10952753700?profile=RESIZE_710xThis morning meetup at the Palm Beach Bakery & Cafe in Lantana is a chance for the regulars to discuss their lives, past and present, and tell a few jokes. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Ron Hayes

Ask what they call themselves and no one seems to know.
The Breakfast Group maybe? The Breakfast Club?
One guy had a hat made that said Bakery Bums, but that was a joke. These men and women are far from being bums.
What they do know is that six days a week since 2005, they have met around an outdoor table at the Palm Beach Bakery & Cafe on East Ocean Avenue in Lantana for coffee, pastry and conversation.
Finnish speakers meet at a nearby table, so maybe they’re The English Table?
“I’m the chairman of the board,” says Ed Scalone. He’s not sure what to call them, either, and he doesn’t do much chairing. He doesn’t announce topics to be discussed or monitor the rambling chatter. Scalone is more host than chairman.
“I was just walking by and Ed told me to sit down,” says Ygal Lalo, 73, who sells Italian handbags in Palm Beach. That was a year ago, and Lalo is still showing up.
The only thing these men and women seem to have in common is age. Most are in their 60s, 70s, 80s. Scalone is 91.

10952755082?profile=RESIZE_400xA honey bun sells for $3.50 at the bakery.

Other than that — well, order a coffee, maybe a pastry, grab a seat and introduce yourself.
Get to know them.

 •

Barry Heiniluoma, 77, has been showing up at this table for nearly a decade.
“We’re here six days a week,” he says. “They’re closed on Sunday or it would be seven.”
But why? What is it about these morning gatherings that’s brought him back so often for so long?
“Well, let’s see,” he says. “One guy worked in the shipping business for a grain company in northern Wisconsin. That leads us to talk about shipping and we wonder how big a ship you can get into the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
He shrugs. “It’s nothing. But it’s interesting.”
Dan Trachtenberg, 81, was a medic in Vietnam, awarded a Bronze Star. Back home he became a radiologist in York, Pennsylvania, and retired after 30 years.
In March 1979, when the threat of nuclear disaster struck the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near York Memorial Hospital, Trachtenberg was in charge of the hospital’s nuclear disaster committee.
“We had a plan, but fortunately we never had to use it,” he says.
Now he collects Kentucky rifles and entertains the table with trivia.
“Do you know how the grandfather clock got its name?” he says. “They used to be called tall case clocks.”
And then in 1876 a man named Henry Clay Work wrote a song called My Grandfather’s Clock.
My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf so it stood ninety years on the floor.
And the tall case clocks have been grandfather clocks ever since.
It’s nothing. But it’s interesting.

 

10952754455?profile=RESIZE_710xThe group usually includes a retired radiologist who was a medic in Vietnam, a Korean War veteran, a retired New York City firefighter and people from Iran, Iraq and Brazil.

John O’Neill is 54, a lawyer, and a newcomer to the table. The chairman of the board invited him to drop by a year ago.
“I enjoy hearing what the people have to say,” he says, “the travel stories and the jokes.”
Oh, the jokes.
“Do you know how the camel came to be?” asks Merdock Saleh. “It was a horse created by a committee.”
This was not the funniest joke that morning. Scalone tried out three, searching for one clean enough to be published in The Coastal Star.
He failed.

Saleh, 64, is an Armenian from Iran who came to the U.S. in 1976 and built homes in New Jersey.
“I came for breakfast one morning and I see all these guys getting rowdy, so I picked up my coffee and pastry and said, ‘Can I join you?’”
The table is not very big, but the men and women who gather around it cover the world.
Gina Fisher, 71, is from Brazil.
“My husband was a cultural diplomat,” she says, “so we worked in embassies around the world.”

Vicky Mouallem was born in Baghdad to parents from Entebbe.
Christer Sundell, “63 but I feel 23,” ran companies in Australia, Italy, Singapore and the U.S.
“I can communicate in eight or nine languages,” he says. “But that’s not the same as speaking them.”
Ed Yany, 78, retired in 1998 after 27 years with the New York Fire Department.
“Six from my ladder company, Ladder 1, died on 9/11,” he says. “Including my best friend.”
Bill Aho, 89, served on the USS Hornet in the Korean War and wears the cap to prove it.
“Then I went to the Fitchburg Teachers College in Massachusetts on the GI Bill, taught seventh grade for a year, worked for the Social Security Administration in Gary, Indiana, got a Ph.D. from Notre Dame and taught at six different colleges.”
For such a varied group, the conversation remains friendly.
“We try to avoid politics,” Scalone says.
“There’s been a couple fights,” Sundell concedes. “Well, not fights, but disagreements.”
They are here to tell jokes, share stories from their lives before retirement and pictures from their travels now. Some come early, some late. Some stay hours, some no longer than a coffee.
As Aho rises to go, he proudly displays the Apple watch on his wrist.
“I surprise people when I pay with my watch,” he says, “because I’m so old.”
On the way out, he runs into Tuula Salmela, 76, just back from Panama.
“So, the cruise was good?” he asks.
“The highlight was rafting on a river in Jamaica,” she tells him.
Salmela has been coming to the table for six or seven years now, and here she is again.
Ask her why, and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking she probably speaks for everyone here.
“The coffee’s good,” she says, “the sweet buns are good, and the conversation is good. We talk about everything under the sun. Where they’re going and where they’ve been.
“Then you put in a little of yourself, and you’ve got a morning.”

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