A CARNIVAL atmosphere filled the air as thousands of people crowded the halls of Wilde Lake High School for the 50+ Expo on Friday.
The first-time event, sponsored by the Howard County Office on Aging, provided one-stop shopping for information on everything from financial planning, employment opportunities and Medicare benefits to surfing the Internet and housing.
Volunteers met visitors at the door and handed them program guides to the more than 100 exhibits and seminars, as well as bags to hold the giveaways -- key chains, smoke detectors, rulers, whistles, refrigerator magnets and brochures.
Joe Citrano of Glenwood skipped the exhibits and made a beeline for the free flu shots being offered at the Health Fair section of the Expo.
Visitors packed the large room, where they could also get blood-chemistry profiles, pneumonia shots, glaucoma screenings and have their blood pressure checked -- most of it for free.
Charlie Ward of Elkridge came to the Expo with friends and planned to make a day of it.
"I'm walking around with other members from the Elkridge Senior Center and picking up as much information as I can digest," he said.
For those unfamiliar with what goes on in the 10 senior centers in Howard County, an interactive senior center was set up off the main lobby.
That's where Lillyan Noskow, Ida Lipton and Lena Gleicher, residents of Hickory Ridge, joined Sylvia Rosen of Long Reach for a friendly game of mah-jongg.
"We play mah-jongg because we love the game, and we play for blood," Rosen said.
The women meet at Florence Bain Senior Center in Harper's Choice two to four times a week to indulge their passion for the game and take part in programs offered there.
Rosen and her pals say it is important for senior citizens to remain active.
"It's absolutely vital," Rosen said. "We're old, but we're not disinterested."
Activities in the interactive senior center included an aroma-therapy workshop, aerobics and exercise demonstrations and craft workshops.
Eileen Kazer of Ellicott City offered instruction and a glue gun to those who wished to make scarecrow wall hangings to be used for home decoration.
Ruth Simpkins of Jessup stopped at the driver screening station.
"I want to know whether or not I should still be out on that road," she said.
Sheila Glanz, assistant to the director at the 50+ Center in east Columbia, was working at the screening station.
The test is offered twice a week at the east Columbia center.
Most people who took the test at the Expo passed, she said. The test involves no driving.
The screening program, sponsored by state Motor Vehicle Administration, measures mobility, dexterity and memory.
The test results are not given to the MVA, so taking the test has no consequences for participants.
The MVA hopes to use statistics from the screenings to improve the renewal process for drivers' licenses.
Simpkins said she believes she is still a good driver. She hoped the screening would reassure her that this was so.
"My primary concerns are nighttime and bad weather driving," she said. "I handle my car pretty good otherwise."
But, she added, if her test results indicated that she should stop driving, "I'd cry, and then I'd have to give it up."
Phyllis Madachy of the county Office on Aging estimated that 4,000 people attended the Expo.
"Given the response of the community," she said, "we'd consider doing this again."
Leon Rose, a youthful-looking 75-year-old from Hobbits Glen, spent the day promoting his book "September Songs -- Personal Profiles of Active Seniors" at the 50+ Expo.
The book is a compilation of articles he wrote for "The Senior Connection," a newsletter published by the Howard County Office on Aging.
Rose, a semiretired magazine publisher, will be inducted tomorrow into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame as a result of his volunteer activities.
Rose began to lose his sight 10 years ago and recalls feeling frustrated and depressed over the loss of his vision before joining a support group at the Bain center.
The group is part of the peer support program called Senior Peer Resources, Individuals, Networks and Groups (SPRING). The program includes a dozen groups that meet regularly at the Bain center.
He credits SPRING Insighters -- a group for those who are visually impaired -- for easing his depression.
"Thanks to their resources, they helped pull me out of this feeling that the world was coming to an end," he said.
Five years ago, Rose volunteered to write profiles of senior citizens at the Bain center for the newsletter. He put them together as a book to repay the SPRING program for its support.
Rose has published the book at his own expense and will donate the proceeds to SPRING.
A common thread shared by the 49 seniors in his book, he said, is this: "The people who are active at the center never grow old. Their interests are as active today as when they were much younger. I think the more active individuals of our age remain, the younger they remain.
"You can't help getting older," he added, "but you can help getting old."
Copies of the book are available for $12 at the Bain center.
Halloween is the second largest holiday after Christmas -- in terms of dollars spent.
The Halloween Association -- an Ellicott City-based trade association representing candy, costume and home decor manufacturers -- estimates that $5 billion will be spent on Halloween this year.
Some west Columbians are doing their part to get into the spooky spirit of the holiday with elaborate decorations.
They use colored lights, tombstones, hanging ghosts and bats, scarecrows, signs, hay bales and spider webs to create their terrifying tableaux.
If you'd like to take a tour of some spooktacular houses, drive down these tricked-out streets: Bright Plume, Great Oak Way and Shadow Lane in Hickory Ridge; Learned Sage in Dorsey's Search; Hesperus Drive in Longfellow; and Green Mountain Circle in Bryant Woods.
You will find at least one house worth the drive on each street.