Friday, September 16, 2016

The Regular Crowd at Dunkin' Donuts

Every donut shop has its own rhythms. The drive through window always does brisk business. Most folks who get out of the car just drop in to pick up their fix of donuts and coffee and leave. Throughout the day, there are times when every seat is empty. 

But every donut shop also has cast of regulars. They come in at specific times, are very different in each shop, and make for unique social climates and experiences. Anyone who spends much time in any particular shop, whether or not he or she joins one of the tables of regulars, gets brought into the action and to some extent makes new friends.

So yesterday I dropped into one of my favorite Dunkin Donut shops, at the Fairfield Connecticut Circle. This shop lies between my home in Southwest Bridgeport and the Fairfield Public Library, where I frequently work on my projects. I'm in there often. My family and friends often refer to this shop - or another Dunkin Donut shop in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport - as my 'office'. Friends who can't reach me by phone (I often forget to bring it with me) will drop in to find me. 

The wait people all know me. Some see me coming and have my regular order ready even before I finish parking my car. One even buys me gifts when she goes off on vacation. Others treat me as a total stranger, and take my order - the same one almost every time - without any sign of recognition.

In this shop on the circle, the regulars are a pretty diverse bunch. This is not always the case. The shop I frequent on 23rd street in South Philadelphia is packed exclusively with white retired working class guys who may be in the shop all day for months on end. The shop in Black Rock attracts solitaries - a few folks who come in, sit alone, cover themselves in a dark emotional fog, wait for it to clear, and leave without a word. 

The Fairfield Circle shop, like the surrounding area, is much more upbeat. A bunch of working guys - handymen, carpenters, plumbers - circulate throughout the day. They all know each other and sit together - though from their entry and exit patterns these meetings do not appear pre-arranged. They are often joined by another guy, Jose, who worked before retirement for the city of Bridgeport as an architectural draftsman. Jose has great posture, a calm clear voice. He occasionally blasts forth in laughter, but then  regains his composure. In my imagination, Jose could have been the boss of this crew - he has the education, knowledge, and bearing. But he doesn't act the part. He just hangs out with them to be amused. He often appears at the shop twice or even three times during the day.


So yesterday I came into the shop and started  speaking with Jose in Spanish. His Spanish is very beautiful, elegant even. The jaws of those at the workmen's table dropped and their eyes popped out! 

- "Jose, where did you learn Spanish?" 

- "In Puerto Rico."         

-"Huh, when did you go to Puerto Rico?" 

"I was born there!" 

"No, I don't believe it. You. "

So we exchanged a few sentences in Spanish, talked in English for a few minutes about learning Spanish, and I then took a seat.

 Now I have my regular seat in this shop, over at the window in back. But yesterday there was another guy in my seat. This sometimes happens. And Jose ribbed me about it, too.  So I sat at the next empty table. I often use this strategem - parking myself next to my regular seat so I can pounce on it the moment anyone in it leaves.


The guy in my seat was named Mike. I've seen him in the shop before. He's an older guy, could be 80. Always sits alone in my seat. He has a pile of notecards and a legal pad, and he's writing furiously away. Maybe this is the writer's seat - it's the most out of the way.  

Me: "Hi, Mike, what're you writing?"

Mike: "A magazine article."

- "Are you a writer"

- "Kinda. That's what I do to pass the time. Been retired a long time Not much money in it, but i appreciate the money cause it shows someone values what I do." 

- "What do you write about?"

- "Lots of things. Sports, machinery, cars, whatever." 

-"What did you do before you retired?" 

- "Airplane design. I worked on heliocoptors over at Sikorski. Last one I worked on 1987. Gee, that's almost 30 years, ain't it.?" 

I thought: this is one interesting guy. I'd love to talk to him more about writing, one of my favorite topics of conversation. 

-"Hey, Mike, do you do Facebook?"

- "Nah, don't wanna bother. I don't really want to waste a lot of time with other people."

- "Well ok, do you have an email address?"

- "Nope, don't even have a computer. What do I need that for? My son, he's a professor. He knows where he can find me. I don't even want to have him calling me all day long. I come out here so I don';t have to bother with any of that stuff." 

- "Well, nice talking to you Mike. Good luck on that article and have a nice day."


So as I was taking leave of Mike, two of the regulars, Nancy and Geraldine enter. Nancy is probably my favorite regular. She reminds me a bit of St Francis as portrayed by Katzanzakis at the end of his St. Francis book - a person  simply caught up in the ecstasy of life, bold, uninhibited, wise, and at times positively embarrassing. She is as likely to burst into song, or dance around the shop, or gather us all for prayer, as make some profound point. She sports super-blond hair, is always dressed in stylish, attractive, and very flashy cloths, with shoes and hats and eye-glasses to match. NO matter what the topic, from personal life to books to news events or personal finances, Nancy has something intelligent to add. Of course, she may just follow this with a dance, or a group prayer. 

Her friend Geraldine is quiet and contemplative. She rarely has anything to say; Nancy takes the lead. Until a year or two ago, the two friends used to show up at the circle with Geraldine's dad. Like Geraldine, her dad had worked on Wall Street until retirement. He always had a very pleasant smile and an attentive eye, but like his daughter, he said little. One day I noticed that he was even quieter than usual. He seemed to be in decline. Then he passed away, and Geraldine grieved - whether at home alone or at Dunkin Donuts with Nancy ( the two friends are quite inseparable, though they live apart). It was lonely for a time at DD without Geraldine's dad. We could all feel his absence.

Today rthe topic was John Steinbeck. Nancy had read all of his books. She said her favorite was Travels with Charley. She also liked The Pearl. Geraldine preferred the Grapes of Wrath. I asked them whether they had read The Red Pony. The hadn't so I briefly outlined the plots of the four stories. geraldine wondered whether they fit together, and we discussed how they did. 

So I thought: I could spend more time with these two. I really enjoy them, and always have a good time chatting with them at DD. 

-"Hey Nancy and Geraldine, do you do Facebook?"

-" Nah, why would we do that?"

- Geraldine: " You can't believe anything on Facebook. People say they went to Hawaii. They put up those lovely pictures. How can you tell they even went? Why would I want to waste my time?" 

- Nancy: "I don't even have a computer. OR a cell phone. I don't want one. When my son wants to find me, he can call my home. But I don't want him calling after me all the time. That's why I'm always out." 

1 comment:

  1. As opposed to a barfly, Len, I guess you could be referred to as a "Dunkfly". I see the making of a short story or novel with your cast of characters.