OPINION: Anger has replaced fries as our side order of choice

A man and woman are accused of attacking a McDonald's employee over a packet of Splenda. (Channel 2 Action News)
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A man and woman are accused of attacking a McDonald's employee over a packet of Splenda. (Channel 2 Action News)

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

If the McDonald’s just would have had some Splenda on hand, so much ugliness could have been avoided.

But the Locust Grove restaurant was out of the sugar substitute, and a married couple in the drive-thru ended up going bananas, according to the police report. Unfortunately, for them, there are cameras everywhere these days, which captured their violent tantrums, and now they are infamous arrestees.

In fact, Henry Sheriff Reginald Scandrett said Crystal and Marshall Wallace “brought national embarrassment to the people of our great county.” I don’t know if the great people of Henry County should be embarrassed. But the Wallaces should be.

A video posted on ATL Uncensored shows Crystal Wallace tossing a drink at the McD’s worker in the drive-thru window and an employee responding by tossing a drink on, and in, the couple’s car. The video catches Crystal then banging on the window before crawling halfway in and tossing around anything within her reach. Husband Marshall did her one better. After shouting and pounding on the window, he entered the fast-food joint and wielded a chair as people screamed at him to knock it off. One woman warned him that he was going to injure an “old lady.”

Police say he hit the manager in the leg with a chair. Calls to Mr. Wallace went unreturned.

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Crystal and Marshall Wallace were arrested this week in connection with an angry incident at a McDonald's in Locust Grove.

Credit: Henry County Sheriff's office

Crystal and Marshall Wallace were arrested this week in connection with an angry incident at a McDonald's in Locust Grove.
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Crystal and Marshall Wallace were arrested this week in connection with an angry incident at a McDonald's in Locust Grove.

Credit: Henry County Sheriff's office

Credit: Henry County Sheriff's office

This, unfortunately, is not all that unusual these days. The video, which has gone viral, is just another example of the pent-up national rage and frustration that bubble up almost daily in the news and in social media, examples of otherwise normal folks going ballistic at restaurants, airports, retail establishments and even school board meetings. We’re a tightly wound public quick to anger and offense. And watch out when that fuse gets lit!

The flashpoints for the blowups are usually slight — being asked to wear a face mask, being asked to run an ATM card a second time through the card reader, the hamburger is cold or there was no cheese in the scrambled eggs.

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The psychologists say that isolation and anxiety from COVID-19 started us on this path to Crazytown. But we were already headed that way with deep-seated political divisions, racial antipathy and social alienation, all wrapped in selfish entitlement. Toss in a dash of cluelessness and you’ll have the recipe for a collective tantrum.

Part of what’s setting off people is the fact that nothing seems to work as it should. For instance, restaurants and stores have had a terrible time hiring enough workers, which has caused long lines, mixed-up orders or substandard service.

We have become a service-oriented society, with an expectation that others should be at our beck and call, all at a low price. People show up at a fast-food restaurant and expect a lot for their $5 value meal. Usually, it’s a low-paid employee who’s part of an understaffed crew trying to keep up with a demanding public. And, honestly, a lot of those workers come off as if they don’t give a hoot.

Hold the pickles? Yeah, right.

And if the order isn’t correct, it’s the customer’s God-given right to blow off steam at someone making $10 an hour. It’s cheap therapy.

Employees at restaurants are frayed and are apt to bite back.

The drink getting tossed at the Wallaces in retaliation was obviously not in the McDonald’s customer service handbook, but the reaction is not out of the realm of human reaction. In fact, some workers are arming themselves and unafraid to wave a gun around.

In October, a waitress at a downtown Atlanta Waffle House was arrested after a customer told police he had a gun pulled on him in an after-midnight incident. A fellow named Candy Franklin told Channel 2 Action News that he ordered cheesy eggs but got the plain variety. He said the argument escalated and the 23-year-old waitress pulled a pistol on him.

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A Waffle House was at the center of a recent incident that escalated. (File photo)

A Waffle House was at the center of a recent incident that escalated. (File photo)
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A Waffle House was at the center of a recent incident that escalated. (File photo)

The waitress, Angelic Patterson, told cops that Franklin started arguing “the minute he made his order” and changed it several times because he was unhappy. In fact, she said she went outside to have a smoke break and he followed and continued to berate her.

Police arrested her.

In DeKalb County, a customer told Fox 5 that an employee of McDonald’s recently waved a pistol at her because she was not wearing a mask. A woman named Crista Burton told the station that the unnamed employee started yelling at her because she had no mask, that she pulled out her phone to record, and the employee did one better, retrieving her gun.

DeKalb police say no arrests have been made and have encouraged Burton to file a civilian warrant with the magistrate court.

Unhappy and unruly customers are nothing new. As a 16-year-old scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins in the ‘70s, I witnessed a co-worker get a sundae tossed in her face for not putting whipped cream on it. A couple years later, as a camera salesman at Montgomery Ward, I was slapped by a customer unhappy for being rushed as a line queued behind him.

COVID-19 has ratcheted it up. Quynh “Q” Trinh, proprietor of the We Suki Suki restaurant in East Atlanta, is closing her restaurant and moving to another concept, tired of fighting with customers who won’t mask in her cramped business. She’s had threats and rude comments, “but in the last six months, it’s gotten unbearable. They don’t think the rules apply to them.”

I spoke with Terranesha Bell, the older sister of the 16-year-old McDonald’s worker involved with the angry couple. Bell said her sister begged their father to be able to work at the McDonald’s but found that irritable customers were not uncommon.

“She’d come home and would say this lady cussed me out because we didn’t give her extra sauce or someone was mad that the ice cream machine was out,” said Bell. “Another time, she came home and said that a lady threw a hamburger at her.”

All the while, she said, her sister was continually asked to work more hours because the restaurant was short-staffed.

Bell said that several members of the crew hid in the refrigerator when an angry Marshall Wallace came into the restaurant. Since then, she said, her sister and her teenage friend have quit their jobs.

Life is just too short.

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