Monday, March 10, 2014


"I just want my money back."


I looked up. The woman in front of me sounded tired, defeated. The manager looked confused. I looked at the gentleman waiting over to the side. He had received his carry out order and was signing his credit slip. We had all been waiting together.


"I've been waiting and waiting, and I never got my order. Now I have to go back to work. I want my money back."


It was a busy night at the little restaurant. One waitress ran between the tables, and the manager, usually at the front near the cash register, had been absent for an unusually long time. The three of us had waited. And waited. There were bags of carry out food lined up on the counter, but no one to check us out.


"You paid but you didn't get your order? You have been waiting?" The manager's eyes darted between the tired woman, and the two of us, now being asked, somehow, for corroboration.


"I ordered a cheesesteak roll. I paid for it. I never got it. I just want my money back. I don't even have time to eat it now." There was no trace of anger in her voice. More like disappointment.


"I saw you," the manager said to the gentleman, giving him his receipt. She looked over the woman's shoulder at me.


"She's been here the whole time I've been here," I said, feeling uncomfortable.


"She was here before I even got here," said the man.


The manager went over to the row of carry out bags.


"Cheesesteak roll? Here it is." She held it out to the woman.


"It has just been sitting there and sitting there. Please, I just want my money back. I have to go back to work now."


The manager went to the register, pulled out some cash and brought it to the woman. Then she gave her the bag of food.


"Here, you take it for free." She laughed, nervously. "I didn't see you."


At those words, all of the oxygen seemed to be sucked out of the room. At least it was for me. The woman in front of me, whose face I had never seen, seemed to square her shoulders against those words, almost wince. Then she took her money, her food, and turned to leave.


She looked at me, and at the other gentleman, now a part of this entire exchange.


"Thank you," she said quietly, and left.


It was a busy night at the restaurant, they were clearly short-staffed, and the manager had probably been helping the cooks in the kitchen. It's a small mom and pop sort of operation. It wasn't the best night for customer service, clearly, but there was no malice.


This was Friday night. Now it is Monday morning, and I am still thinking about it. We were white. She was not. And she had been invisible.


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