I was in a left-turn lane approaching Amy’s Drive Thru, a vegetarian and vegan fast food place in Rohnert Park, for breakfast. As I sat at the red light, I noticed a man riding a bicycle in the rain. He was wearing what looked like an old army jacket and as he navigated a curb cut, a dog riding in a basket on the back of his bicycle struggled to maintain balance.
As I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, I remembered a bumper sticker—or maybe it was a license plate frame—that beseeched a higher power to “help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” And I thought about that man on a bicycle, whom I presume to be homeless, and his dog, riding in the rain.
We cannot really know what that dog thinks of her or his human or the circumstances in which they find themselves. But that dog didn’t seem to care about any of it. S/he seemed happy just to be with their human.
I walked in and noticed a timeline of Amy’s—this is the same entity that produces a number of vegetarian and vegan soups and frozen meals that can be found in many grocery stores—featuring sketches of the founders, who are smiling, displaying their undoubtedly pearly white and perfectly arranged teeth, and who appear to be white. I also noticed a reminder of one of their slogans, an allegation that Amy’s “runs on love.”
I come in to Amy’s fairly often. They apparently now have outlets at the San Francisco International Airport and are attempting to open a location in Corte Madera at the old Denny’s. Their corporate management is in the habit of holding many of their conversations at the tables and I often overhear them. These are people who are doing quite well for themselves (in part through low wages for their workers).
The “love” that Amy’s supposedly “runs on” seems entirely different from the love that dog showed for their human. Amy’s “love” perceives the world as a place of plenty, where problems can be addressed through reforms within the status quo, and where everyone can do well—or, at least, well enough—through their own efforts. Thomas Shapiro described part of this, writing
A core element of the American credo is that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.
The “love” at Amy’s is a “love” that, through its embrace of social ideology, is a judgmental “love.” If you don’t succeed, say you’re a homeless veteran on a bicycle in the rain with only the love of a dog to nurture your soul, it’s your own fault, some way, some how, and the rest of us have no obligation to explore, let alone address, the circumstances of that failure.
It happens I’m uncomfortable around dogs; their energy level is at least a couple orders of magnitude too high for me and their barking quite literally hurts my ears. But as I drive around for Uber and Lyft, picking up people who have everything—real jobs that actually pay rent, nice homes, romantic and social relationships—I’ve been systematically denied almost my entire life and who share the Amy’s attitude, I think I prefer the dog’s love to that of Amy’s.
- Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.↩