The Restaurant Gang
Solving the world's problems at breakfast
For as long as I’ve owned and managed this fast food restaurant (and three others in the area), the Restaurant Gang has been coming in to eat, drink, and chat. Through the years there have been variations of the gang: all men, all women, mixed men and women, one race, mixed race, or all of the above. Each of the gangs had two things in common. First, they were all retired, and they were at least seventy-years-old. It wasn’t a requirement to be 70. It just ended up being that way.
The oldest known gang member was Bobby Treaster who was 95 when he passed. It was actually a surprise to all of us because he had just had a physical two days before and everything was in tip top shape…for a 95-year-old.
I should probably back up a bit.
Even though I don’t actively participate in the gang’s discussions, I feel as if I’m a part of them. I hear everything they talk about. I hear their arguing and bickering. It’s never come to blows, mind you, but it can become pretty heated at times. On those occasions I merely go over to remind them that there are other guests in the restaurant. I’m the only one allowed to bring around coffee refills each morning. It’s my personal responsibility to see their cups remain filled with enough coffee to get them through the morning.
Someone may look at all this and think my restaurant is losing money from them, but they’d be wrong. Every morning they grab their coffee and a bite to eat. The restaurant is going to be open anyways, so why not host them? Besides, they’re bored in their retirement. They need a place to go and sit and vent their frustrations.
We just accommodate.
I’ve heard all the possible subjects a group of seniors could have: Medicare, Social Security, rising taxes, irresponsible government spending, rising prices, neglected veterans, runaway immigration policies, silly foreign policies, term limits, and continuing to elect stupid people. They’ve discussed every country known to man, and every politician from Borough Councilman to President of the United States. For politicians to dismiss this sage segment of society is so short-sighted. Well, that’s how they would put it at least.
As I said, I don’t normally get into their discussions because it’s all about them. However today I was feeling good. As I made Round 2 in refills, I paused and looked at the group gathered today. Ted, Sandra, Terrance, Marie, Gloria, James, and Scotty were there discussing the shortage of doctors.
Scotty was the first to speak, “What, Allen? What’s on your mind? Care to weigh in?”
“No, not really, but I’ve got perhaps more of a philosophical question than anything.”
“Well,” James said. “We do philosophy too. What’s up? We’ve got time for it, that’s for sure.”
“How do I put this nicely? I hear your discussions but nothing ever gets done, right? And I’m not saying that in a mean way. But if Congressman Howard were to walk through those doors, what’s the one question you would ask him? What would you really like to change? You’ve got one shot because, quite frankly, you may never get a chance to talk with him again after this. Just you and him. Alone. No entourage to herd him away. And ten minutes only. One shot. What is it?”
I grabbed my empty pot and returned to the counter.
Everyone there knew the name Howard - Matthew Howard. He had been in Congress for seven years and was considered a local boy and very approachable, salt-of-the-earth type. He stood in direct contrast to his predecessor who grew up two counties away, had been in Congress for 33 years before dying in office, and settled his family in D.C.
No, Matt Howard was everything to like in a Congressman and nothing to dislike.
I knew this would cause a lot of consternation and discussion within the Gang. No idea what they would come up with, not even a clue. After about 20 minutes, I saw Sandra pull out pen and paper.
Oh yes, this was getting serious.
I’ve only seen the pen and paper come out twice in the twelve years I’ve owned this franchise. The first was a list of spending cuts they’d like to see, and the second was a list of the stupid laws they’d like to repeal. The Gang was powerless to change laws or spending by themselves, but they took three days trying to list anything and everything. Whatever happened to each of those lists was anybody’s guess.
And just like that, they would move on to a new topic.
A full week passed before one of them mentioned it to me again. This time it was James.
“You know, Allen, your little question got us all thinking. What if we could actually change things? How could we do it? What practical steps could us old coots take to make those changes? We’re not wealthy. We don’t have status and we’re certainly not in Congress, so what could we do?”
James froze and stared at something over my shoulder.
I turned around, and it was the man himself, the Honorable Representative Matthew Howard.
Having breakfast in my restaurant.
I excused myself and went over to shake his hand. He shook it, and then I took his order personally. I looked over his shoulder and nodded to James. I smiled at the Congressman.
James came over, introduced himself, and invited the Congressman to his table, to the Restaurant Gang’s table.
The Congressman obliged after he got his food.
Just then two buses of high school students pulled up, so it got really busy really fast. I was dying to hear what the Gang was discussing with Congressman Howard. People in the real world don’t get that opportunity much in life. What would they ask him? Or, knowing this group like I do, what top five questions were they asking him? I figured they’d never be able to settle on just one. I couldn’t know what they were discussing, but all of them were engaged, including Representative Howard.
Forty minutes later, the students loaded back up and off they went to a band event I believe. Congressman Howard was just rising to leave too. He came over, shook my hand, and left. Just like that.
I walked over with a huge smile on my face. “So….?”
Sandra spoke up. “Allen, again, thanks for the exercise. We thought long and hard about one good solid question, one that would just kind of represent who we were and what we’re about. Well, just yesterday we came up with it. Out of the blue almost. It’s not at all glamorous or earth shattering, but one question we could ask that we could all agree with is…”
Sandra looked around at the table full of smiling seniors.
“We asked him what we could specifically pray for him about. That’s it. He was actually stunned by it, and came up with three personal things and two Washington things. After that, we just chatted about everything, Washington culture, the campaign trail, his family, just about anything we wanted. He even invited us to D.C., and if he had a spare hour he would give us a personal tour of the House.”
“Good story. I like good endings like that.”
It’s amazing what a sizable campaign contribution and a phone call can do. And besides, Matt still owed me for beaning me in the back with a baseball when we played Little League baseball together. One of these days I’ll have to ask him if it was intentional or not.
On second thought, I may not want to know that answer.
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