“F- – – YOU!”
“F- – – YOU!” (…a little louder than the last…)
And as it was said at least three more times each, my African-American friend in-line and I looked at one another, grimacing, disheartened by what we had sadly just stood between.
My respite this summer included a variety of interactions and travels… some with family, some with the familiar, others still to a foreign land.
On one such venture, I was traveling alone, attempting to grab a quick bite before catching my next flight. I stopped in the airport at one of those make-your-own, fast-fire pizza joints, hoping to grab something quick and be distracted by nothing else. Unfortunately, I was distracted immediately.
The pizza place was packed. The lines were long, the pace was fast, and the workers were seemingly drowning, attempting to simply keep up.
It’s tough when you’re drowning; you’re trying to keep up at a minimum, survive it seems, maybe do the best you can; but at the very least, the desire is simply to hold all things together. The staff here was trying, but it was challenging at best. Smiles were at a minimum. Scarce, in fact. Ok, nonexistent. The chaotic pace had zapped any otherwise present joy.
I met a young African-American male in line; our conversation was brief but solid — each in search of a brief respite before our connecting flight.
The pizza place staff was very ethnically mixed — black, white, Hispanic. The manager was a middle-aged white male, who by all accounts, was also in a pretty steely mood; in restaurant terminology, he was totally, completely “in the weeds.”
Prior to placing my order, there was a 30-something, African-American woman who placed her order. In addition to her pizza, she purchased an empty cup. She and what looked like maybe her mother took a seat a row behind my in-line friend and me, while her male counterpart stood at the counter awaiting her order… and yes, her cup.
So amid the crowd stood my newfound friend and me and the man who was retrieving the order for the African-American woman. We stood between the woman, the counter, and the store manager.
When the pizza was finally retrieved for the woman, the manager forgot to give her the cup. Her friend retrieved the pizza but failed to realize the importance of the cup. The woman started yelling — a semi-silent yell at this point. Her friend looked at her confusingly; he didn’t understand. She responded semi-loudly, “My cup! Don’t forget my cup!”
Her friend turned to the manager behind the counter, saying nothing, but politely gesturing and pointing to the cup. The manager — trying to manage at least 7 other orders simultaneously — was seemingly aware something was happening, but was unsure of exactly what it was…
“Get my damn cup! I paid for that damn cup!” the woman more loudly reiterated from a row away.
At this point, the manager seemed unaware of the specifics but very aware that one of his customers was annoyed with him and his marketplace. He looked up, seemingly stupefied at the perceived annoyance. He obviously didn’t care for the ratcheting up of emotion, and then started to get gruffer with those in his immediate presence, not realizing the cup was of chief importance. It mattered not… the woman continued…
“I paid for that cup! Check the frickin’ receipt!!” (Note: “frickin” is a substitute for the actual, so-called “French.”)
The manager proceeded to get hot. He grabbed a cup, gave it to the woman’s friend, but clearly, disrespectfully mumbled vulgarities under his breath. Meanwhile, the woman continued, dissatisfied at the lack of expedient service…
“I am not a poor Nigger! I am not a poor Nigger! I can afford anything I want! Want to see my bank account?? I am not a poor Nigger!”
She said it over and over again. My heart hurt for her.
The manager at this point was clearly, increasingly irked. He started shouting at her. Who said “f-you” first,” I do not know. They both just kept shouting at one another, focused most on their own circumstances, irritations and inconvenience.
My newfound African-American friend of mine… well, he and I just looked at each other, and sadly shook our heads. I was so thankful for him — for our bond amidst the discomfort. We both hated being there… being in the middle. If either of us could have made a significant difference, we would have done so. But here were two people who were clearly upset, and could see nothing other than their own circumstances. They could not see any other way.
I was thankful for my new friend. We shook our heads, nodding a sober goodbye, both wishing for something better and more.
We realized the absence of authentic communication — more so, the absence of any actual desire to communicate. We walked away, grimacing, disheartened by what we had sadly just stood between.