Larry Banman – Winning the breakfast club ‘over easy’
January 7, 2010
There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of a good breakfast club.
On a recent visit to the Midwest, I was in a Russell, Kan. eating establishment at about 7 a.m. to enjoy a sausage and egg breakfast. The sun was cresting the horizon, the temperature was somewhere near zero and the frozen landscape revealed a fresh layer of snow.
While waiting in line for my order, I noticed a group of men in a corner enjoying a cup of coffee and each others’ company. It was obvious they were regulars. I got my food and, as is my wont, I ambled over to an adjoining table. I made eye contact with one of the patrons and gave the standard male greeting, “Cold today, huh?”
We quickly became engaged in conversation. They were all retired (for the most part) and had heard each others’ stories many times. I presented the opportunity to interject something new into what was, not doubt, a Sunday morning ritual. One man still had to go feed cattle that morning, a couple were on a bit of short leash that day as they had to get home in order to go to church with their spouses and all were philosophical about the cold (in other words, they were able to accept that which they could not change).
I really didn’t say a lot. I listened, smiled when eye contact was made and nodded at the appropriate times. Names were not shared but, when I left, there was an exchange of comments like; “drive carefully” and “stay warm.” For 15 minutes I felt included in a group I had never met and they probably talked the next Sunday about that guy from Colorado who came to Kansas to bury his father. They were all fathers and that probably resonated with emotions they had about their own families.
That reminded me of the numerous breakfast clubs and coffee groups I observe in Kremmling. They include people of both genders and a wide range of ages. Each group tends to have people within the same age range, but there are exceptions.
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When I first moved to Kremmling in 1989, there were more coffee break clubs. I think more people lived in town and had the flexibility to meet at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. Now, the most consistent time to meet is at breakfast, although I also notice a few regular noontime gatherings.
In my early days in Kremmling, I was hesitant to include myself at a “local’s table.” I wasn’t sure if attendance was a birthright, if it was invitation only or if I would have to go through some sort of initiation. I have since found that it is probably polite to wait for an invite but, if you know somebody at the table, you are generally welcomed. Few of the breakfast clubs have an exclusive membership and most welcome guests. It is good to observe first and learn the ground rules for each club. We were given two ears and only one mouth for a reason.
An unwritten rule of a breakfast or coffee club is that you have to bring something to the table. It doesn’t take long to determine who the leader of the group is, who the pranksters are, who is listening and who hasn’t yet fully engaged. I also find it fascinating to find out who has the biggest influence. Generally speaking, each group has one individual to whom the rest of the participants look for the “final word.” It often isn’t the most verbal person, but it is the person who has earned the most respect. In my opinion, that it is the person who remains the most consistent with his or her values, judgments and opinions.
Morning is the most optimistic time of the day. Breakfast and coffee clubs include, by definition, morning people. They are people who, generally speaking, look at the upcoming day as an opportunity for adventure and success. Humor is a staple at these meetings. Rarely do you observe a glum group of people sharing a pastry at 7 a.m. Those people are still at home waiting until the last minute to start their days.
The quickest way to gain acceptance at a “local’s table” is to bring a sense of humor. The quickest way to feel uncomfortable at such a gathering is if you are trying to be funny and you aren’t. It also helps to be quick on your feet and with your wit. Again, listen first to see which topics are appropriate and which are sacrosanct. Keep your people jokes general until you know who is related to whom.
Stories about people can be entertaining, but they lose their charm when they happen to be about the friend of one of the regulars. Sports figures are an easy target but stay away from politicians until you know on which side of the isle people are sitting. In Kremmling, there are usually people with a variety of political viewpoints so it is best to stay away from politics.
The best approach, I have found, is to bring a self-deprecating humor to the table. Find out who takes the bait and you will have likely found a willing foil. You will soon learn who can laugh at themselves and where the touchy subjects lie.
One of the real benefits of a breakfast club is that is satisfies that “need to belong” desire that most of us possess. You are with people who are glad to see you and wish you the best each day. The only real requirement is that when you attend, you come ready to engage in the give and take on that particular day. Listen, contribute at appropriate times and soon you will be what is commonly referred to as a “local.” Join a club near you. You will likely be welcome.