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Stranger In A Strange Land

May 11, 2011

We just got back from a month in the US.  The first 80% of my life (so far) was spent in the USA, specifically in Ohio, and because I still have family and friends there, I try to get back once a year to catch up on things.

But I think I’ve reached the point where when I say “I’m going home,” I no longer know which place I’m referring to.  Part of the problem is that when you leave a familiar place and return, you think you are the same person you were when you left.  And you expect everyone else to be the same, too.  Sort of like you’ve put the world on “pause,” stepped out, and have now returned and hit “play.”

That isn’t the way it works and the longer you are away, the more you and other people change.  Both physically and mentally.

This was brought home with a vengeance on this trip because I found myself driving a rental car around Florida visiting retired friends.  Yes, me!  I have retired friends in Florida! 

But it was actually just like catching up in Ohio in the old days, except the weather and scenery were better in Florida:

We hadn’t planned a trip to Disney World, but I had the feeling that the GPS had malfunctioned and sent us to some sort of Disneyland for senior citizens when we visited a friend in a place called “The Villages.”

I’ve never seen anything like The Villages.  The closest I can come to describing it is Disneyland without kids, rides and Mickey Mouse.  It is spotlessly clean, well organized, seems to have everything you could possibly want, and is full of retired people zipping around on golf carts—even if they aren’t on the golf course.

It’s called The Villages because the whole complex is made up of several smaller communities (villages) each with a sort of town center of shops, restaurants and a recreation center.  Mainstream retail stores and other amenities are interspersed between the various villages.  Plus there are thirty-eight golf courses. 

They also have softball fields, a polo field, a woodworking shop, several swimming pools, walking tracks, a golf school and something called the Lifelong Learning College.  There are also lectures and activities at the various community centers.

The entire complex is connected by roads and a network of golf cart paths.  The preferred method of transportation is by golf cart and houses in the village have little mini-garages for golf carts:

A major pastime seems to be, for lack of a better word, pimping one’s golf cart:

And this pretty much sums up the philosophy:

Our hostess advised us that each night in the village center there were free live concerts.  We went along one evening to check it out and sure enough as we approached the square we heard the end of “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival version) and then the band went into a creditable version of “Jumping Jack Flash.”  From a distance the band looked like the Rolling Stones do today (at least Keith Richard) but the audience was a bit of a disconnect:

Mosh Pit, Villages Style

After two days, the whole thing started to take on a bit of a Stepford quality.  You have to be at least 55 in order to buy property there and no one under 19 is allowed to stay there for more than a month.  I’m not sure if that is why everyone seemed so happy but I also read that The Villages is the fastest growing residential district in the country.  And I can see why.  It has a great atmosphere and there is always something going on and lots to do.

We continued on the trip with a lingering sense that by visiting The Villages we had stepped into some sort of alternative reality for a few days and were now back in the real world.  Then I turned on the TV and heard Donald Trump telling us how proud he was. 

And I jumped back in the car searching for real reality.

So I stopped in at a couple of Wal-Marts to see if I could spot any Wal-Mart people.  No joy.

Now that we’re home I’m getting over my jet lag and getting used to smaller serving sizes in restaurants.  Yesterday we took a ride up to the farm to make sure that all was well.  Everything was fine except for one thing. 

Because we were going to gone in early autumn, and that is when the mice like to find their way inside, I decided to lay down a gauntlet of mouse traps in the garage to prevent any incursions into the house.

Big mistake.  Moral of the story:  Don’t leave mousetraps unattended!

Each of the traps I’d left open for business had attracted a customer.  I don’t know exactly how long the mice had been in the traps but dead mouse bodies undergo some sort of chemical reaction that not only smells terrible, it also fuses them to the floor.  Very disgusting.  All I could think of while cleaning up was how smart I had been to not make crime scene investigation my career choice.

The birds seem to have gotten the message and are staying away based on the absence of guano and/or bird corpses.  However my friend Brian in the US made a gift of a black raptor silhouette which he guarantees will keep anything under 50 pounds at bay.  Here it is, installed where swallows have been circling (and ignoring the owls):

I’ll let you know how it goes.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 3:42 pm

    Too funny Thomas – Stepford Wives….We visited a “gated community” while we were on our first trip to Florida in February to visit another car dealer. I felt like I was always about to break a rule.

    Love the golf carts. Mine would have to look more like a racecar, low to the ground and fast but of course I would probably be breaking a speed rule rebel that I am.

