My Job: Tacos, but mostly shenanigans

There’s a good chance you’ve never been to a Taco John’s. The reason I think that is because I’ve never met anyone outside the Midwest who’s even heard of it. It’s essentially Taco Bell but with higher quality ingredients — like eating at Carl’s Jr instead of McDonald’s.

Well, my mother was a manager at one, and my grandfather owned the store. Or rather, he owned the local franchise. Or maybe just the building. I don’t really know. At any rate, I started working about 2-10 hours a week when I was about 11 because child labor laws don’t apply if the person who would sue on your behalf is the person who’s hiring you in the first place.

It developed into more of an actual part-time job when I was about 15, and I thank God for my high metabolism because I ate so much food there. My favorite dish was one I invented myself. I called it “The Animal.”

A picture of this beast is lying around deep in the unused bowels of an old laptop’s hard drive somewhere. It was the biggest plate we had (the one we served large salads on) absolutely filled up with ground beef, steak, grilled chicken, fried chicken, some other delicious protein I’m forgetting, and topped with about a mountain of cheese and ranch dressing. It was glorious. If I wasn’t getting free meals, and if I was actually paying for my food like some kind of fucking peasant, it probably would have cost around $12-15, and this is a fast food restaurant where a regular taco is, like, a dollar. I’d estimate the number of calories at somewhere around a billion.

If you’ve never had Potato Oles, find them. The seasoning they sprinkle on them is Top Secret, and the only people who know its contents outside the company is the NSA. You can probably find it on Pinterest.

Here are some fun stories and conversations from my days of working there:

— — — — — — — — — —

I was manning the drive-thru and got one of those customers who think they can mess with us and get away with it. Not a chance. I am a professional prankster. I’ve got my shit together. Plus I was taking Spanish 1 at the time.

Me “Thank you for stopping at Taco John’s; how can I help you?”

Male teen, probably 14 years old “Yeah…. umm…. I’ll have….. three el tacos… and…. an el Coke-o…. and some el Potato Oles-o…..”

I could hear his friends laughing in the background. We get these every once in a while.

Me “Gracias. Tu quieres tres tacos, un refresco con Coke, y las papas redondas. Si?”

The Idiot “………..what?”

No more laughing.

Me “Seis dolares y veinte tres, por favor. Venga al ventana.”

My boss (aka my mom) told me not to do that anymore.

— — — — — — — — — —

There’s a bank nearby that had gotten robbed the previous day, for the third time in the past couple years. In the tiny village of about 15,000 people where I grew up in North Dakota, this was pretty much the biggest news since the 1997 flood.

I was at work, and it was a slow afternoon. We were talking about the robbery, what we heard about what happened, what the newspaper was saying… I wondered aloud an interesting question about the robbery. At least, I thought it was interesting. It was a question that was vitally important to my everyday life. It was a question worth asking them, even.

We were running out of $1 bills or something, so my supervisor asked if anyone wanted to run over and exchange some $20 bills. I volunteered immediately and enthusiastically. Field trip!

Plus, I’d get to ask my question! It’s something I would do if I were robbing a bank….

I went down the street to the bank, with the money. I went in, of course choosing the counter with the woman who was in her late 20s and attractive. As is the case with logistical administrative stuff in my life, I had absolutely no idea what I was actually exchanging, or how much cash. I can’t be bothered with paying attention to these things. She could have given me a bag of party confetti. I just handed her the note from my supervisor explaining the details of the exchange.

I leaned in to quietly ask my question. The moment I’d been waiting for.

Lady [Politely] “Alright, I’ll have this ready for you in just a moment.”
Me “So… were you here yesterday during the….?”
Lady [Hesitantly] “…yeah….?”
Me “Well I’ve been wondering something… did… did the guy take any of those free cookies you always have on the plate over there when he walked out?”

It was somewhere around that very moment in time that I realized a few things:

(1) This poor lady had been at work during an armed robbery
(2) Just yesterday
(3) Some 20-year-old walks in and asks if the criminal took any cookies
(4) I’m an asshole
(5) I guess you can’t teach empathy

She just looked at me and said “No” in a very, very business tone. She was not amused.

