For all the time that I worked there, I never saw anything gross or so awful that I'd want to not eat there. We played pranks on each other, like the time Jack stuck vinegar in my root beer and I drank it and nearly retched into the sink.
But we never did nasty things to the customers and I eat at Whataburgers to this day with no squeamish feelings.
Although... there was the time I had to clean behind the grill and collect gelatinous muck that had built up there for literally years. (I got to be the first person to help move the grill and clean behind it. Lucky me. Kids: Stay in school.) And even then, I'd still eat an Omieburger.
The love has continued to the extent that last year, I made a pilgrimage to the "Whataburger on the Bay" in Corpus Christy. This two-level building is gorgeous. Lots of glass, a coffee bar, all kinds of moichandise and mementos.
I wouldn't have even known about it, but I was visiting South Texas and a woman at a Whataburger there raved about "The Bay." She told me her job was a district cheerleader, basically. She was totally committed to the Whataburger cause and her job was to go to different Whataburgers in the area to motivate employees and greet customers.
When she found out I'd worked at Whataburger in high school, it was like we were suddenly long-lost siblings. We bonded over tales from behind the counter. We compared notes about idiots who'd come through our drive-thrus as asking for "Whoppers" or hot dogs. (Which would be called, presumably, "Whataweenies.")
Then she started telling me about the things I'd missed in the interim since I'd worked there. Whataburger had introduced a superhero, "WhataGuy" and his sidekick, "Attaboy!"
I also knew that the company had celebrated a 50th anniversary. A guy I worked with was married to a Whataburger heiress (long story), and he was commissioned to write the book to commemmorate the milestone.
When I went to the Whataburger on the Bay, it felt like coming home. I'd lived in place and visited many others, where Whataburger was either unknown or unappreciated. Finally I was in a place of glass, steel and beef that worshipped the fresh-made burger.
It was a place of grease, white chocolate macadamian nut cookies and clothes that soak up the smells and oils of that environment.
It brought back memories of my greasy black shoes that would never, ever keep from slipping on the floor. It made me remember all the vegetables I sliced, all the batches of fries I cooked up from the thin cardboard boxes we kept in the freezer. I remembered the endless milkshakes I stirred up, splattering soft-serve all over the hairs on my arms.
The sex stories fellow employees told (and how I still believe there are certain things that can't be done for an hour and a half without getting lockjaw).
The guy who taught me how to make a convincing raw chicken out of a damp dishrag.
My switch from root beer to Diet Coke.
The times my friends drove backward through the drive-thru.
The watergun/waterhose fight out front.
Stretching my arms to change the letters on the huge outdoor sign and always running out of Ws.
The woman who tried to scam us by constantly coming in saying we owed her and her kids a meal.
The phantom defecator who let loose in the women's bathroom and smeared stuff on the walls. I never had to clean it.
When I got asked to be a shift manager while in high school and asking my boss if he was insane.
The worst birthday I ever had, working during the week until 11 p.m. on a school night after some guy who promised he'd work the late part of the shift for me flaked out. Then calling my girlfriend and telling her how miserable I felt when I got home.
So many memories. So many Omieburgers.
I remember all this, sometimes even more, most times a lot less, every time I order up and take that first bite.
They had gotten all of themselves in a row. Now it was just a wait until dawn to strike back at the bastard humans.