Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hanging Out

I believe that I asked my mother what "loitering" meant after I read it in a Mad Magazine cartoon. Hanging out on a street corner, in some quarters, was considered a crime. This seemed peculiar to me, but at that time in my life standing still was not on the list of things that I had to do. In my room, maybe, but once I got outside it was time to move. Go here, ride there. Play this, play that. I imagined that in some distant future I might encounter teen-aged friends who might be looking for trouble, loitering.
When I grew older, I noticed the placement of the signs that warned me not to consider loitering as it conflicted with the civic codes and demands of property owners. It occurred to me that it was kind of like a No Parking zone for pedestrians. Keep it moving. Nothing to see here.
It was around this time that I learned about how fast food restaurants worked. The seating was primarily hard plastic or wood benches, allowing patrons to sit long enough to choke down whatever meal they had the mild good fortune to afford and then move on. No lingering was expected. No savoring. No surprise that there is a hamburger chain that touts itself as In 'n' Out, which many may suggest has as much to do with the digestive impact of their food as the coziness of their red and white interiors. Add the regular squawking of orders being ready for completion, fries coming up and muzak wafting through that mix and you've got a pretty tremendous loitering deterrent.
Which brings me to Starbucks. A coffee shop where my wife has, on occasion, invited me to come with her and hang out. She likes to get all caffeinated and bang away on her laptop while enjoying the free wi-fi and listening to whatever easy listening pap they happen to be promoting that week, also available for purchase from your friendly counter-based barista. 
Just don't try that in Philadelphia. Especially if you're black. Last Thursday, two potential customers were taken out in handcuffs because they hadn't ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend. The barista took a break from selling EZ listening CDs behind the counter to yell at them to "order something or leave." Surprise, surprise, since this kind of behavior has been tolerated by white folks for decades under Starbucks' business model: Come in, get comfy, drink coffee, use the wi-fi, drink more coffee. Except in this case, the two gentlemen were apparently not quick enough on that third step. And were escorted out by police, prompting an apology from head barista, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, who offered a face to face apology.
I would imagine wherever this interaction takes place, loitering will be encouraged.

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