A View From The Heights: The Old Philosophers of McDonald’s

By The Native

If Socrates were alive today, and lived in Washington Heights, you’d find him at the McDonald’s on Broadway and Dyckman.

I found myself there this morning amongst a gathering of these older Dominican men, sipping on coffee and waxing poetic. I came to affectionately call them Los Viejos Filòsofos (The Old Philosophers).

One by one, they gathered; the meeting time dictated by their own internal clock. The first viejo sits in what seems like their usual gathering place, with a small cup of coffee, awaiting his fellow filòsofos. Sitting across from him, there’s a group of high-school age students who should be in school, but that is a story for another time.

He sits and surveys the restaurant, noticing the human traffic as they cross his sightline, occasionally locking on to a young female headed to the counter. A second viejo shows up. He is welcomed with an exuberant “Oye!” from the first. He joins his fellow filòsofo with his own cup of coffee.

Immediately, they begin sharing the latest news stories, both local and international, adding their strong commentary throughout the whole reporting. Not too long after, two other viejos enter the McDonald’s, repeating the pattern of coffee and greetings. Now gathered, the council of Viejos Filòsofos, create a symphony of outbursts, grumbles and barely audible agreements.

The mantle of Socrates moves from viejo to viejo, each having their moment of Socratic reasoning, each being supported by the individual outbursts of agreement and disputes. During the discourse, a viejo passerby stopped for a quick “chiming in,” adding his ʻThe Way I see it…ʼ to the roundtable. He eventually trailed out the door dropping a few expletives on whatever politico got his blood sugar up.

As the outsider looking in, I felt privy to a time-honored practice in human civilization, pulled straight out of a Humanities text book, with a contemporary makeover, urbanized and culturized (my word), here in the Heights. So the next time you’re looking for an institution where thought, politics, art, culture and music are discussed, just come grab a cup of coffee, take a seat, and wait for the viejo filòsofos to arrive.

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