ROMEO

The ROMEOs outside the West Mountain Inn in Arlington during their weekly breakfast.

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ARLINGTON — They call themselves the ROMEOs.

They’ve been meeting in Arlington over coffee and breakfast treats for nearly 30 years. Instead of getting together in bars and talking about women, they hang out early Friday mornings at the West Mountain Inn, eating blueberry pancakes and cinnamon rolls, chatting about local history, current events, the weather, or whose grandkids are visiting. No subject is off limits except maybe politics in order to keep things on the friendly side.

And, as you might have guessed, these ROMEOs are just Really Old Men Eating Out.

“I enjoy their stories,” says Don Brown, who, at 98, is the oldest of the ROMEOs. “It’s something that allows you some continuity, knowing that this is a steady thing every week with no fail. I’m the only original member. Everyone else has passed on. It changes, but it keeps going. New members replace old ones. New faces. Everybody’s got something different to say.”

The Banner sat down with several members of the ROMEOs at the West Mountain Inn Friday morning to learn about the group over hot coffee and omelets, and find out why attending the breakfast has become such an essential part of their life after retirement.

The current crop of members ranges in age from 59 to 98. The men come from various backgrounds and occupations. Some grew up in Arlington. Others did not. Some are veterans, others didn’t serve. But they are all retired, and they all enjoy each other’s company.

“I think part of what I really appreciate is just the camaraderie, I guess,” said Bill Budde, 73, from Arlington. “Folks getting together and trusting each other to have breakfast once a week, and it’s kind of a nice, reliable thing to count on and not feel pressured to attend.”

There are no rules to being a ROMEO. There’s no national organization or formal hierarchy, no dues or elections to contend with. In fact, there are no real requirements at all. The only prerequisite is showing up. The only choices are whether you’re having eggs or pancakes, coffee or juice. There’s companionship, a good breakfast, and a steady place to be on a Friday morning when life no longer requires that.

“We used to talk about women and politics all the time,” says Jim Brown, Don’s son and one of the visiting ROMEOs. “Now, we’re a little more senior and a lot wiser, so it’s switched a little bit over the years as people have gotten older. That could be the reason. Or maybe, nobody wants to talk about it. That’s probably about right. (laughs)”

Jim comes up a couple of times a year from Georgia to visit with his dad. While he’s here, he joins in on breakfast and conversation.

“I don’t live here in Arlington,” Jim, 65, says. “I come down and visit my dad. I’m so glad to come to this at least once in a while to meet other people in town that I may not really get to know. So, in 30 years of transport, commuting, I kind of lost track of some of my old friends. This replaces it just a little bit. That’s nice. I’m happy my dad has these guys as friends.”

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In typical style for men of a certain age and generation, talking about feelings and connections can sometimes be awkward, even though most of the fellas at the weekly breakfast have known each other for quite a while. That, however, doesn’t mean these guys don’t understand and feel that connection, even without many words.

“Obviously not in so many words, but it’s part of just being here,” said Brian Dalton, 59. “It’s kind of unspoken, that feeling. We don’t really talk about it, but you know, it’s there. We don’t speak about it, so it must be unspoken.” There are chuckles.

When asked if women could attend, a few of the members mentioned several times when women came to join the group. A few mentioned that they sometimes bring some of the inn’s world-famous sticky buns home to their spouses as penance.

“Special members are welcome. Visiting relatives, spouses, anyone can come.”

“One time, one of the member’s daughters, Tony’s daughter, showed up in a disguise mustache and sat through the whole breakfast.”

The fellas in the group all feel like they would find a way to get together, even if it wasn’t for breakfast or if the group didn’t have a place to meet. “We would all figure out how to get together.”

“This is a very small community,” said Roger Hanson, 72, from Arlington. “A lot of it is fairly close-knit. It’s not a very different group, you know, everybody’s included, but there’s a group of people that have been here for generations. That brings a sense of community that we all have.”

Brian Dalton, the newest member of the ROMEOs, knows how important the group is to him, especially after retirement when, according to the data from the Social Security Administration and the World Health Organization, it’s said that retirement can affect the quality of life, with issues like isolation, depression and an individual’s general health — even one’s own mortality.

“Everybody looks forward to coming every week,” Dalton said. “It becomes part of your routine. For me, it became the day I shaved.”

When asked what he meant, he replied, “When I was newly retired I didn’t have any routines. I stopped setting the clock, which I actually like. But I knew that by 8 a.m. on Friday, I had to be shaved and showered because Don and Phil would be here. It was a small part, but it became part of my routine, so I didn’t really have any excuses not to talk about wisdom to these guys. I’ve definitely picked up a lot from all of them.”

The ROMEOs meet every Friday at 8 a.m. at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington.


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