The Guys at Breakfast

In Fort Worth, Texas, the “go to” place for good food and great service is the West Side Cafe.  If you stop there on a Tuesday morning, don’t be surprised at the mob of guys sitting in the back room talking, laughing and enjoying breakfast together.  The restaurant knows to expect this crew and, though doctor’s appointments and other alibis can cause the numbers to fluctuate, a solid ten to twenty guys make it a point to show up every week.

I am proud to count myself a member of this merry band.  All of us are neighbors at Overture Ridgmar, a 55+ Active Retirement Community where, on Tuesday mornings, we form up and car pool to our weekly gathering.  

A casual diner walking into the West Side Cafe and seeing this crew, might be inclined to write us off as simply a rag tag collection of “old guys” with grey hair (or, in some cases, no hair).  But that would be a mistake.  Having had the good fortune to spend time with these fellows and get to know a little bit about them, I can testify to the fact that the experiences, depth of knowledge and record of accomplishments around that table are, in a word, remarkable.

Many of my breakfast colleagues have founded and managed businesses, others have performed design work in aeronautics, there are medical professionals, men with legal backgrounds, advanced teaching credentials, two preachers, a musician, and a banker.  A common theme among most of the fellows around the table, though, is military service.  You would never know it, however, from listening to the Tuesday conversations … nobody aggrandizes their time in the armed forces.  You have to ask … and ask again … to learn what they have done in service to our country.

As a police officer, I learned early in my career that, from time to time, people would decide to resist arrest.  Occasionally, somebody would raise their fists and declare loudly: “I’m going to kick your *** … I’m not going to jail!”  Caution was always important, of course, but in most cases I found those bold declarations to be little more than bombast.  On the other hand, the people who always impressed me were those who quietly assumed a bladed and balanced stance, kept their hands free, made direct eye contact and didn’t say a word.  It was clear that those folks knew how to handle a physical confrontation … they didn’t have to broadcast how tough they believed themselves to be.

In my experience, what I just described is much the same with military veterans.  Maybe it is just me, but when someone repeatedly (and unsolicited) tells everyone around him of the heroic things he did while in the military, I tend to be suspicious of their declared credentials.  It is the quiet one, though … the one who has to be prodded to talk about his experiences … he is the one that usually has the most impressive story.  

For example, among the men at Tuesday breakfast are a number of retired Viet Nam veterans including a KC-135 pilot, a member of a B-52 crew, a Helicopter pilot, a Swift Boat crewman, a West Point graduate who commanded an artillery battalion, and a number of enlisted “ground pounders.”  Our group also includes a veteran of the Korean conflict who, at age 19, parachuted into North Korea.  None of the men around our table talk about their military experiences unless prompted, but each is rightly proud of what he has done in service to our country.

When someone walks into the West Side Cafe on a Tuesday morning, he may find himself seated near a large group of older guys who seem to be talking about things like the Texas Rangers current losing streak or a new medication for aches and pains.  In truth, though, there is a lot more going on at that table, and I have been privileged to sit, listen and learn from some really remarkable men.

Having sold our home and moved to Overture Ridgmar less than two years ago, my wife and I remind ourselves, on a daily basis, how much we enjoy our new living arrangement.  There is much to celebrate in our new digs but, for me, one of the most rewarding benefits of our move has been the opportunity to meet and interact with this remarkable group of guys with whom I go to breakfast each Tuesday.

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