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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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A toothless angel
Jonathan Pait
September 7, 2001

Her smile escaped notice at first. The reason appeared to be because her teeth disappeared at some point in the past. Probably in her mid-fifties, she seemed out of place behind the counter of the local Burger King. I admit it. I cringed thinking, “Oh boy, this is going to take a while!”

Do you have a favorite fast food joint? It could be McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, Sonic or (heaven forbid) Long John Silvers. You probably make the taste of the food a second priority to getting whatever you order fast. We especially like it when we can just drive up, speak into a small square wire mesh and then drive around to receive our order from the extended arm that comes out of the window.

Well, I had glanced at the drive-thru as I pulled into Burger King today. The fact that BK was closest and offered the charbroiled option attracted me. Get the food and get back to work ASAP sent me looking for the path of least resistance. The drive-thru looked long, so I headed inside.

Then I saw her. The line inside was certainly shorter than the line outside, so I felt a glimmer of hope that my goal would be achieved. Seeing only one register with this woman standing behind it appearing to have trouble with a teen giving an order gave me a new impression that I had already failed before I started. I sensed that frustration that wells up inside when you realize your plans are about to be thwarted. With a scowl on my face, I stepped into line.

Now I had a little time to observe. Carolyn (that was her name) energetically continued her conversation with the young man. “Okay, that is two hamburgers without ketchup, a Whopper Junior without onions. . .” and so her list continued. Wow, talking about having it your way! The guy’s order reminded me of some of the chemical formulas that confused me in high school. I began to watch her more closely. It was then I noticed her smile.

It wasn’t her mouth. It was her eyes. They were kind and nonplussed even in the midst of a confusing order. With precision and clarity she spoke into the mike. More than that, there was a lilt to her voice. “Man,” I thought to myself. “She actually enjoys this job.” The teen, it turns out, was a few cents short of having the necessary funds for his feast. He turned to an elderly lady behind him and asked if she could please spare some change.

I then noticed the lady standing before me. I was so enthralled with Carolyn; I had not paid much attention to her. She was elderly and moved slowly. With a smile on her face she rummaged through her change purse. Coming up with the needed coins she handed them to the young man. He thanked her profusely. She, “tut-tutting,” replied, “Oh, I may need your help someday. It was only a little change.” Carolyn chimed in. “Giving is such a blessing.”

By now, the scowl on my face had disappeared. My face probably carried more of a look of conviction. I watched Carolyn taking the order of the Good Samaritan and felt my own heart lift. Come on now, you just don’t expect your average fast food counter worker to be enjoying their job. It was obvious that she enjoyed meeting new people and helping them. As she finished the order of the man directly before me (quite quickly I might add—my hope was restored), I heard the man say, “Keep the change.”

There was an obvious change in the demeanor of most everyone who went through the line before me. Now I stood before this angel with the toothless smile. “Well, if you need two pennies, I have some here,” she said with a giggle. I smiled and gave my order. With her customary promptness she took the order and called it to the back. I found myself taking the change and saying “Thank you” a little too loudly. I meant it, but it wasn’t a thanks for the change. It was a thanks for the new attitude.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, while Carolyn was fast, the folks putting the burgers together were not. I actually had three other people place their orders after me and get them before I got mine. Another lady beside me also waited. About that time a person in the line recognized me and started a conversation. The line pulled them away and then back in my direction. They looked quizzically at me as if to say, “Man, it sure is taking a long time to get your order. Aren’t you ticked?” I smiled in return. It was a real smile.

The other waiting customer and myself got our orders about the same time. We approached the drink fountain together. She said, a little crossly, “Well, that certainly took a while for us to get our orders.” I looked at my watch. Just less than fifteen minutes had passed since I first walked in. As I placed my large cup under the Dr Pepper dispenser, I replied. “It is probably good for us. Maybe it will teach us to slow down.”

Thank you, Carolyn. Thank you, Good Samaritan. As we go through the fast food line of life, it is good to meet you to remind us that community is more than sharing carbon monoxide in the drive-thru.

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