TANEYTOWN, Md. (AP) — They were strangers when they first met; older gentlemen with a penchant for writing who would go on to become great friends. And from that friendship and the creative process they so enjoyed, "The Old Dudes" was born.

"The Old Dudes" is a live radio play focusing on a group of men in their 70s who frequent a local diner to discuss topics ranging from politics to the price of gas to the weather to events in their own lives. The five-episode radio play recently held its first live performance to a packed house at Carroll Vista, a 55-plus community in Taneytown.

"It's a comedic play with a bit of sad twist at the end," said Bill Kennedy, of Taneytown, one of the play's authors.

The project began two years ago when John D. Witiak, a writer of op-ed pieces and letters to the editor and a one-time freelancer, wanted to work with fellow writers and, as he puts it, "old dudes." He mentioned his interest to Jillian Dittrich, branch manager for the Taneytown branch of the Carroll County Public Library and a guest of honor at the first performance.

"I just put the word out. They did the rest," said Dittrich.

Kennedy, a columnist for the Carroll County Times, and Rick Galloway, a local singer and songwriter, were intrigued by the idea.

"We came together because we wanted to have fun, be creative and write," said Witiak, of Union Bridge.

And in no time at all the three men were meeting at a local cafe. The idea for "The Old Dudes" came early on, said Kennedy.

"We thought, 'Well, we're three old dudes here putting this thing together. Why not just call it 'The Old Dudes?' " he said.

In the play, the "old dudes" are Danny, Joe, Phil and Fred. Danny is described as a "former guitarist with a regionally touring rock band, an artist, poet and songwriter." Joe is "in tune with and highly opinionated on political matters and is extremely well read." Phil is "a late-in-life budding novelist and op-ed columnist with the local newspaper." And Fred is "a transplanted retired accountant originally from New York, still with a hint of a Brooklyn accent."

Galloway was to play Danny. Witiak plays Joe. Kennedy plays Phil. Fred is played by Harvey Rabinowitz, of Taneytown, a Carroll Vista resident who joined the project later.

Other characters include Blanche, the waitress at the cafe, played by Cassie Akley, of Baltimore, who good-naturedly trades barbs with the "old dudes," and keeps the coffee coming. And, Ken Christopher, of Taneytown and a Carroll Vista resident plays several roles, including the narrator.

"I used to meet with some guys at a gas station here in Taneytown," said Witiak of the premise for "The Old Dudes." ''We'd get together there and have coffee. Seven or eight of us. We just sat there and chewed the fat."

However, the group disbanded when the business closed. And while people still gather, say at McDonald's, over coffee, Witiak laments the loss of "old" gathering places like gas stations, hardware stores, pharmacies. "You don't see that much anymore," he said.

Within a year of their first meeting the play was coming along nicely, according to Witiak, and was well on its way to becoming a full-fledged production. They were even working in Galloway's recording studio. "We laughed a lot," said Witiak. "We had a great time."

However, around that time, Galloway who had battled esophageal and stomach cancer in recent years became ill again. He died on May 10, 2017.

"It was devastating," said Witiak.

For Galloway, who besides being a singer and songwriter also wrote poetry and even received awards for his writing, "The Old Dudes" was his last original work, including the opening theme song and closing song for the play.

But even after he became ill again he remained committed to the project, according to Marguerite, his wife. In fact, she said, "He was working on it until just a few weeks before his death. Being creative was his life. He always loved to write. He always had paper in hand, pencil in hand."

Not sure how they should proceed without their friend, Witiak and Kennedy approached Marguerite about continuing the project. "We wanted her support," said Witiak.

"I told them, 'Run with it, guys,' " she said.

Joel Altman, of Taneytown and a resident of Carroll Vista, stepped in to play Galloway's part. "I felt good that I could do that. That they asked me," he said.

And on Feb. 20, two years after the three men first met, Witiak instructed those in the audience at Carroll Vista to picture themselves in a 1940s or 1950s New York City radio studio.

"Imagine right now people across the country are tuning into 'The Old Dudes,' " he said.

The play even included vintage commercial breaks, from "plop, plop, fizz, fizz," to "you can trust your car to the man who wears the (Texaco) star."

Often members of the audience would sing along to the jingles. And when the "old dudes" tackled such subjects as children no longer learning to write cursive or complained about old-age aches and pains and frequent night-time trips to the bathroom, there were nods and mumbles of agreement from the audience. And there was laughter.

"It was funny," said audience member Rosemary Guntner. And authentic. "I could see old men at a diner doing just what they were doing," she added.

"I was sitting next to my neighbor," said another audience member, Susan Rumford, "and leaned over to her and said, 'That's us when we get together for coffee.'"

Witiak is hoping to put on the play at other places and even perhaps using it "to raise money for cancer research," he said.

Galloway was honored at that first performance with the placement of a guitar sitting on one of the chairs where the "old dudes" were gathered. "This is really a memorial to Rick," said Witiak. "He's here in spirit."

Following the performance, a single red rose which had been placed against the guitar was presented to Marguerite, who had a front row seat at the event. "It was great," she said of the evening. According to her, Galloway would have been pleased that the play had finally been performed before a live audience.

"Rick would have been delighted," she said.

And he wouldn't have been the only one.

"Tonight," said Witiak, "this 'old dude' feels young."

For more information on "The Old Dudes," email them at olddudesradio@gmail.com.

'The Old Dudes' opening theme song

Well there's a little country restaurant that sits just off of Main. Where old guys get together to talk about anything. From old-time remembers to their current aches and pains, the cost of gas and too much tax, ev'ry topic is fair game.

And the waitress walks on over, tries to get them to order. And for the third time they answer, "Not yet." And the fly on the wall, that listens to it all, can't help but shake his head.

Well they talk about the weather, "Well it's too hot or it's too cold." Swear that things were better before they'd gotten old. Well they sit and drink their coffee or sip on an ice tea, while offering opinion on how things ought to be.

And the waitress walks on over, tries to get them to order. And for the third time they answer, "Not yet." And the fly on the wall, that listens to it all, can't help but shake his head.

Music and lyrics by Rick Galloway

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Information from: Carroll County Times , http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/