May 9, 2019
ROMEOs: Retired Old Men Eating Out
Every Thursday morning, five, six, seven of them meet for a hearty breakfast and freewheeling conversation at the Sunrise Bistro in Summerville, South Carolina.
The retirees’ talk careens from Tammany Hall and texting while driving to their military experiences and the aches and pains of old age. Several of the men had technical careers, so they recently dived deep into analyzing why a Coast Guard cutter carrying Zulu royalty crashed into a New Orleans dock.
“We talk about man things,” said Bob Orenstein, an 83-year-old Korean War veteran who is retired from a Wall Street computer firm. “Men are mainly loners frankly, but everybody has found something to identify with in the group.”
The truth is that the ROMEOs – retired old men eating out – get much more than that from their weekly assemblies. “I think it’s just the friendship, the camaraderie,” said Paul Brustowicz, 74, a former jack-of-all-trades for an insurance company.
Friendship is the best antidote to isolation, which is dangerous for older Americans because it can lead to depression, poor health habits, and other problems. Most of the men in the breakfast club are South Carolina transplants, and their meetings have led to socializing and phone calls outside the group. Two of the men go deep-sea fishing together for redfish, and others share memories of growing up in New York or the tricks of the trade for constructing sailboat and railroad models.
“You can discuss things you know the wives wouldn’t be interested in,” said Richard-Kerr Oliver, 76, a former Vietnam War enlistee who moved on to a 20-year career as a chemist in New Jersey.
The group is one of dozens of ROMEOs that have formed around the country for conversations shot through with the wisdom of age. The Summerville ROMEOs get a lot of satisfaction out of solving – calmly and without rancor – local, national, and international political issues. “We’ve saved the world a few times,” said Orenstein, who helped form the group a decade ago.
Jamie Walker, 59, is the youngest ROMEO. The former Boeing executive lives well in retirement but misses the intellectual challenges he experienced daily during 29 years at Boeing. The gregarious Walker nudged his way into the ROMEOs in February, when he happened to see them at breakfast and struck up a conversation that went on for 45 minutes. The group helps fill an “intellectual and fellowship hole that I discovered in my life” after retiring, he said.
A testament to the importance to these men of connecting is that they keep coming back for more, even though there’s no pressure to do so.
Another thing they like about being a ROMEO is what they do not do: “This group is not there to share feelings,” Brustowicz said.
Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.