Upon first observation, the casual observer may believe the retirees gathered at a table at Bojangles on Martha Berry Boulevard dislike each other greatly. But in reality, a person would be hard pressed to find a better group of friends.
“[The group] means a whole lot to me,” said David Lewis. “Friendship goes a long way. It’s just like one big family.”
They typically range from five to eight people. The group is almost always the same retired or semi-retired men. On occasion a female friend or someone’s wife joins the table. Many of the men have been meeting there for years.
“Well, we actually started out as a different group,” said Jerry Massey, noting a lot of the original people who ate together either have passed away or are no longer able to get out. “It was me and David and our other guys. We ate there for years. Then we met the rest of these guys. They sat at a different table.”
“It used to be just a bunch of us Marines would come over on Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” said Avery Almand. “Jerry and David were there every day. We struck up a friendship.”
Eventually, everyone started sitting at the same table.
Starting around 6:30 or so most weekday mornings, members of the group gather together to talk about what they are doing, how people they know are doing, where they are going and what the solutions to the world’s biggest problems are.
“We talk about everything and everybody,” Massey said, laughing. “We just aggravate and pick at each other. We’ve solved all the problems of the world. Well, we may not solve all the problems, but we talk about them.”
“We talk about the way our world used to be and the direction our world is going in now,” Lewis said. “We talk about local politics, Washington, D.C., politics. The rest of the time we’re laughing and picking at each other and having a good time. We get in a few little arguments but they don’t amount to anything — it’s all in fun.”
“I do a lot of listening,” Bob Jones said. “It’s interesting to see what everyone has view on. I really do enjoy it. They’ll argue with one another, but they don’t get mat at each other. I get tickled listening to them…you’d think they’re enemies, but they’re good friends.”
“We have more fun aggravating each other about different things instead of talking about anything intelligent,” Almand said with a chuckle.
“You better not let them know something’s bothering you,” Massey said. “They’ll get onto you about it.”
More than anyone else at the table, it seems like Harold Brock often is the target of the aggravation. Sometimes one or more will pick at Brock just for fun — and to see what his reaction will be.
“They don’t upset me nearly as much as they think they do,” Brock said.
Brock is a transplant from The Biscuit Bucket in West Rome, which closed a few years ago. It was then that he started going to Bojangles and when he joined the other retirees in the morning.
“I just developed a friendship with these guys,” he said. “It’s just part of my day. I wake up every morning at the same time and go down there and drink coffee and talk.”
They are so involved in their conversations, great debates and plans that they often don’t notice that other patrons are listening in, amused by their gentle ribbing of each other or shaking their heads at their debates. One would think they are with each other at all hours of the day. But this is not so.
Many have known one or the other for years on end. Others, perhaps not. Sometimes a few of them may end up working out at the gym at Floyd Rehab. Brock and Jones are neighbors in Garden Lakes and have known each for a long time and see each other frequently. Jones and Almand like crafting handmade pens that they give away.
Otherwise, their lives outside of their breakfast group are fairly separate.
But their friendships with each other are unshakeable.
“If one of us needs something, we don’t mind calling one another,” Lewis said. “I don’t think we’d turn each other down… It’s a bunch of free, hearty guys — good Christian guys.”
“They mean a lot to me,” Jones said. “I like them. I grew up in a town like this. My father worked in a textile mill. They remind me of the men I knew when I was a little boy. They are good friends. And they are honest.”