For just 89 cents, there’s a place retired men can go for fellowship, a good laugh and conversation that might not be very stimulating intellectually, but sure passes the time.
Actually, the 89 cents is optional. That’s the price of a small “senior” coffee at area McDonald’s restaurants, and if you skip the caffeine and just sit down with the rest of the guys, nobody will complain.
The restaurant on Massillon Road in Green is Ed Thompson’s everyday hangout, but he feels welcome almost anywhere.
“You can go to any McDonald’s in the nation in the morning and you are going to find a group of retired guys and you can sit down and argue, just debate, anything,” he said. “Really, it’s just the most logical and fun place to go.”
While working people cruise through the drive-thru or hang out with their computers at coffee shops where most seats accommodate just two people, retirees like the cheap coffee and familiar faces at Mickey D’s.
The conversation can start as early at 5 a.m. when most of the restaurants open and last into the afternoon as men come and go. At the Green restaurant, the early birds joke about the second shift that shows up at 9 a.m. and stays until almost lunch.
Anyone is welcome.
“You can just go and say, ‘Are you the old retired guys?’ and that just starts the conversation up,” Thompson said.
Topics can include sports, fishing, cars, politics, religion, jokes or just the good old days — whatever everybody wants.
At the McDonald’s at 390 W. Market St. in Akron, the men prefer to concentrate on sports.
David Evans often sits opposite his old pal Harvey Glover to talk about their days as University of Akron athletes.
Set your coffee down at the table and it won’t take long before you hear Evans talk about the night he and the Zips faced Earl “The Pearl” Monroe of Winston-Salem State.
“He held him to under 50 points!” Glover jabs.
Sometimes it’s politics, but not often.
“That’s an explosive topic nowadays,” Evans explained. “Politics, religion, we kind of steer clear of those, you know, by design, I guess. It’s not that somebody says ‘Let’s don’t talk about that,’ but we just kind of steer away from that. This is more for levity than anything else.”
Asked if they ever talk about sex, he said, “No, but we think about it!”
At the Green restaurant, Bob Polan said politics is allowed, but you must know the limits.
“We know who’s the Democrats and who’s the Republicans,” he said. “The guy who just left, he’s a Democrat. We prank him up pretty good.”
A moment later, he added: “Some days, you gotta have thicker skin. And some guys, you can only go so far and you don’t go any further … you know, they get all fired up. We know the limits.”
The men at both restaurants estimated their average age is in the 60s. As many as 20 men might show up at each restaurant some time during the week. The guys at both restaurants said women occasionally join them, but none showed up when a reporter was present last week.
Many of those relationships go back 20 years or more, enough time to see men fade into senility.
“You hate to see it,” said Hughie Brenneman of Green. “They’re not what they used to be. They just go down and down.”
Even the sharper guys realize their memories are fading. At one point, the Akron guys couldn’t remember the player who went in the NBA Draft before Wilt Chamberlain. David Richardson, relatively young at 55, was there with his smartphone to search the Internet for answers.
In Green, they make a joke of memory lapses.
“If somebody can’t remember something, we make fun of him,” said Cliff Stadler of the second shift. “We have a thing. We say ‘Marhofer, Marhofer’ because one guy once couldn’t remember Marhofer, the car dealership. So now, whenever he can’t think of something, we go ‘Marhofer!’ So, yeah, we really get on people for getting old. Getting old ain’t for sissies.”
Death is not a foreign topic either.
They’ve had members die, but they can’t remember talking about it much.
The men in Green remember being in the restaurant when the World Trade Center was hit Sept. 11, 2001.
“We all went home to watch TV,” Stadler said.
Tragedy was closer to home earlier this year at the West Market Street restaurant. In April, John Lehman, a 28-year-old McDonald’s employee, was killed while taking out the trash one night.
Many people remember Lehman as a man who would walk on Market Street playing a guitar.
The retirees found out about it the next morning when they showed up and the restaurant was locked.
“He was a nice guy,” Evans said about Lehman. “We didn’t know him personally, but we knew him. He never was trouble or anything. He kept to himself, playing his guitar. He never bothered anybody.”
The gunman pleaded guilty in October to aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and other charges, and was sentenced to life in prison. Since the homicide, the restaurant has been remodeled to make it safer. The television was removed and artwork depicting Lehman’s guitar is in its place.
The retirees said that’s another reason they don’t talk much about current events.
They have what they call an enforcer. It’s anybody who injects humor when the conversation gets too serious.
“There’s enough negative stuff in the world; this is our happy place,” Evans said. “We come in here and laugh and joke. We don’t get too deep or anything.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.