Working at Jack in the Box

on November 28, 2016

In an empty Jack in the Box on Telegraph Avenue and 45th Street, a fast food worker wearing a black sweater vest and a short-sleeved dark red button-down shirt is moving slowly, trying to keep herself busy cleaning tables after the morning breakfast crowd had gone. All they left behind were burger wrappers and half-empty soda cups on tables; some had landed on the floor.

It’s an overcast Thursday morning. The cashier behind the counter says, “It’s slow,” commenting on the empty restaurant, and the other workers nod in total agreement.

A few minutes later, four Oakland trash collectors walk in wearing grey uniforms and wait for someone to show up behind the counter. A very excited employee rushes to the cashier station and takes their order.

After placing their orders, the trash collectors talk about how everybody in the neighborhood always complains about trash collecting. One of them says, “They think they can do the job better, I would like for them to try it just for one day. Shit!”

The other three guys burst into laughter.

“422.” The worker calls out the order number for the customers to come to the counter to collect their food.

“I’m getting food. I’ll be there soon. Just don’t let anyone touch it,” says a guy in a blue button-down shirt, jeans and brown shoes as he walks in with a headset attached to his right ear. He breaks the quietness, speaking loudly into the headset. “I’m going to finish when I get there. Just don’t let anyone touch it.” His intense loud voice fills the whole restaurant. After getting his food, he leaves in a hurry, still talking on the phone.

The restaurant goes back to normal. The only sound that can be heard is people unwrapping their burgers and sipping their drinks and having the quiet conversations that take place among friends over lunch.

It isn’t too long before three Spanish speakers, workers or contractors, perhaps, wearing very bright neon yellow and orange shirts, walk in. After ordering, they sit on stools at the counter facing the street. By that time, a line of five people has formed to place their orders. The sounds of the busy cash register keys and doors starts to get more frequent, and the worker behind the counter is not complaining anymore.

“Hi, sir, may I get your order?” rises above all other noises.

“430, 431.” The cashier calls out the order louder, and customers start making their way to the counter to pick up their food.

The quiet shop starts to sound more like a restaurant and less like a library.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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