I still miss Dave Thomas

I’m still really upset that Dave Thomas is dead. I know he passed away like fifteen years ago, I don’t really know how many years, and I don’t feel like looking it up, but it feels like fifteen years. Actually, it doesn’t feel like fifteen years at all. It’s just that, as I get older, and I look back at things that have happened in the past, for some reason it feels like everything happened within the past year.

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Maybe it’s because I love Wendy’s so much, but Dave’s absence from this world is sometimes too much to bear. I used to love watching TV, because Dave used to be like the Wendy’s mascot. He starred in pretty much every one of their commercials. Remember that one for Wendy’s at-the-time new spicy chicken sandwich? It was Dave sitting across from some mean looking southwestern guy. Each man hands the other his own spicy chicken sandwich. Dave takes a bite of the opponent’s, chews it, and doesn’t really give much in the way of any facial expressions. The other guy offers Dave a glass, “Water?” “No, thanks.”

And now it’s the other guy’s turn. He takes a bite of Wendy’s spicy chicken and his face immediately gets red. Now it’s Dave’s turn. “Water?” The other guy can’t even respond, he’s making a really pained facial expression, he just takes the glass and downs the whole thing.

It wasn’t just commercials. Dave had a vested interest in every one of his stores. He used to pop in at random locations across the country and start flipping burgers, taking orders. Naysayers would be like, “Oh big deal, he shows up and gets his photo taken holding a spatula every once in a while, that’s nothing more than a glorified photo-op.” But it was more, because after the photographers had left, the employees would be like, “OK, Mr. Thomas, we can take it from here.” But Dave wouldn’t leave. He’d insist on finishing his shift. Even afterwards, he’d get on his hands and knees and start scrubbing the floors, changing the fry oil, all of the hard, dirty work. And then he’d buy everyone a round of Frosties before he left.

He’d been a hard worker at an early age. When Dave was like twelve or thirteen, he got a job at a local diner, somewhere. I think he was from like Detroit or Cleveland or Chicago, one of those big cities somewhere in the middle of America. Legend has it that one night, every employee at this restaurant called out sick at the same time. Not one to back away from an honest night of hard work, Dave stepped up to the plate and waited on every single table. People in Akron, or Cincinnati – it was somewhere out there, I can’t remember exactly – they still talk about that night, saying he personally handled over two hundred tables through the course of dinner.

I got so inspired after I heard that story, I tried to replicate his feat of serving fortitude. But by halfway through my shift, I looked at my checks, I’d only gotten through six so far. Man, I’d have to really step it up if I even hoped at coming close to Dave’s record. I ran my ass off for the rest of the night, busing tables, taking orders anywhere I could. I think I turned some heads. It might have been in my imagination, but I thought I heard my boss say something like, “Wow, what’s gotten into Rob?” I was channeling Dave Thomas’s spirit. If only my boss accidentally called me Dave instead of Rob, my night would have been complete.

Well, also if I could have taken some more tables, that would have made my night even more complete. Because despite my best efforts, I still only came in at around eleven checks. The second half of the night wasn’t nearly as busy as the first. And then, I don’t know why I did it, but I took a fifteen-minute break right in the middle of the dinner rush. I was just so tired! I really needed to just sit down and have a glass of iced tea.

Still, even though I didn’t come close that night, I always have something to reach for. Thank you, Dave, wherever you are. You’re an inspiration to the service industry. I hope that in the afterlife, whichever god or goddess presides over heaven, I hope they like Big Bacon Classics. I love Big Bacon Classics. It’s definitely my go-to sandwich at Wendy’s. That and the spicy chicken. I get both. The fries … eh, honestly, McDonald’s fries are hard to beat. But nobody picks a fast-food place solely based on the fries. In terms of sandwiches, Wendy’s is king. Thanks Dave.

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