This is the scene behind the counter here at Cosi, where I spend many of my days researching and writing.
I like it here. It’s pretty quiet, they have free wireless and the bread is consistently salty, but only mildly so. Cosi also serves as a reminder of how fortunate I am to be writing for a living; to be living my dream. This store is located in New Rochelle, a Westchester, N.Y. town about 30 miles outside of NYC. Most of the employees take a bus here from the Bronxâ€”leave home around 6 am, get here at 7, spend the next nine hours slinging bread and drinks to oft-snobby/snide/whiny suburbanites for minimum wage.
It is, in myriad ways, a great example of how inequality in this nation looms large. Because I happened to be born to two parents who could afford to send me to college and raised me in a nice suburban town and always supportedâ€”emotionally and financiallyâ€”my needs, I kick back, sip a Cafe Au Lait and live the good life. I worry about finances, naturally, but have never truly faced the day-to-day hardships so many here do. I certainly never had to take a one-hour bus ride to make minimum wage.
The unfairness gets me. The employees here are smart, curious, driven. We talk and talk and talk, and there’s a real frustration over the reality of it all. Does the 20-year-old woman making my coffee want to be here? Or would she rather be off on some lush collegiate campus, reading books and preparing for her life as a doctor or lawyer or writer or whatever.
Not sure of the point of this allâ€”only that it makes me sad.
Back in the day, when I was traveling for Sports Illustrated on a near-weekly basis, I’d respond to anyone who’d say, “Why do we need government assistance programs? Everything’s equal now in the US.” with the ol’ “Have you been on the Avis line lately?” What I meant wasâ€”95% of people renting the cars seemed to be white, and 95% of the people behind the counter seemed to be African-American. The same, sadly, goes for this Cosi. As I look up right now, every single person eating sandwiches here is white, and every single person behind the counter is black.
We can do better. We should do better.
I just have no idea how.