For Everybody Setting That 5 a.m. Alarm

Guillermo Hernandez Martinez/The Players' Tribune

Let me ask everybody a question. Where does your food come from? I’m not being funny. Do you know where your food really comes from?

When you order some burgers on your phone, and 30 minutes later somebody comes and leaves a bag right in front of your door, you barely even think about it, right? We don’t even have to look anybody in the eye and say thank you anymore.

If you got enough money, your dinner just appears out of thin air, like magic. And that’s cool, don’t get me wrong. That system has helped keep a lot of people safe and healthy during the lockdown. But somebody out there was hunched over a griddle, making that burger. Somebody’s alarm went off at five o’clock in the morning so they could get to the restaurant before it opened to make sure there was enough lettuce, cheese and tomatoes for the day. Somebody showed up to turn on the lights and mop the floors and meet the trucks and double-check the shift schedules. Somebody had to prep the food stations and boot up the registers and clean the bathrooms and all that stuff we don’t see.

That’s how your burger gets to your door. Your app doesn’t do that, bruh. People do that. Real people.

Somebody’s alarm went off at 5 a.m. and they had to wake up their kids and make them some grilled cheese on the fly before running out the door. Somebody had to leave their children at home alone before school, and the last thing they said before running out the door was, “Don’t let me see any dirty dishes in that sink when I get home.”

I know that’s the truth, because that somebody was my mom.

That somebody still is my mom.

She’s worked at the Wendy’s in Marion County, Mississippi, since before I was born, and she’s still there now. (Probably literally right now, unless you’re reading this on a Sunday, or at three in the morning). She climbed all the way up from the cash register to become the general manager. And throughout this whole pandemic, she’s kept her store going. She kept her employees steady working, if they were comfortable working.

And a lot of people, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you this but I’ll tell you anyway … they need those paychecks. Not everybody can work from home in their sweatpants and call into the meeting on Zoom, you know what I mean? I’m not hating on the people who can. We need y’all, too. But a lot of people don’t have that luxury.

Courtesy of Johnathan Abram

That’s why I get so mad whenever I catch somebody looking down on the people working the cash registers and the grills and the drive-through windows and the grocery stores. These are the people who are making this country go, man. This lockdown is no vacation for them. This is how they feed their families, same as you feed your family making apps or doing marketing or whatever it is you do.

When I was a kid, my mom’s job put food on the table for me and my brother. I mean, literally. If my mom was coming back from a shift, she’d call us and see what we wanted her to bring home for dinner.

For me, it was usually, “Get me a Homestyle Chicken Sandwich and a sweet tea.”

When I got older and I was trying to get big for football, it was like, “You know what? Throw in a Double Stack, too.”

She tells everybody to this day, “My boys were raised on burgers and fries.”

Courtesy of Johnathan Abram

It’s kind of like an inside thing between us. It could maybe sound like a criticism, or a slight against us if somebody else said it, you know what I mean? But we just owned it. Those burgers and fries took us a long way. We’re proud of that. We’re not a sob story. My mom never let us down if we really wanted something. And listen, man, I was such a sneaker nerd that I was driving her crazy every time some new J’s came out. When the BRED 11s dropped, I was begging her every day.

She was like, “But you never even wear these shoes I get you. You keep ’em under the bed.”

I was like, “Mom, it’s an investment.”

I remember she drove me and my brother to Hibbett Sports so we could stand in line on the sidewalk all night trying to get the BREDs. This was the middle of December, too. And she was sitting out there in the car after a long shift, bringing us hot chocolate every two hours.

That’s a memory, man.

I copped the BREDs with my mom’s bread.

At the time, I didn’t understand how much work had gone into those five $20 bills she handed me. How many hours it took to get that cash. She almost made it look easy, you know what I mean?

She never let us see her stressed. I only understood it when I got older. I caught her in a vulnerable moment. I think I was in high school, and it was real late at night. I was supposed to be asleep. I went into her room to ask her something, and she was sitting on the bed … just crying.

That was the only time I ever saw her overwhelmed. She said everything was cool, but I knew. That was when it really clicked for me. My mom, and all those people out there like her … they’re the real heroes, man. Maybe people are finally starting to realize it now. The doctors and the nurses, first and foremost, for sure. But we also have to remember everybody working the grills and the deep fryers and stocking the shelves at the grocery stores and getting their hands dirty making sure we got food and water, and that the garbage is collected and the buses are still running to take those people to their jobs.

They’re making this country go. And they been making it go since before all this happened.

You know, this is going to sound like nothing to most people, but it’s everything for me. One of the best memories for me is when I was starting Little League. I was all dressed up in my uniform, super hype. And my mom actually took off work so that she could take me to my first game. I remember she was taking pictures of me in the driveway with one of them old Razr flip phones. I swear the pictures looked like a Super Nintendo game or something. They were so sketchy back then. But that was like the greatest day of my life, just to have my mom there, because she was always working.

Most of my memories are of her running out the door so she could provide for us. I can still hear her yelling to me and my brother, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if I was home. You’re my little men. BEHAVE.”

So yeah, I was raised on burgers and fries.

Hell yeah, I was.

And that’s the main thing I want people to take away from this story. I am so proud of my mom, man. You can’t understand how hard she worked unless you’ve ever worked that kind of job. My mother deserves your respect. Everybody who works to make this country go, and to keep this country fed, and to keep this country healthy….


Not your sympathy. Your respect. It’s different.

I’m not a politician or anything like that, but I know one thing for sure: We need to do more than just clap for all these essential workers who are getting us through this mess.

You know, I still hear people talking on TV and on social media, looking down on people like my mother.

They looking the wrong way, though.

They should be looking up to her.