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Humboldt County may be short on Chinese food and, ironically, fresh seafood, but great breakfast places are in abundance. There are a variety of breakfast experiences from semi-fancy to bohemian. But one of my favorite places to stop in is Chalet House of Omelets at the north end of Eureka. The food is fine and the coffee okay, but mostly I go there because of location, price, speed of service, and the experience. With all the changes to the County, there are few places left with the “old Eureka” feel. The place is almost always packed in the morning, probably because it’s on 101, but it’s also affordable for fixed income people and it doesn’t have what has been referred by some old timers as “the Frisco flavor.” I’ve rarely run into anybody in my social circles. And as often as I’ve been on the other side of political fights with many of these people, I feel like I want to maintain some kind of touch with the old guard. The changes aren’t easy for them, and I don’t want to see the old local cultures disappear. I want to coexist. So sometimes I will take a break from places like Los Bagels or Crosswinds, visit a place like Chalet, and pay attention to the people around me.

On Friday morning I decided to stop in after a very stressful work week and sat down at a two-person table by the window. I ordered, and a few minutes later two older men came at sat down at the table next to me. The tables are pretty cozy in there to fit in as many people as possible in a small space and one of the men joked, “Mind if we join you for breakfast?”

He was wearing a Korean War veteran’s cap. His companion looked a decade or two younger. The latter was quiet for most of the time, but friendly. The Korean veteran ordered oatmeal and proceeded to pull out several small boxes with medication, lay his tablets on the table and took them with what seemed a deliberate order. His companion ordered toast with fruit and sausage – I’m guessing he has an egg allergy.
And then the veteran struck up a conversation. “Do you think we’ll survive this idiot in the White House?”

I said, “I think the system will hold. How much damage he does, who knows?”

He responded, “I hope he just doesn’t get us into another damn war.”

I put my phone down at that point. He really wanted to talk. He said, “I sound kind of liberal don’t I. You would be surprised if you met me when I came to Humboldt County 50 years ago. I was in the CHP and I was a member of the John Birch Society. Do you know what that is?”

We talked about the JBS, and then got back into his life. He used the GI bill to get a degree from HSU where he married a fellow teacher. He taught elementary and middle school in McKinleyville for many years, and then bought a truck and worked as an independent contractor until he was 76. Apparently, that was a while ago.

I then asked him, “What made you turn left in politics?”

He said, “Living in this world and paying attention.”

We talked some more and he said, “I just hope I can see a national universal health care plan before I croak.”

And he explained that no, the ACA doesn’t count. “Maybe it was a move in the right direction but we need private insurance companies out of the picture!”

It was a great conversation. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to get to work. But I never would have guessed the man’s politics by looking at him. I wouldn’t have made assumptions of course. We’ve had some pretty decent election results from a progressive perspective, but they couldn’t have come without people like him.

Before I left I noted that he had started the discussion assuming that I shared most of his politics. I asked him how he knew that. He said, “You have that look.” But he also said, “I do sometimes get into trouble talking too loud here.” The waitress chuckled. I’ve seen him there before and I’m guessing he’s a fixture.

Anyway, so often you’ll hear me say that I’ve met a young person who recharges my hope for the future. Here we have a guy without all that much time left on the planet, and he also gives me hope for the future.

And the French toast is pretty good there.  And they’re one of a few places around which still puts boysenberry syrup on the table.

So what is “that look” I have?




February 2019