Day 37: Today, eat and run (version 2).

Back in 2000, Ani DiFranco’s label (Righteous Babe Records) released an album – ‘Til We Outnumber ‘Em – composed of performances from a 1996 concert in honor of Woody Guthrie.

It’s a bit uneven – Arlo Guthrie’s appearances, as I recall, are a bit preachy/sentimental/maudlin for my taste – but the high points (Ani’s “Do Re Mi” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” among them) are amazing. There are also some spoken pieces, and one of these – a reading by Peter Glazer (of a short piece by Guthrie) – has stuck with me through the years:

“I think back through my life to everybody that I owe, I mean the ones that I can remember in person. Of course I know that I owe these folks and they owe some other people and these are in debt to others and all of us owe everybody, but the amount that we owe is all that we have.”

What does this have to do with eating and running? To skip out on a bill is to deny one’s place – perhaps only momentarily – in this great web of interpersonal debt. This isn’t about money, really, but about work, labor, sweat, service – about recognizing that “our common life depends upon each other’s toil.”

Theft of all sorts fits this bill, of course, but there’s something particularly insulting, I think, about eating and running. Despite the fact that there’s money involved, procuring food in a restaurant still involves someone else cooking for you, serving you, providing a fundamental sort of hospitality – and failing to honor one’s end of this exchange by refusing to pay is, in my opinion, ingratitude of an equally fundamental sort.

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