By Ed Staskus
Early on a late spring morning Hal Schaser was snug in his seat at the Lakewood McDonald’s, facing the high plate glass windows fronting southeast, nibbling on an English muffin with jam.
“I always sit in the same booth,” said Mr. Schaser. “I can look out and see the sunshine.”
A line of cars inched through the drive-thru lane, making their way towards the menu board and speaker box. Behind the counter, bags of breakfast egg and cheese and sausage biscuits, hash browns, and cups of hot coffee made their way to and out the pull-up window.
“I get up, exercise, then I usually get here before 8 o’clock, and sometimes I stay until eleven,” said Mr. Schaser.
“I used to read the newspaper at home, but I got tired of doing that, just sitting there all alone. Here you can read the paper, and interact with people, and I like their coffee, too. Some days I don’t read much because I start talking to people.”
In his early 80s, Hal Schaser has lived in Lakewood for more than 16 years. He boxed in Golden Gloves as a young man, served in Korea at the height of the war, and raised a family on Cleveland’s east side.
After more than 40 years with Palmer Bearing, working his way up to vice-president of sales, he took early retirement in 1993, and began polishing his golf game.
“I used to shoot par and better, but I can’t anymore. I don’t even try to figure out my handicap these days. We play 18 holes on weekdays. When the course isn’t busy we play another 9 and it doesn’t cost anything extra. You can’t beat that!”
Although he comes and goes to McDonalds alone, once there Hal Schaser is rarely alone for long. Many seniors start their day with a McCafe and animated discussion of the day beneath the golden arches.
More than most of the morning diners scattered inside the fast food restaurant on any given morning are retirees. At a table one day were a retired manager, retired plumber, retired teacher, and a man just plain retired, keeping up a steady banter.
“We’ve solved a lot of the world’s problems right here at this table,” one of them said.
Some problems are harder to handle than others, however.
“It gets heated up once in a while,” Mr. Schaser said. “There was one guy, he came in regular, handsome fellow, but always talking about abortion, and he got into an argument with another guy, and now he doesn’t come in here anymore.”
The restaurant manager passing by with a coffee pot in hand refilled Hal Schaser’s small cup and stopped to talk.
“It is my pleasure to often open the store in the morning, and get coffee for this fine gentleman,” said Glenn Haas, a trim, affable man in a crisp McDonald’s shirt. “My memory is short sometimes, but it is long enough to remember what he is getting.”
“There is what I call coffee klatches at my store,” he said. “My parents used to belong to one that was at Snow Road in Parma when I was younger. They’d drink some coffee, chit and chat with their friends. That happens here, gentlemen and some ladies, five or six, sometimes ten, get together here every morning. It’s a social gathering place.”
Mr. Haas refilled coffee at several tables, including that of a well-dressed man sitting alone.
“He always sits over there, by himself” said Mr. Schaser. “He’s an older guy. The kids who serve the food, they bring it out to him, because he has trouble walking. He told me he used to be in the diamond business. He goes to those casinos, like in West Virginia. He likes to gamble.”
Several men stopped at Hal Schaser’s booth, genially greeting him while they waited for their food orders to be filled.
“Most of the people who come in here are pretty regular,” he said. “We talk about everything in general. It’s a lot of baloney.”
The talk turned to local churches being torn down and replaced by drug stores, or simply closed and shuttered.
“I had a neighbor once who was a very religious man,” said Hal Schaser. “He went to church two times every Sunday. Once when he took his wife, and once when he went back to get her.”
Watching his waistline, even at McDonald’s, and staying fit has stood Mr. Schaser in good stead as a senior.
Before and after the Korean War, and before taking up golf, which later proved to be a life-long pursuit, he boxed as a featherweight, only ever losing two amateur bouts.
“There was a guy who wanted to manage me,” he said “and I was training, but I always thought if a guy ever really hits me with a right cross, I’m going to quit.”
“One day I was sparring and a guy hit me with a right, and I mean I saw stars, so I said, that’s it, I’m not going to walk around on my heels all my life. That was the end of my career.”
The day was sunny and long on the other side of the spic-and-span windows.
“In the old days, when I was younger, we would go play golf on a day like today,” said Hal Schaser. “But, I don’t have those golfing buddies anymore.”
The talk drifted to a recently departed coffee klatcher.
“He was a millionaire, lived in Bay Village, collected gold coins, all kinds of stocks and bonds,” said Mr. Schaser.
“Some of the guys kidded him about wanting to be in his will. He never went anywhere, never went on vacation, or spent his money. Then one day he didn’t show up and we found out he had passed away.”
“Sure enough, the guy couldn’t take it with him,” he added.
Outside a fleet of yellow Cushman scooters began pulling into the parking lot, the city sanitation workers trooping inside for break time. Hal Schaser frowned at his winter-weary Suzuki sedan.
“I’ve got to get this car washed for golf season,” he said.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”