Free Lunch

Sally Weston Ziph

At five I stop by McDonald’s drive-thru for fries, craving salt,
“Caleb” and “Jalen-the-cook” stand by, take my cash,
make my fries, their labor optimized,
saving the company money and time,
A.I. rules the day at McDonald’s,
new normal, algorithms keeping
staff running, never knowing when their next shift
will be, finding out the afternoon of the day
before, always on call (no time for a “life”),
losing time on the clock if they’re one minute late,
(time theft with a capital “T,” stealing from The Company),
in the weeds, pouring coffee that’s one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees
while America’s teams of M.B.A.’s
at McDonald’s, Amazon Prime, and Wal-Mart—sons of Sam’s
Club, work on new ways to make money
on the backs of the small fry.

Caleb hands me my change, my receipt: Lady,
if you go to this site, (looking into my face, my eyes)
fill out this survey and tell them today Caleb and Jalen-the-cook
did an excellent job, that’s Jalen with an “e,”
we will get a free lunch, we won’t have to pay
if you do this today, Ma’am you’ll get a free
Quarter Pounder with cheese, that’s right, all for free
next time you buy a Quarter Pounder with cheese!
Just bring this receipt, this 9 digit code
from the site. I was craving fries, craving
salt, I almost drove by: now I sigh, driving
home, dreading the McDonald’s website,
screen time at night after working 9-5, my
eyes are tired, and they’ll require private data
to fill in the lines and of course, Digi-Sign.
I work for the school that trains MBAs, the bosses who boss
these workers all day, the optimizers of labor, stop-watchtiming
bathroom breaks, the name of the game
is work-harder-work-faster with fewer.

Of course I go back to get my free Quarter Pounder with Cheese
“Hello, Hello?” “Welcome to McDonald’s,” a female voice greets,
“I’ve got a coupon, I say, Buy one, get one free! I filled in the 9-digit
code, I’m ready to go.”
“Ok, Ma’am, please pull up to the first window.”
Scrambling through my wallet, I hand her the receipt, she
glances at it, then back at me—her name is “Monique,”
probably hungry for lunch.