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by Mark Andel


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Do Fast Food Employees Deserve a Break Today?

Enron’s End-Around The Law

When King Arthur Falls, What Happens to Camelot?

Who’s to Blame for High Gas Prices?

Easy Mark

by Mark Andel

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Do Fast Food Employees

Deserve a Break Today?


 "You want fries with that?"

- Drive-Up Window Refrain


FAST FOOD EMPLOYEES have suffered my wrath for years.

I consider myself a fair man, pretty much: a mild-mannered, even-tempered man. But when I get home from a late-night excursion to Wendy's and find that the spicy chicken I ordered turns out to be a single with cheese instead and the fries are not Biggies, well, as Billy Jack would say, I . . . just . . . go. . . ber-SERK!

I immediately assume it's insolence on the part of the teenager behind the counter - a form of revenge against fast food junkies based on the assumption that ninety-five percent of customers will simply eat what they're given and won't come back to complain. Throw a bag of chow out there, they figure, and watch their tail lights disappear and good riddance to the lot of them. Let's face it. By the time you re-wrap the sandwich and drive all the way back to the window, stewing the whole time, you don't even want your original order anymore.

I was so mad about being given fries one time instead of a baked potato that I absolutely tore into the fries on way back to the window with a great gnashing of teeth. By the time I got there, there weren't any left. Did that deter me? Not in the slightest. I was kindling my wrath to keep it warm the whole way. I marched up to the counter with the empty french fry container and said, "You gave me fries when I wanted a baked potato!" The kids back there all stared at each other. "Can I get you a potato?" One offered finally. "That's not the point," I said, my voice catching slightly. I nearly limped when I walked back into the night.

Once at the Arby's restaurant in Oak Park, my wife Linda was so discouraged by waiting 25 minutes and still being given the wrong food items that she decided to decorate one of the plastic chairs with Horsey sauce. The manager asked her to leave. From then on, if we got Arby's, I'd have to go in and get it while she slunk down in her seat with sunglasses on like the fugitive she was.

Another time she ordered a plain double cheeseburger at McDonald's. When the order came through, it was two burgers on a bun. No ketchup. No onions. And no cheese. "Technically," I explained to her, "They're right on this one." She spiraled it back to the burger-maker anyway and nearly broke the glass door when she left. Now, she checks every order at the window, forcing me to grin sheepishly at the drive-through employee, spinning my fingers near my ear in the universal gesture that indicates some kind of mental condition.

The truth is, I'm kind of glad Linda does it, because I don't want to have to return to the window, all red-faced and upset over something so . . . trivial. Yes, I have been full of rage at the general decline in service and civility. Yes, I have been near the boiling point like that guy in the movie "Falling Down," who wanted to order breakfast at 10:35 a.m. and was told he couldn't, so he trashed the place. I know that kind of anger.

But all that changed this past weekend.  I pulled into a McDonald's Sunday afternoon to order a large coffee, and when I got to the window to receive it, my own daughter Jillian was the one who served it to me. She was wearing the team McDonald's summer shirt, the name tag, the whole bit. She even asked my if I wanted cream and sugar with that. My heart nearly burst.

My little girl, whose Happy Meal consumption was prodigious in the early years, was now with the outfit.

These are people's kids back there, all of them, trying to make an honest buck. So now I'm thinking (knowing what a sweetheart my daughter is) that the odds are pretty good that if these drive-up window kids forget the extra order of fries or the barbecue sauce with the chicken McNuggets they truly mean no harm by it. You figure you deserve a break today? How about them?

 I'm planning to give them the benefit of the doubt from now on.

As long as they stop asking me if I want to try some weird menu item before they even take my order.~

  ©Mark Andel 2001


Enron’s End-Around the Law


“Bein’ a idiot is no box of chocolates.”

- Forrest Gump


I could probably be a juror in the Enron case.

I say that because, according to the American system of justice in civil and criminal matters, jury members are selected based on what they don’t know about the case at hand. If you prove yourself too knowledgeable about a case by having read newspaper accounts or by watching CNN in order to become a more informed citizen, you’re off the jury. Instead, people are selected based on their innocent guilelessness and absence of knowledge: what I like to call the “Gump Factor.”

