One Dollar Coffee & the Choices We Make

Walking an unfamiliar sidewalk near downtown Minneapolis, hungry and in serious need of coffee, I see a familiar golden arch on the corner ahead. Okay… I don’t usually frequent McDonald’s. I admit, I have some judgments about how the fast food industry has affected our culture and our people. And for that reason, I generally don’t support them as a business. But I know they have Wi-fi and are known for good coffee. It’s a little chilly outside and I don’t want to walk forever, so I cross the street and head toward the light. Resigned to take what I can get.

Inside, two very short Hispanic girls are running the counter. They might have been sisters. I place my order with the one wearing a pin that says, “Make My Day.” Sitting at a high table near the window in the sun, I finish my oatmeal quickly and sip my coffee while watching this unfamiliar world go by. I’m in town for my son’s graduation and since he sleeps until noon, the hours between 6 and 12 are all mine to fill. I’ve got nowhere to go, and nothing to do. I have time to notice things.

Sitting as close as I was to the front door and the counter, I begin to realize how important this McDonald’s is to a lot of people. The customers come in waves from the bus stop on the corner. Through my observations which may or my not be reality, they appear ragged and a little road weary, some mentally and/or physically handicapped, some indigent and probably homeless. They range in age, anywhere from 15 to 80. AS they approached the counter they pull  crinkled wadded bills from their pockets, not wallets. Most of them order the dollar coffee so they can qualify as customers… people who are allowed to use the restroom.

The staff behind the counter seems accustomed to their needs, often saying yes before the question has fully left their mouths. I overhear one of the Latinas at the counter agree to cover the 8 cents tax on someone’s coffee because all he has is one dollar bill. They order and promptly march to the back. One of the employees has to press a button to unlock the restroom door. As the place grows livelier, as more and more people arrive, it is clear that as rough as the place might seem to the outsider, it’s actually a haven of compassion for the disadvantaged. What would these people do without it?

For me, this McDonald’s on the corner of 24th and Nicollet in an unfamiliar town is a place to sit and write, drink my coffee and muse about things like this. Maybe it’s because I’m damned near homeless myself. I’ve got only a bed at an AirBnB down the street and a small suitcase carrying everything I possess at the time. I’m travelling by foot all over this neighborhood lush with blooming trees and fancy tulips.

Today, I have what a lot of people wish they had more of…time.

All my life, I’ve chosen to to own less and have less. I don’t do well under the weight and responsibility of taking care of too many things. So although I don’t know what it feels like to be homeless per se, I’m willing to see them as equal human beings making different choices. The truth is, we are each and everyone, just a few small choices from being without the comforts we take for granted every day. And I don’t want to assume those choices are bad ones. Sometimes we choose to let go of a lot of things that weigh us down, making us slaves to a system we can’t live in.

Personally, I’ve chosen not to work a full-time job, so I’d have time to write, travel and talk to people about empowerment and how they can have more control over their lives. That one choice affects a lot of my other choices, but I’m well aware of what I’m creating and I’m prepared to pay the price. I’d rather have fewer things and more time, and in that way, I’m not that different from the people sitting near me sipping their dollar coffee.

Several of the McDonald’s customers get up all at once and walk, shuffle, limp toward the door and I realize they need to catch the next bus. Where they are going, I have no idea. Every day they have something a lot of people would give anything to have. They have time and the freedom to choose where they’ll go next and what they’ll do. It may seem as if I’m oversimplifying the issue a bit. I’m not in any way trying to glorify homelessness. I’m sure it’s a tough life, no matter what. We all have responsibilities we wouldn’t choose to give up, but we also take on a lot that we really might be better off without. I’ve been on both sides.

Consider this: what we have, or not, is all a matter of choice, not a matter of value. I think the goal in life should be to honor people’s choices even if they aren’t the same as our own. To show compassion regardless of the choices people make about their lives, and avoid judging people who have chosen to have more of one thing and less of another. You never know their reasons, nor their why.

Thanks for sharing a morning coffee with me!

In Life and Love, Tracy

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