On a sunny day, a highly-educated, white, mid-height, average-looking woman walks into a suburban diner. The diner is clean, brightly lit from the many windows, and there is a diverse demographic of people filling about three-quarters of the total available tables, booths and stools at the counter. The bear-like build of the second-generation Greek owner stands behind the counter that separates the relatively open floor plan from the kitchen, wiping dishes dry with a dish towel. He chats with two well dressed white women slouched over their cups of tomato soup.
The highly-educated woman smiles at the owner and grabs a table that is almost dead center in the middle of the open floor space. The woman does not know the owner well, but she’s been to this diner more than once. Among other things, she likes the open floor plan, the brightly lit atmosphere and the tomato soup.
It is lunch time, and the woman wants to order food before going back to work. She goes up to the counter with her medium to small-sized vinyl purse with a metallic clasp in front. The owner sees her and puts down the dish he was drying. “Hello, how can I help you today?”
“Hi there, I’m thinking I would like a cup of that tomato soup. I’ll take a side salad with it, with French dressing.”
“Would you like anything to drink with that?” The owner asks.
“A cup of coffee and some water would be very nice.”
The woman smiles again. “No thank you, I’ve got to watch the sugar intake while at work. Otherwise, your scones do look lovely.” She gestures with a nod of her head over to the small plastic casing filled with assorted fresh-baked pastry on top of the counter to her right, past the two women sitting on the stools. The women smile back.
“Well then, you should come back after work and treat yourself. Too much work and not enough treats makes for a hard week during such rough times. It’s part of why I reduced their price.”
“That’s part of why I came in. You have extremely affordable rates. It’s definitely appreciated.”
“Thank you. It’s all I can think of to do to keep business going. Business isn’t just about the money for me, it’s about what I can do to make someone’s day a little nicer. I often find I get more out of talking to people than I do with the process of making sure I stay solvent.” He sadly chuckles.
The working woman seems warmed by his comment, and gives him an appreciative smile.
The owner goes back to the cash register at his right and totals the order. “All right. The total is $6.22.”
“Like I said, very reasonable.” The woman unclasps her purse and picks through its meager contents to find her pocketbook. She pulls out three bills from it, one five dollar bill and two one dollar bills. She hands them to the owner over the counter, and he rings open the cash register with a mixture of automated beeps and the metallic ca-junk of the drawer being released into the owners’ gut.
The owner places the bills in each pile of like bills in the drawer, and pulls out three quarters and three pennies. With a smile, the owner then hands the change to the woman and says, “Your order will be out soon.”
The woman smiles back and closes her purse. She turns to go to the table she had marked with setting down her coat across the back of a chair. The spring air was chilly enough even with the bright blazing sun to need a coat when going outside. Yet the woman was quite comfortable inside.
However, once she gets to the table, she is aware of how much she needs to use the lady’s room. She had just drunk an entire twenty-ounced bottle of Aquafina before coming to the diner. So before sitting down, she figures she should have enough time before the food comes to go to the restroom. She sets her purse down on the chair and turns to the direction of the restrooms, in the far left corner of the counter.
Once she comes out of the restroom, the owner comes up to her and says, “Oh, I’m glad you’re still here. I saw your purse laying out and I wondered where you had gone to.”
The woman replies, “I was just in the washroom.”
“As we were saying during the hardness of these times, it’s good to look after one another when things and money are so precious.”
The woman looks at the owner with an air of caution. “I’m a little bit surprised to how concerned you are about me leaving my purse unattended for such a short period of time just because it’s pretty obvious to other people around if someone were to take it.”
“Yes, this is a public place. But I nor anyone else is required to look after other people’s property. I just brought it to your attention out of concern for your property and wellbeing.”
The woman shifts her weight, standing in her high heels that still only bring her up to being six inches shorter than the owner. “Yet there’s no one in here that seems remotely suspicious as to whether or not they would need money enough to steel something in an open public space. I appreciate the sentiment behind your concern, but it’s highly unnecessary.”
As the woman talks to the owner, a man comes into the diner. He is white, thin and wearing a slightly-worn leather coat with well fitting jeans. He looks over at the counter and sees no one there but the short Hispanic cooks near the back. The only waitress he sees is completely across the room talking to already-seated customers. Yet right in front of him is the woman and the owner. The man recognizes the owner as part of the diner when he sees the owner’s paper hat covering the bald spot in the middle of his thick black hair as well as the green order pad and pen sticking out the front right pocket of the owner’s slightly-stained apron.
The man waits behind the woman, who is starting to get a little more annoyed with the owner. “Part of the economic problems we are dealing with is couched in public trust. If I can’t trust that a place like this is safe not just for my purse but for me, then why should I go out at all?”
The man looks to the table with the woman’s coat and purse. He only caught the word “purse” because he was trying to see if one of the cooks would look his way. The man goes over to the table and picks up the purse, going over to stand right behind the woman and tries to get her attention. But the woman is listening to the owner. “Of course my place is safe! But it’s only when I know the people who come in here. I don’t know everybody here, and I don’t know you as well. How am I going to know what you’re thinking?”
The man figures it would be better not to butt into the conversation at this point as the woman and owner raise their voices. The man scratches his head. The one waitress that was out on the floor has disappeared, and other people have entered the diner and have seated themselves. The place is almost seating capacity.
So the man decides to leave. The owner sees the man walk away, but instead of seeing it as someone he didn’t help, the owner sees what is in the man’s hand. The woman’s purse. “You see!? There is someone with your purse in hand!” He raises his voice to the man, who is almost out the door, “Stop there! Hold it!”
The owner moves towards the man, but the man doesn’t like the way the owner is talking to him, so he leaves more quickly and smirks at the owner. The owner is taken by surprise. With a disconcerted expression on his face, he looks for the woman to tell her off but also to tell her he’ll call the police. But the woman has already snapped up her coat and quickly follows the man out the door.
The man walked quickly, and he is already half-way down the block. He finally realizes when he’s about to shove his hands in his leather coat’s pockets that he has the purse in hand. The feeling of dread washes over him. He has the urge to drop the purse, but it feels as if it is glued to his hand. The woman comes up yelling for him to stop, but there is no malice behind her yell since she sees the man has stopped and is staring at her.
He asks shakily, “Is this yours?”
“Yes.” She puffs out after running in heels on the rough patches of uneven, split concrete that line the sidewalk. She puts her hand out for the purse, and he quickly gives it to her.
“I really didn’t know what had happened, I heard you talking to the owner, and I tried to get your attention to ask if it was yours. I didn’t realize I had left with it, and that’s why the owner was yelling after me… That makes more sense now…”
The woman smiles and hugs the man. The man now dons a completely bewildered expression on his face. He’s not used to so much interaction in a public place. What seemed normal to him was how the other women at the counter had been staring vapidly ahead while they ate their soup, and the waitress hadn’t even noticed him. Yet then the owner was belligerently yelling first at this woman, and then at him. The man only wanted a simple transaction of getting a cup of soup to go. Not the shot nerves which were making him shake like a leaf, and under low blood sugar too.
The man’s arms are up in the air for his defense in the middle of the woman’s hug, but he finally uses them to push her away. “I didn’t do anything. I don’t know why you people are crazy enough to be acting out like that. Just leave me alone. You have your purse. Go back to your place and just leave me alone.”
The man turns away from the woman’s dazed expression and walks down the street towards the 7-11 to go get a Campbell’s cup of soup.