Black. White. Cosi. Avis


Am sitting in Cosi, listening to the store manager give performance reviews to his workers.

They are a hard-driven bunch here. Good people, mostly in their early 20s, slinging coffee, creating salads, washing windows. Most—nearly all—are either African-American or Hispanic. The clientele is, oh, 90% white.

One by one, they are sitting down with the manager. One by one, their requests for raises are being denied. Can’t do it this year. Tough economy. Business is slow. It’s a heartbreaking scene—another generation of once-hopeful Americans learning the ceiling only reaches so high.

I first thought about this a long time ago, while renting a car at the Avis in Atlanta’s airport. Every single person behind the counter was black. Every person renting a car was white. It’s a scene that’s repeated itself thousands of times throughout my life–an undeniable rebuke of the everything-is-even-in-this-country-so-stop-your-damn-whining mantra. Everything is not equal. Class, status, race, ethnicity are extremely hard obstacles to overcome. Not everyone has the money for college. Not everyone has the background. Not everyone has the smarts. Hence, they are doomed to serve the sandwiches and wash the vehicles and hand out keys.

One and a half years ago—in the midst of the presidential election—I made a visit to Gary, Indiana for a profile of Lyman Bostock, the former Angels outfielder who had been murdered in that city 30 years earlier. I was shocked how absolutely horrific the place was—burned-down buildings, boarded windows, liquor stores aplenty, without a single hotel or viable restaurant. This was a place where hopelessness breeds itself, and no help is on the way. We can say, “Pick yourself up, son!” and “In America, dreams come true!” But those are mere words, void of reality.

I’m in Cosi.

Sipping on my $3.99 Cafe Mocha.

And life isn’t fair.