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The question caught me by surprise.
“Where’s your little friend?”
I looked up to see this fella sitting on the stoop of a house in my granddaughter’s neighborhood.
I was shocked. To be honest, not too many folks up here in Maryland speak to strangers.
I stopped to explain that I was taking a day off from my usual great-grand baby sitting chores.
“I sorta got the whole day to bum around,” I said.
This fella was familiar. I had noticed and nodded to him several times while strolling along the sidewalk in front of his place on past occasions.
However, this was the first time we had spoken to each other face to face.
I decided to sit and talk for a spell. In no time at all, we had given each other a pretty good rundown of ourselves.
He said he knew I was a frequent visitor to the Old Line State.
I learned he moved from Alabama to Maryland a few years back to be near family. But job transfers and such left him mostly alone among strangers.
“Wanna go get a cup of coffee?” he asked. “I gotta a friend who owns a small cafe that’s not too far away.”
“Sure,” I said.
Turning down a cup of coffee is downright unsociable.
Besides, I cherish adult conversation, especially with an old Southern boy like myself. I wasn’t about to turn down that opportunity.
We jumped in his car and headed out.
He was whipping through traffic like a diehard Alabama NASCAR fan who just seen the grandstands of Talledega Superspeedway come into view. His driving did Red Farmer and that Hueytown crowd justice.
He parked in front of a row of old weathered storefronts in Lexington Park and announced, “here we are.”
I sat there in the car for a second or two before climbing out. I looked up to see several older folks coming and going.
Immediately, I figured this was a local gathering spot for those who were in no hurry to do anything or to be in any particular place.
I wouldn’t call them old codgers. Let’s just say they were mature with minds of their own. I gotta admit, I pretty much meet that same criteria.
No sooner had we stepped inside, we were greeted by several patrons who knew my new friend.
He introduced me to everyone inside “Al’s Galley” as his “buddy from down in South Carolina.”
You know, I felt as if I belonged there.
When a fellow calls you his friend, it ain’t nothing to make fun of or take lightly.
The owner, a big rotund bald headed guy with a accent straight out of the Bowery, handed me an extra large mug of piping hot black coffee and welcomed me to his place.
Just like magnets drawing steel, chairs and their occupants started pulling up to our table.
I might have been 500 miles (and several years away) from the old Lancaster Cafe, but I was comfortable among new friends in Al’s quaint establishment.
The conversation wasn’t any different from home and quickly turned to the many woes our nation is now facing. The concerns they expressed were no different than mine.
Some comments were more heated than others, but it didn’t take very long to learn about, and identify with, some of the difficulties my new friends had and were facing.
Bless Pete, just about every branch of military service and veterans from every war were present. Even Al was an ex-sailor.
Many of these men were retired from the manufacturing end of some big outfit that no longer existed. Several had lost their pensions when the company closed its doors.
You know, I did observe a certain air of levelheadedness among this very mature group.
No one espoused taking up arms and marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to clean up the mess.
The afternoon was enjoyable and the conversation enlightening.
Nobody could come up with a cure for the common cold that day or figure out how to solve our nation’s ills.
Shucks, we didn’t even agree on everything.
But we did come to a consensus to head to the polls in November and send some incumbents packing.
I learned something else that day, too.
Folks – regardless of where they live – are coming back together in a way Americans have always done when times demanded it.
And you know, it’s about time.