So…. it’s 6:45 AM and I’m in line at a McDonald’s in Uptown Phoenix. It wasn’t a destination I’d set out to explore but I was in the area. I had an errand to run nearby at 8:00 AM so I had an hour to kill. Options are limited in that area at that hour so I thought I’d get a beverage and read a book.
At the front of the line is a young couple, twenty-somethings, let’s call them “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend”. The first thing I notice is that Boyfriend has a bicycle with him in line. I’d never seen anyone bring their bike inside a Mickey D’s before but there was no lock in sight and, after recent events in my life, I could certainly understand why he might be reluctant to rely on the honesty of passersby. The bike seemed out of place but it wasn’t inconveniencing anyone.
The other thing that became quickly apparent was that Boyfriend was high. I don’t mean a mellow, ‘catchin’-a-buzz-on-livin’-and-got-the-munchies’ high. I mean a ‘totally-f’d-up-on-meth’-at-6:45AM’ high.
There ought to be a law against T.U.I. (talking, under the influence). He was struggling to make it clear what he wanted. More accurately, he thought he was struggling. He was not having as much difficulty as he thought he was. After the a few minutes the counter person and every customer in the line, myself included, knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted two coffees. He wanted three McMuffins; two with egg and one without. He also wanted two apple pies.
“Are the apple pies still two for a dollar? I got them before here once and they were two for a dollar. My friend said he heard they were still two for a dollar but he wasn’t sure…. but that’s what I want. If they are still two for a dollar I would like to get them….two. That way we could each have one. But I only want two pies, not like two orders of pies . Because that would be four pies. We just want a two pies, I mean a total of two pies, one for each of us. I mean, you know? ….if they’re still two for a dollar. I’ve gotten them here like that lots of times.” He said it all in about 3 seconds.
By the time he was confident they’d reached a meeting of the minds on the pies, it was time to revisit the complexities of how many of the McMuffins had egg. The counter person repeated the order back accurately but Boyfriend just wasn’t sure …. so he’d start again, repeating the counter person’s exact words back as if it were breaking news….
“Did I ask about pies? I heard they were two for a dollar here.”
They whole time this was going on, Girlfriend was staring, unblinkingly, at him as if he were the oracle at Delphi. At first, I thought she was might be reading his lips but periodically she’d pipe in to make sure he knew she did not want an egg on her McMuffin. Whatever he was taking he had clearly shared with her.
Eventually he felt secure that the counter person had the order captured correctly and he was told that the total would be $8.32. That’s when he started emptying his pockets out on the counter. There was no paper money. It was all change. There might have been a couple of quarters but it was mostly dimes, nickles and pennies; lots and lots of pennies. Talking under the influence had been a snap compared to counting under the influence. Unfortunately, it soon; actually not that soon; became clear he did not have $8.32. That’s when they started revising to order to match the budget. At that point, the manager opened another register to handle the other people in line. Some of my queue mates had long since moved past bemused and were covering the spectrum between annoyed and irate. Eventually, I saw the couple leave the counter with a tray and their bicycle.
I am intrigued by my emotional reaction to this. Initially, I was saddened. Clearly there is a substance issue. Addiction damages or destroys far too many lives every year; especially among the young. I can’t imagine that a decade earlier this is where either of them thought they’d be. I am not sure why I think about that but I always do.
Even though I was in no hurry I admit I was also annoyed. There was a line of people being inconvenienced by these two, and I was the third person in it.
I’ll also admit that, ignoring the context, the conversation was pretty comical. Cheech & Chong built a career with material just like this.
When the coins came out I moved back to sadness. Maybe they’re homeless? The coins were the kind of thing one would collect on the street. Homelessness is a tragedy in America and Phoenix is not an easy climate in which to live on the street. People rarely freeze to death here but they die from the heat and dehydration. Also, the political climate here does not make it easy to find funding for shelters. The unspoken official position seems to be if we make the homeless uncomfortable enough they will go to California.
These two did not seem homeless though. My stereotypes will show here but most homeless people have ‘stuff’; backpacks or bags with spare clothing. water bottles, blankets or other things for sleeping. If you have no place to leave your possessions you carry them with you. The bike told me they proably weren’t living in their car. Also, at the risk of seeming insensitive, people in circumstances where they do not have access to showers and laundry show signs of wear & tear in a desert climate. These two looked like they’d had a rough night, to be sure, but their clothes were relatively clean and their hygiene was good. I’ve seen people look worse just doing ‘the walk of shame’. These two just looked like two people who got high and got hungry…at 6:45 AM.
It is hard to be empathetic, amused and annoyed all at the same time but I am not sure how else to describe how I felt. I hope they’re all right. I hope they get help. I hope next time they are in line behind me.