By Erika Webb
Daylight's first pastel streaks brushed the sky over the golden arches in Orange City on a recent Monday. Chilly overnight temperatures left a thin coating of ice on windshields. Bright lights and the smell of coffee brewing inside the McDonald's on Enterprise Road invited early risers to set a spell.
Over in a corner, THE corner, Tom McCann of Ormond Beach, waited for his friends. The newspaper spread out before him, a steaming cup of coffee and a biscuit waiting for jelly kept him company until one by one members of the "Breakfast Club" began to arrive.
A "morphed" uniting, the 25 to 30 members of this close-knit group have differing recollections of how they came together.
Adrian Gagney, who turned 100 in January, has been starting his day this way for 30 years, "even before they opened up shop here," he said.
Raynald Forcier has been coming for 20.
Jim Pon started out with a group who met across the street five or six years ago.
"We were the Targetiers, the original group from Target," Mr. Pon said. "We had a whole spread in the paper. We were famous; we had shirts and everything."
The group agreed Mr. Pon, who is 88, but looks 68, is second "in seniority" to Mr. Gagney. The quiet man with kind eyes and a ready smile likes to play cards and was part of the U.S. Army Infantry in World War II.
"I was what they call a grunt," he said.
There are other veterans among the members. Bob West retired from the U.S. Coast Guard. Carroll Bair was in the army. Their fellow breakfast clubber, Don Stake, a Marine who served in Korea, joked about his friend, Mr. Bair: "He was 4F; they never took him," bringing big laughs from the group, including Mr. Bair, who until then hadn't noticed Mr. Stake's arrival.
"Where'd you come from," he asked Mr. Stake.
"My mother," Mr. Stake replied.
The youngest member of this group is Lynn Jones, 46. Her parents, Bob and Bobbie West, have been part of the morning meet-up for about eight or nine years, she said, and now she drives from Sanford, just about every day except Sunday, to take part.
"It (grew from) friends of friends," Ms. Jones said. "Everybody just clicked together. I came up with mom and dad. You get to know people and want to be friends with them. We laugh and joke. Everybody comes, has coffee and does their thing for the day."
Mr. McCann is the unofficial spokesman for the group. He met Ms. Jones' parents when they all lived in Maine. Their granddaughters brought the trio together. Eventually, Mr. West talked Mr. McCann into moving to Florida.
"Lynn is the youngest one here," Mr. McCann said. "When she's not here I am, and I just turned 64 so what does that tell you?"
Mr. McCann's wife passed away 14 years ago.
"If she was still here I wouldn't be here. I have no family here, so this is my family," Mr. McCann said.
Ms. Jones agreed it's about more than just coffee. These folks care about each other, worry if one of the others doesn't show up.
"If somebody's in the hospital we get cards for them," she said.
This chilly morning they discussed the fact that "Dolores" wasn't among them because she had spent the night with her daughter.
Pat and Bob Schaffhouser have been joining the group every day for a couple of years, Ms. Schaffhouser said.
"We moved from up north and came for coffee every morning," she said. "We sat in a booth near the group and just kind of morphed into it."
McDonald's employee Jo Castle has worked at the restaurant for 28 years.
"They're a pain," she said laughing. "No, they're great. Most have been here since I started."
Sharon Robles, the Orange City McDonald's general manager agreed with Ms. Castle.
"We enjoy having them every morning. I enjoy the cupcakes and cakes they bring," she said. "We always look at this corner to see who's missing."
Mr. McCann, a retired chef and artisan baker, said one thing he's noticed about the group is the backgrounds of its members are "so diverse."
One member worked in the space shuttle program, he said. Mr. Gagney was a blacksmith. One is retired from the FBI. There's a retired engineer and there are retired police officers.
These people, Mr. McCann said, span two groups -- the breakfast club and the lunch bunch.
"If you go to any McDonald's you'll find a group," he said. "I used to make fun of my mother for doing this and now I'm doing the same friggin' thing."
Most days he stays for lunch, too.
"I'm generally here seven or eight hours. That's how much of an exciting life I lead," he said. "I enjoy watching people."
The conversation went from the Super Bowl to gall bladders to dogs and alarm clocks.
Mr. McCann said there's always politics.
"One (member) is strictly politics and religion," he said. "Then there's one who's politics and sports."
He said the conversations get heated, "people get ticked off," but they "get over it" and move on.
Ms. Jones said the women share coupons and recipes. Dolores brings jokes.
Mr. West said the group straightens the world out on a daily basis.
"Sometimes I think this group is smarter than our government," he said.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is the need to care and be cared for.
"We all know about each other's families," Mr. McCann said, adding that one man's wife is not well. He gets encouragement from the afternoon group.
"You learn you're not alone," Mr. Pon said.
"No matter how bad you think you have it, somebody's always got it worse," Mr. McCann said.
"You listen to people's stories and learn from them," Ms. Jones said. "They've been through it."
Some talk. Others listen. Some are hard of hearing, but seem simply to enjoy being in the presence of the others.
"It's our little corner of the world, a swingin' spot," Mr. McCann said. "We give the dollar menu a work out."
Mr. Gagney said he doesn't know how he's made it to 100. He takes no medication, and he still drives.
"Good genes, I guess," he said.
Mr. McCann said the group has questioned Mr. Gagney about his longevity.
"He says just to take life easy, don't get too worried about anything," Mr. McCann said.