Hospitality workers are being thrown to the wolves under the traffic light system

The traffic light system came into force across New Zealand on Friday, December 3, to differing responses (first published December 4).

OPINION: I have a friend who runs a small café. He is sole-charge, owner-operator.

On the first day of the traffic light system, in accordance with the guidelines and to avoid being issued an enormous fine, he has made it clear that the café will require visitors to show a vaccination pass to sit inside. If a customer is not vaccinated, they have the option of outdoor seating and service, with a smile, at the door.

When I stopped by for my (exceptionally good) coffee at 10am, he told me he had been verbally abused seven times already.

He was keeping a tally.

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People had screamed obscenities at him. Threatened to disregard his decision and come in anyway. Threatened to go onto Facebook and make disparaging comments on every post they could find of his. Threatened to give him a one-star review on every rating page they could find for his café. Told him he would “regret” his decision.

He is a strong, capable young man who will absolutely survive this. But he shouldn’t have to.

Vaccine passes are now part of everyday life across NZ.
Vaccine passes are now part of everyday life across NZ.

Anti-vaxxers have made their choice, knowing what the consequences will be. It has been made very clear that this was coming. They are not entitled to act surprised. And they are certainly not entitled to take out their petty frustrations on the people who are just trying to make a living.

The pandemic has hit many of us hard. Lockdowns have been tiring, lonely, damaging to our mental reserves. Keeping a small café going following two lockdowns, and keeping in mind that people’s excess spending money has all but evaporated in many cases, I feel that my friend opening every day with a smile and making everyone’s lives a little bit better with the liberal application of caffeine makes him a hero.

The café was closed when I drove past at 2pm. I guess he had a few more abusive “customers” and decided it was a hard day to keep that smile on his face.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff
Party goers taste their first drink as Auckland pubs open up under the new traffic light system.

I guess enough people thought he was an easy target. A lone guy in a small shop. Someone to vent their frustrations on. Someone they could scream their anger at. Someone who couldn’t tell them to f... off, despite them absolutely deserving it, and much more.

I hope they’re ashamed of themselves.

They won’t be, of course. Undoubtedly they feel justified in frothing at the mouth at my friend. I’m sure they feel entitled, perhaps even deserving, of their righteous ire. Aimed at someone who can’t exactly fight back. Perhaps it helps them feel powerful.

Personally, I think it makes them cowards. To those people who abused my friend – those people who chose their lone target and decided to ease their discontent on him – you are worse than pathetic.

I have no sympathy, now. If this is the face of the anti-vaxxer movement (and I believe these self-important people to be just that), know that any concern I had for the movement just evaporated.

This is not about choice, it was only ever about their choice. My friend chose to operate under the rules he was given. The people who screamed at him had no interest in upholding his right to choose (in this case, to choose not to be fined!). It was only ever about them. Only ever their own selfish narrative they were interested in.

I will visit the café again tomorrow if he is open. I will return his smile. Laugh at the stupidity of people. Ask what the tally got to before he decided he’d taken enough abuse for one day.

We will smile. We will drink our coffees. We will hope it gets better. It has to, right?

Nobody deserves to be a punching bag for the malcontents and today, my friend got thrown to the wolves.

I hope they’re ashamed of themselves.