Friday, March 14, 2008
John Conyers' New Restaurant
Upon entering the facility which was opened up in a formerly vacant space in Detroit that had been a business that was briefly opened with the assistance of federal "enterprise zone" funding but which closed after they ran through the government money - you are greated by former US Representative John Conyers. After serving more than 25 years in the US House he has take up President Obama's call for "change" and thus was brought to see that his greatest contribution to "change" would be to retire from his seat and allow some younger blood to enter into Congress with some new ideas in the post-Civil Rights era.
As you are greated by Mr. Conyers, having complemented on the 'great job' that he has done during his years in the Congress you tell him of your reservations that you had made in advance for 6pm. You show up on time. Immediately after you get these words out - a poor family with 4 children crash through the door. The unmarried father of these children tells Mr. Conyers "How are you sir? My family and I were driving by and saw your establishment with your name upon it. We were on our way to the soup kitchen to get our evening meal but instead we decided to come here because we know that you are going to treat us FAIRLY and with dignity."
Mr Conyers looks at his seating chart and sees that he has only one table for 4 available but that it is right next to the table for 2 that he had marked out for YOU. As he thinks about the situation he tells YOU - "Sir - I am going to take your table and join it with the table of 4 so that this family of 6 can enjoy their meal together. I am going to have to ask you to take a seat in our waiting area until another table comes available".
In your mind you struggle with the balance between yielding to this poor, hungry family going before you AND the fact that YOU PREPARED IN ADVANCE - having made reservation that were guaranteed. Since this is but a small issue - you agree with no outward signs of protest.
After waiting an addition 35 minutes - you are finally seated. Your seat is in view of the family of 6 and another table that has a group of 4 men that seem to be laborers per the work clothes that they have on. You happen to notice that the family that were seated before you have their stomachs full. You see evidence of a big steak bone, having been stripped of its meat, a bottle of wine and the fact that they are devouring the finest cheesecake on the menu. The work men, instead of going for the quality of food have instead eaten an abundance of food and thus have a steady stream of plates that are transported to and from their table. You make nothing of either of these two points at this time. The men must just be hungry after working all day long.
You and your spouse are on a diet. You both do everything possible to insure that you live healthy lives. This includes exercise, avoidance of risky behavior that might lead to other undesirable ends and, as importantly, you both limit and govern your intake of food. This is both in quantity and in character. No binging and no junk food. You also don't eat pork. You pass on the deserts typically.
When Mr. Conyers comes around to greet you and take your order after having looked over the menu - you tell him about your dietary habits and your spouse only orders a salad and a few egg rolls from the appetizer menu as her main entree. You order a salad and a steak.
Upon receiving your food you first glance at your spouse's plate and everything looks in order. You look at your plate and you make note that your $40 steak is actually a $15 inferior cut of beef. In a slight bit of anger you summon for Mr. Conyers to explain why you didn't get the meat that you asked for. Certainly this is not a "Prime Rib" cut in your plate. Mr. Conyers explains to you that he has a great amount of operating overhead, having to pay all of his employees a "Living Wage" thus in order to accomplish this social mandate for such wages he had to take liberties in making an ABSTRACTION between the cut of meat delivered to the customer and THE PRICE THAT THEY PAY for that meat. He tells about how proud you should feel in that by making the sacrifice you are insuring that many families of the people who he employs get to live in decent homes, have food on their tables and get health care. Once again - you try to look at the big picture rather than selfish considerations.
As you set in to eat your meal you notice that the table of 4 laborers get up and depart for the exit door. Their receipt that was left on the table gets brushed onto the floor and over to your foot. You take a look at the details of the receipt. The paper is about 13 inches long with details of all of the meat, dishes and drinks that these men consumed. You make note, however, that for all of this food, John Conyers has only charged them $20! In your mind you say - this is GREAT! All of this food and its only twenty dollars?!?! I am not so mad at my steak after all.
When you note that the family that took your original seat get up and leave you see Mr. Conyers opening his cash register and GIVING THEM money out of the register. You didn't see them give Conyers a large bill nor did you see them swipe a debt card and thus getting "cash back". You feign as if you are going to the bathroom and sneak their receipt off of the table. On their receipt you see that indeed they ordered food that was in more quantity than you and all of the high end items on the menu. What draws your attention, however, is the fact that the total on their receipt says -$35.00. You see that with this being a negative number John Coyners was paying them money for eating at his restaurant. Puzzled, you go to the bathroom and then tell your spouse about both situations.
After a cup of coffee and a good conversation with your spouse about your jobs and the need for a foreign vacation during the summer as a get away you ask the waiter for your check. You have great anticipation for what you will be charged since the other two people have gotten such good deals from the establishment. You get your check and you fall back in your chair onto the floor, eliciting laughs from other diners who are watching. You see a bill for $300. You angrily charge over to the cash register where John Conyers is standing, demanding that he explain his invoice!
Conyers demands that you settle down as he can explain it all you to. He tells you that indeed you at a reasonable meal with moderate portions and relatively low priced items from his menu, unlike the other two groups of people that you made note of. He tells you that "In my restaurant the man with $1 in his pocket is treated equally with the man with $1 million in his". Conyers makes note that the family that he seated had wages that put them into the range of poverty and thus they received a subsidy from his establishment for eating the food that they needed. He tells of his STANDARD OF LIVING that is afforded to everyone, making sure that everyone is able to meet these standard with his supplement.
He then explains that the 4 men who were charged $20 despite the fact that they ate a quantity of food that was far in excess of what you and your spouse ate. He explains to you that, once again, he is focused on "standard of living" and equality of outcomes than he is on what one's money can buy. These men are laborers. Their housing costs eat up a large portion of their annual salaries. It would be unfair of HIM to charge them for what they ate he instead referenced their bill on their income.
He goes on to say that YOU and YOUR SPOUSE are upper middle class individuals. Your household income is $180,000, thus placing you in the top 5% of income of Americans. Thus he took the liberties to ABSTRACT the VALUE of the food that you ate from the PRICE CHARGED to you. While it is true that the family got charged nothing for the same steak that you got charged for - in relative terms YOU were more able to pay for the steak that you ate so he recouped his costs of operating the restaurant and all of the subsidies paid out ONTO YOUR BILL.
He asks "Why are you so selfish? You have been blessed with great fortune - what harm has he done to you in relative terms?". You steam out angrily realizing that you will never set foot in this restaurant again that has this type of arrangement.
Mr. Conyers, knowing that you and others would never voluntarily reenter his facility after the first experience and that there is a long line of individuals who receive NET BENEFIT from his restaurant which need people like you to frequent his place so that he can pay for their meals - beings to lobby his old friends in Congress to force ALL RESTAURANTS IN THE CITY to adopt this fee schedule so that one day YOU WILL HAVE NO PLACE TO RUN TO and will be forced to comply with a system that you would not rationally think of doing so without such coercion.