Black. White. Cosi. Avis

photo-on-2009-11-23-at-1103

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.

5 thoughts on “Black. White. Cosi. Avis”

  1. You are so right Jeff. It amazes me that so many (sheltered) people still don’t get this. we don’t start out on a level playing field. The climb is much harder for some of us…and often those 1st doors don’t open for some of us. And, if they do open….that may be as far as some will be allowed to go. It comes down to each of us to “be fair” and “do the right thing”. I have a white and a black son…I have witnessed the disparity in how they are treated in this world. As a white woman I have personally experienced life as an advantaged white middle class woman; and as a biracial couple when with my husband. Its complicated…and hard.

  2. Enjoyed the entry. Enjoy all the entries. And coffee shops always produce good shit, don’t they? For me it’s the carrot cake. Even if it’s dried out and leftover from the previous week, the fact that it’s carrot cake in a coffee shop automatically makes me feel like enough of a writer to write something someone may perhaps one day read. Perhaps.

  3. Just thought I’d check back and see if apathy was still the rule….and the answer is yep! Lets just talk about stale carrot cake….this ain’t the 60’s is it!

  4. Appreciate the blog, Jeff. Had a reader email last week telling me how hard it is for him, as a straight, white male living in California. (He claimed I was a feminist) Must be nice for people to live in their created world of disharmony. Oh, and loved the Palin watcher videos… are you shitting me? Times I’m thankful that I’m Canadian (no offense, love Obama) are times like those, or watching the Republican convention. Scares the crap out of me!

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