I just said “oh” and walked out. There was nothing I could have possibly said to salvage that conversation or regain any sort of tact. In a rare moment, I was a little ashamed of myself. But only for like a minute; like I said, I was about 20.

In another rare moment, I declined to take a cookie for myself that day.

— — — — — — — — — —

I was closing the store down one night, which only requires two people. This was probably around 9-10 p.m.

Jackie says over the headset radio: “We’re out of rice for tonight, if anyone wants to order some. We have enough for one burrito, but that’s it. If anyone asks.”

I wasn’t listening because I was doing something really important. Like emptying the trash can, I think. The absolute peak of mentally tasking work, to be sure.

Like 10 seconds later…

Me “Okay, what?”
Jackie “We’re out of rice for tonight, just enough for one burrito. In case anyone orders some.”
Me “Okay so we just have enough for… one side of rice or a burrito?”
Jackie “No, not a side of rice, just enough for a burrito. Not enough for a side of rice.”
Me “Okay… if anyone orders a steak and rice burrito, we have enough for that, but no more, and not enough for a side of rice?”
Jackie “Correct.”
Me “That seemed a lot harder to explain than it should have been.”
Jackie “Yeah, it usually depends on who I’m explaining it to.”
Me “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”

Like 10 seconds later…

Me “Wait, was that directed at me?”

— — — — — — — — — —

After work, I took the wrong turn to go to the gas station, so I had to turn around in a neighborhood where one of my co-workers lived. Her husband works at a video store (this is relevant). I was just driving by, listening to Led Zeppelin on full blast, singing [terribly], possibly playing air guitar, and I didn’t even really remember that she lives there. Plus it was dark out. Whatever.

Couple minutes later, I get a call from some number I don’t have in my contacts.

Me “…Hello?”
Guy “Hey, did you just drive by us?”
Me “Who’s us?”
Guy “[says something]”
Me “What?”
Guy “It’s Jack.” (Husband of the co-worker who lived in that house)
Me “Oh, hey! Well I drove by the video store earlier, but I mean, I didn’t honk and wave or anything like I usually do. I didn’t really even look to see if you were working.”
Jack “No, there’s a fire, we’re just hanging out, I was just wondering if it was you.”
Me [Very excited/worried/aroused] “There’s…. there’s a fire?”
Jack “Yeah, I was just seeing if it was you. We’re drinking and stuff, just hanging out.”

This sounds like the best party in the history of my life. Too good to be true.

Me “Wait… you’re joking, aren’t you?”
James “No, I’m serious.”
Me “There is a fire at the video store? AND you’re drinking?”

I was in disbelief as to why he was talking about it so nonchalantly. Maybe this is just how he lives his life. What have I done with my life? I’ve never gotten drunk and set a building on fire before.

James “No… I’m at home.”

Then I realized that I had also driven by his house, that it was past midnight, and he would already be off work and at home anyway.

Me “….Your house is on fire??”
James “No! We’re HAVING a fire. Like, outside in the grass.”
Me “What the… your yard is on fire??”
Jack [Exasperated] “We are having a campfire outside in the fire pit. I was just wondering if it was you driving by.”
Me “I… oh. Okay I get it now.”

— — — — — — — — — —

This is my favorite joke in the entire world: Make a lame sexual innuendo and then continually ask if the person understands the joke, gradually explaining it more and more until I’m actually just explicitly describing whatever sex act the joke was about.

I still do this today, and it annoys the piss out of all my friends. I don’t care at all; I think it’s hilarious. I think all my jokes are hilarious. That should probably be on my tombstone: “Adam Desautel. 1988-2020. He thought he was really hilarious.”

Jackie came back while I was doing the dishes to use the sprayer hose to fill up something with water that she needed to clean whatever she was cleaning. She made a little scream and said “aah!” I looked over to see what happened.

