Yesterday, on a drive from Charlotte back to the Triangle, I stopped at Bojangles somewhere between Concord and Greensboro. I had planned to use the drive-thru window, but the line was backed up and there were plenty of parking spaces. I know it’s usually a mistake, but I decided to try my luck by going inside and hoping for faster service. 

When I got in the restaurant, just one woman was waiting in line, but nobody was at the front counter. She was a middle-aged African American woman wearing blue Dickies and a white shirt with a logo on the left breast pocket. I asked her if she had been there long and she answered, “Not that long, but too long for this. I got to get to work.” Then she told me that she used to work at Bojangles and this wasn’t right. Somebody was always supposed to be at the register taking orders. 

Nobody was even at the front counter. We could see someone in the drive-thru window and people milling about in the back. When a young man walked to the front, she yelled, “Hey, is somebody gonna take my order?” He looked up and mumbled something and then scurried back to kitchen. 

She looked at me and said, “They’re supposed to have more people in here. They’re right next to a truck stop at lunch time and all they got is about five people in here.” I repeated her earlier claim and posed it as a question, “So you worked at a Bojangles?” 

“That’s where I got my start. I worked at Bojangles and KFC and Wendy’s when I was young. We had to move a lot faster than these folks. They would send in ‘mystery guests’ who really were there to time you. If they didn’t get their order fast enough, we got in trouble.” 

The employee who had scooted back into the kitchen returned to the counter and said to her, “What can I get you?” She place her order and then lectured him. “Somebody is always supposed to be at the register. I’m not trying to cop an attitude, but I used to work in a Bojangles and I remember.” He started to protest, but thought better of it and ran off to get her order. 

She turned back to me and reiterated that they didn’t have enough people working. “They need to stop with all that unemployment. Too many people are just laying around. If they needed money, they would be in here working.”

Her statement didn’t sound ideological or political. It sounded more like she was just stating a fact of her reality. I doubt she’s too engaged in social media political warfare or reading right-wing talking points. I suspect she knows more than a few people who are waiting for benefits to run out before they start looking for work again. And I suspect she knows more than a few people who agree with her sentiment. I also expect she was one of the 90+ percent of African American women who voted in North Carolina that supported Joe Biden.  

As the economy begins to crank up, Democrats need to carefully watch their embrace of benefits for the unemployed. I doubt the woman in Bojangles paid much attention to the debate over whether or not extended unemployment pay contributes to the labor shortage. She just knows that she had to start her career working in fast food joints and work her way up to whatever she’s doing now and she believes everybody else should, too. But who knows what else she thinks.

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