I’d been warned the McDonald’s was unfriendly to people who looked homeless. I’d seen for myself all the DO NOT signs posted on the premises, more DO NOT signs than in any other Mickey D’s I’d ever been in. In addition to the common (but usually ignored) NO LOITERING signs, this one had a NO PETS sign in their outdoor seating area and a NO TOOTH BRUSHING sign in the women’s restroom (Really? No tooth brushing in a McDonald’s restroom? I can’t think of a better time to brush my teeth than after eating McDonald’s food.)
I actually was homeless at the time. I’d been living in a picnic pavilion at a rest area in a high traffic tourist area for a few weeks. I’d become part of an arts and crafts community selling handmade items to the tourists. On the day in question, I’d hitchhiked into town to do my meager laundry and get supplies for making jewelry.
I walked along the town’s main drag all morning as I ran my errands, and by early afternoon I was hungry. My money was limited, so I passed all the locally owned restaurants, the ones I suspected served delicious but more expensive food, and I headed to the town’s only McDonald’s. I knew I could buy two McDoubles for two dollars and change. I knew two McDoubles would keep my belly full the rest of the day.
I had my pack on my back. My sleeping bag was strapped onto the outside of the backpack with a bungee cord. Everything else I owned but wasn’t wearing was in the backpack—my boots (carefully stowed at the bottom in anticipation of winter), an extra pair of pants and a t-shirt and a light jacket, my water bottle, a few pieces of jewelry I’d made and tools and supplies to make more jewelry. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had.
I had no plans to linger in the dining room of this McDonald’s. My plan was to get some food and get out, eat the food somewhere away from the restaurant.
I was standing in line at the front counter when a man of late middle age stepped up to me. He had brown skin (but didn’t seem to be African American) and short salt and pepper hair. He was not wearing a McDonald’s uniform; he had on dark pants and a plaid shirt. He told me I couldn’t have my backpack and sleeping bag in the restaurant.
What? I wasn’t only pretending to be confused. I really was confused.
I told him I was in line to buy food, and once I got my food I was leaving.
He shook his head and again said I couldn’t have the backpack or the sleeping bag in the restaurant. He told me there was a sign, as if the sign had magically appeared or had been handed down by Ronald McDonald or maybe Ray Crock himself, as if the directive of the sign had to be followed no matter what, no matter the circumstances.
He gestured for me to follow him. We walked over to the sign and he pointed to it. Sure enough, the sign prohibited the presence of backpacks and sleeping bags in the restaurant.
I tried again to tell him I wasn’t planning to hang out in the dining room with my backpack and sleeping bag. I tried to tell him I simply wanted to purchase food and leave. He wasn’t having it. He said I could leave my pack and sleeping bag outside while I ordered food, but the sign said I couldn’t have the items inside. He acted as if he had not connection to the sign except to enforce its rule.
No way was I going to leave all of my earthly possessions outside unattended while I stood in line inside. I didn’t have much, but I couldn’t risk losing the sleeping bag which was keeping me warm in the cool desert nights or the boots that were going to get my feet through the winter or the jewelry I hoped would earn me a few measly dollars.
So I stalked out of the restaurant, angry and still hungry.
When I thought about it later, I concluded the man who showed me the sign must have been the owner of the McDonald’s franchise. Who else in regular street clothes would have assumed the authority to kick me out? I doubt another customer would have cared enough about me and my backpack to point out the sign and tell me I had to leave my belongings outside. And even a McDonald’s manager would have been wearing a uniform and a name tag.
In retrospect, I wish I had asked the man his name and what authority he had to reject me because of my belongings. I was still timid and afraid back then, afraid of trouble, afraid he’d call the cops and they’d harass me for being homeless and poor.
I’m less afraid now, although I don’t go around looking for trouble. I’d just like to know the name of this man who thought it made good business sense to kick out a paying customer.
To read other stores about my homelessness, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/05/12/the-question/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/11/hummingbird/.