Burgers, Fries and Hegemony: An Unhappy Meal

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 17 October 2010

Burgers, Fries and Hegemony: An Unhappy Meal

By Revolutionary Worker Scholar


Fast food. There was a time when there were no fast food restaurants in San Francisco. The closest fast food establishments to the city were McDonalds and Taco Bell—both located in South San Francisco. My father would take me there once in a while—an occasional excursion—a treat, but it never took the place of the Filipino food we ate at home. I remember the first fast food restaurant in ever saw in the city—in 1974 or so—a Jack in the Box on the corner of 7th and Market Streets. It looked strangely out of place, almost adolescent with its candy lights among the more adult and long-established businesses. Somehow, the presence of a fast food restaurant seemed beneath the elegance that was Market Street.


I’d gone downtown to attend a training session of a new job I’d gotten and arrived early so I walked into the Jack ‘n The Box on First Street for a cup of coffee. The restaurant was empty, except for one other person. I sat down wearing a sport jacket, white shirt, tie and cheap shoes I’d gotten from payless during a two for one promotion. In short, I looked like a midwest funeral director minus the pasty skin.


I waited at the counter. The crew was all Raza women, their voices in Spanish confined within walls of tile mixed with bubbling, splattering grease and running water—every other word submerged in kitchen noise, finally managing to escape through the front door. I took my coffee, 2 creams and 3 packs of sugar and started writing in my journal. I was writing my thoughts about people who had come before me—my elders—the community of poets whose voices spoke out against gentrification in Manilatown, Fillmore, Hunters Point--whose voices still cry out in resistance to the demolition of the Transbay Terminal--a mere 2 blocks away from where I sat nursing my coffee, privileged to be able to write my thoughts.


A few minutes went by. An African descended man of about 60 years of age walked in and sat a few yards away. He sipped coffee and kept to himself--engaging in a dialogue with someone whose presence I could not see but feel. I looked at the man’s stained clothes, his backpack and worn suitcase. He spoke with a deep twang mixed with laughter, words flowing like a river from some region that is forgotten but moving quietly under a night sky so deep that it lives in our dreams. I couldn’t make out with the man was saying. But as POOR Magazine co-founder Mama Dee used to say, it was one of those conversations that go way back, where the words that didn’t get said come up for air and do not get resolved but rather, dissolve.


10 minutes or so went by when the door to the kitchen area opened. A woman’s voice rang out “You have to go now!”  The African descended elder looked at the woman. Why do I got to leave? He asked. The door closed. The man picked up his coffee and bags and headed to the door. I followed and asked him how much he paid for the coffee. He told me it was a senior coffee. He told me his name was James. My father’s name is James, my best friend’s is too. I never met a James I didn’t like.


Why was this man asked to leave?”


I posed this question to the restaurant manager, a Raza woman in her mid 30’s. She was dressed in a Jack ‘n the Box blue issue uniform. We have a 30-minute seating limit, she answered, pointing to a sign that said 30 minutes. I informed the woman that I had been sitting in the restaurant longer than the man—why hadn’t I (With my Mid-west funeral director attire) been asked to leave? She explained that the man frequents the restaurant and that, despite seeming well-behaved at the moment—had assaulted her employees and caused disturbances. “These people make trouble in my restaurant” she said. These people? It was heartbreaking to hear her talk this way. I told her that the man was a paying customer and that he was entitled to sit and enjoy his coffee just like any other paying customer.  I also added to the good lady that it was not her restaurant and not her employees. She just looked at me and recited store policy, as if it were some kind of ancient and Holy Scripture. I told her I was not going to patronize the restaurant in the future and that I’d urge others to do likewise.


When I finished speaking I turned towards James. He was gone. As I left and headed to my appointment, I saw the Transbay Terminal that is being torn down to make way for a new transportation hub. What happened to the houseless, landless people that used to sleep on its benches and scale its stairs? How many of them have been asked to leave, how many are in jail, how many have died? Is there no room left to have a cup of coffee, a moment of pause—at least one inch of this earth where we can truly be human?


© 2010 Revolutionary Worker Scholar


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