There's a “Hot Dog Bob” because that Bob talks about Watson's hot dogs all the time. There's a “Mailbox Bob” because the guy worked at the post office. There's a Tut and a Charlie and a Leroy, a Benny who is a preacher and a Harold — and even three women who, for some unknown reason, want to hang around with a bunch of old men.
They are the “Hardee Boys.” At the Fort Mill Hardee's restaurant at the top of Main Street, this group of retirees and near retirees sits at the tables against the wall every day the place is open, which is 365 days a year, and yap. Some have showed up for more than 20 years, the first shift at 5:30 a.m. when the doors open, the second shift around 8 a.m. Some days, there will be four or six people, some days 12 or 15. They talk about politics and which politician isn't worth a darn, how there is never enough money, and the weather. Sports and golf, too. And wars, because almost all of them are veterans.
This isn't the new Fort Mill of fancy cars and half-million-dollar homes. These guys are the old Fort Mill of mill houses, making kites out of old newspapers and neighbors who looked outward to lend a hand instead of locking the doors at night after work. These guys tend gardens and bring in the bounty in the summer, just to give it away.
“The unofficial Fort Mill Town Council,” said the preacher, the Rev. Benny Wade. “Elected by nobody. Nobody would elect this bunch.”
The only talk of women is the time two women got to rasslin' on the Hardee's floor years ago over the affections of a man.
“Never had no women fight over me, 'cept fighting to get rid of me,” said Bob Faile, who is either Hot Dog Bob or Mailbox Bob.
“We got one young guy, maybe 50, rest of us are old,” said Harold Guin. “Except Charlie. Charlie ain't old. He's ancient.”
Charlie is Charlie Boyette, former Fort Mill town councilman, D-Day veteran and first-rate rascal of the highest order. “Not old, respectable,” Boyette said. “There is a difference. You guys are old. I'm respectable.”
But aside from all the talk that goes on all the time, this year was a bit different. The Hardee Boys, or the Hardee Bunch, or the Hardee Goodwill Bunch — all the names are thrown around — decided to collect money, $5 a month, from all 17 people. Plus any other donations they got from passers-by who dared to venture by their tables.
“All voluntary,” said Leroy Atkins, the unofficial treasurer. “We just knew that people out there are in tough times, we decided to help.”
Twice this past year, the last time this past week, a few of the guys ventured out to the Compare Foods grocery store in Rock Hill, bought as much canned goods and nonperishables as they had money for, and took their bounty to the Fort Mill Care Center, which gives out food to the needy. They raised more than $1,200 and gave it all away so others could eat.
“Most people know tough times,” said Tut Wright, who runs the first shift early from his table. “It's a good thing to do.”
The money-raising will happen again in 2010. A good thing deserves doing again, say the Hardee Boys. They say a lot of other stuff, too. To be a Hardee Boy means to take a ribbing. It means you give it out, too. Some of it cannot be printed in a newspaper. Some of it is out-and-out slander. Some of it would make decent people blush.
But when you raise money and give it away to others in need, a little give and take among the Hardee Boys is worth it.