(re-posted from 11.25.2011)
The year was 1994. I had just turned 17, and was working my first part-time job at a certain Jesus-y chicken joint at the local mall. Having started there the previous December and worked 3 nights a week for the better part of the year, I had worked my way "up" from washing dishes (which I hated) to working the grill (which I actually kind of liked) to working as a cashier (which I hated more than washing dishes.)
The next step was management, one which I had no intention whatsoever of taking.
Suffice it to say, I had through a completely ill-considered combination of work ethic and generally pleasant demeanor made myself sufficiently valuable to the management of the store that my presence was considered indispensable when the mall would open at 7AM the day after Thanksgiving. My shift would start at 6AM.
A digression is in order. If a mall-based food vendor serves breakfast at all, it is generally a very small part of their business. Most fast food outlets stop serving breakfast around 10:30 or 11, and most malls don't typically open until 9 or 10. Also, (typical) weekday morning traffic is a trickle; when and where I grew up, it was mostly old folks doing laps to exercise in a climate-controlled, safe environment. They might have stopped in for a coffee afterward, but that was pretty much it. Saturday mornings were much busier, but the mall didn't open until lunchtime on Sunday, and our store never opened on Sunday at all.
As such, the oven in our store that we used to bake biscuits--our one and only breakfast item at the time--was actually smaller than the ovens found in most homes. I think it could handle two trays of maybe 20 biscuits each. It takes about 20 minutes to bake biscuits properly. So the maximum biscuit generating capacity of our store was about 2 per minute on average, but of course this actually meant a batch of 40 coming out every 20. (You could stagger trays and get 20 every 10.)
As I walked up to the storefront a few minutes before 6, I saw a crowd of about two dozen people lined up, apparently, for chicken biscuits.
We didn't open for another hour. The crowd only got bigger.
Never mind that there was a McDonnald's out in one of the lots that ringed the mall, that surely could crank out breakfast biscuits at 10 times the rate we could, or that (being suburban Atlanta) there were no fewer than 3 Waffle Houses within a mile (one right across the street) that had been open all night, as they always were every day of the year. Never mind that if one were a halfway competent southerner, they could themselves whip up a batch of biscuits, and have time to do bacon and eggs on the stove while they baked, in far less than the hour plus they were willing to stand like a bunch of assholes in a not-yet-open mall so that we could do it for them.
When we opened the gate at 7AM, all 12 registers were manned. I didn't stop taking and filling orders for the next 9 hours. By lunchtime, it was fine--pretty much like a Saturday shift on crack, but manageable. But breakfast was pure hell.
I look back at that morning as the day I entered adulthood. I don't think I really understood man's bottomless capacity for entitlement and general depravity until I saw it etched on the angry faces of a thousand middle-aged women demanding a chicken biscuit in a timely fashion on their way to buy Nintendo games at 25% off.
Since that morning, I've found myself in genuinely life-threatening situations a couple of times. I've watched somebody I love die. I've had guns pointed at my face. Strangely, none of these experiences haunt my dreams.
But the hordes of people demanding breakfast on Black Friday still do, and I have a feeling that they always will.
The following summer, I got a job selling swimming pool supplies, and I never looked back.