Sometimes this method works, sometimes it doesn’t. O.J. Simpson is the very definition of how effective it can be when it’s abused with a high degree of professionalism. Eventually, of course, O.J. will get caught beating a country club towel attendant to death with a Wilson Deep Red driver, and that will be that. Unless he gets another sympathetic jury that believes Johnny Cochran when he bellows, “This is a D2 weight driver! O.J. would never use a driver this light! And the loft is 9.5 degrees. O.J. uses a 10 degree loft. This is an outrage!” If justice is blind, it can also be deaf and dumb, I reckon.  

If I were to be called to testify against Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, for example, I might shuffle my feet a little and say, “Yeah, he makes a pretty good chip. But I’m more of a Ruffles man.” And boom, I might just find myself on the jury.

Part of my avoidance of the Enron case is my own tendency toward depression when contemplating the machinations of rich, greedy corporate people and how they continue to step on the backs of the people who work for them without a trace of loyalty or concern or sense of obligation to look out for their best interests. If I had that sense of sangfroid, maybe I’d be a rich guy, too. I can hardly bear to watch CEOs read prepared statements at press conferences lamenting their company’s terrible performance (performance that occurred because of bad decisions in those high corner offices) and “regretfully” having to dismiss 6,000 employees while snugging the straps on their own golden parachutes. In many of these instances, the board votes for multimillion dollar bonus for the CEO’s foresight in “restructuring and right-sizing the organization.”

And loyal, hardworking people are out on the street, left to fend for themselves and look for yet another company that may very well treat them the same way.

This is not stuff for a weak stomach.

And Enron’s story is really enough to make you lose your lunch.

The company realized somewhere along the line that speculating on the cost of energy in the future was much more lucrative (and fun!) than actually producing any to sell. It was a house of cards, bucked up by good press and powerful, sure-handed politicians. But like any paper house, it had to come down. And when it did, Ken Lay appeared from behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz, a humbug without a big smoking head, offering a contrite bow and his resignation. 

Arthur Anderson, that blue-suited bastion of fiscal might, knuckled under to Enron like store-bought sycophants, scooping up $27 million in fees for the use of the Anderson imprimatur. Good thing, too, because now it won’t be worth too much in the open market. (As a potential juror, incidentally, if asked about Anderson, the answer is, “Yep, they make a fine window.”)

Anderson took the adage “He whose bread I eat, his song I sing” to its extreme, selling corporate indulgences like candy bars to feed its own blue-suited multitudes.

And now, as Senate hearings and investigations begin, with our government protectors and watchdogs hammering stocks around the necks of the wrong-doers whom they supported so staunchly a few months ago, who will ultimately pay the price for all this mess?

The little guy.

The same one who reads the want ads every week, who knows deep down that he can no longer trust his employer, or the bulls and bears of Wall Street, or his elected officials to protect him from the greed that has fueled this nation of ours from the beginning.


  ©Mark Andel 2002


When King Arthur Falls, What Happens to Camelot?


“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

- Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II


“Life sucks, get a helmet.”

- Denis Leary


Sometimes things strike you as a little funny and a little sad at the same time.

When accounting king Arthur Andersen employees banded together to declare on posters that the Enron incident was not their fault and therefore they should not lose their jobs, my reaction was the same one Denis Leary has when a simpering character says, “Boo hoo, my life didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.” Leary deadpans, “Hey, join the freaking club!” If everybody who lost their job because of the incompetence and shady dealings of higher-ups started parading the streets with placards, cities across the country would resemble a Civil Rights march.

Hey, maybe that’s what this country needs: a march on Washington to protest the decisions made by idiots in corner pockets that resulted in corporate devastation. We could drop suited effigies from the sky on golden parachutes and burn them of guys like Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling and Chainsaw Al Dunlap, and every other boss who screwed up, leaving wrecked families in the wake of their super-charged power boats.

Having been in a few management meetings at Fortune 500 companies and having listened to the sound of nothing more going on than a group of dark-suited bozos tap dancing their hardest to keep their own good thing going, I wonder why more of these monoliths don’t fold in on themselves and implode.

