They know how to have fun: Cadre of senior citizens tailgating at Lower Burrell McDonald’s

October 1, 2020
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They didn’t quite solve all the world’s problems by 10 a.m. Friday, but they did ponder them. Wisely, they steered clear of religion.

For about 28 years, a dozen to 30 seniors from the Arnold-New Kensington area have been convening this way six mornings a week, several hours at a clip, at the Lower Burrell McDonald’s.

But things are little different now.

Covid-19 closed the McDonald’s dining room, though not the kitchen. This group of mostly Arnold High alumni, have taken their morning get-togethers outside, causing a tailgating sensation visible from Leechburg Road.

With spectator chairs and cups of McCafe, they talk politics, and when necessary, Epsom salts.

“I was here before all of them,” said Lou Ghia, 9112 years old, of Arnold. “I hunted ringneck pheasant here,” he said as the circle of friends sat on a small patch of lawn in the McDonald’s parking lot.

The sound of passing cars made it impossible to imagine any game bird living in the current environs, but that was, of course, well more than a half-century ago.

“Look, the grass is green again,” said Joy Gezo, 65, of Lower Burrell. It was brown last month after weeks with little or no rain. “See, we have time to watch the grass grow.”

The banter is incessant with a touch of snark, but playful snark.

“One thing we don’t do is talk about people,” said Joan Runco, 78, of Allegheny Township.

“No,” Gezo said, “we tell it to their face.”

“Wait — let me take that knife out of my back,” said Richard Tallarico, 79, of Lower Burrell.

“It’s social and I think it’s great,” said Ray Shaffer, the owner of the Lower Burrell McDonald’s who supplies free refills of coffee.

They seem to be having more fun than most folks cooped up during the pandemic. Maybe being older, they are smarter and more experienced when it comes to having fun.

They admit they all have some physical vulnerability to covid-19, but, hey — they’re outside, spaced apart, and are ready mask up at a moment’s notice.

One morning this summer, a McDonald’s employee heard Sinatra music wafting from the parking lot coming from an RV that dropped by to see the group.

They got it going on with some well-seasoned bakers in the bunch as well. This week featured chewy and chocolaty almond joy cookies that melted in your mouth and apple cake so moist it was almost an apple pie.

The pandemic has hampered their travel; they can no longer regale each other with stories from foreign lands.

“I drove to Natrona last week and took an alley to see the dam and the river. That was nice,” said Joe Costa, 80, of New Kensington, who has traveled around the world.

Costa and Crew admit that they’ve never seen times like this. Besides the pandemic, the social unrest is worrisome and the politics are wild. What is at the root of the problems?

Of course, they know.

Ghia, the elder statesman in the group, said it comes down to one word: Television. The group nodded in acceptance.

And the other problem: Hard work not being accepted as the norm rather than something one gets an award for.

Ghia worked at the soda fountain at the Arnold Drug Store earning $7.50 a week working every other day in the 1940s. Tallarico said he started to shine shoes professionally at the age of 9 at his family business, Tallarico Shoe Repair.

And Runco earned 50 cents an hour at her family’s business, Arnold Super Cleaners.

What will the group do when the looming fall and winter weather hits?

Larry Gezo, 67, of Tarentum, quipped, “We don’t plan a lot at our age.”

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