Louis Crenshaw was my manager at the McDonald’s where I’d worked since the previous February. During the school year, I’d pulled about twenty hours per week at the restaurant. Now that we were into the summer vacation months, I was more or less full-time.
The McDonald’s franchise was owned by Ray Smith, a somewhat well-known businessman in the local area. Ray Smith had a reputation for being eccentric and difficult to deal with. Luckily, though, I didn’t have to deal with him very often. For the most part, I interfaced with Louis.
And that was just fine with me. Louis was in his early twenties, and he sometimes couldn’t decide if he wanted to be another one of the high school kids on the hourly crew, or a full-fledged adult manager. As a result, I had observed that many employees took advantage of his easygoing nature.
“If you have an opportunity for me,” I said, “that can only mean one thing. You want me to take an extra shift.”
“Steve, buddy. You’re a mind reader. How did you guess?”
I grunted in response. “Let me make another guess. Anne Morton called off again.”
“Steve, I do believe that you are a genuine clairvoyant! Yes, Anne was supposed to work the six to ten shift tonight. But she called off about an hour ago.”
Anne Morton was around Louis’s age. She was married, with a son who was perhaps two or three years old. When scheduled for the weekday shifts, Anne was reasonably reliable. But her husband was off work on the weekends, and Anne wanted to be off then, too.
“Let me make one more guess,” I said. “Something is wrong with her son.”
I heard Louis sigh on the other end of the line. “Yep. Ear infection this time.”
“And that doesn’t strike you as strange? I understand that little kids get sick. But her kid only gets sick between Friday night and Sunday night.”
“Steve, buddy, there are many things in this world that strike me as strange. But the fact of the matter is that when Anne Morton was in high school, she babysat for Ray Smith’s youngest child. Ray Smith almost considers her another daughter. She’s got an in with the man, you might say.”
“It’s Saturday, Louis,” I immediately countered, “and I’ve worked every night this week.”
“So you work another night. What difference does it make? It’s not like you have a date or something. You’ve been living like a monk since that high school girl dropped you. And you’re not even Catholic.”
“Ouch. Now you’re getting personal, Louis.”
But Louis had a point. I had been thinking the same thing myself, more or less, when that weird prank phone call had come in.
“Come on. What are you going to do tonight, except sit home and watch Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett with your parents? And besides, you could use the extra money. Am I right?”
Louis had yet another point. Not only did I not have much on my agenda tonight, my bank account had recently taken a major hit. I had just purchased a new car, that already seemed to have a mechanical problem (which my father had warned me about).
Louis was right: I could use the extra money.
“So are you going to be a hero, and help old Louis out?”
“All right,” I said, relenting. “I’ll be there.”
“Excellent! And as it so happens, I have a special surprise for you.”
“What? We finally got the Arctic Orange Shakes?”
Louis chuckled. “No, McDonald’s hasn’t given us the Arctic Orange Shakes yet.”
This was a running joke at the restaurant. In the late spring of 1976, McDonald’s launched the Arctic Orange Shake with a nationwide advertising campaign. And millions of McDonald’s customers around the country eagerly slurped them up.
But not at our McDonald’s, they didn’t. As of early June, McDonald’s corporate had neglected to send the new materials and equipment to Ray Smith’s McDonald’s franchise in Clermont County, Ohio.
Ray Smith had placed multiple irate phone calls to the McDonald’s headquarters in suburban Chicago. Ray claimed that there had been a snafu in the national corporate logistics department, and that McDonald’s would soon rectify it. Louis, on the other hand, claimed that the McDonald’s people didn’t like Ray Smith very much, and someone in corporate had engineered the foul-up just to spite him. Knowing what I did of Ray Smith, I saw both explanations as equally possible.
Either way, those of us who manned the cash registers had to tell customers that no, the much sought-after Arctic Orange Shake was not yet available at our McDonald’s. This had become a tiresome daily ritual.
“I believe we are going to be the last franchise in the country to get the Arctic Orange Shake,” Louis went on, “if we get it at all, that is. But what I have is a surprise that might be more interesting to you than a new milkshake, given your currently pathetic and celibate state. I hired a new girl the other day to work the cash registers. Like you, she’s going to be a senior this year. Do you know a Diane Parker?”
I took a moment and flipped through my mental Rolodex. It didn’t take long. “No, I don’t know a Diane Parker.” We were coming up on senior year. By this time, I knew everyone in my class at West Clermont, at least by name.
“She must go to South Clermont, then. Anyway, she’s cute.”
“Really?” I said, revealing perhaps a bit too much eagerness.
“Didn’t I just say she was cute? Yeah, really. It’s enough to make me wish I was a younger man.”
“You’re not all that old, Louis,” I said.” What are you? Twenty-two or twenty-three?”
“Twenty-three,” Louis said.
But once again, Louis had a point. The 1970s were a tolerant and freewheeling time, at least compared to our present era. But even then, it wouldn’t have been acceptable for a twentysomething restaurant manager to engage in sexual poaching among his teenage staff.
“I guess high school girls would be a little out of bounds for you at this stage,” I said.
“Yeah. Cindy Clifford is more my speed.”
Cindy Clifford was another young woman who worked the cash registers at Ray Smith’s McDonald’s. She wasn’t too young for Louis. But we both knew that she was way out of Louis’s league.
“So I can expect you here at six?” Louis asked.
“I’ll be there,” I said.