Friday, December 07, 2007

A restaurant employee named Robert Hawkins

None of the 13 people who were shot Wednesday at the mall in Omaha were in a restaurant or the food court at the time, yet virtually every news report draws a connection between the tragedy and the restaurant industry.

Invariably, the stories note that the 19-year-old shooter had been dumped by his girlfriend a few weeks ago, and that he’d been fired from his job at McDonald’s just a short while back for allegedly stealing. Without expressly saying it, the presentation leaves the impression that the dismissal may have pushed Robert Hawkins over the edge.

The stories unintentionally underscore two large truths about the restaurant business. First of all, it’s not surprising that the tragedy would involve someone who worked at a McDonald’s. Some of the victims might have also worked for the chain or another fast-feeder at one point or another. Ditto for the police and rescue workers who were summoned. Heck, if someone had a flat in the parking lot, they might’ve been an hourly restaurant employee at some stage in their lives. Given how many people float in or out of the industry for employment, it’s like saying “the victim went to high school,” or “the perpetrator drove a car.” Indeed, the point was included because it highlights how ordinary Hawkins seemed on the surface to casual observers.

But the fact was also stressed because it added more eeriness to the story. This wasn’t a kid who ran with gangs or spent his time torturing animals, or at least not to our knowledge. He certainly had his emotional problems, which are only now working their way into follow-up articles. But noting that Hawkins worked at a McDonald’s said a lot about him, and what it said didn’t seem to match the image of a boy who’d go into a mall at Christmas time and kill eight people before taking his own life. Working at a McDonald’s implies a certain innocence, a certain decency within a young person. And that made the turn of events all the more bizarre. It would have been like noting that Hawkins was an Eagle scout, or that he visited the local old folks’ home every Sundays.

Society may tar restaurant jobs as a dead end, or something that you do as a last resort. But how can anyone dispute that working in restaurants is an experience that’s good for a teen? The news reports on the situation in Omaha seem to be saying the same thing, just in a decidedly left-handed way.

No comments:

Post a Comment