American Dream, interrupted
A couple of years ago, a new restaurant came to our neighborhood. I learned of it when somebody came through, leaving take-out menus on everybody’s front door. With some charmingly humorous spelling gaffes (one of which even made Jay Leno’s Headlines), the menus announced the coming of a new Chinese take-out restaurant just around the corner.
I went first because it was conveniently close. I continued to go because the food was great and the prices were excellent. I was originally disappointed that the place didn’t serve iced tea, but about a month later, a sign proudly announced, “Now serving fresh brew ice tea.” The tea was good, and the business philosophy was good. The people running the place clearly listened to customer requests.
The restaurant was run by a family of immigrants, and their English wasn’t always so good. But they were always cheerful, and the food was always the best, and the prices were astonishingly low. They could provide a lunch special for about half the price of the major nationwide Chinese-food fast-food chain, with much better food. The major national chain uses steam tables and heat lamps to attempt to keep food warm; the little family hole-in-the-wall eatery wouldn’t put anything into the wok until after the food was ordered. And the $3.75 lunch special was huge – a big bowl of entrée plus rice, and a small bowl of soup, and an egg roll, and a fortune cookie. It was more than I could eat for lunch; I would have enough left over for a light supper, too.
Once Gerald got his driver’s license and was independently mobile, he became an even more regular customer. He got to know the family that ran the place fairly well.
But Wednesday, that family’s American dream was horribly disrupted. An armed robber came in, shot one of the family members in front of three other people, including her 4-year-old child, and took the tip jar.
The tip jar.
A young woman, a member of a close-knit family, a mother of a small child, was killed, just for a few dollars in the tip jar. In a place where the lunch special is only $3.75, there’s not going to be much money in that tip jar, especially at 1 in the afternoon, when the place has only been open two hours.
Witnesses saw the male suspect and a female companion flee in a black car with chrome rims – they also got partial license plate numbers. Before too long, police found the car in the parking lot of a nearby shopping mall. It was a nice car – an originally economy car that had been nicely upgraded, with lots of nifty accessories, including a fancy paint job and those chrome wheel rims that aided in the identification of the vehicle. I am totally baffled about why somebody with a car like that could be so desperate for cash as to kill a woman for the tip jar in a low-budget Chinese take-out place. Just one set of fancy chrome lug nuts – for just one wheel, not all four – would be worth more than the money in the tip jar.
And if the robber wanted money, why did he try to hold up a place that, as far as I could tell, was definitely NOT raking in the cash? As low as the prices were at this place, there was no way the family could be making much at all. The robber would definitely have found more money at the super-slick nationwide Chinese-food chain, which charges twice as much for the same amount of (lower-quality) food and does much greater volume. Or why didn’t he hit one of the really big non-Chinese fast-food chains? For that matter, once he had shot his victim, why did he take just the tip jar and not the money in the cash register?
The answer that I can come up with for those questions is ugly. This was a hate crime. Yeah, at first I thought maybe it was a drug crime, because drug addicts often act illogically when they’re trying to get money to finance their addiction. But even drug addicts look for where the money is, and that’s not a hole-in-the-wall Chinese take-out.
Yes, in the past in this blog, I have been critical of the Chinese government and Chinese industry. I have lost a cat and a car because of defective Chinese products. My blog has been banned in China. But I have never, ever, been critical of the Chinese people. And this family, by traveling to the United States and starting a business here, has made a dramatic and clean break from the Chinese government. Not only that, they have started a small business, the epitome of the American Dream. This family represents what is good about immigrants and the energy and industriousness that immigrants bring to this country.
It just makes me sick that some people can’t tolerate that.