Labor Day - Valuing Those Who Work and the Quiet Dignity of Work Itself

I was traveling through southern Minnesota. It was 2:30pm and it had already been a long day. Some days are like that, just a little more taxing than others. The clients and the client meetings had been fine, but the outside world seemed to be crumbling while I drove. Half a world away, Afghanistan was falling to the Taliban, and closer to home, my father had contracted COVID-19. On my little stretch of I-90, the sun bore down with temperatures in the 90s, while southerly winds stretched my SUV's air conditioning to its limits. Approaching Fairmont, I saw the road sign announcing a McDonald's and since I hadn't yet had lunch, I pulled in. 

While I know a lot of the "beautiful people" look down upon McDonald's, I do not. I travel some, and as far as I have experienced their food is good, well prepared and served by people who have been well trained. Certainly that was true in Fairmont that day. A friendly person greeted me and took my order, then thanked me. One window down, another greeted me and handed me my food with an additional, "thank you!".

That would be two greetings and two thanks for an order consisting of one quarter pounder with cheese. While I pondered my ration of cheeseburger to thank you, I pulled my SUV into a quiet corner of the parking lot and unwrapped my purchase. It was perfect, just off the grill, melted cheese and condiments on the burger (not on the wrapper). As a former McDonald's Crew Chief (summer of 1977!), I was impressed. The quarter pounder would prove to be the second most impressive thing I saw that day.

While enjoying my burger, a young man ran by my car at full sprint. Startled, I looked up just in time to see him catch up with the fast food wrapper he was chasing. It was a McDonald's Crew Member on parking lot detail. A job he clearly took very seriously, because on a day with the temperatures in the 90s and southerly winds gusting to well over 20 miles-per-hour, catching one piece of trash flying along I-90 wasn't going to make a dent in the world's troubles. But, it was this young man's job, and that wrapper never left the parking lot because of his efforts.

The best part was his reaction. Upon catching the wrapper, the young man scooped it off the ground and then raised his wrapper bearing hand in triumph. Cassius Clay stood over Sony Liston just as this young man stood over his pristine parking lot.

He didn't know I was watching, not that it should matter. His small achievement was as deserving as anyone else's success. A pose so often seen in end zones or Olympic podiums now replicated in the corner of the Fairmont, Minnesota McDonald's for the very best of reasons... to celebrate a job well done.

All jobs are hard, because all jobs are important. If you don't believe me, spend just one summer flipping burgers at McDonald's. It's Labor Day this Monday. So let's celebrate, let's acknowledge that with labor comes more than a paycheck. Labor provides opportunity for the dignity won by those who show up and do a day's work for a day's wages. They are champions, all.