Memoirs of a 24/7 Chain Diner

Ella Durden

© Copyright 2024 by Ella Durden

Photo by Izz R on Unsplash
Photo by Izz R on Unsplash

The last time I saw him, we were standing outside. It was storming. We stood underneath the canopy of the restaurant, listening to the rain pelt down against the metal and bounce from it, creating deep puddles in the potholes of the parking lot. Rich didn’t smoke anymore, he vaped, and every now and then he would exhale a cherry scented cloud out of his lips. 

Thunder boomed, and then lightning crashed almost exactly at the same time. I think in my mind, I was trying to be the last one outside. Dan had gone inside after the last strike, and another girl that I now forget the name of had gone in before that. I don’t know what I was trying to prove.

So, you’re quitting?”

It was about the start of August, I was going to hold off on quitting until just before school began, but something in me felt restless - tired of pouring coffee and scrubbing dishes. I didn’t like the people I worked with, I didn’t like working in general.

“Yeah, yeah man.”

I had worked there for a year now, a year and three months, I think. I wanted to be able to brag about it. That I lasted over the average turnover rate. We didn’t talk about why I was quitting. Instead, he told me to keep in contact with him over Facebook. I smiled. I never downloaded Facebook. But I think it was one of the nicest things someone had said to me at the time. To be considered like that.

Thunder clapped, and lightning shot against the pavement. It ricocheted through my eardrums, causing my head to spin. We both wordlessly agreed that whatever standoff this was, it was done - finished, and hurried inside.

It's odd - to think about how much someone can care about you without them being related to you, without knowing about you before this job - and most likely not knowing you after - without you giving something in return. Without any ties. Writing this now - I can’t remember the last time I talked to anyone in this story.

But the first time I told someone I had tried to kill myself; it was after I had clocked out of work. It was about ten minutes after nine, and I was sitting at our high top with my backpack on the stool next to me, and my jacket draped over my shoulders. Dan asked me how I was, and I sat there silent for a moment, before I confessed what had happened the weekend before. I wouldn’t tell my best friend until a year later.

Dan didn’t say much. He rolled his eyes and said, “now why would you do that?”.

Him and I never really got along. I worked the shift before him, and half the time when he came in, I just hadn’t done all the prep work. I still had dishes to wash, I still had things to do - orange juice to make - and each time he would come in with a huff and lecture me, take the brush from my hands and begin to do the dishes. Sometimes I’d help. Sometimes - If I wasn’t angry at him for taking the brush out of my hands.

But, once we finished everything, we would roll on like always. Dan was a compulsive liar. He told just about every new employee - including myself - about how he used to own the 7/11 near our store. If you walked into the store however, sometimes Mike - the ginger working night shifts - or a brunette woman working the afternoons - would ask “Did the “old owner” tell you about us?” with enough sarcasm it could poison the air. Dan had never owned 7/11, in fact, I think he was banned from the store or something. Either way, each night while I waited for my mom to pick me up, I’d sit atop the high counter and listen to him regale me with his tales - from owning expensive guitars, to the motorcycles, to his studio and the musical tours he went on. And sometimes I’d complain about school if given the chance, or something ridiculously mundane. 

That night he didn’t, he offered to teach me how to drive, and asked what I wanted to do for my future.

Sometimes, I’d sit out on the smoke breaks with everyone too. I didn’t smoke - and I don’t have any plans on starting anything. But I’d sit there and listen to all the gossip and stories that mingled through the air. The number of breaks taken got so bad that everyone in the store had to sign a paper pledging they would “shorten down their time outside”. I signed too, despite being sixteen and only experiencing secondhand smoke. I thought it was funny.

One time, my coworker Kiesha and I sat out back, the dumpster a few feet away from us as a cigarette sat between her fingers. We were perched up on old milk plastic cartons that were still a bit wet from the rain. She told me how her mother never showed up to her basketball games. How her mom was absent. And I thought back to how her and Michaela told me they would come to the school's musical if I was in it, how they’d cheer me on and say, “that's my girl Ella up there!”.

The only time I had been a part of my school's production, my mom didn’t show up - I remember waiting out in the cold for her to come and get me on our opening night.

And I don’t think people really get that when I tell them about my past job. I think a lot of my friends, when I tell them the funny stories about working at a crappy chain restaurant, they see a lot of the people I talk about as characters - stereotypes. Where they don’t see the people in the stories. When I told my friend how I saw Kiesha and Michaela at a restaurant a few days ago, they asked me “can they afford that?” and it left me dumbstruck. That someone could think that first.

I could write about not judging a book by its cover, or something about first impressions, but I think that's stupid. I think that's a stupid way to summarize a year and three months.

When spring comes, and I graduate, the place I’ll miss the most is a job I had in my junior year. I’ll miss when it rained, and a rainbow would spread across the sky like a dollop of paint - streaky and opaque in some spots. I’ll miss walking to 7/11 after working, where the humid air hung to my clothes, and getting a free slushy from Mike that would stain my teeth red. I’ll miss all the firsts I’ve had. I’ll miss all the people I’ve met. I’ll miss pouring coffee and scrubbing dishes. 

Ella Durden is an eighteen-year-old author in Bel Air Maryland. She currently focuses her time on fictional stories relating to the supernatural and regular slice of life moments. Starting this fall – she will be attending Loyola University, majoring in English and Secondary Education.

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