The Harley Davidson chopper motored smoothly into the nearly empty parking lot. The lunch rush was over, and the middle-aged ladies who worked part-time from eleven to one had clocked out. That meant I had to help cover the counter, if needed . . . bad duty. However, that didn't happen much, since we had the least sales of any McDonald's in the
area, so the regular front window guys would usually be enough until late afternoon. There were no drive-thru windows in 1970, so everybody had to walk up to the counter. San Jose
This spring day had been quiet so far. That is until the Harley drove in. Sometimes a fight or two--occasionally even a minor car crash--would punctuate the lunch rush. We had the fights because our store was about halfway between two
high schools that were bitter rivals: Willow Glen and Pioneer. Willow Glen had the earlier lunch, and a lot of the guys who had cars would show up to profile and attract the dollies . . . the usual stuff. Then, the Pioneer crowd would hit just after they left and repeat the process. The kids from both schools were okay; in fact, a number of them worked at the store. San Jose
Sometimes the strutting and the testosterone would combine to set something off between the two groups. I only remember one real free for all. That was pretty cool. Of course, none of the employees got in the middle of it . . . we were only spectators. Our store manager called the cops, though. Bad for business, you know.
Generally, the mid-afternoon was my time to solo on the grill. During the lunch rush, I was the Number 2 man, cooking the buns and dressing the burgers with condiments. However, after the noontime rush was over (with a mix of business people and high school kids) the Number 1 grill man, Roy Givens the assistant manager, did paperwork, hung out, and smoked, so I got the grill to myself. It was a chance to improve my speed and clean up the total mess he made during the rush. Givens was fast--he and Marc Boyd were the fastest we had--they were always bragging how each was faster than the other was, as if anyone cared. Nevertheless, Givens was sloppy--although not as bad as Boyd, who was terrible. This, of course, drove the manager, Gary Carlisle, crazy.
was clean cut, trimmed out and ship-shape all the time, and wanted his unit (that's what the management and owner types called the restaurant--a unit) the same way. Gary
Anyway, the slow afternoon was my time to be the only grill man. At McDonald's "units" in the 1970's, being the grill man was the top. I'd been at it for a month or so, having moved up from fry man. That's what I was hired on as the previous September--a seventeen-year-old fry man. I wasn't complaining though. I got a forty-hour a week job (I guess
Carlisle liked my demeanor during the job interview) in an environment where most people were part-time employees. I could use the cash, all $1.60 an hour of it, minus ten cents an hour for the food I ate, of course. Hey, no problem, I figured. We all ate just before we went on shift, then again on break, and once more after clocking out. All the guys got their ten cents worth each day and every hour. Of course, I had to go and get a salad occasionally . . . just to counter the entire fast food intake.
See, in those days there were no salads at Mickey D's. Also, there were no sundaes, McRibs, chicken sandwiches, or any of the other menu stuff Ronald and friends have added in the ensuing four decades. They just had burgers, Big Macs, and those awful fish fillets with the crappy tartar sauce on the menu. Hell, no breakfasts either. We would have loved munching those egg biscuits for a dime. It didn't matter how limited our menu was, there was always some Gomer coming in and asking for something that no McDonald's had ever offered; hot dogs, chili, fried chicken . . . stupid shit all the time, man. The most memorable time for me was when I worked a shift with the night manager, Jeremy Garcia. Once in a while, if some lame-ass called in sick, the manager, Gary Carlisle--we called him Carpile behind his back (me too, even though I liked him . . . hey, we were teenagers . . . of course we had a nickname for the boss). Besides, it was his second in command, Givens, who gave him that handle, not any of us. Anyhow, Carpile would put one of us on the night shift to help out if they were short. We were such a slow store that, after the dinner rush, there would only be three guys working, including Garcia. Jeremy was without doubt the laziest worker on the whole crew, with the possible exception of his buddy, Dean Sanchez, who usually worked with him. Naturally, this meant, whichever unlucky stiff was assigned as the third man would end up doing all the work. Sanchez was such a screw-off that sometimes he would take off his shirt and be bare-chested during work hours, with just his grill apron half covering his torso. He and Garcia thought that was quite funny . . . and actually, it was.
One night, a woman came in and asked Garcia if we had any doughnuts. Jeremy looked at her sympathetically and said somberly, "Only on Thursdays. ma'am." I'm sure she came back on Thursday and pitched a fit when Carpile had to give her the bad news.
Now, I was on my own grill during the slow afternoon, looking forward to end of shift. 4:30 was it for my day. I started at 8:00 a.m., doing set-up. That's when you do all the BS to get the grill and other equipment ready for the 11:00 opening. Assemble the milk shake machine, get the food ready, prep the grill surface, and get the puke fish fillets ready. (Who went to McD's to order fish, anyway)? Grill sure beat being the fry man. As fry man, you had to haul up 100-pound sacks of potatoes from the basement. At least four or five sacks each morning. In those days, McDonald's French fries were homemade, not frozen. Each day, hundreds of pounds of potatoes were peeled, sliced, washed, rinsed, blanched, racked, cooked, salted, and bagged.
The good news was that, after a time, I was able to make a damn good-tasting French fry. Just ask my family, I make terrific homemade waffle cut fries to this day. The secret is the wash. Cut the fries, and then agitate them in a bowl of cold water. Drain. Repeat until they are firm and will snap apart in your hand. Then dry the fries before you pop them in the fryer. Liberal use of salt and chili powder helps even more.
The bad news was, I had to lift 100-pound sacks of potatoes (usually with a few rotten ones on the bottom) when I barely outweighed them. Did I mention that I was skinny? I was so skinny, that when I hired on at Mac's, I weighed about 110 pounds. So me and the spuds had a fine tussle four or five times every morning; as I tried hauling that 100-pounder up the metal stairs from the basement. That was the first part of the job that Givens trained me on that first day--hauling the bloated burlaps up the stairs. Then I had to peel the sons-of-bitches.
Speaking of potato hauling, the number one guy from our crew in that regard was Martin Gerdwagen. Martin was an ox, built like a beer truck--not overly tall, but solid. One afternoon, he decided to cut his trips up the stairs by half. Martin loaded a 100-pound sack of taters on each shoulder and somehow squeezed his fire hydrant frame and the two burlaps up the narrow staircase. Givens, the assistant manager, couldn't let that slide, and tried to carry two sacks up at once also. He made it, too. A couple of other guys had to prove themselves also. I loved it of course. With the burly boys trying to out macho each other, by the end of the day, there were so many taters stacked up by the peeler that I had my next morning's quota already covered.
That was all behind me, though, since I made it to the grill. Yep, the slow afternoon with the bit of independence that accompanied it was my second favorite part of the day. The most favorite part was doing the store set up. Because then I got to work with Miles. Miles Van Meter was the store's maintenance man. In at six . . . out at eleven. Miles was a couple of years older than I was, but way ahead of me on grow-up. Plus, he was the acknowledged coolest guy on the crew. Miles was a drummer in a local rock band. Not just a garage band, they got real gigs as an opening act for name bands that would appear in the area. They covered a lot of songs by The Who, Cream, and Nazz, plus some original tunes. Miles's hero was . . . Keith Moon, of course. Double bass drum and all . . . just like Keith. Miles had long hair, the only longhaired worker at any McDonald's there was at the time. Maybe ever, I don't know. The owner was always trying to get Carpile to make Miles cut his hair, or just to get rid of him all together, but Carpile liked him, and he did a damn good job of getting the outside of the store in shape.
always made sure that Miles and his long hair, however, were off the premises when the doors officially opened. Miles and I got along great; but I was just a kid, and couldn't party with him and keep up. I remember more than a few mornings when Miles looked like shit and was hung-over as hell from partying and playing the night before, but he would be out in the cold using a squeegee on the windows when I got in to work at eight . . . with a joint dangling from his mouth. Gary
Within a year, Miles left and went to work as a stage hand at the San Francisco Opera House, which paid real well because it was a union job. I don't know if he kept his music going or not. Later on, I did get his old job, for a time anyway; although I didn't continue his weed-on-the-job tradition. Not my style and I never liked that stuff anyway.
On this day, when that chopper pulled into the lot, however, it led to a change in my world. Back in those days there was a full glass front to McDonald's stores. You could easily see all the vehicles drive in. This was especially true in our case, since it was our slow time. I watched the bike pull in to a close-in parking space, and the rider dismount. He was tall, slender, and dark-haired. He moved with a casual purpose about his gait. He had leather pants with silver
Conchos on the outside edge of each leg spaced from knee to ankle. I looked closer at the bike. A real Harley chopper, shiny with chrome . . . I hadn't actually seen a real chopper before. I mean live, not like in those grade B biker movies of the day.
The guy came in to the empty lobby and ordered only a Coke. To drink it, he went outside and sat on one of the tables. Yes, he sat on the table, not on the bench at the table. Even more cool. When he turned to leave the lobby was when I'd seen it. In bold red letters across his back . . . HELLS ANGELS CALIFORNIA. My first thought was "You mean to tell me that Hells Angels hang out at McDonald's?" No matter, though. I had seen my first real Angel . . . not a big, ugly, biker looking dude, mind you. Not a wannabe who people thought was a biker, but who had never actually owned a motorcycle. No, he was a real, in the flesh, verifiable, genuine Hells Angel.
At that moment, the seed had been planted, and the spark was lit. I wanted to become a biker. Not a Hells Angel naturally . . . I knew they didn't take in guys who were 110-pound rotten-tater-toters . . . but a biker, nonetheless. A real, longhaired, it's time to hide your daughters, who-does-he-think-he-is, Biker. I didn't know the first thing about becoming a biker, of course. In fact, I barely knew anything about anything at that point . . . (except French fries). I just knew that I wanted to be one. Hey, so did a lot of people, I supposed.
I'm not saying I set my mind to it and pursued that goal with a single-minded purpose from that day forward. A lot of stuff would happen, good and bad, before I got myself focused. I had a powerful lot to learn and quite a bit of grow-up to get through.
But three and a half years later, I was in a motorcycle club, riding a chopped Harley, and spending a little time with the
Hells Angels. San Jose
Oh, and I never did find out who the Angel with the
Conchos was that day.