At about 11:20 a.m. on a Friday in May, a group of men called the "Romeos" gather in the tiny parking lot in front of Charlie's Fresh Seafood on Winchester Road.
It's a special time of week — when the group of retired men get together to eat fried fish and, "We take on all world problems and get them solved by 12:30, 1 o'clock at the latest," said Richard Edwards, a leader of the Lexington Romeo chapter.
At 11:30 a.m., precisely, the Romeos get in line so Charlie's co-owner Patty Sissle can take their orders. Most choose the fried white fish sandwich though some choose the entire whitefish sandwich special, which comes with two slabs of fish, fries and coleslaw or hush puppies.
That's a lot of food, but when you've got the world's problems to solve you've got to have your strength.
Because Charlie's has no eat-in seating, the Romeos take their food in a convoy over to the freshly mown Castlewood Park, push together a couple of picnic tables, distribute a few Kroger brand soft drinks and then launch into discussions of the world's ills, lightly peppered with health updates — the Romeos and their spouses are at an age where treatments and medication are ubiquitous — and, of course, good-natured fretting about "these kids today."
They didn't start out calling themselves Romeos. Once they simply considered themselves retired guys who ate out, but then happened on the national organization Retired Old Men Eating Out. The national organization credits Tom Brokaw for popularizing its existence in his 2004 book The Greatest Generation.
The Romeo name appealed to the Lexington group — because it is seldom when you attain a certain age that you are compared with a Shakespearean heartthrob — so it became one of three Kentucky Romeo affiliates.
Regardless, they've been meeting for about 20 years and solving problems: Medicare, lack of student preparation for college coursework (several of the Romeos are former professors), the death penalty, and why UK suddenly needs all those new dormitories.
All will be discussed, as well as fishing, travel and perhaps a little sailing. Lexington Romeos have a great affection for water.
They also play an informal game in which they trade free advice about matters such as home repair. Ask a Romeo, it's called. The advice is said to be worth every penny paid for it.
The Romeos are retired professionals, mostly in their 70s and 80s, who were mainly affiliated with the University of Kentucky or IBM.In the winter, when it's too cold to take fish to the park, they gather at Hunan on Southland Drive. For Christmas, they went to the Glitz in Nonesuch, in Woodford County, and have also visited a winery.
On this day, Romeo Austin Pyle brings his wife Virginia and grown daughter Pam to visit. Richard Edwards' son Kyle eats with the group, but he is a "MEO" — a man eating out, since he is too young to retire. He has a job with a medical supply company, and endures good-natured catcalls from the older Romeos to get back to work and help fund the Social Security system.
Lexington's Romeos have been together so long that the club even has a "legacy" member. Doug Wilson, who used to work for a public defender's office, He is the son of a Romeo, "Wild Bill" Wilson of Landmark Realty.
"They let me in easy because I was vetted," said Wilson, between bites of lunch and a chat about how he changed his mind about the death penalty, going from anti- to pro-, while working in the public defender's office.
Visitor Jim Kurz plops down at a table, blue button-down perfectly pressed and appearing ready to don a tie and formally solve world problems should the group be so pressed.
He did not retire, said the economic development professional, "I redirected my life."
Find a ROMEO chapter:
To find the Lexington chapter: Romeos gather at Charlie's Fresh Seafood, 926 Winchester Road, at 11:20 a.m. on Fridays. They order at 11:30, then caravan over to Castlewood Park to eat and talk.