Status updates and “liking” on social media posts are slowly replacing gatherings of friends in public, but virtual reality takes away the warmth of a handshake, hug and a smile.
“People don’t say to your face what they will say behind a machine,” Chuck Batcheller said.
These are some of the reasons Dan McMahan sticks with Batcheller and several others he joins for coffee just about every morning, before everyone rushes out to fulfill the day’s duties. They call themselves the Dunwoody Think Tank, and they invite everyone to stop by and say hello. Well, almost everyone.
“Dunwoody Think Tank, everyone welcome,” reads the side of a sign that has been in the window about six years. From the outside, visitors cannot see the white letters added on the reverse side of the sign that says “almost.”
“It’s a joke,” McMahan says.
McMahan and his fellow thinkers have been meeting at the BP gas station on Chamblee Dunwoody Road for about as long as Facebook has existed. Before the BP gas station was built, the group met at other locations around town, including the BP at Georgetown, and, for a short while, at the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street from their current “home.”
They meet daily, discussing local politics, the community and whatever is on their minds that day. When McMahan walked into a small Amoco station about 10 years ago, warm smiles from about four people caused him to take a few extra minutes out of his morning commute, to stop and say hello.
“We’d talk about life, everything,” he says. “This was back when I was smoking and we’d have a couple of cigarettes and a couple of cups of coffee and then we’d go on in to work.”
That went on for a couple years, McMahan said, before they tore the Amoco down, and the group moved to the BP at Georgetown. “It started growing, and more and more people started coming by,” he said.
They meet seven days a week and 365 days a year. “It was kind of a joke because people would come in and say, ‘What are you still doing here?’” he said. “We’re here Christmas morning, if we can get out of the house.”
Batcheller works as a concrete and stone contractor. He met McMahan not at the think tank, but while renovating the pool in his Dunwoody neighborhood. Batcheller “genuinely cares about everybody,” McMahan said, with his wife, Lori, adding, “but you don’t see it when you first meet him.”
“He has an opinion, and you may not agree with it, but it’s his opinion and he’s going to give it to you,” McMahan said.
The others have grown used to that.
“We all brag about having a thick skin, a short memory and a long fuse,” Dave Haverty said.
The idea for the sign naming the morning chat group the Dunwoody Think Tank came from Batcheller, while he visited with a cousin in Florida. Batcheller asked Richard Scarpa, a friend who owns Signs Now Atlanta, about making a sign for the window above the table at BP. When Batcheller picked up the finished sign, Scarpa told him, “I’m not going to charge you. This is community service.”
The Georgetown BP bought outdoor tables for the group because it had gotten so large. When the manager at the Georgetown BP became the manager of the current location, he “bribed us to come up here,” McMahan said, describing the former manager as a nice young man who has moved on to other things.
“It’s just a bunch of old guys, hanging out, talking about life, talking about a lot of politics,” McMahan said.
But it’s not just guys, and McMahan may not have originally met his wife at the think tank, but they started dating after running into each other at the table in BP.
“They were like light fixtures here,” she said. “They were always here every morning.”
Lori McMahan still remembers Dan was wearing a yellow shirt and khakis on the day he said to her, “We’re here every morning. Stop by and have a cup of coffee.”
A retired colonel and his wife jog by, fixing coffee after their morning workout running by the Baptist church. Even as far as Albania, the Fullertons said they find coffee shops with groups of old men talking.
“We travel a lot, and every town we go to we say, ‘there’s the BP boys,’ because every town has them,” Roz Fullerton said.
“It’s part of Americana to have this kind of brotherhood, sisterhood and that kind of thing,” Fullerton said. “I think it’s wonderful. I’m serious; if we come in and they’re not here I feel like something’s missing.”