A&W Carhop

by Margaret Hasse


At fourteen, as one of Millie’s girls, I hopped-to throughout a hot summer
and into fall, taking customers’ orders as they sat in their cars in numbered
stalls. Neatly I printed my initials and clipped each small sheet to a wire
pulley yanked inside by Cook whose face was round and red like a cartoon
sun. On trays that hooked onto car windows, I delivered frosty mugs brim-full
of root beer, hot wrapped Papa, Mama and Baby burgers with their
special spice, and a hotchpotch of French fries in pools of ketchup. When
drivers flashed their lights, I hurried to collect trays hoping to find a gratuity
amid the rubble of used napkins and empty mugs. Sometimes we carhops
were so busy we never sat down during our shift. Sometimes there’d be
breaks in service when we sat like benched athletes eager to get back in the
game. When a car pulled off the road, the crunch of its tires on gravel
resounded. We wanted each new arrival to be a couple with hungry
children or a single boy who liked us, would park in our assigned zone, tip
big. At closing time, when the neon lights went dark, we picked up litter in
the parking lot, helped mop the floor inside, swab the counters, clean the
grill. Our flipped-up hairdos smelled of fried onions and oil. There would
be no boyfriend trouble or curfew breaking at the franchise of Millie Lantis
who drove us home, waiting in her car until she saw us close our front door
and turn on a light. Before showering, I always emptied the sagging pockets
of my uniform’s apron. I flattened the damp dollars and stacked coins into
silver silos with the tired glee of a miser.