, probably on the first day.
During my years working up near the university, I developed a love affair with a fast food Mexican grill that I have successfully continued in my retirement, courtesy of their multitude of locations. If they’d only had a Frequent Eater stock option program, I’d be a majority shareholder by now. Several times a week, I can still be found plunking my $6.23 on the counter and walking away with two Health-Mex chicken tacos.
I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people place orders while I’m waiting for mine and I can’t fathom how cashiers in fast food places maintain their sanity. But they are always relentlessly nice. And patient. And smiling.
I’m not privy to what these poor folks do when they go home but if it were me, I’d start out by screaming in my car at 150 decibels. (I concede that this would not work as well on a bus.) Imagine a day of orders like this:
Customer: What’s in the Fish Taco Especial?
Cashier (pointing to the large-print menu board that specifically states what it contains): Beer-battered fish, guacamole, cheese, and cilantro, on your choice of corn or flour tortilla.
Customer: Is it good?
Cashier: Very good. It’s one of our signature menu items.
Customer: So what does es-special mean?
Cashier: That’s Spanish for “special.”
Customer: Oh. What kind of cheese is in it?
Cashier: Cheddar and Jack.
Customer: Could I have Swiss instead?
Cashier: We don’t actually have Swiss, but we could leave out the cheese if you prefer.
Customer: If I get a hamburger, can I get Swiss?
Cashier (amazingly, still smiling): This is a Mexican restaurant so we don’t have hamburgers. May I recommend our Grilled Steak Taco instead?
Customer: What’s in that?
Cashier (pointing to the menu board again): Grilled steak, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, and salsa on your choice of tortilla. You can have it as a two-taco plate with tortilla chips and pinto beans, or rice or black beans. I highly recommend the pinto beans.
Customer: Could I get just one taco with chips and no cheese, and could you wrap it in lettuce instead of a tortilla? I’m kind of doing this low-carb thing.
Casher: Well, let me ask the manager, but I think we could do that.
Customer: Is the salsa spicy? I don’t really like spicy.
Cashier: No, not real spicy. But I might recommend that you add your own salsa from our excellent salsa bar right over there. It has everything from mild to “picante,” which means really spicy.
Customer: Well, maybe I’ll get that. I’d like the steak well done. I don’t want any of that Mad Cow stuff.
Cashier: Um, okay. So, one Grilled Steak Taco, well done, with guacamole, no cheese, wrapped in a lettuce leaf, no salsa, with chips. Would you like a drink with that?
Customer: I’ll have a chocolate milkshake.
Cashier: I’m sorry we don’t have milkshakes but we have
Mexican beer, plus a variety of soft drinks.
Customer: Oh. Just water then. (Cell phone rings. To cashier:) Hold on, I’ve got a call coming in. (To caller:) I’m trying to order lunch and they can’t seem to get my order straight.
Cashier: That will be $3.85.
Customer: Darn. I think I left my wallet in my other purse.
Here’s how this would have gone down if I were the cashier:
Inga: Look at the menu board! If you want a burger, go to Jack in the Box! Leave! Come back when you actually want to order! You are so friggin’ ANNOYING! … which is probably why I don’t have to worry about being hired in the fast food biz any time soon.
* Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life every other week in The La Jolla Light. Reach her at