Alva James-Johnson

Alva James-Johnson: Never too late to learn

The Burger King on Veterans Parkway bustles at breakfast time. As a vegetarian, I don't eat there much, but I stop by occasionally for french toast sticks -- one of my secret vices.

Earlier this week, I dropped in for another reason. I was on the way to an interview and needed to jump on the Internet. So, I stopped at BK for Wi-Fi. A little sneaky, I know, but hey, they say I can have it my way. Right?

That's when I met George "Mighty Mouse" McCloud.

He's an 81-year-old military veteran who worked as an airplane mechanic for more than 30 years. Now in retirement, he goes to BK every morning for coffee and salad. He gets the $2.25 senior deal, then goes to a store nearby to play the lottery. (After first checking his horoscope in the Ledger-Enquirer, of course.)

As I walked past George holding my computer, he stopped me and asked: "Could you show me how to use that?"

At first I thought it was a practical joke or a pick-up line. He looks much younger than his age and later admitted to being quite a ladies' man. But as the conversation continued, I realized George was serious. He had no idea how to use a computer and could barely figure out his Samsung flip phone.

George said he moved from New York to Columbus three years ago to house-sit for his son, who is a sergeant first class in the Army. The younger McCloud and his family are stationed in Alaska, and there are no youths around to keep George up with all the new technology.

As one dependent on my daughters for navigation through the digital world, I sympathized with George's predicament. In fact, my children laughed when they heard he wanted me to give him lessons. Like the blind leading the blind, they said.

The more George and I talked, the more I became curious about his situation. So, the next day, I met him at BK to hear more of his story. I found out he was born in Georgia but grew up in Miami in the late '40s-early '50s. He earned the nickname "Mighty Mouse" playing football for a local high school as a 5-foot-6 quarterback, weighing 130 pounds. "I had no fear," he said. "Just didn't realize it was a big man's game."

After graduating in 1953, George served at the end of the Korean War. Then he worked in the dry cleaning business, where he mastered new technology that transformed the business. In the 1960s, George also defied what seemed like insurmountable odds in the airline industry. He started at Pan American Airways, dumping feces from DC-3 planes that flew into Miami from Cuba.

At the time, the South was still segregated, and George's colleagues didn't think he could pass the test to become a plane mechanic. But he proved them wrong and aced the test after graduating from an aircraft mechanics school.

After hearing his story, it seemed to me that George had the capacity to learn the new technology.

"So what held you back all these years?" I asked him.

"Just never took the time," he said. "Too busy."

Well, it's a good thing George still has that tenacious spirit, and he's bold enough to ask for help, even from a stranger. I don't know why we met that day, but maybe it was just for a little encouragement.

I gave him a short overview of all the great things he could do on a computer, even did a Google search for senior computer classes he could take right here in Columbus.

George was impressed and said he would sign up right after cataract surgery.

"I still have a brain," he said. "Never too late to learn."