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At what cost?

“It’s a 45-minute wait,” stated Chris, the maitre d’ at the well-known downtown restaurant.

With dear friends Karen and Charles, we’d seen CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” on stage. We wanted to enjoy a meal together before Don and I left for the East Coast that night.

“Is there any way to speed that up?” I asked. “We have a flight to catch.”

“Not without some green paper. Even then it will be at least 30 minutes.”

I handed it over; he palmed it.

I handed it over; he palmed it.

Green paper … what’s he talking about? Oohhh …

I pulled a $20 out of my wallet and handed it to Chris. He unobtrusively palmed the bill and looked me in the eye.

“What time do you need to be out of here?”

“Let’s see.” I glanced at my watch. “We need to leave here within 90 minutes to catch our red-eye.”

Not more than ten minutes later he indicated we should walk to the back of the restaurant so no one would see we were being seated before them. From there Chris directed us to a nice table, handed us menus, and wished us a good dinner.

I’d never tipped someone to receive precedence over other customers before. A sense of power crept over me. “Yes!” I had accomplished what we needed.

That night I was troubled. Yes, I had accomplished the goal of getting faster service to accommodate our timing need. But was it right? Was it just? Would Jesus have bribed the maitre d’? Did both the maitre d’ and I take advantage of each other? He wanted cash. I wanted to eat. But in our exchange, did we trample on others’ rights or fair treatment?

On our cruise, I shared these thoughts with Don, my brother and sister-in-law. Arnold reminded us of a song from the 70’s or 80’s.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

I could not deceive myself (or anyone else) that I had guarded each man/woman’s dignity and pride by my actions. From a time perspective, our need seemed greater than others’ that night. But did that justify my actions? At what cost was my power play?

In all honesty, I can’t say I will never do this again. But I hope that next time I will think more about others’ dignity and just treatment before I take an action that benefits me at the expense of others.


  1. Thuan Vuong says:

    Although I would hesitate to label the action mentioned as without moral implications, at the same time, I would definitely not call it “wrong” in the sense of “stepping on another’s dignity.” When the President comes to town here in L.A., roads are blocked, highways are closed, and hundreds of people are inconvenienced so that he can get to his destination quickly. No one thinks twice about all those people being put out because this one man happens to pass through town. Much money (way more than $20) was passed between numerous parties to get the President quickly to his destination. Someone might say he is more important than you, but I also have arguments to the contrary. In your case, the maitre’d had control of the assets, and you purchased it. Sounds like an capitalistic exchange of supply and demand to me. It’s just that the purchasing option was not open to the public.
    In most of the world, “underhanded” transactions of money occur all the time. In Vietnam, when I was working with my mother, money exchanged with the police so that I could get the papers I needed for my mom. More backdoor money exchanges transpired to get our adopted daughter out of her native country. This is not a confession. “Officials” already know this and won’t be surprised by what I say.
    I am not saying whether the restaurant exchange is right or wrong (that’s your call), but I doubt if anyone in the restaurant was the worse for wear. And even if they did find out, I doubt if it is a godly sense of impartial justice that will come into play but a sense of their own “importance” not recognized. I think that I, for one, would not have a moral qualm doing what you did. (Yes you can label me less of a Christian). I just see that there is more than one way to look at the incident.

    1. carolnl says:

      Thuan, I appreciate your thoughtful response. First, I would never label you as to your faith…I have seen its outworking in your life and besides, I’m learning that labels are often worthless and detract from real relationship. I understand your point and perhaps the issue in question is as you say, one that is common in practice. I’ve seen it – and been part of it – in Mexico as you have been in Vietnam, and as the example you give of the President being in Los Angeles and the people who are inconvenienced, the money exchanged, to get him to his destination quickly. I guess what I want to be aware of–not paranoid about, but aware of–is the inequities of life…the class, financial, social and political structures that say one person’s time or person is of higher importance than another’s. It’s easy to take advantage of those systems and I want to be sensitive to not abusing gifts I have been given. Does that make sense? It’s so nice to hear from you and get your feedback on my thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

  2. Shelly Mincy says:

    WOW didn’t know that really worked. Kind of makes me want to try it sometime. OK, back to what Jesus would do…Next time you hear the maitre d’ tell someone how long they will have to wait pay it forward for them. Then your slate will be clear so to speak. If we don’t have a twinge of guilt or contemplation then we never move forward or learn.

    1. carolnl says:

      Shelly, what a creative idea. Love it! Thanks.

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