I woke up a few nights ago during the witching hour — the 1 to 3 a.m. slot — and realized I was now the oldest person at work.

That kept me up for awhile. I did another inventory to see if I had missed somebody the first time around but the cookie jar was empty and the pantry bare. Where did all you old people go?

Mike Griffith, the longtime workhorse and sportswriter, was almost my age — six months younger — but he wrote his last story as a staff member on Saturday so I couldn’t count him as competition or company.

The older-than-Moses editor Tim Heinrichs has been my go-to person for age-cover, but he retired, too. After 50 years, I guess he earned the right to take off his dress shoes and wander around the house in socks.

Bob Price? A few years younger. Photojournalists Felix Adamo and Henry A. Barrios were about the same age but they deserted me a while back.

There are a slew of much younger people — thank God — who are anywhere from 20 to 30 years my junior. “Thank God,” because businesses are like rock bands. If you’re Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney or Harry Belafonte, the smartest thing you can do is bring spitfire youth into your backup band. Young voices, young rhythm, young energy. Let them thrill with the high notes.

Helen Mirren once said, “I used to be that hot, young thing." Now, Mirren is the hot, older thing, so maybe not a whole lot has changed for her.

I remember looking around the newsroom at Bob Jones, who wrote the “Galley Sweep,” the highly entertaining feature where readers asked Jones, who had never cooked a meal in his life, about recipes and cooking.

I’d look at Bob Jones and Joe Stevenson, the wonderful business writer, and think, “Good thing I’ll never be that old.” I almost felt sorry for them. It’s like they had a disease, one I vowed I’d never get.

Now, I’m them. The oldest guy in the room, at a cocktail party or at a family gathering. People probably look at me like I looked at Bob and Joe and think, "If he went left, I’m going right."

A few mornings ago at the pool, somebody called me “Mr. Benham.” I was surprised because not only did I not know him but I’m still not used to being called Mr. Benham because I feel so springy inside.

I nodded and asked him how he was doing. I’ll tell you how he was doing: Young, great and even better when he looked at me and did the math.

Rather than fighting this, or fighting it all the time, I might as well welcome it. Maybe I can pass myself off as somebody who knows something. A repository of wisdom.

That could work but probably won’t. I am as surprised by life as everybody else and, not infrequently, stunned.

If I were to offer some wisdom, it would be this: Spend as much time with old people as you have to and not a minute more because you might catch what they have like you catch cooties.

Have fun, too. Fun doesn’t have to be the prerogative of being young, although young fun can be fun fun. Young or old, throw your arms around life because this baby is a thrill and has plenty of high notes.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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