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Marilyn Hagerty: McDonald's coffee group solves world affairs

The coffee is hot—not too strong. It costs 65 cents for a fairly big serving. And dozens of local people—mostly men—gather round to sip coffee every morning at McDonald's on S. Washington Street.

Some branch out for breakfast fare—such as oatmeal or a sausage McMuffin with egg. Maybe orange juice. But mostly, it's just coffee.

This McDonald's is one among dozens of gathering places around Grand Forks where people—mostly men—get together to solve the affairs of the world.

I found myself there—eavesdropping—since the Eatbeat is leading me in January to places where people huddle on cold winter mornings.

It was there at McDonald's I ordered a breakfast of orange juice, a sausage and egg McMuffin and coffee. I paid $5.79, including the tax. Then I settled in near the coffee group to eavesdrop.

Studying map

There seems to be two or three regular groups of coffee drinkers. The group nearby was studying a map—a real highway map. Trying to figure out directions to get somewhere.

Then the topic turned to furnaces. You need to have a good one these days, they agreed. I visited with Dennis "Gabby" Gustafson. Then there was Joe Berg who said he used to cut meat. And Gene Soleim, who said his grandpa from Norway took the "h" out of his last name.

Some of the men at the coffee klatches back up into their parking lots. Many drive trucks. They seem to clear out by 11 o'clock.

They were talking about raisins the other morning. Most of them don't like them in cookies or bread. Then someone was wondering what restrictions there are on Canadians hauling into the States.

One coffee drinker said he saw where another truck went through the ice.

"Over by Fergus or Alexandria maybe ..." another speculated.

For a while they were contemplating the possibility of making North and South Dakota just one state. One coffee drinker concluded that conversation with, "They talk about it."

Uber eats

Tina Schmidt, longtime manager, says there are 40 to 45 full- and part-time employees. And they are ready for two or three regular groups that show up at 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

She's proud of the encouragement McDonald's give to students on the job. There are incentives—such as bonuses for making the honor roll. There is flexible scheduling so students can take part in extracurricular events at school.

She enjoys the company's way of keeping up with the times. Since October, there has been delivery available for phone orders by Uber Eats program.

"It's especially popular on a very cold day," she said.

McDonald's Restaurant

1125 S. Washington Street

Owner: Bill O'Keefe

Manager: Tina Schmidt

Hours: 5:30-6 a.m. opening; closing midnight Sunday-Thursday, 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday

Seating inside: 120

Report card: Various groups of coffee drinkers claim their places every morning to gather and solve the affairs of the world. Good-natured conversation flows over breakfast items. Most come for camaraderie and coffee only. Others who come later with children settle into a large playroom area.

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.com or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.