Mack Watson had clearly seen a lot in his century of life. He'd witnesses changes in San Francisco's Fillmore neighborhood where he’s known as Daddy Mack. But even with 99 birthdays under his belt, he hadn't seen anything like the birthday reception he got on Friday when he hit 100 years.
"I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams that anything like this would happen," Watson said, wearing a bright red suit, a color-coordinated face mask and a top hat with a hundred dollar bill taped to the front.
With plans for his 100th birthday party dashed by COVID-19, his fellow members at Bethel AME Church in the Fillmore decided to throw him a rolling birthday party, with a caravan of admirers cruising by Watson's apartment a block away.
"We're all going to drive by," said Bethel AME Reverend Robert Shaw. "We're getting a hundred cars to honk and wave."
The cars were festooned with red and black balloons -- Watson's favorite color scheme -- sharply at noon they began to parade by his apartment with horns blasting. Watson sat in a small chair curbside -- taking it all in.
"I said 'What did I do to deserve this?" Watson observed as the caravan passed.
Cars honked their horns and paused in front of Watson's home, snapping quick smart phones pictures before continuing on. Some jumped out to stuff a card in his pocket. There was a car for each of Watson's years -- and he had a wave for every car.
"Just such a sweet kind soul," said Ann Champion Shaw, the assistant pastor at Bethel AME, "which is probably what kept him around all these years."
Watson had his own explanation for his long life.
"My secret? I live by the Golden Rule," Watson opined. "The Golden Rule is having to do unto others as you."
For his birthday, members of the congregation chipped in to buy the guest of honor a 55-inch television. He was set to try it out later that evening at a virtual Zoom gathering with friends and family.
Friends said Watson was generous with stories and history -- and could relate to people of any age. Members of his varying clubs turned out to honor him, including his Masonic brothers who presented him with a proclamation.
"When you're at that age, you've seen a lot," said longtime friend N. Bruce Williams. "You've done a lot and you have a lot to contribute."
Watson was born just four years after the last pandemic. He said he's been staying indoors during the COVID-19 crisis and only ventured out when necessary -- his birthday counting as such an occasion. As impressed as he was with this hundredth birthday celebration -- he was sure there would be plenty more years to gather in person.
"The first hundred was the hardest," he said beneath his mask, "the second hundred will be easy."