At Quantico area tavern, sequester’s impact is already felt

Inside the Globe and Laurel — past tables filled with Marines, federal law enforcement officers and defense contractors — regulars at this Quantico-area bistro know where the action really is on Thursday nights: the porch.

That’s where the Globe’s co-owners, father and son retired Marine majors who share the name Richard Spooner, are holding forth under a tent, smoking cigars beneath the orange glow of space heaters.

Just outside the Quantico Marine Base on the Stafford County side of the line, the Spooners have created a different time and place. Amidst 1940s Big Band tunes, men wear neatly cinched ties and cuff links, some with matching pocket squares.

The elder Spooner, who is 86 and known as “The Major,” is unmistakable with his white, pencil-thin mustache, that goes neatly with a tan suit, tie and matching fedora. His son, known as Rick Jr., 56, takes an equally spiffy approach, with exposed close-cropped silver hair instead of the other-era hat.

Not surprisingly, the Spooners and others at the unmistakable tavern have a unique vantage point on the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, which has had effects on the Pentagon, federal law enforcement and defense contractors — in other words, their customers.

For the Spooners, the impact of the sequester fell on area defense contractors, the lifeblood of Quantico, even before the cuts officially kicked in on March 1, as many companies around the region tightened belts as federal budget talks not so far away sputtered.

Uniformed military pay has so far been spared. But budget and pay cuts are not entirely what bother the Spooners or many of the others in a place that exists not only to serve food, but also to espouse the values of those who serve, particularly the Marines.

“I deeply love my country, but I’m ashamed of my government,” said The Major, who opened the first Globe and Laurel in the town of Quantico in 1968, when he returned from service from his third major conflict, the Vietnam War. “My guys, the guys I fought with in World War II — they’d be humiliated. It’s a sign of weakness that will be noted throughout the world.”

For the staff, if slow days continue, layoffs are possible and work hours will likely be cut.

“I’m not worried about it, but I’m concerned about it,” The Major said. “Marines don’t give up. We owe it to them after 45 years . . . to keep the doors open.”

For much of the Spooners’ staff, their worries are constant.

Server Cene Roberts, 47, walked past Rick Jr. on a slow day. He asked her about her plans. Earlier, he had gathered his 40 staffers and told them to start looking for other part-time work, as it is inevitable that hours will be squeezed if cuts to the defense contractors continue.

“They can’t afford to hire me,” she told him of her efforts to find other work. “It ain’t easy.”

Roberts says the customers’ tips along with the $2.15 an hour she makes sometimes barely hits the minimum wage mark. And her hours have already been cut from 40 to 30 a week. The military veteran has started foregoing the supermarket, instead shopping at the Dollar Store, buying frozen dinners and a couple other items to make it through the week.

“I’m hoping someone will slip and say, ‘Sure, I have a part-time job for you,’ ” she said.

As for sequestration: “It’s a hurry-up-and-wait game. I just want somebody to fix it.”

A company town

Whether ordering the “Semper Fi” 12-ounce steak or admiring the myriad historic military memorabilia on the walls and the law enforcement patches that dot the ceilings, it hits you that the Globe and Laurel is no ordinary neighborhood haunt. Neither is Quantico your average commuter suburb.

Black helicopters buzz Interstate 95 as those who live nearby and points farther west creep toward Washington in one of the country’s worst commutes. Some travel as far as the Pentagon or into the District, while others work on the sprawling, heavily wooded base just off the highway, home to training facilities for the Marines, FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency.

The small town of Quantico itself sits in the middle of the Marine base, so a haircut or a sandwich means valid ID and questions about what, precisely, visitors are up to. A wary eye is often cast on strangers.

That extends beyond the town’s borders. A bespectacled man in black at the Globe and Laurel bar had a word of advice when asked for his thoughts: “Move along,” he said.

Quantico’s population is just under 500, and the businesses there rely on the “geographic bachelors” who live on and around the base, Quantico Mayor Kevin Brown said, explaining that many have spouses and children elsewhere in the country. They rent the lion’s share of the area’s homes and apartments and provide the primary dollars for the town’s “hamburgers, haircuts and hangars” that are its economic lifeblood.

All said, a prolonged sequestration could mean a longer-term economic collapse for the town, he said.

Political pawns

The Globe and Laurel tends to attract more senior officials, including from the Defense Department and contractors, some drawing one or even two pensions from government and military service. They say pay cuts mean less to them than a seeping anger over political paralysis and the prospect of those charged with guarding the nation’s security used as political pawns.

Yes, it rankles, but years of experience with Washington’s byzantine ways also provides comfort.

There’s “nothing new under the sun,” said Chuck, a retired Marine and current Defense Department official who said he couldn’t use his last name because of his security clearance and other concerns. He remembers when, in the 1990s, many of his fellow Marines weren’t allowed to reenlist as part of the Persian Gulf drawdown. This feels like something similar, he said.

Besides, the real crisis, he and others said, begins around the end of March, when furloughs can legally begin and Congress must agree on a budget. That’s when he thinks there will be another sense of deja vu, something that doesn’t sit well with his values but gives him some peace of mind.

Congress will find another way to “kick the can down the road,” Chuck said with a weary smile. “I’d bet my paycheck on it.”

 
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