You Want Fries with That?
A White Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage
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". . . proves beyond a doubt that higher education really is worth it."
Advertising executive Prioleau Alexander was sick of his job. His hours were awful, his clients rude and ungracious. He constantly found himself “swallowing grenades for clients or bosses who don’t appreciate your efforts.” So, he did what many of us dream of doing—he quit.
He spent time trying to live the simple life, to “stop spending so much damn money, learn to appreciate the simple things in life, and be like that dude on Kung Fu.” At a formal party with his wife, a successful lawyer asked him about his job. On a whim, Alexander announced he worked as a pizza delivery guy. The lawyer’s reaction—stunned disbelief and then a discreet melting away into the crowd—got Alexander thinking. What would it be like to be a career pizza guy? A forty-something fast-food employee? A construction worker? Would it be easier to have a “regular-guy job” serving ice-cream than kow-towing to the whims of advertising clients?
Over the next year, Alexander worked as, among other things, an ice-cream scooper, an emergency room tech, a construction site cleaner, a fast-food cashier, and, yes, a pizza delivery guy.
The charm of You Want Fries With That? does not lie in the humor of a mature and intelligent adult male who is used to a desk job handing out pink spoons of ice cream samples for a living. Instead, the charm lies in Alexander’s ability to wittily describe the frustrations and through-the-looking-glass absurdities of America’s under-paid, under-respected jobs.
When Alexander works as a pizza delivery guy, he rants at the number of customers who give the pizza place their address, yet don’t have address numbers up on their homes: “If there is one aspect of the job that tortures a driver like flaming bamboo shoots shoved under his fingernails, it is this: the absence of numbers on houses… How are the cops supposed to find you? The repairman? The cable guy? The pizza guy? Ed McMahon?”
At the ice-cream parlor and fast-food restaurant, Alexander marvels at the rudeness of customers who never say “Thank you,” who taste innumerable sample spoons of ice cream without purchasing any, and who change their orders right after he has verbally confirmed it twice and hit the button of no return, finalizing the order which must now be voided personally by the manager.
His chapter on working as a construction site clean-up guy is perhaps the best. Alexander describes his encounters with the general contractor, framers, electricians, HVAC men, plumbers, sheet-rockers, tile guys, and trim carpenters with hilarious detail. He simultaneously points out the shockingly helter-skelter nature of construction as well as his amazement at the talent, artistry, and hard work of each of the workers.
You Want Fries With That? is a delightful book. In a way, it is the ultimate tribute to the common man. “You could lay off half the white-collar people in the United States and nothing bad would happen,” Alexander decides at the end of his white-collarless year. “In fact, productivity would probably skyrocket… Now, imagine an America where the fast-food employees walk off the job for a week… It would be anarchy…complete and utter mayhem.”
Prioleau’s charming narrative manages to capture every gripe ever expressed at minimum wage jobs, right down to describing the often ridiculous rules, inadequate training, and laughably rude customers. Prioleau proves beyond a doubt that higher education really is worth it.
Reviewer: Michelle Kerns