Life lessons from the drive-thru window

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A few years ago, I was inadvertently introduced to a series of sentence fragments that would forever alter the course of my life.

I was going through the drive-thru at the Burger King in Opelika with my friend Bobby, eagerly awaiting our order of fries and Coke-flavored Icees.

As we pulled up to the window to pay for our purchases, we were met by a heavy-set woman with long DayGlo colored fingernails who mumbled the price incoherently and grabbed the $20 from my hand the minute I stuck it out of the window.

She quickly tapped several buttons on the register, eventually hitting the magic one that allowed the register to open to produce our change.

As she handed me my change and our order, she uttered those life-changing and mystifying fragments: “ ’Preciate it. Have a day.”

Bobby and I thanked her and I rolled up my window as we started to speed out of the parking lot.

“What did she just say?” I asked Bobby. “Did she really just say…”

“‘Preciate it. Have a day,’” Bobby replied. “That’s what she said.”

I hardly knew where to begin.

As an undergraduate English major, I have to watch myself to keep my inner pedantic grammarian in check.

I’m a threat to take the trusty red pen and correct copy mistakes I see out in the world.

When presented with such a lovely example of authentic sentence fragments as a part of real world dialogue, my inner English teacher jumped for joy.

“Have a day,” I repeated, trailing off as I reached the end. “What kind of day am I supposed to have? There’s no adjective there.”

Was I supposed to have a good day filled with joy, happiness and gratuitous action scenes filled with explosions?

Was I fated to have a horrible day filled with enough angst and grief to make 19th-century German literature seem exuberant and buoyant by comparison?

Where was my adjective, that delightful, necessary word to give that noun “day” a sense of direction and purpose?

“Maybe that’s just it,” Bobby said. “Maybe she just means have a day. Make your own day, you know?”

When Bob’s right, he’s right. “‘Preciate it. Have a day,” has become a bit of a personal mantra, a way to bolster my spirits and prepare myself for whatever day may lie ahead of me.

Good or bad, I should “’preciate” the life I have, the living I’m allowed to continue.

There is no adjective there because we are empowered to adjectivize our own days.

We have to take power of our own lives and mold our actions to create the world in which we want to live.

If you want to have a happy day, choose to be happy. Make choices and decisions you think will make you happy.

If you are determined to have a bad day, go all out and wallow in self pity and sorrow until you’ve created your own Sylvia Plath scenario. Just don’t put your head in that oven – it’s not worth it.

You can’t be passive when it comes to you; you must be an advocate and lobbyist for your own best interests.

I don’t know what sort of life experiences led that noble Burger King employee to impart that wisdom to Bobby and me, but we will be forever indebted to her.

To this day, we generally end our phone conversations and meetings with those two simple sentence fragments, reminding ourselves we can have whatever kind of day we want to have.

In life, there will always be what I like to call “peripheral people,” the random background actors that will occasionally bless you with words of hope or wisdom.

These peripheral people can be anyone or everyone, so you must have constant vigilance in looking for them.

If you don’t wake up and pay attention, you may miss the unadorned brilliance of an error-laced non sequitur or throw-away factoid.

Keep an eye out and an ear open for your peripheral people. You’ll appreciate it and have a day.

A native Opelikan, Cliff McCollum is not someone who can easily be explained. Cliff tries to live his life rejecting the notion that we can all be summed up in a few simple sentences like these – and has resisted having one of these at the end of his column for years. But, since he must … he enjoys amateur field herpetology and serving up chicken salad and caustic comments at downtown Opelika’s Cottage Cafe.

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