Reflections on Old Men and McDonald’s …


CoffeeTHE COFFEE AND THE CONVERSATIONS FLOW FREELY …

Every once in a while, a woman or a slightly younger man shows up, but this is almost exclusively an old man’s world.

Men of a certain maturity sit and chat, about the weather, about goings-on in their lives, their children and grandchildren, the state of the world, sometimes about politics, but that is often restricted to the local level or a chorus of people who all see things pretty much the same. 

Every tongue is loose and words flow freely … I wonder if they are this verbose in other situations or at home.  I imagine not …

The discussion often seems to have no particular direction or flow … it’s just conversation.  Topics come and go, sometimes with many responses and sometimes with no reaction at all, other than respectful silence for a few seconds, before someone else starts a new thread.

I have never heard a discussion about religion or marriage, even though I can reasonably assume that most of these men have engaged in both over their long lives.

Most appear to have mobile phones, but unlike the younger generations who drift through, they ignore their phone unless someone calls them.  It is interesting to watch one of the group answer a call … they often appear to be thinking hesitantly about what to do to simply respond, while the group sits quietly waiting for them to accomplish this and return to the circle.

Nobody in these groups pulls out their phone to settle an argument about something, check messages, or anything else that draws them away from their group.

The ubiquitous Missouri accent screams “Farm Folk” to me, although we are well into the suburbs of one of the two largest metropolitan areas in the state.  They could be my father, if he were still alive.   I could be back in the small town near our farm, if that small town had a McDonald’s.  

This McDonald’s is apparently home to three separate groups, based on seating preferences.  One group is mixed sex and masses by the entrance, while a smaller group of men quietly talks at a table in the middle.  The third and loudest group has commandeered a row of small tables and the conversation flows up and down the row of eight men, sometimes including all and sometimes breaking into smaller, more intimate discussions.

I know from previous experience that these three groups, give or take a person or two, gathers regularly at this location every weekday morning.  I suspect they are here on weekends too, competing with adolescent soccer teams stopping for a quick breakfast or gathering for an after-game snack, along with the parents taking their children out for a small treat, most wistfully when the parent is alone. 

Many cultures sharing the same space for a time … each apparently oblivious of the others.

This atmosphere is much different from that found at Kaldi’s, BreadCo, or Starbucks, where speed is the name of the game and talking is focused very much on business, work and related issues.  People are online and on duty, wearing their work faces and talking of how they use their skills and talents to increase value for you in myriad ways.

I do hear politics and religion mentioned more often, but usually in a certain context, as discussion points or as the focus of the gathering. 

Three things strike me about my Monday morning experience, although these are not new thoughts:

WE HUMANS SEEK CONNECTIONS WHEREVER WE CAN FIND THEM …

Whether we are in a coffee-house or elsewhere, we mostly seek the companionship of others.  The connections which seem the strongest, after that of close family, are those where you share having lived your life during the same times and with the same challenges as others.  

I imagine older affluent people gather somewhere in somewhat the same fashion with others, just to talk and share.

CONTEXT IS SIGNIFICANT AS CONNECTIONS ARE MADE …

Places like McDonald’s are made for connections over coffee.  So are coffee shops and similar places where a little refreshment is available and they do not mind if you linger.

Never understood the drive-through mentality of getting somewhere else quicker … I like to wander in to a familiar place, sit in a familiar seat, be served by someone who knows me and I know them, and hang around a while exchanging pleasantries with people with whom I have some things in common.  

Connections are not made in the fast lane, but in the corner booth …

OLD MEN IN A MCDONALD’S MAY BE THE LAST UNPLUGGED FOLKS …

Maybe not the last, but this is an increasingly rare situation for us to find ourselves in.  We are growing increasingly accustomed to being available 24/7, online all the time, and otherwise accommodating distractions instead of managing them.

We might just want to take a few lessons from the guys down at McDonald’s this morning, especially around unplugging.  I work online and manage a number of social media streams, along with participating in connection and educational activities on others … if I can disconnect for a while, you can do the same. 

Make the choice to sit a spell and chat …

Enjoying my third cup of coffee on an oddly relaxing Monday morning in the Heartland …

John

Image:  Me

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