Bingo serves as social gathering for seniors McDonald's gives space for games WEST COLUMBIA

September 08, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Helen Mebert is affectionately known to the group of senior citizens that gathers at McDonald's of Harper's Choice every Tuesday morning as "our call girl."

"She's the hooker," cracks Aileen Miller, 86, to uproarious laughter.

"A New York call girl," adds Ruth Ferry, 75, followed by more good-natured chuckles.

Ms. Mebert, 74, who says she was a "professional bingo caller" in New York for eight years, calls bingo for the group of about 15 to 20 senior citizen regulars, who compete in a corner of the restaurant for coupons, for apple pies, sundaes, pastries and burgers.

Many of the seniors live in the Hickory Ridge Place apartments, where the "penthouse" third floor is known as "the elite for gamblers" and the second floor as "the poor people of Paris," jokes Ms. Ferry.

The group gathers at the apartment complex for poker on the weekends -- just penny-ante stuff, says Ms. Miller, "but it's wild."

The seniors praise McDonald's owners Danny and Cathy Bell, who are Columbia residents, for their hospitality.

"They're very friendly and nice," says Ms. Mebert, who also calls bingo at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia. "They're ++ very concerned about people, especially senior citizens."

The Harper's Choice group has been playing bingo for about two years, and wouldn't consider missing a date.

"Snow or sleet doesn't stop us," says Ms. Ferry. "Everyone else stays home, but we come."

"Basically, it's a social hour," says Mr. Bell, who, along with his wife, owns another McDonald's in Ellicott City that draws 60 to 70 senior citizen bingo players weekly. "They love it."

The seniors, mostly women, say they like to get together, drink coffee, laugh, needle each other, talk about grandchildren and whoop it up for the winners of tight games.

"It's something to do for us," says Ms. Mebert, who adds that her husband, Thomas, 78, has health problems that keep the couple close to home. "I can't go too far. I have a lot of energy. That's why I volunteer [as caller]. I vent."

Marie Lee, an Ellicott City resident, is known to the group as "The Angel" because she gives rides to seniors from Hickory Ridge Place who are homebound.

"They're so happy to come play," says Ms. Lee. "It's got to be right."

"Some of them are so lonely," says Ms. Mebert. "This is an outlet for them."

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