The sidewalks of old Ballard Avenue were crowded with Saturday-night revelers as my husband and I strolled along, making our way to a favorite bar. We had just heard a Queen Anne friend singing with her newly formed bluegrass band and decided to make a night of it.

As we passed a tiny, storefront coffee shop, I noticed a sign outside: “Coffee and pop-up drinks! Come on in!” Two hip-looking guys stood outside the door watching the crowd.

I considered asking what “pop-up” drinks are but couldn’t quite get either guy to make eye contact with me.

Just past the door of the café, I heard, “Hey, we’re doing some fun, pop-up drinks tonight — would you like to try them?” I turned, thinking they were addressing us. In fact, they were talking to a young couple a few steps behind us.

I was stung by the realization of what had just happened: We were bypassed, not seen, invisible because of…what? Our age? Our supportive shoes? My husband’s white mustache? My dorky, blue fleece?

For me, it was a throwback to my 20s in New York City, when we would stand outside a club like Studio 54, hoping to impress the guy at the door with our irrepressible, irresistible coolness and be allowed into the inner sanctum to mingle with the elite, the ultra cool. He was the judge, and you either had “it” or you didn’t.

But this was different: This was clearly an age thing. We were, apparently, too old for pop-up drinks. 

Something to think about

This is the way it is now for those of us who have been around for a while. Although we were once young, partying with the best of them, radical for our time, attractive, sexy and full of the energy it took to raise kids like the ones now preventing us from entering the doors, we are, because of the way we look, ignored. Not even worth a conversation.  

I get it, I do. When I was in my 20s and 30s I really didn’t want to hang out with people my parents’ age. Admittedly, the generation that preceded mine was not much interested in hanging out with us, either. And there is that whole individuation thing going on. But still….

When I told my husband what had just happened, he simply laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

I know, who cares, right? It’s not like people are shooting us or marginalizing us because of our age. But it does give me pause and a tiny glimpse at what it might be like to be judged on, say, the color of my skin or my sexual orientation or my economic level. Just a tiny glimpse, mind you — something to think about.

Yes, I’m old(er) now. My skin is looser, and my favorite accessory is a scarf tied around my once-fabulously firm neck. My knees don’t enjoy long hikes, and chronic back pain limits me in certain ways. But that doesn’t mean the experiences, the memories, the intelligence and the wisdom are gone — quite the opposite. 

The next generation?

Our community at Shilshole Bay Marina consists of a wide range of ages. There is a 92-year-old man who has lived on his boat for 40 years. There are young couples in their early 30s choosing an alternative, affordable life. There are families with young kids running around in life jackets. And there are all the rest of us in between.

We are wetlands scientists, Seattle Symphony violinists, award-winning sound engineers, teachers, nurses, writers, retirees, physicists, Metro bus drivers and students.

We interact. We socialize. We have long, interesting conversations watching the sun set over the Olympics. We learn from each other’s varying perspectives and experience, and we help and support each other accordingly.

I am fortunate to live in this inclusive community — to be valued for who I am, not what I look like. It has helped as I adjust to my new place in the social strata, as I have journeyed from denial to shocking moments of disbelief in front of the mirror. 

I am getting there. Baby steps. Still those baby steps. They never end, do they?

My kids’ friends are getting married now and moving into the full bloom of their careers. It’s time to pass the torch, but I want to ignite that torch with wisdom, love and hope for a future that is rich and full so that this generation coming up will have something to pass to the next.

One day, those two guys hand-picking pop-up-drink-worthy customers will look in the mirror and gasp. They will experience invisibility as their kids’ generation comes into its own. Maybe.

Or maybe they will move to a community like my marina and find out how much we all have to teach to and learn from one another.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS lived on Queen Anne for 20 years. To comment on this column, write to