If you look when you enter Pima from the direction of Thatcher, you’ll see streetlights hanging over U.S. Highway 70 courtesy of poles fastened firmly to the sidewalk on the north and south sides of the highway.
If you’re lucky, when you pass the fourth pole from the east, on the north side of the highway, you’ll see as many as 20 or more rock doves (the kind of pigeons I recall growing up in Chicago) sitting quietly on the arm extending out over the street. Sometimes these birds are there, and other times they’re not. But when they’re there, they’re all but always sitting on the fourth light pole from the east on the north side. No kidding; these birds must really be creatures of habit . . . or friends who like spending time together, which is my expectation.
Rarely, they’re on another pole, and even less rarely, there are so many of these pigeons that some have to sit on other poles — even some on the south side of the highway.
The birds, it seems, talk quietly to one another and pay no attention to the cars passing under them.
I’m intrigued by this because I’ve only known one other group that met that regularly and almost always in the same place. Mary Lou’s family introduced me to these retired men as “Daddy’s coffee club.” “Daddy” referring to Jerry, my late father-in-law.
I met the coffee club one winter when Mary Lou and I came to Safford for Christmas break. One morning, Jerry asked me if I’d like to join him for coffee along with the other septa- and octogenarians at Jerry’s Restaurant, where they met each morning and afternoon.
Sounded like a plan to me, and so we headed off.
I don’t recall the names of the six or seven men who were there that morning (the number varied depending on who had what to do that day), but they all smiled broadly when we met, shaking my hand and telling me they’d all heard lies about the kind of person I was but they knew I was really OK. I told them I found that reassuring as they ushered me in to the booth’s seat next to the window and so farthest from the waitress when she appeared. I didn’t yet know why they wanted me in that seat, but I was pleased that I’d relieved myself at home before we left for Jerry’s because that allowed me to miss the ribbing I’d receive if I had to ask everyone on my side of the table to move so I could use the men’s room.
I also learned that the booth they were using was their booth, and the only time they used another is if someone, unaware of their tradition, was using it when they showed up. And then they found another one, vowing to show up earlier next time.
The waitress came and took our orders (mine was the only one she didn’t predict) by calling to each by name and recalling their usual orders. Only one or two orders, if I recall, needed to be revised, and that was because the guy ordering it had changed his mind that day. She took the orders, by the way, by shouting over the men’s conversations. I got the feeling that she’d developed this tactic over time since there was no way they’d quiet down, being, as they were, in multiple conversations simultaneously.
The only one whose name I recall is Doc Harries, then a recently retired Arizona state veterinarian. He’d traveled all over the state examining cattle and pigs to be sold, inspecting chicken-raising facilities and so on. I was intrigued that this meant he’d been issued (what looked to me like) mummy sleeping bags left over from WWII. Subsequently, he gave me two of them, one of which I still use, lovingly.
The high point of the morning arrived when the waitress came with the bill. The men each told her they wanted the bill, and so, using a windup and delivery I’m sure she’d long ago developed, she threw the bill high over the center of the table where all the septa- and octogenarians fought over it as it floated tableward. I noticed that she’d long since turned and left the table by the time one of them snagged the bill.
I also noticed that each of them discouraged me when I offered to leave the tip.
So I decided that the next time I joined the coffee club for coffee, by gory, I’d get the bill. And I did.
On that occasion, and while everyone was munching their sweet rolls and drinking their coffee, I asked to be excused (meaning that the men on my side of the booth had to get out of their seats when I left and again when I returned) from the men’s room. And on the way back, I gave the waitress my credit card and asked her to return it to me along with the receipt to sign, and she agreed.
So when my new friends called for the bill, they were surprised to find it had been paid — tip and all. “Who did it?” they demanded to know, and when the waitress told them, they forgot my name and began calling me “Out of town money” which they all thought was hysterical. I didn’t feel badly, either.
Now, 15-plus years later, all the coffee clubbers are gone, the only thing left behind being the booth at Jerry’s Restaurant where they met, twice daily, for God knows how many years. And I’m left missing them and the joyful low-keyed ruckus they shared twice daily.
I’m reminded of them almost every time I drive under the fourth streetlight from the east on U.S. Highway 70 in Pima. Much of the time, the birds are there, and only rarely are they on a pole other than the fourth — I suspect because their usual pole was already occupied by other birds when the pigeons arrived. The only thing I don’t know about those birds is how they decide who gets the bill.
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