Does McDonald’s discriminate against the homeless?


Blogging experts tell us to give our posts dramatic titles. I might not tell the story at all, but on the one hand there is an expectation that (though I seldom do) a homeless blogger will tell about the difficulties homeless people face.  On the other hand, it provides occasion for me to set forth William Tell’s current approach to injustice.

It will also let me model the principles of Free Speech Handbook.

This concerns an incident of October 7, 2014.

MY APPEARANCE isn’t that of your typical homeless person.

If you walk down the street in Barclay, about half the people you meet will look like they’re homeless. If you visit this McDonald’s at certain hours, all the customers will look like they’re homeless.  They’re not.  Many of these people have homes.  “But,” as I’ve said of such folk before,[1] “they still live more squalid than the homeless at the shelter where I stay.”

My clothes aren’t currently what I’d like, but they’re clean and neat. I don’t smell bad.  My body language isn’t that of an addict, drunk, crazy man or perpetrator.  Anyone who watches, smells or hears me will have no reason offhand to believe I’m homeless.

I don’t panhandle.

The only outward indicator of my homelessness is the backpack and two heavy bags I must carry with me everywhere I go.

And they’re not trashy, either.

MY ROUTINE when I go to McDonald’s in the afternoon, after my time at the library and before I return to the shelter, has been like this.

I find an empty seat and stash my bags underneath it. I leave them there, get in line and buy a “senior” coffee for 53¢.  I keep the receipt so I can get a refill later.  I put the coffee at my table, leave my bags where they are, and go outside and smoke a cigarette to let the coffee cool.  I come back inside, drink the coffee and write in my diary or blog posts.

When the time comes for my refill, I leave my things as they are, and take the receipt and empty cup straight to the counter.  In due course, staff take the receipt and give me my refill.  I put that at my table, leave my things as they are, and go outside to smoke again.  I come back in, drink the coffee, etc., usually use the bathroom (again having left my things at the table), and leave.

I haven’t always stashed my bags under the seat. I usually choose an empty two-person table, and used to pile my bags on the vacant seat.  However, on several occasions Shameka told me not to do this, “because someone else might want to sit there.”  She said this even when I was the only person in the dining room.  Seeing that the place does get crowded sometimes, I chose to change my ways and do as I do now.  Note the premise, that two unrelated people can sit at the same two-person table.

I don’t know the name of the woman with whom I dealt on October 7. She never wears a name tag, and is very seldom in the store.  When she is there, she seems to be in charge of everything.  For now I will call her “Dianne,” so as not to keep calling her “that woman.”

ON THE AFTERNOON of October 7, the store was pretty crowded when I arrived. I found an empty seat, and was about to put my bags there, when Dianne swooped down on me from behind the counter and said, “You can’t sit there.”

I have remarked many times the things that go on in this store. This level of attention to customers’ conduct is unheard of.  I was very much taken aback by this and subsequent events, but being forewarned,[2] I managed to maintain my composure.

A middle-aged woman was already sitting in the other seat at the same table. Dianne told me, “It’s her table.  You can’t sit there.”  She explained that once someone sat at a table for two persons, no one else could sit in the other seat.  I asked the woman, “May I sit here?” and she shrugged.  Dianne again told me I could not.

I looked around the dining room. By the one-person-per-table standard, practically all of the tables were taken.  I got the impression she wanted to deny me any seating whatsoever.

There was one vacant table immediately to my right. I said, “Can I sit there?”  Dianne turned to a very well-dressed young woman who had approached and had looked at that table.  The young woman said, “He can sit there.”

I put my things down and got in line to get coffee. I put my coffee on the table, left my things there, and went outside for a smoke.

A male staff member came out and said “she” wanted me to come back inside and get my things, because “we’re not responsible for your possessions.” There was also an issue that someone had been smoking a Black & Mild inside the store, and “she” thought that person was me.  He identified her as “the owner.”

I put my half-smoked smoke on a ledge, went back inside, and found Dianne. I asked her, if I were to take my things, leave my coffee at the table, and go out and finish my smoke; would my coffee still be there when I came back?  My concern was lest staff throw it out.

She said, “What I want to do is refund your coffee and have you leave the store, because it’s illegal to bring lit tobacco products inside the store.” Two or three staff jumped in and told her I was not the person who’d done that.

Now, a Black & Mild is an inexpensive cigar with a strong vanilla scent to it. There’s never any ignoring its presence, nor any doubt about who, if anyone, has one.  I’ve not had one in my possession for years, and if I had had this time, she certainly would have noticed it during our first conversation.

I re-posed my original question. She answered, “Once you’ve paid for your coffee and have it, it’s your possession.  We’re not responsible for your possessions.  If someone drinks from it, or puts something in it, while you’re outside, we’re not responsible.”

I had no concern about any such thing. In fact, on two previous occasions, I’ve come back from a smoke break to find someone else drinking my coffee.  So much for how much attention staff normally pay to customers’ conduct.

All this emphasis on “We’re not responsible for your possessions” suggests that the store may carry an oxymoronic grudge against me for the events of April 3, 2014.[3] I have not reported those here, and don’t want to now, lest I change the subject or presume to read minds. But Rosa alluded to the same events when she spoke to me on September 12.

I left my coffee at the table, put on my backpack and picked up my bags, and went back outside and finished my smoke. When I came back in, I drank my coffee; left my things at the table when I went to the counter for my refill; put that at my table, picked up all my belongings, went back outside for a smoke; came back inside, drank my coffee, and left.

“FAIRLY DEBATABLE” is a legal term describing a question about which “reasonable persons can disagree.” The next question becomes, what’s reasonable?  Is it reasonable to expect me to take all my possessions outside with me when I leave my coffee to have a smoke?  Would it be reasonable to require me, rather than placing my possessions at any table at all, to keep them all with me when I first stand in line?  What about when I go to the counter to get my refill; should I have to take them all with me at that time, too?  After all, that’s an ideal time for a perpetrator to victimize them; on one occasion I stood at the counter waiting for my refill 35 minutes.

Should the normal customer, or any customer, be required to take his or her possessions along when one uses the bathroom? Many, especially homeless ones as I’ve seen, do.  But  as I remarked just a little less than a year ago,[1] “One of the few shreds of dignity left to me is that I don’t have to take my bags with me into the bathroom.”

THE SERENITY PRAYER: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

If you would get on your feet, you will face obstacles.  Events and people will knock you down, put stumbling blocks before you, and step on you.  You may deal with prejudices and a “historical context.”  You alone choose what will distract or stop you — or whether, instead, you’ll keep on.

To become un-homeless, I must focus my emotional energies wholly on achieving my dreams.  Get my own job.  Get my own place.

Does McDonald’s discriminate against the homeless? I don’t know, and don’t much care.  The question is immaterial to my goals in life.

Related: The Gestapo librarian
Related:  Life in the outer darkness

[1]Must I work for Rent-A-Bum?
[2]Exceptional horoscopes update 2014-10-20
[3]That story is told in the 12/15/18 post, “I shoulda had somebody crack your head open.”  Up to 10/07/14, no one but staff had ever molested my things.  I should think that if staff molests someone’s belongings, then, yes, the store has become responsible.

(Originally posted 2014-10-18.)

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