Burning Out at the Speed of Sound

Burning Out at the Speed of Sound

College students are rarely able to solely support themselves without taking on one or more part-time jobs between classes. Though college is expected to be a time for students to learn about the world and about themselves, many are focused more on survival than living.

I have, over the past three years, been one of those students.

I took a job at Sonic, knowing that because of my food allergies, this was far from the wisest choice. The general manager told me that he’d work with my school schedule; classes came first, obviously.

The first night should have been a sign, really. It was half-price burgers, and I didn’t get a chance to pee, I was moving so fast.

I swiped my card to register as the one to take out the next tray and nearly tripped over one of my new coworkers as she rushed out the door. I grabbed the tray and went outside, not quite walking, but not running, either. That wouldn’t have been dignified.

I brought the tray to the car and read off the receipt—one of the few things that someone had taken time to teach me before things got crazy. Two number-ones with ketchup, pickles and onion only (yuck!) and a Route-44 vanilla diet Coke. I wondered if they realized that the vanilla flavoring didn’t come in a diet form and that ordering a drink like that cancelled out any health benefits of ordering diet, but that wasn’t my place.

I talked with the customer as I handed him his food—his fingernails were too long, like he hadn’t trimmed them in months, with so much dirt caked underneath that I was nervous that I was going to get a disease if the man scratched me.

He hasn’t seen me here before, he says.

No, sir, it’s my first night.

Am I enjoying it?

Too early to tell, really. It’s been pretty busy.

Tips are probably pretty good, though, right?

No, not really. I’m probably not supposed to tell him, but I only make $4 an hour.

Really? Is that legal?

Not really, but we’re servers, technically, so they can do that.

And no one’s tipping?

No, not really. I’ve made, like, maybe $3 tonight? I hand him his change.

That sucks, he says. He puts his change back in his wallet.

I kept moving like that for the whole six-hour shift, knowing that I couldn’t even touch most of the food that I was responsible for carrying out. Then, we had to stay an extra hour after closing to clean. I went home that night, my feet killing me almost as much as the guilt of knowing that I didn’t have the energy to do any homework.

I stayed, of course. Carhops only made $4 an hour, and tips weren’t fantastic—$20 on a shift that long was about average—but I needed to live, right? And at least the extra income would cover expenses.

Somehow, I ended up working four 6-hour shifts a week, not including time spent closing. I was working an 11-hour week at my tutoring job, and I was taking 18 hours of classes, and I was dying. I dropped my cardio class, figuring that that would give me some time to relax, but even then, I found myself struggling to do my homework with the little time I had. I dropped Spanish because I was falling so far behind, but I still fell into a depression and couldn’t handle the workload.

Still, I didn’t quit. My grades slipped, but I was surviving, and that’s all that mattered.

I still didn’t really have time to pee. I did have time for people to spit on my foot or throw their chili burgers at me because they didn’t have enough chili on them—there was plenty of chili to make a mess when it was thrown—and there was time for one particularly perv-y guy to ask if he could pay for his food with a picture of what looked like a dried-up Vienna sausage. There wasn’t time for me to pee, and there sure as heck wasn’t time for me to do homework. I wasn’t even sure I knew what sleep was anymore.