The Barbecue Stand This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 28, 2010
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“Two pulled porks, one grilled chicken, and three chips.”

“Fifteen dollars, sir,” I say after a second of calculating. After two summers working at this barbecue stand, I've memorized the prices. I take the $20 bill and spin. Quickly, I duck out of the way as Sara whips a bag of chips from above my head. I crouch and slide a $5 bill from the register. By the time I've gotten correct change, deposited the twenty, and pivoted back to the window, the two pulled porks are ready, along with the chips. I stack them on a plastic platter, Breann places the chicken on the plate, and I hand it to the customer.

“Thanks! The barbecue sauce is around the corner. Have a great day!” Breathe. “Hi! How can I help you today, ma'am?” And so the process repeats until my shift ends.

It's a mirror there, in that 4-by-9-foot stand; if I smile, the customers smile. If I'm pleasant and kind, they are pleasant and kind. If I'm tired or grumpy, they retaliate with harsh, rude tones. People live by the cliché – I will respect you if you respect me.

The tip jar normally starts with only a couple of cents, but as the night progresses the tips increase to $2 or $3 per order. And the more smiley and pleasant I am, the more I can jack up that tip. I lose my sense of space. I am running into coworkers left and right, slipping behind them, gliding under their outstretched arms to get to the fridge, waiting ­outside the door. It's not the lack of space that starts to infect my brain; it's the lack of time. As soon as one customer walks off happy, I'm greeting another, calculating their order, and preparing it. But I am comfortable in this spinning world of ­craziness.

This hectic world isn't always the reality for the barbecue stand. Some festivals are sleepers. In other words, no one comes and the few people who do have either already eaten or get food at another stand. Lack of activity tests the mind as well. I park myself on a fold-out chair and fidget helplessly. Breathe.

If I stare out the window, I can watch the world move by. I witness men holding close the women they love; I examine the way friends act when they don't think anyone is looking. Hidden from view, I observe the ways of humanity. The kindness shown between friends and complete strangers. The way people move and interact. I learn about the world without moving from my stoop.

Humans are naturally good. Watch them long enough and it will become apparent, but don't let them catch you staring. When people-watching fails, conversation begins between Sara and me, or Breann, or whoever else is working with me in the stand. We talk about random and personal things. Through boredom, we become friends. The walls around my heart fall: a rare occurrence. I let them into my head: a rarer occurrence. I spill about my past and she tries to help with my present; when I've learned all I need to hear, the roles reverse and I attempt to help her. A Christian radio station plays softly in the background as we live life together.

And then it's over.

Shifts completed, we separate into our diverging lives until the next weekend that we do a shift in the barbecue stand.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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