Over the years of serving those without homes, I have learned that there are unspoken rules for those who have and for those who have not. After I picked my son up from roller derby practice Monday night, I saw another example of that. It was late and we had not had dinner and decided to stop and grab a burger on the way home.
I stopped at one of local burger chains and as we went inside, there were two gentlemen who had came in as well. Both older, clean and well dressed, the only difference you could see between the two was the fact that one was carrying a backpack. The one with the backpack sat in a back corner, in a spot were no one could see him except those entering or leaving from side door. The other sat in the middle of the place in full view of anyone coming or going. The one in the back corner began playing a game of solitary and the other asked for a glass of water and sat to read the paper.
As we waited for our order, I had noticed that I knew the man in the back corner from the park and I waved and got ready to go over and talk to him. As I started over the manager of the place came out from behind the counter and started to speak to him, so I decided I would wait until she was done talking to him. My son stood with me talking to me about practice, but I kept my ear tuned to the conversation in the corner. As the conversation in the corner started to heat up, I found myself slowly inching closer to hear, my son sat down and just shook his head. I asked him “What?” He just laughed and said “We are going to be here for awhile.” Okay so by now my son knows me well enough that I can’t walk away in a situation like that.
As the manager left I walked over to ask what the problem was and what was going on. Our park guy said he came in to wait for his wife to get off work. Let me give you a little back ground on our park guy. He has lost his job and has not been able to find work. His wonderful wife has been able to find work, part time at a radio station just down the street from the burger joint. Because of only part time work, the only place they have to stay is in the camper they have. Neither is on drugs or drinks. Very wonderful people who only are trying to make it in this world. Back to the manager, she had stated to him that he would have to leave, they there was a policy that stated that you could only stay in the place for thirty minutes, unless you were a paying customer. He explained that he was only waiting for his wife to get off work and would not be there long. She didn’t care and wanted him out. If he didn’t leave she was going to call the police.
Now besides my son, myself, the other older gentleman reading the paper, the only other person in the place was our park friend. I asked the manager “If this gentlman has to leave, then why is the other not asked to leave as well?” “That’s different, he comes often and is not bothering any of the costumers.” She stated. I asked her “what costumers are being bothered by our friend sitting in the corner, there is no one in here.” “It’s just different for him” she stated.
“So let me get this right. Our friend can’t stay because he is not a paying costumer and the other can stay because he asked for a glass of water that he didn’t pay for?”
“Yes, it’s different” she said.
“So were is your policy posted that you can only stay thirty minutes unless you are a paying customer?”
Once again she didn’t have a strait answer and could not show anywhere that it was posted. I asked how someone was to know that policy just walking in off the street, still no answer. She then stated that he needed to get out and promptly walked off. So I promptly walked over to our friend reached in my purse and pulled a five-dollar bill. Are you hungry or thirsty I asked him? No, I just wanted to wait for my wife; she will be off work soon. I said go buy something to drink, even if you don’t drink it and sit back down, you will then be a paying customer and they won’t have any reason to ask you to leave. He smiled, took the bill and walked to the counter. The same lady looked at him and refused to take his order, so my son and I stood with him until someone waited on him. Finally someone took his drink order and we all sat and chatted for a while.
My son and I had to leave, but as we were leaving our park friend handed me back the change from the drink. I told him to please hold onto it and if she came back to make him leave again, go over and buy something else and you just keep doing that until your wife gets off work. We laughed, hugged and left, telling our friend that we would see him soon.
Now before anyone gets upset, I do know that restaurants can’t just let people come in and hangout. They are there to make money. My point to all this is we have two different people doing the same thing. Coming in to a place that is pretty much empty, neither buying anything and both minding their own business in different parts of the restaurant. One who did not buy anything, but has been in from time to time is allowed to stay. The other because he is homeless was asked to leave. She stated he was bothering customers (the only customers were us and he was not bothering us) and who was she to determine who was worthy enough to sit and stay inside?
Once again the unspoken rules for those who have and those who have not, for those who are accepted by society and those who have been rejected. When will we be begin to look at others and see the worth and beauty they have inside of them and not determine a persons value based on their appearance or what processions they may have?