Imagine you’re a fly on the wall at the Old Coots Breakfast Club, which meets at 4 each morning at the Party Line Cafe.
Overhearing the four members’ tall tales, which get progressively taller as the members age, you’d think the good old days were horrible. Ask the members, however, and they’ll tell you the good old days were great. Awesome even.
“We didn’t have Twitter back then, and somehow we survived,” says 80.
“And phones were dumb as a brick,” 70 says. “We had to carry a tape recorder, tape measure, level, notebook, calendar, games, film camera, video camera, altimeter, magazines, newspapers, movies, books, pocket watch, calculator, compass, all on our back. But we had grit.”
The club’s mottoes are “up before sunrise” and “long naps.”
Their members are 65 (on the cusp of retirement), 70, 80 and Shar Pei, the leader, who refuses to reveal his age. Speculation is he is at least 90. He has more wrinkles than a Shar Pei dog, and when it comes to storytelling, he is more competitive than a lion at a waterhole.
“No getting a ride with our parents to school,” says 65. “We’d walk in good weather, ride a school bus if the weather was rotten.”
“You think you had it rough,” 70 says. “We’d walk whatever the weather — rain, snow, sleet or hail. It was like training for the post office.”
“In my day, school never closed for weather,” 80 says. “We’d walk 2 miles in snow to our knees.”
“We’d walk to school 9 miles through a forest of wolves with snow to our earholes,” Shar Pei says. “Uphill both ways. Against the wind.”
The conversational competition continued.
“We said the Pledge of Allegiance before starting school,” 65 says.
“We recited the Bill of Rights,” 70 says.
“We recited the Constitution by heart,” 80 says.
“We recited the Bible — in its entirety,” Shar Pei says. “That left five minutes for a snack before we went home to plow the north 40.”
“When I was young, there were no free breakfasts and lunches,” 65 says.
“We had no hot lunches at school. We’d bring our lunches from home in Davy Crockett lunchboxes,” 70 says.
“All we could afford were gristle sandwiches,” 80 says.
“All we could afford were bread and water,” Shar Pei says. “And we baked our own bread over a fire.”
“Speaking of water,” 65 says, “we were the original environmentalists. We didn’t have bottled water.”
“We had to drink from the tap,” 70 says.
“We had to drink from the hose,” 80 says.
“We had to drink from the creek,” Shar Pei says. “We’d strain out the impurities with our teeth.”
That explained the gaps in his snaggle-tooth smile.
“We didn’t have computers in cars,” 65 says.
“We had to change our own oil,” 70 says. “None of these oil-changing places on every corner.”
“We rolled down the windows for air conditioning,” 80 says.
“Our cars didn’t have radio,” Shar Pei says. “And no power steering. If you wanted to turn, you had to start a block ahead. And we’d have flat tires every 5 miles.”
“Our cars got 30 miles per gallon,” 65 says.
“Our cars got 20,” 70 says.
“Ours got 10,” 80 says.
“Ours got two gallons per mile,” Shar Pei says. “But we made do. We had grit.”
“We all worked for a living, back then,” 65 says. “Americans had a work ethic. If you wanted something, you rolled up your sleeves and went to work.”
“We had to work 45 hours a week,” 70 says. “If the boss said jump, we’d add a hop and a skip to get triple credit.”
“We worked 50 hours a week, and had only one week off a year,” 80 says.
“We worked 70 hours a week and only got off work Christmas Day afternoon,” Shar Pei says. “If you wanted time off for surgery, you had to request it at least 10 years ahead.”
“Back in the day, we chopped our own salad and grated our own cheese,” 65 says.
“We cracked our own nuts,” 70 says.
“We had to use a manual can opener,” 80 says. “And we had no microwave oven.”
“We had to cook over a fire,” Shar Pei says. “Everything we ate, and even ourselves, was smoked. And the only cut of meat we had was gristle.”
“Our parents made us watch Lawrence Welk and his orchestra on television,” 65 says.
“We had to wade through shag carpet and change the channels by hand,” 70 says. “We were our parents’ remote control device.”
“We had only three channels,” 80 says. “The TV console was the size of a 1959 Eldorado. The black and white screen was the size of a Davy Crockett lunchbox.”
“We had no TV,” Shar Pei says. “We had to listen to the radio and use our imagination.”
“Yeah, those were the good old days,” 65 says.
The four men raised their coffee cups in a toast.
“To the good old days,” Shar Pei says.