I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing two different managers be arrested at work. The second time was at a small-town Wisconsin Papa John’s after he was awarded his fifth DUI which in effect closed down that Papa John’s and left me without my college job as a pizza delivery driver. That’s the end of that story, except maybe a note to say that Wisconsin ranks third in the nation when it comes to bars per capita, and the domestic and economic circumstances that led this older man to become a general manager of a Papa John’s did not also ensure that a bunch of college kids who showed up to work consistently stoned and showed no regard for company-mandated cheese portions would not also lead him to drinking and driving. I genuinely hope he’s doing fine.
The first time was at a small-town Wisconsin Taco Bell. It was the summer of 2002, a strange time in America. We had just lived through 9/11, and we had yet to taste the citrus-lime flavor of Mountain Dew Baja Blast, which would become Taco Bell’s first official co-branded beverage only a few years later. It was in this cultural abeyance that I was witness of and party to a rag-tag embezzlement scheme perpetrated by my manager Tyler.
Tyler was enrolled at our town’s college, or maybe he wasn’t. I didn’t know. We mostly talked about seven-Layer Burritos, Mexi-Melts, and Nachos Bell Grandes. He never smiled, and as a 17-year-old kid living in the Midwest I had never met anyone who was unhappy and not faking it. This is to say Tyler was not very approachable. Our only non-taco conversation that I recall took place one afternoon when I rolled into the parking lot playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m A Thug” loudly from my car.
“You like Trick Daddy?” Tyler asked.
“Yeah I love Trick Daddy. He’s one of my favorites.” I did not love Trick Daddy, nor was he one of my favorites. But I did lie because I was nervous and I didn’t like conflict. “I can get you the new Trick Daddy CD if you want.”
“Really? It’s not even out yet.”
“Yeah well my friend works at a record store he said it’s just sitting on the shelf.” None of this was true, and I didn’t know that Trick Daddy’s Thug Holiday wouldn’t be out until August, and it was only the middle of June. I hoped that Tyler would just forget about this whole conversation, although I could tell that after we talked that afternoon, there was a glint in his eye, which I charitably took to mean he now respected me.
A few nights later after work he invited my co-worker Tom and I to drink on the floor of his college apartment. As two teens with nothing else to do, what could be better? Tyler bought me a giant Smirnoff Ice and bought Tom a 40oz of Mickeys and we sat and played a drinking game on his stained carpet with two other older people I didn’t know. To this day, the gap between me feeling cool and me actually doing something cool has never been wider. In that moment I felt warm and spectacular.
It was shortly after this that Tyler, Tom, and I started working the closing shift at Taco Bell. The closing shift at Taco Bell in a college town is full of every bad archetype you can imagine, but considering we would all go out back and get high behind the dumpsters and come back in and start working again, it usually evened out.
On nights when there was a concert at the nearby Alpine Valley Amphitheater, it was especially bad. Cars would be backed up onto the street while they waited for their Grande Combos to be made, which was going to take a minute because the bags of beef were still de-thawing in the boiling Bunn water and the automatic frijoles dispenser is squirting out a diarrheic stream of grayish mass because the beans did not get a chance to congeal in the boiling Bunn water and the soft shells are not steamed and the gun that squirts the guacamole-flavored compound is broken and there’s no chicken prepped and Tom and I are far too stoned to solve any of these problems with speed or alacrity.
While we were tittering and making burritos, Tyler worked the drive-thru window. “I’m going clear some of these orders so we get our times up, you guys good?”
This was Tyler’s way of cheating the Taco Bell computers that measured customer service in the drive-thru. If you cleared the orders and wrote them down on pieces of paper, the average wait time at the end of the night would be drastically lower. In reality you were moving at a leisurely pace while cars full of hungry Phish fans waited for their Grilled Stuft Burritos with less patience than they had displayed during a 22-minute rendition of “You Enjoy Myself.”
What Tom and I didn’t know was that Tyler was cancelling the orders outright. He would take the car’s order, write what it was on a piece of paper, take the cash, and then cancel the order on the screen. The customer gave the cash to Tyler, we gave the customer the food, and Tyler kept the cash in his pocket.
At the end of the night, at almost four in the morning, Tyler gave me and Tom $20 each. “Thanks guys, you made this go a lot faster.” “Holy shit,” we thought, “Tyler tipped us because we are that cool and good.” There was that warm and spectacular feeling again, donated to me by from someone who didn’t need anything from anybody.
Two weeks or so passed and as I pulled in to work one afternoon I saw two police cars parked near the front door. Tom came out the back and told me Tyler was in the back room and that he was going to be arrested for stealing.
“He stole over a thousand dollars over the last couple of months,” said Tom. “They did an audit of the food weight and whenever he was working, the food weight didn’t match up to the end-of-day receipts, and the cops are investigating how much money he stole.”
We knew, of course, that our tip was in hush money. We realized it back then too, but who was I to question Tyler, who had invited me over to his house to drink a 40 of Smirnoff Ice and to whom I stilled owed an unreleased copy of a Trick Daddy album? He walked out of the Taco Bell and into the back of the police car. I never heard from him again.
A few months later, I quit, and Tom followed suit shortly after. We weren’t going spend our senior years being uncool losers working at Taco Bell without Tyler. We insisted, in the face of inevitable doom, that were going to do something with our lives.