Me “What.”
Jackie “Nothing, it just almost sprayed all over me.”
Me “…that’s what SHE said!”
Jackie [Flatly] “Ha. Ha.”
Me “Do you get it?”
Jackie “Yeah, I got it.”
Me “Like… that’s what she said? Like…”
Jackie “I got it.”
Me “Like… a penis.”
Jackie “I GET it.”
Me “Like… it almost sprayed all over you? Do you get it?”
Jackie “YES. Adam. I got it.”
Me “Like semen?”
Jackie “Yeah. I got it!”
Me “Like…. sploosh!”

— — — — — — — — — —

Me “I’m taking the garbage outside. I’m going around, so can you let me in the back door?”

Sandra “Sure.”
Me [Smiling] “Heh heh, that’s what she said.”

No response. Perhaps she didn’t hear me.

Me “Do you get it?”
Sandra “Umm. Yeah.”
Me “Like… let me in the back door.”
Sandra “Yeah, I get it.”
Me “Do you get it? Like… the back door? Like… your anus?”
Sandra “I get it!”
Me “Like, I’m going around to the back door, like we’re having sex, only from behind, and I’m coming in your back door – do you get it?”
Sandra [Angry, sarcastically] “Oh, you mean like buttsex?”

— — — — — — — — — —

The timer for the Grilled Stuffed Taco (which is heavenly) was nearing 10 seconds, so I decided to do a dramatic countdown!

[Me] “14… 13… 12… 11…”

She shut it off, took it out, and put it in a bag because it only has to be grilled to a certain point. Party poopers, am I right?

Me “Fine… just take it out, then. Ruin my fun.”
Jackie, sarcastically “Oh, I’m so sorry… did I ruin your countdown?”
Me “You could always just take it out and leave the timer going so I can keep counting.”
Jackie “Or you could always just work for Sesame Street.”

— — — — — — — — — —

The last thing I had to do one day before I left was to wash all the dishes and put them away.

I successfully cleaned them (it takes me forever because I’m slow at it), but I didn’t want to put them away. I don’t have some good excuse, I frankly just didn’t fucking want to. I wanted to go home and do whatever-it-is that 20-year-old me did with his life.

So I waited until both of the managers were up front dealing with other things.

I spent a couple minutes putting a few of the dishes away, being sure to make enough noise while doing it that they’d notice. To subtly place the thought of “Adam is putting the dishes away” into their head.

Then I unleashed my master plan.

Me “Hey, I washed all the dishes. Can I go?”

Manager “Yeah, see you tomorrow!”

I bolted out the door and peeled out of the parking lot before anyone had a chance to change their mind.

Was already home before my boss texted me this picture:

dishes away

— — — — — — — — — —

The order in the drive-thru was like $3 and whatever, he hands me a $5 bill, and I almost drop it when he was giving it to me.

Me “I almost dropped that guy’s five dollar bill. Lucky, because it’s pretty windy out; I would have had to chase it down the street.”

Jackie “Yeah, John had to do that once. It was pretty funny.”

Me “Well of course it’s funny when it happens to other people… well, okay it probably would be funny if it happened to me. I’d like… chase it halfway down main street. I’d finally catch it all the way down in front of Ben Franklin or something. Come back… the customer already has his food and he’s gone… the store is closed and all the lights are off and everyone’s went home for the night… dude this could make a good movie. Okay, so the guy drops the bill, and it goes flying down the street, and he’s chasing it for like fourteen years and while he’s chasing it, all this stuff happens like nuclear war between several countries, and the movie follows these events while it’s following the guy and his adventures chasing the money… he finally comes back with the ten-dollar-bill or whatever and the whole city is gone… maybe even the whole country… everyone he knows is dead… you watch, Jackie. It’ll be a movie someday. And then you can be all like ‘Yeah, the director? I knew him before he was famous,’ and I can like invite you to the opening parties and stuff… give you free autographs… you know. Well, maybe discounted autographs.”

There was silence for a while; I could hear her just continuing with the dishes.

Me “Did you… hear all of that?”

Jackie “Do you ever get the feeling that people have stopped listening to you?”

Me “All the time. I just keep talking and pretending they care.”

Jackie “I know.”

