The Mast-Head: Mornings Together

Three or four older guys occupied chairs and were rattling about this and that at one another in the same urgent, caffeinated tone

Weekday mornings, after I drop off my son, Ellis, at school, I stop by the coffee shop in Bridgehampton. It’s more of a habit, I guess, than a ritual, but it has become part of my routine. So, too, is it for a handful of other morning regulars who linger, sitting and talking across the floor with one another about politics as customers in more of a hurry come and go.

A couple of years ago, I walked into a similar place in Ojai, Calif., at midmorning and had shock of recognition. Three or four older guys occupied chairs and were rattling about this and that at one another in the same urgent, caffeinated tone. I shivered. “This could be me in a few years,” I thought.

Years ago, when I was in high school and just starting to drive, I went out before sunrise to go surfing and would sometimes stop at the Chicken House, which occupied the site on Toilsome Lane in the village where Hampton Market Place is now. No matter how early I went, there was always a small group of ancients drinking coffee in a small room off to the side. Glancing at them then, it made no sense. I mean, who in his right mind would get up and get out of the house before the sun was up to sit around in an overly bright, fluorescent-lit room at Formica-topped tables just . . . talking? I get it now.

The morning crew at Java Nation is the present-day equivalent. There’s the mushroom farmer, a builder from New Zealand, and the guy who grumbles under his breath if someone else is in the leather chair he likes to occupy till about noon. Over in the corner, there usually is a mom and her daughter spending a few minutes before the day begins.

Other regulars, who work nearby in blue-collar jobs, come in, spend a few minutes talking or making wisecracks, and leave. There are tall men with small dogs and women in fancy black cars (usually not together), groups of landscape workers, people in the restaurant business, and those who work in the schools nearby. Sometimes I see the guy who moved a driveway for me. Sometimes I see painter friends, but only if I stay late enough in the morning that they have gotten out of bed.

The guy who runs an insulation business stops in just long enough to put milk in his coffee. People in horse-riding clothes come in, though not so much at this time of year.  There is a father, who likes to talk, and his son, whom no one has ever heard say a word. The same three guys from one of the nearby construction companies roll in and out, joking about something. In turn, most of the people who work at the auto parts store drop by, as do the folks from the propane place across the street. We know each other’s faces, if not all the names.

I’m somewhere in between those who hang around indefinitely and those who don’t, getting a cup of coffee for myself and a decaf to bring back to the office for the arts editor, saying hello to Andrew, who runs the place, and getting out before I become part of the woodwork, like the other old guys. If I put a hat or part of a coat over the arts editor’s coffee, it will stay hot until I get back to East Hampton.