It doesn’t matter why we were in a Denny’s in Escondido, CA at 5am. All that matters is that The Man and I were there, eating pancakes and drinking coffee until it was late enough to contact The Man’s cell phone provider.
The server (his name was Denny, his nametag proclaimed, but whether this was the truth or a ploy for better tips, I don’t know) had sat us in the first tiny both in the front of the restaurant. The Man sat with his back to the door (as a smart cowboy never would, my father would tell us, if he were still of the earthly realm), but I could see everyone coming in and going out.
I saw the guy wearing the hoody when he walked in, and I immediately thought, Homeless. Of course, I didn’t know the guy or his story, but I saw the details. The daypack on his back was stuffed to bulging. The coat he was wearing was just a little too warm for the weather. The backs of his hands were a certain shade of dirty that develops after a long time of not being able to wash regularly. He made a beeline for the restrooms at the front of the building as if he didn’t want anyone to see him.
When he exited the restroom, he hung around the front of the building, moving between the register and the claw game. No one seemed to notice him for quite some time.
After a while, Denny went up to the hostess station and messed around with the menus.
Can I place an order to go? the guy wearing the hoody asked softly and politely.
Denny seemed irritated. I’ll be with you in a minute, he said as if he were busy, but he didn’t look busy to me.
The guy wearing the hoody stood around a little while longer, but Denny left the hostess station without giving him another moment of attention. Finally the guy wearing the hoody went outside.
I witnessed the exchange with more sadness than anger. I suppose I was too tired to get angry after a long day and a night of almost no sleep. But I wanted to weep for the man who only wanted to place an order, only wanted to buy some food or maybe a hot cup of coffee after what might have been a hard night for him too. How dare Denny ignore him? How dare Denny act as if he were invisible, as if he weren’t worthy of some human kindness? If nothing else, it’s bad business to blow off what he should have assumed was a paying customer.
I didn’t say anything to The Man but I formulated a plan as I ate the last of my pancakes. I’d make sure the guy wearing the hoody would be allowed to patronize Denny’s that morning.
When The Man and I finished eating, I grabbed the bill before he could and took it up to the register. Denny pulled himself away from whatever he’d been doing to come and take my money.
I’d like to get a $10 gift card, I told him.
Oh, I don’t know anything about gift cards, he told me. I’ve only worked here for like two weeks. Only a manager can do gift cards.
Occasionally at businesses I ask for something reasonable, something every day and normal, and the worker tells me it’s going to be a hassle. I think these workers expect me to say, Never mind, but typically I don’t. If I say I want something, I’ll go through a minor inconvenience to get it. That morning, I wanted a gift card.
I’ll wait for a manager, I told Denny politely.
I didn’t look to see if he rolled his eyes at me, but he hollered across the restaurant to a woman with platinum blond hair and civilian clothes. She needs a gift card!
The woman (the manager, if what Denny said about only managers being able to process gift cards was true), said, I’ll have to get one out of the office.
I could clearly see three or four gift cards in a cardboard display behind the register, but I simply said, That’s fine. I’ll wait.
The manager came back with the card, and I told her how many dollars I wanted on it. She tried to upsell me (good for her!) by telling me if I bought a $25 gift card, I could get $25 in coupons, but I said no thanks. I hardly ever eat at Denny’s so I’d have to go out of my way to use the coupons, which were probably buy one/get one anyway.
My transaction complete, I went back to our booth and asked The Man if he was ready. He was.
We walked outside and the guy wearing the hoody was sitting near the entrance. I didn’t know quite what to say (I’m sorry Denny was an asshat, would have been one option, You deserve to be treated with kindness was another) but I settled on I want you to have this, as I handed him the gift card.
The guy wearing the hoody didn’t say a work to me. He simply looked a little confused. I didn’t want to make things any more awkward than maybe they already were for him, so I just kept walking. The Man hugged me close and said, You are so nice.
I didn’t give the gift card to get approval or commendation. I only wanted the guy with the hoody to be able to eat a hot meal while sitting comfortably inside the restaurant. I’m not telling this story so people will think I’m cool. I’m telling this story in order to recognize the humanity of the guy wearing the hoody.
I hadn’t planned to go back into the diner, but a restroom emergency required me to do just that. When I went inside, I saw the guy wearing the hoody sitting in a booth, a menu spread in front of him. A different waiter was taking his order. I hope his meal was delicious.
Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/bar-blue-business-cafe-533347/.
I typically change all names in my posts, but “Denny” really was the name on the server’s nametag.