— — — — — — — — — —

One day before leaving work, I went into the back office and changed the radio from the bullshit 105.1 to the classic rock 107.9 station.

Got a call a few hours later from one of the managers.

Trudy “Hey did you know FM 105.1 plays Nazareth now?”

Me “Wha… really?”

Trudy [sarcastically] “Yeah, crazy, huh?”

Me “When did they stop playing such shit music?”

Trudy “I don’t know!”

Me “Well that’s… crazy…”

Trudy “Probably because it’s not actually their station.”

Me “What do you mean? Oh wait! Okay… Oh man, you told me to turn it to… see I thought you said 107…. point 9…. yeah….”

Trudy “Yeah. Sure. Okay Adam.”

Me “I’m so sorry. I apologize.”

Trudy “You’ll try harder next time, huh?”

Me “I will definitely try harder next time.”

Trudy “Yeah whatever. Okay bye.”

Me “Bye!”

— — — — — — — — — —

Napkins. I tell this story to a lot of my employers to give them an example of the type of person I am, and the kind of work ethic I possess. I think of the customer first, and I think about long-term reputation and branding over short-term cost.

We used to restock a container of napkins in the lobby for customers to take. Someone (my cheap grandfather who owned the place, I’m 98.6% sure) had the bright idea to clamp down on those fucking ungrateful customer bastards for taking slightly more napkins than they need.

There’s those people every once in a while who will take a plentiful stack of napkins for themselves or their family, but then only use a few of them, and throw the rest of them away.

I’m kinda surprised the solution management came up with wasn’t “dig the napkins out of the trash, see which ones have food residue on them, and put the rest back in stock.” Instead, it was to remove napkins from the lobby completely.

No napkins in the lobby.

For any customer dining in, or taking their order to go, we of course placed several napkins on their tray or in their bag. If they wanted more, they could ask, and we would oblige. But they couldn’t just take them for themselves.

How fucking expensive are napkins, anyway?? Seriously

We even had this complex system of two napkins to start with, and then one additional napkin per every other menu item they ordered.

I HEAVILY advocated for putting napkins back in the lobby. I could pretty safely “argue with the boss” over this since she was my mom.

Things like this make the restaurant look cheap (accurate), while saving basically pennies on ordering more napkins for the restaurant. The amount of customers who truly and carelessly take way more than they need are too few to punish ALL customers by having to annoy us (and thus annoy themselves; we’re Midwestern) for more napkins.

They’re just FUCKING NAPKINS.

— — — — — — — — — —

Rule #1 was that we don’t talk about it, just like the original that obviously inspired the name, but here we are on the internet.

I ran a “Food Club” with Tina, a girl who honestly seemed to be eternally pregnant with a new kid. I’m not making a fat joke, because she wasn’t at all; I just mean she’s popped out enough children to have her own stupid reality show.

At some point, management (my family) decided to crack down on any employee eating any food they didn’t purchase. It was hella common to snatch a Potato Ole or two while walking by the fryers. Or if the Crunchy Chicken was expired, instead of throwing it away, we’d just eat it. It’s still good to EAT, we just can’t sell it anymore. Why waste food? That chicken was some of the most expensive and delicious items on the menu.

Maybe food costs were rising, or maybe there was some complaint or perception about employees openly eating food in the kitchen in plain view of the customers… I don’t know, and I didn’t care. But the new rule was to cut that shit out.

We rebelled against The Man who ruled over us (my mother) and decided to just hide the food. I may be of royal blood here, but I’m still a man of the people. The food is literally GOING IN THE TRASH ANYWAY so why not just eat it? My best conspiracy theory is that it was to increase employee hunger so we’d order more food for ourselves on our 15-30 minute breaks.

So, for the food that was to be tossed, but was still good to eat, Tina and I hid. I constructed an elaborate carve-out section on a shelf of soda-mix boxes in order to hide the small tray of food from anyone who walked by, but easy enough to reach without moving anything around.

We only told the cool people about it.

— — — — — — — — — —

Sometimes a family will come in and talk to themselves about what they’re going to order. Then, one person acts as a spokesperson for the rest of the group. Which is fine.

