Skating carhop rolls back in time (Video)
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The music thumped through the warm summer night as Brianna Banda darted across the parking lot, digging her black roller blades into the ground to move faster.
Cars and trucks rumbled through the Sonic parking lot, providing the only hint of breeze on this sultry summer evening. The 15-year-old darted between and around them, an intricate dance she has to invent every time she delivers a hamburger or a slush drink. Drivers lean through rolled down car windows to exchange money for food. She'll smile at them, a wide, earnest grin that goes all the way to her black eyes fringed with inky black lashes, and hand them their orders from a red plastic tray crammed with food.
"Do you ever fall down?" they'll ask. That's what they always want to know.
During the rest of her day, Brianna lives a busy teenaged existence, but from 4 p.m. on, Brianna is a throwback to another era, the time when skating carhops didn't rule the world, but they moved through its parking lots balancing trays of greasy food that they almost never dropped. That is still a cardinal rule in the skating carhop universe: Don't fall down. Never drop the food.
Brianna had been walking the parking lot for a couple of weeks working at her first job as a Sonic carhop, but her heart thumped as she strapped on the roller blades and clambered out of the Sonic kitchen and onto the pavement.
The first order she had to carry on skates was crammed with food and she was praying as she made her way across the parking lot. It was like walking on air.
"Please God, don't let me fall. Don't let me fall. Don't let me fall," she kept thinking as she moved her size six feet in black skates, three sizes too big. She stuffed brown paper towels in the toes to make them fit.
For the first hour, she hated it. She felt unsteady and uncertain on wheels. All she wanted to do was take them off and tell her manager this wasn't for her. But she couldn't give up that easily.
This was a challenge, like learning to coax beautiful, reedy sounds from her clarinet or becoming a drum major for the Cuero High School band, or mastering Algebra or talking her parents into letting her get her first job. The complexities of math hadn't beat her, and neither would a pair of roller blades.
After the rush of evening patrons had slowed, she made slow loops around the restaurant, remembering how she used to do this at the roller skating rink.
"You know what? I've got this," she told herself.
Soon enough, she did. Her center of gravity seemed almost supernatural, and, no matter how much food she was carrying, she never fell.
The customers marveled at her skill. Even her regular customers - the guy with the maroon Porsche, the woman who only ordered sweet iced tea, the lady who drove a white truck packed with kids - would ask her how she did it, if she had fallen yet.
"Nope, not yet," Brianna would say, tossing her wavy black mane of a ponytail.
The drive-in on Navarro can be a hectic place. From late afternoon until early evening, it descends into chaos, with carhops screaming for their orders while a long, high electronic whistle blares inside the kitchen, telling them that another person is pushing that red drive-in window button, waiting for their food.
In there, Brianna's smile fades, as she wrinkles her eyebrows and carefully wipes the sides of a styrofoam cup clean of cherry red slush. She had to work hard to get her parents to let her try this job - she's working now to convince them she can keep it during the school year when she'll be juggling AP classes, sports and band practice during her sophomore year.
Young as she is, assistant manager Carla Mathis has seen her scramble and sweat with a work ethic that seems rare in today's world. Sonic hasn't required carhops to skate in years, but the customers love it, and Mathis knows that seeing Brianna glide across the parking lot makes people smile, even as they're wondering that age old question - does she ever fall?
Until last Saturday, she didn't.
It happened when she'd been on wheels long enough that it was starting to feel like she would never lose her balance.
Last Saturday, the kitchen was packed with carhops, blurs of motion as they rushed the food out the door to the car. Out of the corner of her eye, Brianna saw another carhop moving toward the door, but, focused on the tray full of ice cream in her hands, she didn't see the other girl's feet.
She landed on the floor with a smack, fists clenched the way her dad had taught her to keep from breaking her fingers. Her knees were ringing with pain. Mathis and the other carhops gripped her hands and hoisted her to her feet, where she stood, not sure if she felt the physical pain more than the embarrassment. She'd finally fallen down.
Mathis told her she could take her skates off and walk the rest of the night if she needed to, that she didn't need to be tough. She said she was fine, she had this.
"Once you do one of those, it can't really get any worse," she decided. "If you fall, you fall. What's the worst that can happen? You fall again?"
The black and purple bruises are still on her legs, but you'd never know it as she flies across the parking lot. She doesn't hold back as she propels herself forward.