I’m typically not a morning person but anti-social behavior isn’t allowed by the staff at my local’s Peet’s coffee place. The manager Rob and his team engage with customers and make them feel valued and welcome, even at the crack of dawn. My Peet’s isn’t just a place where everyone knows my name, but several baristas know my telephone number, having used it countless times to access my rewards account.

Rob was visibly out of sorts this morning, and he shared why.

“Do you remember Ron, the guy who used to come in every morning with his jogger friends? Rob asked.

“You mean the guy who was always talking and kinda loud? I replied.

Yes, that guy,” Rob said. “He died. Not from Covid. That’s all I know.”

Although I never knew his name and only once engaged him in conversation to inquire about his fitness regimen, Ron and I crossed paths six days a week during the more than four years I’ve lived in L.A. Rain or shine, he and three of his friends on weekdays would show up at Peet’s in Westwood around 6:20 am after completing their morning run together. They’d order their coffees, grab a couple of tables by the door, and sit and talk for about 20 minutes. Then they’d walk a half mile to the westside Equinox Fitness Club, where I’d run into them again on the training room floor on the days I was there.

On Saturdays, I’d run into Ron and his friends at the Peet’s in Beverly Hills, where I’d go on weekends to vary my routine. They obviously liked to vary their routine as well. Thanks to the pandemic, I hadn’t seen Ron and his friends for about six months, as Peet’s no longer allows in-store seating and the Beverly Hills store has been shuttered.

Ron and his friends – a man and a woman I’d guess were his age and a male I’d guess about 20 years his junior — weren’t particularly friendly and kept to themselves. What distinguished Ron from the group was he’d always acknowledge me with a parting glance and a slight nod. I aways appreciated the gesture. I’d respond in kind.

That was my entire relationship with Ron – more than a thousand parting glances and slight nods, spanning more than four years.

Ron liked to banter, and he sometimes spoke rather loudly. His friends would listen intently, as if he was some sort of oracle.  I never eavesdropped on Ron’s conversations, but he always seemed pissed off about something. He struck me as quite opinionated. I perceived him as being from the east coast.

Seeing Ron made me feel nostalgic. He reminded me a lot of an attorney who held court in the dilapidated weightlifting room at the “Y” in Toronto where I trained decades ago. Everyone knew what the lawyer was thinking, whether they wanted to or not. But the lawyer grew on you, as Ron did on me.

I knew nothing about Ron, except that he was in incredible shape and didn’t appear to have an ounce of fat on him. I’m a longtime fitness fanatic, but Ron bested me on that front, running six days a week and working out with weights on five. I limit my weight training to twice a week.

I have no idea how old Ron was. There was something ageless about him. If I had to bet on someone living a very long life, I’d have put all my chips on him. That’s what was so jolting about hearing of his passing. Ron took very good care of himself.

Rob, the Peet’s manager, told me that Ron was a kindhearted attorney who tried helping him get a settlement for an accident he sustained chasing a homeless person who stole the employee tip jar. Rob said Ron had a daughter but didn’t know any additional family or personal details. I would have liked to send a card.

The pandemic is waring on me. The other day I shared with Rob about how I longed for when I could resume my routine and enjoy my coffee in the store before taking on the day. I miss the familiar early morning gang – the bohemian ponytailed male in shorts who drank from a carafe of brewed tea while drawing illustrations, the retired couple whose rescue dog always sniffed me, the estate lawyer who was always intently pounding away on his laptop, and, of course, Ron and his friends.

But if “normal” life ever resumes, there will always be someone at Peet’s in Westwood whose crack-of-dawn presence will be greatly missed. I’m saddened by Ron’s passing – a tragic reminder of the precariousness of life and how routines are only temporary.

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