Monday, April 21, 1997
Cliff cooks up offer
you can't refuse

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Let's go to lunch.

I mean it. My treat.

Just send me an email c/o Include your name, daytime phone number and lunch spot. When it arrives, we'll talk. If our schedules agree, we'll go out for a bite at your usual haunt.

The plan is to do a series of these out-to-lunch columns. Some of you out there probably think all of my columns fill that bill. But you're invited just the same.

My lunch offer is quite simple:

I buy. You eat. We chat.

It can be a swank eatery or a greasy spoon. The cuisine doesn't matter. I'm not into what you're eating so much as what's on your mind.

''You want to know what's on my mind?'' Dave Castle asked in wonder as he chewed on a cheese coney. He was sitting at the U-shaped counter of the Root Beer Stand in Sharonville.

''Nobody's asked me that since I was in third grade.''

I went to the Root Beer Stand because it quenches my thirst and makes me happy. The Stand hasn't changed much since it opened in 1957. It still serves homemade root beer and foot-long cheese coneys to people from across the Tristate lined up two deep at the counter.

I like the Root Beer Stand's collar combination. People who work with their hands rub elbows with office workers. They mix together and relish the food.

Dave Castle works in a nearby warehouse. As he sipped his root beer, he thought about his company's softball team. Dave's the shortstop. Talking softball takes his mind off the warehouse.

''At lunch time,'' he said, ''I like to have anything but work on my mind.''

His company team was playing its first game of the season. ''I just keep hoping we win.'' He'd like to see the Reds do more of that. ''Ray Knight needs to light a fire under their rear ends.''

Around the corner of the counter, Robert Beck had nothing but work on his mind. He was eating with one hand and working a calculator with the other.

Between bites and calculations, the owner of a West Chester outdoor construction company said: ''I never relax when I eat lunch.''

Never, ever?

''The last time was when I was in the Navy, 1951-56. They'd give you your chow and you'd forget about everything.''

Clayton Smith and his two little girls, 5-year-old Lauren and Lindsay, who turns 1 today, pulled up some stools.

The Springfield Township patrolman works nights and devotes days to his girls. ''The world is too confusing,'' he said. ''You need to concentrate on your family. In my work, I've seen what happens when parents don't take care of their kids. I won't ever let that happen to mine.''

Four seats away, two real estate agents spoke in low tones.

''He's the kind of guy who would steal gold teeth from a corpse,'' Chris hissed.

''We're talking about our boss,'' Jan said. ''We always do at lunch. Don't use our last names or we're toast.''

Danielle Wulf and Peggy Krpata, two computer programmers from Walnut Hills, sat down to talk taxes and the Girl Scouts. The latter takes too much of their time. The former takes too much money.

''We need a flat tax,'' Danielle said. ''And the IRS needs to be fixed.''

Had she walked to the opposite end of the counter, she could have registered her gripe directly with the tax man.

Bill Flynn, an IRS tax examiner, was dining with his wife. Chili was on his fingers. But tax reform was on his mind. ''Every congressman should have to fill out his tax form by hand and go to jail if he makes a mistake,'' he said. ''That would simplify the tax code.''

With the IRS straightened out, I left the Root Beer Stand energized by the conversations I had and hungry for more.

So, feed me. Lunch is on me.