It never ceases to amaze me how readers still respond to the "game" we call Old Older we have been playing for — yes — close to 40 years. T'ain't none of us, as the old feller said, gittin' any younger.
This was brought home to me a week or so ago when I chanced to meet an acquaintance who launched into an impassioned plea for "more Old Older columns."
Appropriately enough, we met while both of us were engaged in a popular current pastime known as physical therapy. I'm not sure exactly where it was that she hurt, but I was engaged in making my new shoulder move in ways it hasn't moved in years. We are, as a rheumatologist friend likes to put it, outliving our skeletons in this age of medical miracles.
Since the game had been called to my attention, I checked. Indeed, it has been almost two years since I last dipped a toe in that stream of nostalgia. Is the Old Older game still viable? Hmmm.
The question posed by her unbridled enthusiasm sent me to the dog-eared old Manila folder files at the office, in what was once known as the "morgue." These are the pre-1994, pre-digital archive files that once contained current news stories and columns but are now — well, you might say "irrelevant," but I would say "history." Come to think of it, they may constitute a journalistic Old Older — old if you once relied on these files, older if your work is in them.
I discovered that the Old Older game has been played in the column nearly 60 times since the first one — in 1975.
That one was a reference, at the end of a brief history of the railroad in Santa Rosa. It said: "The sound of a train whistle should make you remember. You're an old-timer if you remember when there was NWP passenger service north to Eureka. You're an older-timer if you remember when passengers as well as Gravensteins came from Sebastopol and points east of the P&SR."
"But then, " I wrote, never dreaming that I was starting something that would last so long, "that old-older game is one that can be played about any number of things around here."
It was "Game on!" Writing five columns per week, I welcomed reader participation eagerly and was pleased when people jumped feet first into both categories, remembering driving around the courthouse and two rows of parking in front of the Topaz Room and seven stoplights on the "freeway" and the Tower Theater and the Stone House and Chinatown. My in-basket was full — any daily columnist's dream.
By the following week I felt compelled to mention that we'd have to be careful and "take our nostalgia in small doses" since so many of the memories were about places and events that might be taken as examples of a dissolute life. If you get my drift.
Red-light districts were high on the early lists. So were any or all of the 30-plus cocktail lounges, taverns and saloons between E Street and the railroad tracks in the early years of the 20th century. Some readers came close to remembering them all. This was clearly becoming an adventure.