ODENTON -- A good 90 minutes past sunrise, the first early birds from the Society of the Ruptured Duck flock into the Junction Restaurant.
Rain or shine, the membership migrates here; at least they have every day but Sundays and holidays for more years than they care to count. The group comes to eat breakfast, ostensibly, but their true purpose is to engage in a little barnyard chatter.
"We solve all the world's problems every morning," boasted Dick Fry, 68, a longtime Duck. "Sometimes we do better than the people on Capitol Hill -- which sometimes isn't all that hard to do."
Named after the GI sobriquet for the eagle button given to the honorably discharged at the close of World War II, the Society of the Ruptured Duck lists 28 members on the plastic sign that reserves their table for eight people each morning. Five members have died over the last seven years, so their names are circled in gold ink.
All but one of the group are World War II veterans. The majority served in the U.S. Army. Most are in the late 60s, retired from military careers, private sector professions or both. A lawyer, a retired judge and a deputy sheriff are included in their number.
There is hardly a subject these men won't discuss. The latest performance by the Washington Redskins or the Baltimore Orioles is usually good for a few critical swipes.
Mostly, they keep an eye on politics, reading the front page of the morning newspaper as sports fans devour box scores. If the mood of the electorate can be judged from a morning spent with the Ducks, then the voters are a cranky bunch these days.
The feeling from Odenton is that quite a few Washington and Annapolis politicians deserve the bum's rush, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"I'd like to see Schaefer kicked out of there first, but I don't think I have much of a chance," said Tom Dobinski, 65, a veteran of the Army and 3M. "We ought to let the incumbents know they can be booted out of office."
With equal helpings of Democrats and Republicans, the Ruptured Ducks run the gamut of political philosophies. Active as a chaplain at nearby Fort Meade, Mr. Dobinski is
chided as the "Bible thumper" and he's religiously opposed to a cut in the capital gains tax as "another chance for the average taxpayer to support the rich."
John S. "Jack" Kavetsky, 66, a gruff former sergeant major dressed in a T-shirt from the Florida Keys and with several days' stubble, is the "agitator," who gripes about all the money the governor spent to build a stadium in Baltimore "instead of helping out the senior citizens like Pennsylvania did with their lottery."
Howard "Pee Wee" Deweese, a lanky Army vet, staunch Republican and the Ducks' acknowledged jester, expects Robert R. Neall, a former minority leader in the House of Delegates, to win the hotly contested Anne Arundel County executive race.
Mr. Neall's opponent, Councilman Theodore J. Sophocleus, D-1st,"is a great guy to know and be out in the crowd with, but I don't know if I would want him handling my money," Mr. Deweese insisted.
A week ago, the two candidates debated in the Odenton Fire Hall down the street. At the end of the presentation, Mr. Neall acknowledged receiving a dozen cupcakes from a Sophocleus supporter. It was an inside joke, but it was not lost of any of the Ducks.
Mr. Neall had reported Mr. Sophocleus to the state prosecutor a day earlier for errors on the Democrat's campaign finance reports. The mistakes included listing about 30 cash donations from senior citizens from a subsidized housing project who deny ever giving him the money.
Mr. Sophocleus claims the seniors donated cakes and other baked goods for a raffle and that, while his accounting technique may be unconventional, it was not a deliberate attempt to "launder" cash contributions, as Mr. Neall has alleged.
The general opinion of the Ducks is that Mr. Sophocleus and his cupcakes got the best of Mr. Neall in that one. "We want the Greek," Mr. Kavetsky announced triumphantly. "We want pita bread on every table."
Across the table, the Duck tagged as a "conscientious objector" because he served as civilian personnel clerk during the war said there is at least one issue that unites the group.
all like to nuke Iraq," said Jimmy Saylers, a slightly built man who refuses decaffeinated coffee as "wimp juice."
Located at the very heart of the Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis metropolis, Odenton is symbolic of the region's changing suburbanscape. Named a century ago for Oden Bowie, a former railroad executive and Maryland governor between 1869 and 1872, Odenton was a community built by the railroad and later by the Army.
Today, the freight and passenger trains no longer rumble along the old Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis line. There is talk that maybe the twin steel rails will be torn up and the right of way converted into a hiker-biker trail.