Except sometimes that spokesperson just says what they want, and doesn’t give me the order for the rest of the group.

See, they expected me to eavesdrop on their entire party’s conversation, children and all.

“Mommy, I want a hardshell taco kids’ meal!”
“Okay, I’ll get you one!”

But then mommy never actually tells me that the kids’ meal is indeed part of her order.

Kid goes and sits down, and all I get from her is “I’ll have a #6 Combo.”

Am I supposed to interpret what’s right for your kids? You need to tell me what you want us to cook for you.

If your kid says he wants 13 cinnamon sticks and a bowl of nacho cheese, do I just ring that up automatically? Can the people behind you add to your order? Should I just ring up any food item that anyone within a ten-foot radius shouts out? Maybe you aren’t actually getting your child a kids’ meal, and hoping they don’t notice the difference.

Another example:

“I’ll have six hardshell tacos…”

[Quietly amongst themselves, they whisper about whether they should add tomatoes. They decide yes, they would like tomatoes, still all whispering to each other.]

“Okay, and then we’ll also get a #10, and that’ll be all.”

And they don’t mention the tomatoes.

I usually then prompt them and ask if they, for example, want tomatoes.

One of these came in, and caught me in quite the “I’m quitting in a few days so I don’t have the patience for your bullshit” mood. I decided to do something different: Take them at their word.

Me “Hello; how can I help you?”

Guy says to his wife quietly, “I’ll get a Bean Burrito and a water.”

The way he whispered it, maybe it’s a romantic kink between the two of them. I don’t know your life. If I hadn’t been eavesdropping, I would have barely even heard him.

He then goes and sits down without telling me what he wants, or even looking at me.

Woman “I’ll get… a Super Potato Dish and a medium drink.” She doesn’t mention the Bean Burrito or the water.

I, like always, repeat the order back to her:

Me “So you want a Super Potato Dish and a medium drink? Was there anything else that you wanted tonight?”

Woman “Nope, that’s it.”

Of course, I knew she wasn’t listening, but that’s another thing that always pissed me off.

You complain that we didn’t get your order right, but you also weren’t paying attention when we read it back to you. Come back with a helmet next time.

We brought the order out to them, and sure enough, within 30 seconds the guy was at the counter again. I was helping another customer who was currently ordering, so I pretended like I didn’t even see him to my right and ignored him until I was done with the order, which was like a minute and a half later. He was adjusting his posture, folding his arms, making a sighing sound, all the classic “unsatisfied customer” alerts.

But I couldn’t just stop this new customer’s order! (I wanted to make sure he was good and angry when I finally got to him.)

It was fun:

Me, very calmly “Did you need something else?”

Guy, irritated “Uhh YEAH you forgot my Bean Burrito and my water!”

I pretended I had no idea what he was talking about.

Me “Umm… sir, you didn’t order any of those. We can make you a Bean Burrito and a water if you’d like to order them….”

Guy “Yes I did! My wife JUST TOLD ME she ordered it.”

Me, calmly “I’m sorry sir, neither of you said anything to me about a Bean Burrito or a water… I even repeated the order back to her very clearly, and she verified it as being correct, just a Super Potato Dish and a medium drink.”

He whispers something under his breath (I assume witchcraft) and walks back to his table. Comes back up a few minutes later with money and orders the burrito, only he isn’t as pissed anymore, the anthropomorphization of a guilty puppy with his tail between his legs.

He kinda mutters to himself a bit, but I heard something about “I guess maybe you didn’t hear me say it…”

I guess maybe I just made you a better person.

— — — — — — — — — —

One of my co-workers, Tina, was pregnant. She started walking back to the sinks to do the dishes, and I threw in my two cents.

Me “Pregnant lady in the back of the kitchen doing dishes… just the way it should be.”

Her only response was a wide-open jaw, aghast.

About five minutes later I went back to the sinks where she was.

Me “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Tina [Not buying it] “Oh, whatever…”

Me “All women should be in the kitchen doing dishes, not just the pregnant ones.”