Getting Better with Age

THERE MUST BE something magical about the Oakland hills. I’ve never seen so many productive people in their retirement years. Is it the fresh air? The steep grades? Something in the fog? It defies explanation, and yet there are seniors all around us who run marathons and even run their own companies.

I’ve known Howard Smith for years. He’s been a faithful promoter of the USS Potomac as long as I’ve been writing this column. And he’ll be the first to tell you he’s no spring chicken.

“I’m an old man,” he says, “approaching 93.” Yet Smith drives himself down to the docks in Oakland six or seven times a month to volunteer on the ship that once served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s floating White House. It’s something about the waterfront that’s been calling him since his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s.

“I was out of school and broke and couldn’t get a job,” he recalls, “and I got paid a dollar a day in the Corps. I bought toilet articles and postage stamps and had a few dollars left over for beer.”

Then World War II came along and Smith enlisted in the Coast Guard and spent three years defending our country. It taught him how to handle responsibility.

“When they have an emergency on the Potomac, I tell them to give old man Smith a call,” he says.

But you have to be careful how you call him. “We have three people with the first name of Howard and two with the last name of Howard. You’re liable to get a crowd if you shout that name out,” he laughs. We should all be so lucky as to have a Howard Smith on our staff. He not only leads tours on the Potomac, but he ties fancy knots for the ship’s bell and railings. I can only hope I’m as productive in my tenth decade on this wonderful planet.

E-MAIL BAG: Last week’s column on beating summer heat prompted this response from reader Patricia Durham: “How about at least mentioning Oakland Ice Center as a cool destination? It’s a city spot, needs the business and has reasonable prices, too,” she writes. Speaking of cool places, how about Marine World? The day I was there, a nice marine breeze was keeping temperatures at bay. The killer whales sent a refreshing spray into the front row seats of their stadium, and folks of all ages were enjoying the wet, wild, water ride. Keeping cool has never been so much fun.

FREEWAY FOLIAGE: Reader Gregory Blackburn is wondering when our promised replanting of Highway 13 is set to begin.

“Weren’t we told to expect more from the recent re-surfacing and landscaping of the freeway as it passes from Broadway Terrace, through Montclair and on to Woodminster?” he writes. You’re right, Gregory, and Vice Mayor Jean Quan says the funding is set and a citizen group has finished the planning.

“Plants will include many natives,” she says, “and given the CalTrans project schedule and the best time to plant … we expect the work in the fall.”


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