Mark Heffner was sitting among a blue sea of cops eating breakfast in a Juniata Park diner, the epitome of a working-class joint.
Heffner, 18, is the son of a forklift operator and a Philadelphia Parking Authority meter attendant. "My mom ruins everyone's day," Heffner jokes.
Having graduated from Franklintown Charter High School last summer, Heffner is starting his adult life in a tough place at an unsteady time.
"I wanted to go to college to become a personal trainer," said Heffner, a gym rat who, without a job, will often work out at 3 a.m. "But I fear debt. A lot of buddies drop out of college without degrees but with debt, and are so much in the hole."
Practical teachers told him not to shoot for leafy campuses; just find a job with benefits and you'll be all right, they instructed.
So far, the muscular Heffner, who needs his brown beard to help him look old enough to vote, hasn't been able to latch on to anything, though he's scoured the Internet and reached out to friends.
"I have a lot to show the world," Heffner said, "but I can't get it out there."
In his family, work is practically a religion, and Heffner uses sacred words to describe his parents as blue-collar "saints" whom he feels "blessed" to have because of their early-riser enthusiasm.
"If I could be anybody, I'd be my dad, because that dude works," Heffner said. "If you provide for the family, that's one of the greatest things to do. I respect him for that."
As hard as life is, Heffner has a young man's belief it will all turn out well.
"I'm super-optimistic," he said, finishing off an egg sandwich in anticipation of some weightlifting. "I'm a good kid and I can impress a supervisor. I'm not going to falter, get drunk, act like a kid.
"Listen, I'm still young. I know it's going to happen for me. Someday."