True story: at a threaded fastener company where I worked once, management puzzled until their puzzlers were sore about a morale-boosting award they could give to top achievers in the company. What did they come up with after meeting on it several times? A chromed version of one of the company’s products, engraved with the employee’s name. Almost immediately, employees began referring to the award as “The Big Screw.” Did morale go through the roof? No, but demoralization trended upward for the month.

I am not calloused. I do feel bad for the Arthur Andersen employees who were pink-slipped and who will be in the weeks to come. It has to be tough believing you are aligned with a dignified, trustworthy, pillar of integrity only to find that some idiot decided to sink the pillar in mud on purpose to make a few bucks.

And speaking of tap-dancing,, those big clients of Andersen who jumped ship did so in order to avoid the scrutiny of shareholders at their big meetings and the raised eyebrows of the IRS come tax time. In fact, the way for a corporation to get a sure and hearty round of applause at the shareholder meeting these days is to announce, “We ditched Andersen!”

 The big corporate players are a lot like politicians that way. They get away with what they can, and make it their primary function in life to hang on to a good thing for themselves and express mock concern for the constituents who fall by the wayside.

Andersen’s accountants must know that it has always been a numbers game.


©Mark Andel 2002


Who’s to Blame for High Gas Prices?


As tempting as it may be to blame OPEC’s oil ministers and sheiks for the high price of gasoline, especially since they have those devilish beards and devil-may-care attitude toward the typical American consumer, the blame does not lie entirely with them and their villainous price-fixing ways.

You need only look at the parking lot of the Allstate Arena (still referred to as the Rosemont Horizon by seventy-five percent of suburbanites) some evening when a sporting event is in town. When you do this, you quickly come to realize that the American consumers must share the burden of blame for excessive fossil fuel consumption in this country, because of their insatiable appetite for mega SUVs and super trucks.

There you will see row upon row of Explorers and Expeditions and Everests and Escalades (which sounds like a type of lettuce), not to mention Pathfinders and Blazers and other names of vehicles that sound primed and ready to cut a wide swath through the Old West (or at least DuPage County) and lay waste to the poor suckers out there still driving their Corollas and Civics and other so-called sensible cars.

Because America has never been about being sensible. It’s about being the biggest and baddest and brashest and boldest. No matter that most of the folks driving these behemoths are merely blazing the same trail down I-94 every day to get to their cubicle in the city. What matters more is the intangible: the feeling and spirit and lure of the open road. In the commercials, you never see a line-up of giant SUVs puttering along bumper to bumper on an expressway, burning up gallons of the sticky remains of dead dinosaurs. In the commercials, there are mountain backdrops and clear streams to befoul with the three-inch thick treads of your beloved automotive companion. Your SUV is your fortress, your pal, your place of refuge, your living room. And if it only gets nine miles to a gallon gasoline, well that’s just the way it is.

According to a statistic in Harper’s magazine, Americans could save millions of barrels of oil every week if they made the supreme sacrifice of driving smaller, more economical cars. Would this startling fact get people to rethink things at all and make them contemplate getting a smaller car? Not in the least. Because another distinct American trait is not giving up anything unless everyone else has to do the same thing. This is learned early on, as children, and we never outgrow it. “I’m not going to stop riding my Stingray bike down Suicide Hill unless you make Larry stop too.”  That’s just the way we are. Maybe not human nature, but American nature.

How big is too big, and when will the trend reach its apex and bend back downward? When people feel the true and panicky squeeze on their wallets resting on their rich Corinthian leather seats. And for a lot of people, that time is a long way off. They’re loaded, and they’re not about to give up anything, and so what if it means spending forty-five dollars to fill-‘er-up? A few weeks ago, a woman in the Hamptons backed her SUV over a crowd of people at a fashionable restaurant because she felt slighted by someone there. If your car and bank account are big enough, you can become drunk on the power of all those horses under the hood and roll blithely over the peasants and let God sort ‘em out. She was in public relations, so you’d think she would know better, but there you go. Bad press is the least of her problems now.

There is no good reason we couldn’t all be driving hybrid gasoline-electric cars now. We could be hooking up battery rechargers every night for pennies instead of paying whatever the number is on the pump on any given week.

But there’s an oil man in the White House now, and those guys with the devilish beards paid a lot of money to put him there. They all like those vehicles that are as big as Texas.

They really do.

  ©Mark Andel 2001