Age in Action means fun for boro senior citizens

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The Flushing Meadows Corona Park trolley was late the afternoon of May 14. The dozen elderly people and the actor who waited with me beneath the No. 7 train at Willets Point were getting antsy. Finally the actor, slated to perform at a matinee of “Dames at Sea” down at Queens Theatre in the Park, flipped open his cell phone and called somebody.

“No, I am not walking!” he snapped to the hapless person on the other end.

Eventually a car came and took a few trips to whisk everyone to their destination. The elders were going to the theater, but I went to the New York City Department for the Aging festival, Age in Action, which was held across the bridge that spanned the Van Wyck Expressway, on the lawns near the carousel and the zoo.

The ponies and llamas grazed in a pasture beyond the fence. Whenever there was an announcement over the loudspeakers, the llamas picked up their heads to listen. The ponies kept on grazing. The carousel spun, empty of riders. But the lawn was full of people from all over the city.

When I arrived, a contingent from the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults had just taken the stage for a dance contest. They were a group of ladies in sea green tops and pale slacks who danced to a song about an old-fashioned girl. Their moves seemed like a cross between the hula and a version of tai chi. On the opposite side of the lawn another group of elders did the electric slide on a platform to rap music. Mr. Softee did a brisk business in ice cream.

“This is a festival to celebrate the accomplishments and the talents of New York City’s older adults,” said Josette O’Neil, Department for the Aging Age in Action co-chair. “There are dance contests, choral groups, corporations, a whole area set up for community resources.”

Indeed, the lawn was dotted with tents sponsored by corporations like Aetna. There was also a sort of “Wizard of Oz” theme. The dance contests took place in “Emerald City.”

In fact, I ran into the Wicked Witch of the West on the lawn — not the late Margaret Hamilton, but Verna Arthur. She was inappropriately glamorous and she munched popcorn from a bag.

“You look good for a witch,” I said.

“Thank you!” she smiled.

The lady who played Dorothy was going around gathering up the white folding chairs from the grass.

A “yellow brick road,” actually a bunch of tables covered with yellow plastic tablecloths, sported arts and crafts, including paintings and other tchotchkes. I saw a lady with a bag full of what looked like a bird cage made of Popsicle sticks.

One of the participants on the Yellow Brick Road was the Central Harlem Senior Citizens Coalition. “People are here from all over Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn,” said Josie M. Piper, the coalition’s site director. About 150 buses and 7,000 participants had arrived for the festival, according to O’Neil.

At the end participants were given bulging goodie bags.

“It’s a lot of literature and stuff, no goodies, though. No food,” sighed Lisa Ramos as she waited on a park bench for the trolley. Still, she enjoyed herself. “It’s nice to see old people getting up and doing their thing.”

The trolley arrived and the mystery of its earlier nonappearance was solved — sort of. It seemed it was only doing duty for the senior festival, and let off its passengers not on Roosevelt Avenue beneath the el but the no man’s land behind the Tennis Center. I at first thought it was to spare the elderly ladies in the trolley having to walk up the stairs to the train, but the hike from the Tennis Center to the No. 7 was a series of endless, sloping, splintery ramps and we all had to climb a bunch of steps at the end anyway. But the Age in Action festival was worth it.

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