Tuesday, July 26, 2011

After midnight the knives come out

My shirt is soaking wet as I reach down and pull the plug on one of the three sinks I am working at. It’s after closing at the Airport Way Wendy’s store in Fairbanks, Alaska, and I am almost done with my section. But I am not alone.

Up front, on the main grill is my brother, Ben. On the drive-thru grill is our friend and co-worker Mike and handling the dining room is another one of our co-workers. In the back office is our manager, Mickey. She is counting the tills making sure the night’s totals balance. Being the youngest person on the crew at 15, it is my job to do dishes; something I loath to do.

Each of us works to finish our sections and get out of the store quickly. Usually the close takes us just over an hour, tonight though, we seem to be working a little quicker. At the start of our shift Mike informs us of a party later and we are anxious to get there.

“I need the mop!” I holler from the back.

Ben responds telling me no one is using it and I am free to take it. Wendy’s has a three step policy when doing floors -sweep, scrub, mop- and I have finished the second one. I take the mop, fill it with warm soapy water and mop up my section. Mike and Ben are finishing up the scrubbing part of their steps as I finish with the mop so I move over to their sides and keep mopping. In twenty minutes I have the kitchen mopped and we are all swapping out our uniform shirts for various t-shirts and street clothes.

“Mickey, we are done,” Mike tells our manager as he slips on his leather biker jacket.

“Me too,” she says, locking the safe and standing up. Her blue manager’s shirt is un-tucked and a couple of the buttons on the top have been undone.

We all walk out and head to our various vehicles. Mike double checks with us all to make sure we are heading to the party. All of us are, except for Mickey who decides to go home.

Ben and I jump in the car of our friend Wendy Treakle. Ben has not been given permission to drive my dad’s truck yet and Wendy has obliged us by being our driver. We in turn pay for her gas. A nice arrangement especially since we are all really close friends.

We follow Mike to the location and pile out of the car. Our host-another employee of Wendy’s named Yogi- greets us at the door.

“What’s up guys, come on downstairs,” Yogi says as we arrive.

Yogi lives in a basement apartment, above him is the son of the owners of the Fairbanks Wendy’s. A good guy who drops down every once and awhile to see what we are up to and to make sure we aren’t getting out of control. We try to keep it calm so as not to upset him.

We break up in to various groups and talk about our night. The gathering is primarily folks from the two Wendy’s stores and all of us part of the night crews.

Mike, the oldest of us all, finishes his fifth beer. The effects are becoming more apparent as his speech is slightly slurred and he has a perpetual smile. Mike says a few barely intelligible words before staggering across Yogi’s apartment. Ben, Wendy and I continue our conversation with Yogi, who is seated at the end of his bed.

“Who the hell do you think you are,” we hear someone say angrily from across the room. Our attention is grabbed immediately.

Mike is in an argument with one of our former co-workers, Josh. Josh quit because he had authority issues and also he couldn’t get along with Mike. The argument escalates quickly.

“I will kick your ass,” Josh says as he pulls back his fist.

Mike, although drunk, moves quickly to get out of the way. Although Mike has a lot of bravado, he is the calm one.

“Calm down man, you don’t want this,” he says.

Josh disagrees and comes at Mike again. This time he gets him and they tumble on to Yogi’s bed fists flailing.

Yogi –a six-foot-three, 250 plus pound black man- tends to be pretty intimidating to those who don’t know him. Despite his best effort to get the fight to stop, nothing seems to be working.

Mike punches Josh a few times in the face before getting off of him. Thinking the fight is over he says, “I told you, you don’t want this.”

Josh isn’t done. He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a knife. He glares at Mike. Yogi hollers trying to get Josh to stop. Josh sees red and lunges.

Mike –a scrapper through and through- catches the knife in his hand and begins pummeling Josh in the face. Finally the knife is comes free of Josh’s hand and Yogi quickly grabs it. By this time David has come down from upstairs. He has Yogi’s build and together they grab Josh and haul him upstairs. The angry former co-worker is thrown out of the house with a few extra blows to encourage him not to come back.

Downstairs we begin cleaning up the mess made by the brawl. Mike apologizes profusely to Yogi but the air of joy has been replaced with an air of tension. Mike begins to put on his jacket and asks for a ride home. His hand is bleeding from where he caught the knife and his eye is red and swollen. Before he can leave though David, who has gone back upstairs, hollers that the cops were here.

Yogi quickly checks Ben, Wendy and I, to make sure we are not drinking. None of us, although after what we had just witness we want to be.

Fairbank’s finest come downstairs to see what is going on. Yogi remains calm as he tells them what happened. As they are talking the three of us underage attendees are doing our best to become part of the wall. It takes about 20 minutes, but Yogi finally convinces the police officers that nothing is going on and everyone is going home. They leave and the rest of us are quick to follow.

Before leaving we apologize to Yogi and he says it’s no big deal. Smiling Yogi reminds us all that there is a basketball game at the park after work tomorrow.

We will be there, we say.