So there I was, sitting conspicuously alone at the corner of the big, long table at Starbucks, trying to get ahead for the upcoming week.
It was your average busy holiday morning, with a line out the door and barely a spot left to sit. Although somehow, I ended up at a table for eight by myself, with the rest of the place jam-packed with bodies. An obvious fluke. (Either that, or I smell.)
Then, right at the height of the morning rush, at precisely ten o’clock, The Fellas, with a combined age of over five-hundred-and-sixty, all walked in.
There were seven of them all together—each with meticulously combed gray hair and a big, kind smile that immediately made you miss your grandpa.
One by one, they ordered their coffee and joked with each other like they were fourteen-year-old boys. They patted each other on the shoulder while shaking hands, ribbed each other about which one of them actually got there first, and then immediately started scanning the room for a place to sit. They moved as a pack, slowly and deliberately, until they were all standing directly in front of me.
Now I’ve never considered myself a mind reader, but I had a gut feeling that I was sitting in their spot. And even though they hovered around my table, they never gave me the side-eye to move. They just stood there, trying to be inconspicuous. So I did what most people would do who inadvertently sit at a huge empty table, and I offered to move so they could sit together.
The thing was, The Fellas didn’t want me to move. They wanted to sit with me. (A twist I never saw coming.) Honestly, I think it was because they all knew I write for our small-town’s newspaper and they thought they could snooker me into telling them what next week’s column was about. But they promised me before they sat down that they wouldn’t bother me or try to discreetly read my laptop screen while I wasn’t looking, so I figured why not?
And for the first few minutes, they did their thing and I did mine. Until I started eavesdropping on their conversation. Then their cuteness became irresistible, because even though the median age on that side of the table was eighty, the way they acted reminded me of my relationship with my closest girlfriends.
The more I listened, the more endearing they all became to me, talking with such pride about their grandchildren and with such adoration for their wives and families. They were too cute for words, really.
And after fifteen minutes of pretending to type while I was secretly listening to every word, I wanted to join their club. I wanted to pledge the fraternity. I wanted in.
So, little by little, I started engaging in the conversation. A chime here … a chime there. And you know what they did? They embraced me. They were gracious and kind and warm and welcoming and just as eager to learn about me as I was to learn about them.
They asked questions about me and my life. And I asked about them. I wanted to know about who they were before they retired and how they all found each other.
I found out that they were marine engineers and furniture-store owners. They were quarry owners and headhunters and civil engineers. They were CEO’s of scientific-instrument companies and accountants. They were also fiercely loyal husbands and fathers and granddads and friends.
You can learn an awful lot about people over a simple cup of coffee. And I did.
I found out there were ten Fellas in all, but a few weren’t there that day. Their wives are all friends, and so are their kids, and now their grandkids. They meet six-days-a-week at exactly ten o’clock. (They rest on Sundays, they say, like God does.) They talk endlessly about their grandchildren but there’s no bragging allowed. They talk politics and sports and current events and ailments. And since they’re all members of the Manners Club, their hats and caps come off religiously the minute they sit down.
They talk about cars and boats and golf. And the occasional nice-looking girl that’s ordering a skinny latte. (They’re not dead, after all). Mostly, though, they talk about family. And they laugh. A lot.
The majority of them have been friends longer than I’ve been alive. And while they say, over the years, their group has dwindled from twenty or more original Fellas, to the ten who remain, they don’t dwell on their shrinking head count. Instead, they stay firmly in the moment, enjoying each other’s company every day that they can.
They’re a lot like married couples, supporting each other in sickness and in health and every way in between, weathering everything from births to deaths to weddings to retirement. And everything in between.
They’ve had open heart surgeries and knee replacements, bad hips and broken bones, yet they still manage to take regular field trips to break up the monotony. And I’m not talking about mixing it up by driving to the Starbucks in the adjacent town, I’m talking about actual fieldtrips to places like gin distilleries and up to Maine to search for the best lobster club sandwich or power plants (they’re all super curious about how stuff works). They go on golf outings and boat excursions and college hockey games. I mean, these guys are legit.
In truth, they were a bunch of soft-spoken badasses. And I was so excited to be their friend.
An hour-and-a-half later, I was an official Junior Fella with limited membership privileges. And I realized that they were all just slightly older, grayer versions of my own group of foxhole friends, only with bifocals and plaid button downs. (Honestly, though, the fellas are a little quieter and use fewer swears than my homies.)
The upshot for me was that friendship is timeless and formless and genderless. We all just need to find a tribe that gets us and embraces us and swallows us whole… where we can feel embraced and supported and respected and loved. And that tribe can come in all shapes and colors and genders and sizes. We just need to be smart enough to look past the exterior when we find each other.
Oh yeah, I also learned in that conversation that my little town just happens to be the largest town in the Continental US without a gas station. There’s no limit to what these guys know. I feel smarter already.