Christmas Breeze – Memoirs Of An Illegal Alien Part 8

The schedule I was given at Mc Donald’s allowed me to avoid being in the awkward situation of having to quit my other job. Plus it was 3 weeks before Christmas and any extra money would be good. I would be working from 4:00pm to 8:00p. The bus ran until 9.00 pm so I would not have to depend on Aunt Fern to pick me up after work. My first day at Mc Donald’s was orientation. Once I got there I was given a uniform. It was a red corduroy type shirt and pants with matching hat. Walking behind the counter of the McDonald’s restaurant was strange. It was a different “view” behind the counter becoming a server as opposed to being a paying customer enjoying the food.

I met the night shift manager Brad who gave me a basic orientation. I was given a time card and taught how to punch the time clock. Brad gave me a tour of my new work environment, by showing me, the supply room, bathrooms, freezers, and ,and the dumpster in the back of the building where garbage would be disposed of frequently throughout the day. My first day I was trained on the grill. My job would be to cook the hamburgers and pass them to the sandwich maker. The system was really something. Everyone had a station and it was their job to hand off his or her piece to the other station. The cashier was the first cog. The hamburger cook was the second cog in the wheel. Next was the sandwich maker and then the person (usually the cashier or her helper) who completed the order by placing the food on a tray or a “to go bag” for the customer. The sandwich maker was the most important cog in the weekly as everyone depended on him. Based on how quickly and accurately he made the sandwiches, had a direct impact on the movement and flow of the customers in line, and the subsequent pressures the other team members were subjected to from both customers and management.

The cooking area was hot and trying to keep up with the sandwich maker and the orders was hectic but within a week I got the hang of it. I quickly became friends with the sandwich maker who was on my shift. He was right beside me so it was natural. His name was Damian. He was going to school in the days to be a graphic artist. He road a motorbike to work talked a lot and loved to sing. He told me about his family, his girlfriends and just personal things that I was not comfortable with. He was a chain smoker and took breaks to go out side and smoke.

Every second word out of his month was a swear word. Now I was used to hearing adults in Jamaica swear occasionally but he seemed to be swearing just for the sake of it. He even used a few Jamaican swear words to tease me and mentioned he learned it from a Jamaican who use to work there. He asked me about Jamaica and if I smoked “ganja”. When I told him no he did not believe me. There is nothing I could tell him different. He asked if I knew Bob Marley. I was tempted to say yes but did not because it would probably start a new conversation and he would be convinced that I smoke Ganja. Every now and again he would sing, “Get Up Stand Up” just to tease me. Overall he was a fun guy and made the shift go by really quick.

One of the things that disturbed me the first few weeks working at Mc Donald’s was the amount of food that was thrown out. There was a timer everywhere and if the food was not sold it had to be thrown out. All I could think about was how many people around the world and even in Jamaica would love this food they are throwing out. I never asked but soon learned that food poisoning from stale food was the concern.

Everything was going great the first 2 weeks. But in the third week things changed. It was the week of Christmas. One of the cashiers had quit and I was asked to train on the register. Damian had a ball with that teasing me about trading in my pants for a dress.

The training meant I would have to stay an extra half hour. I had some Initial concern because the last bus was at 9:45 pm but my boss assured me that I would havetime to reach the bus stop. The bus system was always good and for the first 2 days all went well. Then on the third day things went wrong. The cashier who was supposed to relieve me came 10 minutes late. By the time I punched out and ran to the bus stop I saw the back of the bus leaving. I now had 3 choices.

Option number one was to go back and ask one of the other employees for a ride home. This was a little risky because I may blow my cover if they were invited in the house or someone saw me and called me by my name.

Option number two was to call Aunt Fern and ask her to pick me up. I would probably be disturbing her restful evening. I still felt guilty about her picking me up from the cleaning job and just did not want to bother her.

The third option was to walk home. The distance did not seem that far and I could get some fresh air while taking in the great Christmas decorations every where. I choose option number three. It was the option that would teach me some valuable lessons about myself and also about Christmas in Miami.

Before making the final decision to use option three I thought about the gas demonstrations in Jamaica that I had experienced. I remember during one demonstration I had to walk from Kingston to Forest Hills. The distant from Burger King to Aunt Fern seemed to be about the same.

As I started to walk the sweat I had worked up dried up really quickly. It was a little cooler than normal. Actually it was very cool. I thought to myself that I was not outside this late or long on a normal night so this must be normal.

It felt like Christmas breeze in Jamaica and my mind drifted to thoughts of home. I soon realized it was more like Christmas Freeze instead of Christmas Breeze. I stuck my hands in my pocket and started walking faster. I also grabbed the shirt I had in the bag that I carried my morning work clothes in and put it over my uniform. That did not help much. With every few steps I took it got windier & colder. The cars passing by did not help as they generated wind. As it got colder I walked faster. By now I had goose pimples all over my body, my face was frozen and my nose was running.

When I walked fast it got colder. When I walked slow I was prolonging the time I was in the cold. The Christmas lights and decorations I passed along the way was now irrelevant as my goal was now to get to a warm place…home. I had underestimated the time it would take to walk home. The straight roads that are in the US are very deceiving. With each phone booth I passed I thought of calling Aunt Fern but my guilt stopped me. I also felt I had to do this on my own.

As I walked my thoughts were on the warmth of Jamaica. I kept wondering how could someone live in this cold weather. I had done an hour of walking and finally started to see signs of me getting closer to home. The avenue I lived on was in view. I wanted to run but the thought of more wind against my face stopped me.

As I got closer to the house I got excited. I thought to myself, “Warmth is almost there”. My hands were already in my pocket so in one quick swoop I was able to grab my keys and open the door. “Warmth at long last I thought” to myself as I closed the door.

“Hello sir “, was the greeting I got from Aunt Fern. She was angry.

“Good night Aunty”, I replied.

She then proceeded to tell me how worried everyone was and it was irresponsible of me not to call. She had called the restaurant to learn that I had left over 2 hours ago. I knew she was very unhappy & also I felt bad but all that was on my mind was a hot shower. I think she realized this as I was shivering. I had nothing I could sayto her and she could see that. I don’t think any excuse would have worked. I listened to her as she continued to repramand me and said I would not do it again. She then handed me a jacket.

“Try this after your shower and let me know if it fits. There is a cold front passing through all this week and you will need something to keep to warm,” she said as she handed me the navy blue jacket.

“Thanks Aunty”, I replied.

“It is not normally cold here in Miami but these occasional cold fronts can make it uncomfortable”, she explained as I headed to the bathroom. “Have a good night and there is a blanket on the bed for you”

“Good night Aunty” was all I could say.

As I stepped into the hot shower I thought to myself “If this is Florida Christmas breeze take me back to Jamaica right away.”

From that day on till the end of winter that jacket became my best friend and was always in my bag. I even bought some gloves too. Just could not find any ear muffs…

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash