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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.

Gradually, the game broadened its scope, listing such memorable events as the arrival of the war surplus Quonset huts on the SRJC campus for student housing and the thrill of riding a Greyhound bus to San Francisco to see live theater. And we heard some amazing stories. A reader named Bob Morris wrote that he was old enough to have attended the old Burbank School and older enough to remember the Buzzini brothers who would emerge at the final bell and walk all the way to Fourth Street on their hands. You've gotta wonder what ever happened to them.

Truth is, the "olders" these days are not nearly old enough to keep up with those readers of four decades ago. Most of us have no memories at all of the roller rink on A Street or the ice rink next to Grace Brothers' brewery or the (first) Roxy Theater when it was a vaudeville house called the Cline.

Still, the need to wallow a little in nostalgia has not passed. The social networking groups that remember growing up in Santa Rosa in the '40s, '50s, '60s and forward are visited regularly by people wanting to remember, hoping to be reminded.

They post memories of picking prunes to earn money for school clothes, of after-school stops at Townsend's or Tom Thielmann's candy store in the Village, of the Mike Selby's barber shop in the lobby of the Rosenberg Building, the elevator operator in Rosenberg's — and Pepper. Always and ever, Pepper. Every third person has an original memory of Santa Rosa's indefatigable "town character."

In the past week there's been another topic on that social site. People are remembering the make-believe bank robbery that came close to becoming a disaster.

Some of the information online got scrambled by passing years, and some participants put it in 1968 when a couple of Montgomery High students dressed for a school costume competition as Bonnie & Clyde.

But it wasn't. It was April of 1960 when a half-dozen SRJC students, participating in the college's annual Character Day, dressed themselves as Al Capone and his gang. They looked so good — with their plastic sub-machine guns and all — that they decided it would be fun to pretend to rob a bank.

The note they handed to the teller in the Bank of America on Fourth Street had a dollar bill pinned to it and read: "This is a hold-up. Give me two 50-cent pieces." (50-cent pieces! Now there's an old-older for you).

Everything after that was distinctly unfunny. Their toy guns were so authentic-looking that they scared the bank employees. Police were called. The students were arrested as they were leaving.

They all spent the weekend in the county jail, with bail set at $5,000 each. On Monday they were taken — in chains — to federal court in Sacramento. Ultimately the charges were dismissed, but not for a month and not without some very harsh words from the bench.

I happen to remember the incident and to recall the exact words of the police chief, Dutch Flohr. He said: "If there had been an off-duty policeman in that bank, he would have shot those kids!"

Without drawing parallels or conclusions, we can certainly ask why it is that we still allow the manufacture, sale and purchase of toy replicas of deadly weapons.

It's an Old Older question we've been asking for 53 years.