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Gary Horton: What we can learn from a satisfied life

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: February 9, 2010 6:06 p.m.
Updated: February 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Meet Sam Danny, founder and mayor of the Granary Square Starbucks Morning Hangout Club. At age 79, Sam shows up every morning before sunrise, arranging chairs around a table centered in the coffee shop.

It is with pleasure today that I’m am writing about a guy who exemplifies how you and I might hope to turn out in our twisty-turny, up and down, anxiety filled lives. No politics this go-around. Just insight toward more satisfying living.

Meet Sam Danny, founder and mayor of the Granary Square Starbucks Morning Hangout Club. At age 79, Sam shows up every morning before sunrise, arranging chairs around a table centered in the coffee shop.

One by one, a kaleidoscope of friends, acquaintances, rascals, scoundrels, Republicans and Democrats filter through, stopping by for a chat and then off on their rush to wherever they go.

Usually the banter’s loud, rowdy and always, it’s about the funniest place in the Santa Clarita Valley during the morning commute hours. Says Sam: “For two dollars it’s the best show in town. We’ve got music, coffee, jokers, politicians and therapy. It’s like a reform school for adults.”

Sam has been running this show for more than 12 years now. He first moved to the SCV just weeks after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. He snapped up his two-bedroom Sienna Village condo for $105,000 just one week after the shaking stopped. Sam recalled: “People were running away from the earthquake and just giving their homes away.”

So taking his own advice, Sam moved to the SCV. “You gotta buy low when the time is right,” he said. And Sam shares his advice freely, offering financial and stock views to anyone with ears, each and every morning.

His latest push: “Buy Ford. They made $2.5 billion in a terrible year. Think of what they’ll do as the market turns. And now with Toyota in trouble — Ford’s a no-brainer.”

Over the years, Sam’s served as ad hoc, de facto social and financial counselor to younger people who’ve graced the table.

“I got a bunch into mutual funds years ago,” he said, “and when I bump into them in the market they still stop to thank me and give me hugs.”  “But young people,” he said, “they’re hard to help. Don’t generally want to listen. You’ve got to be nice, but firm and tough.”

At 79, Sam can look back proudly at what his “Nice, but firm and tough policies” have yielded. Two sons who were top in their classes in academics and sports and matured as accomplished professionals. His famous granddaughter, Hart High School athlete Jordan Danny, has broken a bazillion swimming records at Hart and is now on a scholarship at the University of Southern California.

“‘Dad,’” he said they still say, “‘You were tough, but you were the best.’” Sam’s eyes tear up just a bit when he quotes his kids. He’s got a hard outer shell, but he’s soft on the inside and surely misses his boys.

And he misses his twin brother, whom he cared for while he was dying of cancer a few years back. Inseparable, they owned meatpacking businesses together, bet on horses together and as kids, never missed a USC football game, hitching rides on the electric trolleys running from their City Terrace home down to the Coliseum.

It’s hard when life forces changes, when your kids grow up and friends and family move on or pass away. One has to decide to either grow with the change or shrivel up and go on hold.

I suspect the reason Sam’s so popular is that even in his 70s, even after so much change, he has kept engaging. He’s kept giving, reaching out to his community, making friends and doing good things.

For years, Sam and Starbucks friend Sol Sorgenstein drove leftovers from our local bagel shops and Starbucks stores each morning, delivering day-old bagels and treats to the Boys and Girls Club, Senior Center and Sheriff’s Station. When they had extra, they’d even take the treats to the sales rooms of the local car dealerships just to make the salesmens’ lives brighter.

Five days a week Sam and Sol made their rounds, and they did this selfless service for years. Eight years ago Sam started working the polls on election day. What better way to meet new friends and give back at the same time? Sam staffed our elections for seven years until medical problems set him back to where he had to slow down.

But he still makes it to Starbucks each morning to meet and greet his friends, to make new ones — and to hand out a little advice to whoever will hear.

The famous essay “The Road to Self Renewal,” by John Gardner, begins: “It is a puzzle why some men and women go to seed, while others remain vital to the end of their days.”

Right here at Granary Square, Sam Danny exemplifies that vitality. Of the group, he’s certainly the happiest and enjoys the widest array of friends.

I want to be like Sam Danny. I want to reach out and give back and stay connected and vital — “To the end of my days.”

And you? Citizen Danny shows us something tangible we can put to good use. Imagine our Santa Clarita, if we all looked at each other with a smile and reached out a helping hand. Imagine if we were all determined to remain vital and giving all our days.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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