Behind a McDonald's Register

For the past three years, the editors of web magazine have been sending interviewers all over the United States to talk with people about their work. Inspired by Studs Terkel's seminal oral history, Working, they've spoken with CEOs, temps, bounty hunters, Prozac salesmen, heavy metal roadies, congressmen and supermodels, among many others, asking these people what their jobs are really like and how they make them feel about themselves. The result is Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs at The Turn of The Millennium.

AlterNet will be excerpting a number of chapters from Gig, including this portrait of Kysha, a 16-year-old McDonald's Crew Member is thankful to make $5.15 an hour to support her family, thinks "some boys are just disgusting," and will always remember McD's because it gave her the confidence to say, "There's nothing I can't do."

We think readers will enjoy these vivid and varied monologues from American workers, not because they are so shocking, but because from the mouths of these ordinary and overlooked citizens come the most fascinating things. As Gig co-editor Marisa Bowe explains, "We weren't trying to say anything in particular about the people we interviewed. We think they speak pretty well for themselves."

McDonald's Crew Member Kysha Lewin
Interviewed by Ingrid Hughes

I'm sixteen and a half. I go to Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, New Jersey. I'm in tenth grade. Last year, I decided I needed a job because it's like only my Mom, you know? She's trying to take care of the bills, and it's hard for her. So I don't get allowance, and I'm still a child, I want to have fun, to go out, not just sit on the porch crying. So when I turned fifteen, I decided that I wanted to work. I heard that McDonald's would hire you at fifteen and I came and talked to the managers.

They asked what kind of things you do -- do you communicate with people well? Are you good at talking to them? Understanding what they're saying, you know? They asked me do I like kids because they wanted me to do birthday parties for little kids. I'm like the hostess sometimes. And I love kids. And I guess they liked me, you know, because they hired me.

It was kind of difficult at first. I had to try to get to know the register, to listen and concentrate on what the person's ordering and then find the buttons on the board -- it took me like two days or so to really get to understand it. But everybody was very relaxed, kinda like, "It's just gonna take you some time to get used to it." They were very patient with me, even the customers were patient. And now it's a breeze. I just pick up stuff easily. I'm a good listener, a person that loves to follow directions.

The only real thing with this job is you have to make sure you're always busy. Because McDonald's is always busy. Make sure everything is stocked, cleaned -- if you don't have a customer to serve, maybe somebody else has a customer, try to help them out, back them up, get the food, you know? Look at the screen on their register and see what food they don't already have. Go get it. Work together.

They have a lot of rules, but it's not like rule crazy. They've only had one meeting while I've been here where they was like basically reviewing the rules and roles and stuff. It's really pretty straightforward, like with the balloon situation -- we just always have to make sure there's balloons in the lobby cause, you know, we want to make the kids happy. And we have to sweep and mop every hour. And we have this thing, it's like a timer, and when it goes off, everybody in the place has to go and sanitize their hands. There's like a liquid that you rub on that dries off real quick. You have to make sure you go do that or you get in trouble.

The other rules are basically you have to be on time, you have to stock, clean up, help out. They also have a rule for fries. You have to be sixteen to make fries. If you're fifteen you can only stuff em, you can't pick em up outta the fryer. I think it's a dumb rule -- I mean, what are we supposed to do if it gets busy and there's nobody at the fries but you and you're fifteen? Sit and wait? Then the customer gets mad. Dumb rule, but whatever. Now I'm sixteen, so I make fries sometimes. I just started doing that. I don't make sandwiches because you have to be eighteen before you can work on the grill. I wish I worked the grill. It's easier and it's better than working in the front. Cause all you do is like make sandwiches and there's always somebody you can talk to there and you don't have to deal with the customers, which is the hard part.

Some of the customers can be friendly, some can just have an attitude, and some try to make you a fool. I've seen it many a times. Like, for instance, I was working the drive-through and the guy said he was missing his fries, right? So I gave him a fry. He came back into McDonald's and told the manager that he was missing his fries. He was trying to just get another fry for free. I went and told the manager. I don't know why they think they can get over like that. These people are crazy. They say the customer is always right, but personally, me, I don't let em get away with that. It makes me mad. I mean, it's costing the boss money and if he loses money then we lose money because we lose our hours and I can't have that.

I work about twenty hours a week, after school and weekends. When I turned sixteen they wanted me to take more hours but my mom didn't want me to mess up my school. So I just stayed around twenty. With schoolwork, I guess it's a lot. But I got God in my life, I have a lot of faith, I'm not tired. I'm young and have a lot of energy.

I make five-fifteen an hour and I give my mother about half of my check because it helps. I mean, I live with my eleven year old brother, my four year old sister and my eight month old baby sister and we get along real well, but my mother works hard. I see how hard. She used to be so confident, you know? And now she's struggling trying to support us on her own. My father's in Virginia. My parents are divorced but they're like back together -- it's like a long distance relationship. But my mother's the one that's supporting us. She works in a nursing home. It means a lot to her that I'm working and helping out. She's covered up with bills and stuff. I see what she's going through and I want to help her, you know? She gets sick sometimes, real sick, asthma. And the church helps out some, but still, it's just her. And sometimes I see her all depressed and crying and stuff over bills and I feel bad. I feel so bad for her. I know she did a lot for me and I want to do the same thing in return.

My mother says she feels bad about how much I'm working. I say don't worry about it, you know? The thing is, it's fun. The customers and the managers aren't great -- my boss, he has a little attitude. Like he yelled at me one time when I was two minutes late, after I worked here for a year and I was never late. It was only two minutes. I was really upset. My mom was mad too. But mostly, it's fun. There's frustration but, you know, you keep yourself motivated, I don't know how. (Laughs.) But you do. I mean, it's just like -- I know I have to go to work, I have to find some way to go to work, and right now, I'm having fun, you know? I'm young. It's my first job. I'm getting to know people and I look forward to coming to McDonald's.

I got a lot of friends here. They're real cool to talk to, chill with, go out with. There's turnover -- some people aren't used to working and they get lazy or they don't come to work and get fired, or you know, if they don't obey the rules they have to go -- but still, the majority of my friends work here. And cute boys come through the drive-through and flirt. Like, you know, you catch their eye or whatever and they ask you for your phone number. (Laughs.) I don't ever give out my number. I ask them for theirs, and I decide if I want to call them or not. I'm not giving my number cause eehhhhh, you know, some people like to play on the phone and some boys are just disgusting. But it's nice sometimes. It makes me happy.

I know work won't be fun my whole life. Cause work is not always about fun and games. There comes a time when you have to be serious about what you're doing, you know? Like if I woulda got like a business job, it would be totally different, not like McDonald's. McDonald's is fast and crazy.

So it won't always be this fun, but I don't want to stay here too long anyway. I want to get out of the fast food business. I was supposed to get a raise after three months, but I never got it. I told my boss and he never gave it to me, you know? So I keep working, but I have my eye on leaving. I know I can always get a job anywhere. The type of experience I got here, I can always get a job.

But I'll always be grateful to McDonald's, you know? The majority of people I know first started here or some other kind of fast food place before they got to a good job, a better job. I'd like to do something with hair or maybe clothes. Or I want to get a job working in the hospital -- in the nursery with the little babies. I love little kids. I can't wait till I get older so I can have kids. I adore my sisters and my brothers, spoil them. So I'd like the hospital. But whatever happens, a year from now, I'm gonna have a better job. I have a lot of confidence in myself. There's nothing I can't do. I'm fine.

For more Gig interviews, visit the Gig archive at or buy Gig at Barnes&

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.