The 82 workers on Reyes’s staff, most of whom are paid between $8.25 and $9.50 an hour without medical benefits, have all been apprised of the smoothie’s arrival. Indeed, they have undergone smoothie video training, for like nearly all new McDonald’s products, the beverage has landed with expectations dictated from on high. The I Street McDonald’s is being urged to sell 300 mango pineapple smoothies a day. Each order should be filled within 50 seconds — there are electronic clocks attached to the cash registers that will help monitor whether the kitchen staff is meeting that goal.
But right now, at 7:30 a.m., Reyes is posting the smoothie signage sent by corporate. He has a staffer — Ramiro Rivera, from Mexico — up on the roof, jockeying a 4-by-6-foot, lime-green banner into place on the red tile. Reyes and I are standing below in the sweltering heat, in the parking lot, each of us holding cradling our own sample smoothies.
Reyes is a small man — stout, with a bristle-brush haircut and a sparse black mustache. He has a gentle, easy grin, and he greets his customers with a solicitous pride. “What you think?” he asks, gesturing toward my mostly gone smoothie.
“Pretty good,” I say. “Not bad.” And then we look up, both of us, as Rivera battens the banner down with rope. “Bueno,” Reyes shouts skyward. “Perfecto.”
All around us, the cars idle and lurch. There will be a line at the drive-through all morning long.
* * *
Two I Street is an American success story. Built in the early 1980s, the restaurant was bought in 2003 by Cuban-born Carlos Mateos, who spent $375,000 on a renovation that expanded the drive-through and updated the interior. Annual sales, which totaled $2.4 million eight years ago, have doubled. I Street is now one of the busiest McDonald’s in greater Washington. I spent five days at the restaurant in June, intent on meeting workers such as Raul Reyes who, in pursuing their own American dreams, had attached themselves to the McDonald’s juggernaut. Eighty percent of Reyes’s workers are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. (Immigrants — both documented and undocumented — account for about 25 percent of all workers in the food services industry, and that number is rising.)