The other night as my crew and I were closing McDonald’s I had an unexpected visit from a truly wonderful person. Although it may sound that this encounter was pure delight, I must add, it began bitter sweet.
Every night our lobby closes at 11pm. When we close our lobby we lock all the doors in our store. All except the side door that enables us to take food out to our parked cars. The other night after closing our lobby we had an unexpected visit from a middle aged man. He made his way into the restaurant through the side door and began to walk towards the front counter. Immediately as a manager I knew to take all precautions, after all; employees are the only people permitted in our lobby after closing by policy. I wasn’t sure if this gentleman was just trying to grab a bite to eat or trying to rob the store. I began to examine everything about him.
He was a dark man with semi-long, black hair tied back into a messy ponytail. His jeans were dirty as if he had been working on a car or stealing one. He was a Middle Eastern man that hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. He wore a grey shirt that displayed an American flag with the words "proud to be an American" under the flag.
As he began to walk closer to the counter I began to worry. Typically, if it was any other person I would have greeted them politely, informed them we were closed and asked them to leave. On this night, however; my fear got the best of me because this gentleman was Middle Eastern. I spoke sternly towards the man telling him we were closed and he would have to exit the building, immediately. Then he spoke with a heavy, sincere accent, "I drive a diesel truck and can’t go through the drive thru. I haven’t eaten all day. Do you mind if I order here? I won’t be long." My instinct was telling me to be afraid of this Middle Eastern stranger that was breaking our policy. I was worried of the outcome of his presence in the restaurant not because of the color of his skin, sexual orientation or religion, but of his race. My mind was telling me to send him on his way, but my heart overpowered my mind, like always. I allowed him to order and eat in the restaurant.
As you know, along with all cleaning duties comes sweeping and mopping. It is not a manager’s duty to do either one, but on this night I would make it my duty. I didn’t want my crew around this stranger. As I made my way near his table with the broom, he spoke to me. He said he was sorry for intruding and very grateful I let him eat in the restaurant, as he was sick of his truck. I politely smiled and continued mopping, not saying a word. Then he spoke again. He said he knew I felt threatened by him and he understood. I quickly turned around and stared him straight in the eye. I couldn’t believe what I just heard—me, threatened…no way! I asked him why he thought that. He replied by saying he saw it in my body language and asked if the manager typically does the sweeping and mopping. I gracefully replied, "No." Then he went on to tell me not to feel bad that he received this treatment in every small town he journeyed into.
After hearing this, I immediately found myself sitting at his table. I wanted to know exactly what he was talking about. He told me he wore the shirt, as you can recall the shirt displayed an American flag with the words "Proud to be an American" under it, because it reminded people that he was no different than them. He explained that he didn’t worry about wearing the shirt in the more liberal areas, but in the conservative areas, like Fresno County, he never left his truck without it. He ended a ten minute conversation by saying, “this is just the way it has to be, especially after 9/11.” As he finished the rest of his McChicken he thanked me again and was on his way.
I sat there for a good 10 minutes after his departure thinking of what just occurred. I couldn’t believe for a single second the thoughts that were going through my head before I actually got to know him. I completely contradicted everything I stand for. I am not a racist person, as far as know I treat everyone equally. This wasn’t the case on this night. Blinded by ignorance, I was too focused on a dreadful stereotype to see through his ethnicity and into his character. Furthermore, I couldn’t believe this man’s struggle to live everyday life. He wore a shirt to remind everyone that he is as innocent as the newborn baby down the street. He wore a shirt to remind everyone that he was a dedicated American that wants nothing more than to pursue the dream of happiness. The minute he started talking and sharing his story, was the minute my ignorance was lifted. I realized we had a lot in common and eventually was able to see through his race and start seeing him as any ordinary American.
I am sharing this story with you, because this reminds me of the same struggle our LGBT community faces each day. We fight ignorance day in and day out, realizing that we have to stay strong or else we will fall. We wear shirts with equal signs (=) that remind the people of this nation that we are all created equal and are all deserving of equal rights. We demonstrate daily that we are giving, loving, passionate people that are no different from anyone else. Finally, we hold signs that remind our friends, families and communities that we are taxpaying citizens that wish nothing more than to pursue the dream of happiness just like any other ordinary American.
On that particular night at McDonalds, my eyes were begging to see the light as I stared at a Middle Eastern inspiration. His story brought forth tolerance in my mentality and changed my whole perception on the way I saw this particular gentleman. Tolerance was dying to reveal itself and this gentleman made it possible. By sharing our stories and illustrating who we truly are tolerance can and will reveal itself. We may not win everyone over, but it is definitely worth a shot. So I urge you all, no matter your race, religion or sexual preference share your stories and help create tolerance because tolerance cannot create itself; it’s what Harvey Milk would have wanted.
To my Middle Eastern friend whose name I never knew. I am deeply sorry from the bottom of my heart for the way you were treated. It wasn’t easy for me to share this story, as you could imagine. I thank you for giving me the opportunity of listening to your story. Hopefully, one day I can share mine in return.