Illustration by Jonathan Carlson
It is one of those restaurants hidden away in a shopping center on the northern edge of Dallas, a dimly lit gathering place with celebrity photos clustered along its walls; a friendly bartender named Jennifer Hansen, who has twice qualified to compete in the Terlingua International Chili Championship; and a long history of warm, welcoming hospitality. Few of its customers are strangers. Think Cheers with a fried-catfish special to die for.

And every month or so, a corner table of the Midway Point serves as world headquarters for a loosely knit organization that calls itself the ­Old-timers Club. It has no officers, dues or bylaws, is without any agenda, no minutes are kept, and anyone who actively seeks membership is automatically turned away. Over the past couple of dec­ades, its ranks have fluctuated from a half dozen to eight or 10, depending on such variables as tee times, doctor appointments, pressing honey-do requests and the occasional funeral.

It is what men on the south side of their wonder years do.

Waitress LuAnn “Lulu” Nichols, alerted to the meeting time, has coffee brewing and nachos warming as they begin arriving. She will dutifully take lunch orders, despite having long since memorized the selection of each member, and is always eager to learn who the group has planned as its Mystery Guest. Often invited is an additional diner who will hopefully bring a fresh point of view to the gathering’s discussion of major problems, most having to do with the Dallas Cowboys’ troubled defense, the Texas Rangers’ pitching rotation or some ill-advised youth sports coach who doesn’t seem to appreciate a certain grandchild’s rare athletic gift.

Among the guest experts who have joined the gathering over the years are NFL Hall of Famers Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Tony Dorsett and Randy White, PGA icon Don January, ex-coaches, authors and even an FBI special agent.

And, while everything said at the Midway Point stays at the Midway Point, trust me when I tell you that strong opinions are not in short supply. The Old-timers have dutifully charted the Cowboys’ course back to Super Bowl glory, though clearly, the advice has gone unheeded. They instinctively know which colleges’ coaches should be hired or fired, can judge talent better than any scout on any team’s payroll, and critique a local talk show host’s opinion with scalpel-like sharpness.

The only verboten subject is politics, no doubt one of the main reasons for the group’s longevity and the fact that no meeting has ever been marred by violence or an invitation from the owner to take our discussions down the street to Jack In the Box.

Still, it is a self-proclaimed gallery of unapologetic experts. Has been since it was co-founded back in the mid-1980s by legendary Dallas ­Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm and Bert Rose, who had among his claims to fame the fact that he selected the nickname of the Minnesota Vikings while directing that organization in its formative days.

Over the years, alas, treasured voices have excused themselves to start up a heavenly chapter. Famed sportscaster Pat Summerall, like Schramm and Rose, is now gone. Same with gifted journalist and author Frank Luksa. Old pal Blackie ­Sherrod, one of history’s greatest and most honored sportswriters, is now well into his 90s and doesn’t get out much anymore.

Yet the legacy of the Old-timers continues. Over the years, the empty seats have been filled. There’s always a new generation that is no longer required to keep office hours. Today we’ve got a retired NFL standout who played in no fewer than five Super Bowls, award-winning writers and broadcasters, even an ex-newspaperman who is generally regarded as the ultimate expert on the assassination of President Kennedy. I’ll not mention their names for fear of being excommunicated. Publicity the group has never sought.

Now, a few are still a bit young to legitimately wear the mantle of the organization. But one day soon, they’ll get there. I can remember once being the youngest member. Today, just an eye-blink removed from that first informal gathering, I’m the elder statesman. It comes with the territory.

Admittedly, an increasing number of our observations are begun with “back in the day,” and don’t dare try to convince us that younger and newer ways are somehow superior, because, for us, older is better.

You spend a lifetime seeking enlightenment, intelligence and insight. At the Old-timers Club, we meet once a month or so to celebrate the fact that we found them.