I am sitting in Marie’s on a Tuesday morning in an eastern Colorado town, sipping weak coffee. In a few minutes, the other members of our “breakfast thing” will show up, and we will eat and talk. I have been doing this for two centuries. Okay, it’s been about 10 years, but those years spanned two centuries, and I like the way two centuries sounds.
These breakfast things can be found all over the West. They can be ranchers in Pinedale, Wyo., downtown business people in Ouray, Colo., farmers in Zuni, N.M. One has been associated with the University of Colorado since the 1960s, when a bunch of guys sat down for the first time to have breakfast together. Walk into a lot of small-town restaurants early in the morning, and you’re liable to find a bunch of geezers sitting around a table. Sometimes they have to push two tables together to hold everybody.
I have seldom seen a woman as a member of one of these breakfast things. Women are welcome to join but they don’t stay. I suppose it’s not a girl thing. Breakfast things are not intentionally all male. They are not an organization like the Royal Order of Raccoons. They are not, and never have been, an organized anything. The only thing they have in common is that everybody is the same sex. This is also not something young people do. I know of one female breakfast thing, and like the one I belong to, it has no rules. It is just a group of women lawyers who meet in Albuquerque on Fridays. Men are welcome to join but they do not stay, just as women do not stay in the male breakfast thing.
Many of the restaurants have a young, or not so young, waitress, which leads some codgers to flirt. There is an unspoken understanding that it is only flirting. In many cases the waitress knows exactly what the old coot is going to order and brings it to him unasked. He takes strange pride in his consistency week after week. I can’t tell you why.
The women’s breakfast does not include the flirting. The women in Albuquerque act as a support group for one another and occasionally travel together, sometimes all five or six, sometimes just two. The men will go hiking together or to a basketball or football game; we would never think of ourselves as a support group.
Oh, and plentiful weak coffee. One place I saw had a rack of coffee cups, some with names, on the wall for the “regulars.” This doesn’t seem to be part of a breakfast thing but, rather, for people who come in regularly, squat on a stool and have a piece of pie and a cup of Joe. Breakfast things may not be organized, but they’re not just any bunch that drops in regularly, either.
The breakfast thing isn’t like a Rotary Club breakfast because there are no minutes, no guest speakers, no good deeds. I don’t see how restaurants can make a lot of money from these table lizards because we sit around talking for long periods of time swilling coffee refills. What is curious is that the men take themselves to the diner more regularly than they take their wives or significant others out to dinner or a movie. This is a sore spot for their spouses and the guys know it and do it anyway. I cannot explain it.
The reason for these gatherings is not for the latest news or opinions that get aired. I probably know exactly what the other men are going to say on just about every subject, from sports, politics, stupidity, cupidity, women, Iraq. So what is the attraction? I think it’s a lot like hanging out with the guys on a street corner when I was growing up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. We weren’t members of a gang or street punks. Just some guys. Whenever I didn’t have anything to do, I headed for the corner and stood around saying things like, “What’s up?”
Breakfast things are like that. The men can’t think of anything else to do on a weekday morning. It gets them out of the house and starts the day when they’re too old to hang out on street corners. Roger finally comes into the restaurant and sits down across from me. I’m glad to see him. “Hey,” I say. “What’s up?” “Not much,” he says. “You?”