On Wednesdays, I often stop at a coffee shop along Highway 12 on my way to the farm. They make a good latte, and offer breakfast pizzas — an egg and sausage concoction on crisp flatbread that I like better than English muffins or croissants. The atmosphere seems congenial, though I’ve never spoken to anyone except the ladies behind the counter. Someone else works on a computer at a corner table, two women chat comfortably over their coffee, and in the middle of the room at a long table, the men gather.
These men seem near my age, old roosters, not spring chickens. One wears his hair long, tied back in a gray ponytail. One or two sport seed caps. They talk like old friends, telling stories, teasing, conversation like a softball tossed easy or thrown hard, but always landing comfortably in some well-worn leather glove.
Sometimes I catch a word about Bob’s ornery steers, the price of big hay bales, or the godawful Vikes. I grew up with conversations about crops or sports or hunting, and they make a comfortable background noise, reassuring in their familiarity.
I don’t eavesdrop all the time, as I’m usually answering my email or working on an overdue article or letter. One morning, however, a reference to some idiot politician catches my attention. I mentally brace myself, expecting, out here in rural Republican-land, to hear a denunciation of President Obama or an exhortation to get rid of immigrants or poor people. But no. The man in the plaid shirt, voice heavy with scorn, denounces the idiots who insisted that waging war was the way to peace. His friends nod, agree, continue the conversation.
The next week, I notice the pick-up truck outside the coffee shop, and its Veterans for Peace bumper sticker. Last summer, another pickup truck at the local Dairy Queen proudly flew a Confederate flag. The county voted against Obama in 2008 and 2012, by a huge margin.
Weeks go by. This group of men, obviously long-time friends and local residents, continues to talk about sheltering the homeless and the Twins’ pitching and cleaning up rivers and the price of farm land. Despite the nasty political storms raging all about us, their coffee conversations give me hope.