Golden Opportunity: A book review by Bob Morris

Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald’s
Cody Teets
Cider Hill Press (2012)

How arches of opportunity can become bridges to remarkable achievement

What led Codie Teets to write this book? Weary of and insulted by “the bad rap that working at McDonald’s had gotten,” she decided to “collect stories of people who had started at McDonald’s and went on to create remarkable and rewarding careers, both within the McDonald’s family and in other fields.” Teets has worked for McDonald’s for 30 years and is currently one of two dozen regional vice presidents and general manager of the 780-restaurant Rocky Mountain region. She is among the former crew members who make up more than 70% of the company’s restaurant managers.

What we have in this volume is an abundant and diverse selection of personal accounts by 45 past or current employees of McDonald’s (including Teets) who eloquently and compellingly repudiate a widespread but durable disparagement of employment in the fast food industry in general, and of what is frequently referred to as a “McJob,” in particular.

Long ago while growing up in Chicago, I would occasionally spend a weekend with my mother’s sister, her husband, and their two sons who lived in suburban Des Plaines. My cousins and I would walk into the downtown area near their home and “hang out” before heading for a White Castle or a McDonald’s, then owned by Ray Kroc. He purchased the chain from Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1961. I do not recall seeing him but I still remember how clean everything was, inside and out. Hence my special interest in reminiscences about that store in Des Plaines contributed by Lester E. Stein, Jr. (Pages 5-8) and James McGovern (9-13) who were hired by and worked for Kroc in the 1950s. It became a museum in 1985 and both Stein and McGovern now live within a mile of it.

We have a Farmer’s Market near downtown Dallas where several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of what they offer. In that spirit, I now offer a selection of brief comments by several of those whose “stories” are included in this book.

*     *     *

“McDonald’s had a talent show competition among its restaurants. ‘We need to win the New England division at least once, so why don’t you do a comedy skit or something?’

“I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do that.

“I did a comedy routine with another guy, and we won. I got a camera and a trip to the Bahamas, and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe this could be something good!’ I wasn’t great in school, but this was something I was good at.

“So McDonald’s is sort of what got me into show business.”  Entertainer Jay Leno, Crew Member 1966, Andover (MA)

*     *     *

“McDonald’s was unique as a great equalizer. Wealthy and poor, black and white all came to McDonald’s and stood in the same lines and sat at the same booths. The fact that the restaurant was integrated was somewhat novel for South Carolinians at the time. For me, coming from New England, the fact that it was novel was a shock.” Chief of staff to President George W. Bush, Andrew H. Card, Jr., Crew Member 1967, Columbia (SC)

*     *     *

“I was a hard worker and enjoyed having my own money, so I took all the hours McDonald’s would give me. Coming from my background, it was a big deal to be able to buy my own clothes. I’m a very independent person and working at McDonald’s was my independence. I loved the freedom of not having to ask anybody for money, for being able to take care of myself.” Actress Andie McDowell, Crew Member 1974, Gaffney (SC)

*     *     *

”There are a lot of experiences at McDonald’s that are valuable to have at that young age and I have translated into almost anything I’ve done…What I learned at McDonald’s – being part of a team, always thinking ahead — can be used in just about any career.”  Astronaut Leroy Chiao, Crew Member 1976, Walnut Creek (CA)

*     *     *

“I was a grill man and never worked the registers. The most challenging thing was to keeping everything going at the right time. One of the great gifts I got from the job is that I learned to crack eggs with one hand. My favorite shift was Saturday morning. The first thing I would do is get a big bowl and crack three hundred eggs into it.” Amazon founder and CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, Crew Member 1980, Miami (FL)

*     *     *

These are five of the 45 different “stories” (actually, clusters of fond memories) that Cody Teets has assembled in this volume. After an especially thoughtful and sensitive Introduction, she frames each of the 44 personal accounts with a brief introduction and is obviously proud and pleased to be able to share them with her reader. I think it appropriate to let her conclude this review.  “However you choose to read this book – chronologically or just dropping in here and there – these are all quintessentially American stories that celebrate the adage that this country, more than any other on the earth, is still a land of opportunity.”

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