ROBERT ST. JOHN: ‘Morning men’ at local eateries better than reality TV



Network and cable television channels are filled with reality television programs. There are shows about Alaskan truck drivers, loggers, moonshiners, alligator trappers, people who try to choose a girlfriend, people who try to choose a boyfriend, couples who race each other around the world and contestants who voluntarily strand themselves on deserted islands and stab each other in the back. There are also shows about housewives in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles who stab each other in the back. A few of the shows are about strangers who live together in one house and stab each other in the back. There’s a lot of back stabbing in reality television.

Everything I know about reality television I have learned through promos and commercials. I don’t watch reality television. I don’t need it. My wife and I are raising two teenagers seven days a week. I am living a 24-hour daily reality show and I am the commercial that pays for it all.

A few mornings each week I walk across the street from my office and have breakfast at the French bakery. There is a group of men who eat there most mornings. That, my friends, is a reality show.

If you know television producers who are searching for new reality television programming, tell them to look no farther than C’est la Vie Bakery on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg. They can call the show “Morning Men,” 22 minutes of the best breakfast table conversation on the planet, and croissants, too.

The morning men at C’est la Vie are a diverse group. We have a politician who is also a geologist, a former district attorney/state legislator to whom the group defers on legal matters, an expatriated Cajun traveling salesman who is full of stories and never short on opinions, a Harvard-educated lawyer and part-time environmental activist, a retired military officer and former federal bureaucrat, an ex-restaurateur turned real estate investor, a retired university professor who works on a novel during breakfast (how he gets any work done over the volume of conversation is baffling), a couple of business owners, and a few people around the periphery who show up infrequently – of which I am one. This all takes place in a bakery run by a French- Polish chef who has an affinity for Euro disco and accordion music.

Move over “Duck Dynasty,” the Morning Men have arrived.

The beauty of this format as a television program is that the conversation changes every day. Conversation over breakfast is different than conversation over lunch or dinner. Lunch seems to have more of a purpose. Something occurred before you arrived for lunch and things are scheduled after lunch. Dinner is about winding down at the end of a day. Breakfast gives the promise of a new day. It’s fresh. Opportunities await, and the potential is endless.

Morning men see each other several times during the week, sometimes every day. They know each other. Familiarity breeds good breakfast conversation.

It helps if several members of the group support rival football teams, which makes the conversation even more impassioned. My group doesn’t get into sports too often. Politics is the primary focus, and while there isn’t a huge disparity of political opinion, what they lack in policy range they make up with in passion. Storytelling plays a large role, too.

Morning men always have an opinion. They like structure and schedules. It’s usually the same guy sitting in the same spot, even in the same chair, eating the same thing.

I am not sure about morning women. I sometimes see a group of ladies meeting when I join my mother for breakfast on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They are sweet, but they are also quiet and polite. Quiet and polite doesn’t make good television. Morning men are never quiet and have no problem being impolite.

Every town has morning men. They are the guys who gather over coffee and politics every morning. Whenever I am out of town I always ask the front desk clerk at the hotel where the best local breakfast joint is located. That is where I am going to learn about the town and its people.

Cancel your cable subscription. Find the local breakfast joint in your town. Sit with the morning men for about 20 minutes. It’s entertaining, it’s informative and it’s real.

Robert St.John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.

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