  2. May 11, 2011 6:36 pm

    I’ve also split my life on two continents (approx. 60:40), but I have not yet reached the point of confusion about where I’m at home. Home is where the heart is. But it’s true, every time I go back to where I grew up—and as matters stand, I’ll be leaving home and relocating back there shortly—all my former high-school buddies have job titles and are in their so-called top-earning years, yet I haven’t even begun my education for whatever career I may have (if any), so I feel like this teenager among grown-ups my age that remind me of my parents more than my peers. It’s funny to watch one’s peer group mature without participating in the maturation process.

    • May 11, 2011 10:13 pm

      Not a bit of it, Peter. You will bring enormous benefits to your former high-school buddies, as you have to all your friends on this circuit. There is no need for you to admire those who are trapped in their childhood and adolescent ambition.

      The seeking after security as a priority is a terrible drain on life’s essence, as Thomas demonstrates in his depiction of “The Villages” .

      • May 12, 2011 8:50 am

        Peter I couldn’t agree more with Richard–you will have more to teach your erstwhile peers than they will have to teach you.

  3. May 11, 2011 6:52 pm

    When I worked for the post office, we had a huge pigeon problem in the garage, which might have been solved by installing screen window, but the boss was cheap and somebody’s second cousin knew a man who sold plastic owls. We got two. They looked like snow owls after a month, they had so much crap on them. Maybe it would have worked better if they hadn’t been strung up by the neck.

  4. May 11, 2011 7:03 pm

    His Thomas,

    here is Giovanni Man of Roma

    Great post, both funny and sad, all those retired people, I just retired. ALL generated weird reactions in me I’ve logged in a textpad (gedit in Linux) while I was reading. Here as are (some translation, dots…), Thomas, for you.

    I found myself driving a rental car around Florida visiting retired friends … [Florida] it was actually just like catching up in Ohio in the old days, except the weather and scenery were better in Florida

    immagine fantastica, Dio, the Florida image and the lake makes me swoon. we are so darn crammed here … pace, peace, concentration, reading, musica (free live concerts …swoon…Keith Richard my teenage years SI!)…I’d need THAT two months a year, for a big change (old Wordl new World, so complementary)….spotlessly clean ..(but I guess you have that and space in NZ too, not like qui here) and is full of retired people …well, well …and (THAT golf car) “pretty much sums up the philosophy” …. yes, it does

    Stepford: you mean suburban surreal? Yes ok maybe… the Villages …alternative reality …. man, your spoiling my provincial dream lol…we are all localized and provincial aren’t we … it is the beauty of globalized non globalization ..Donald Trump no, no, no.

    The end

    Giovanni Manius

  5. May 11, 2011 8:26 pm

    I used to live in a cedar-shake house in Connecticut. Woodpeckers were constantly pecking away at it, and making holes in the wood. We bought a huge statue (I think it was plastic but it looked real) of an owl and mounted it on a nearby post. The woodpeckers were not impressed, in fact I heard them snickering.

    The Mosh Pit, Villages Style picture cracked me up. OMG I’m eligible by age to live there! What an incongruous scene, an old lady in a wheelchair rocking an oxygen tank to the Stones—it’s too surreal to be true. She and her mate don’t look that thrilled to be there, maybe attendance is mandatory, even if you’re more of a Captain and Tennille kind of couple!

    Anyway welcome home, wherever that may be, I’d like to think it’s your blog!

  6. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    May 11, 2011 11:44 pm

    On the one hand, I can appreciate a place like the Villages – not being enamored of children and teens a whole lot, but on the other hand, it feels so sterile. I love the mixed use concept of retail being among living spaces with lots of sidewalks. I’d like to retire to a place similar to it, but not Florida. I can’t stand bugs and the south has them in abundance.

  7. May 12, 2011 2:49 am

    Glad you’re back, Thomas! Will you be posting about your visit to Ohio? I’m hoping to live vicariously through you, because it’s been twenty years since I’ve been there!

    Love the golf carts!


  8. May 12, 2011 3:55 am

    What a travelogue. Have I already called you Herodotus before?

    I’m deciding whether you described a senior heaven or another, heretofore unrevealed, circle of Dante’s hell.

  9. jacquelincangro permalink
    May 12, 2011 5:02 am

    Those golf carts are something else! The senior citizens’ version of keeping up with the Joneses.
    Aside from the mouse traps (ick), did you have any issues getting back in the swing of things once you got home again after a month?

    • May 12, 2011 8:52 am

      There is definitely a keeping up with the Joneses dynamic at work. Another thing they do is get an inlaid tile pattern on their driveways. A company that does the tiling advertises “Driveway Envy?”

  10. May 12, 2011 9:25 am

    Sounds like you had a good trip. The Villages sounds a little spooky to me. Too many Seniors with little to do except spend spend spend, in a sheltered environment; nice if ya can afford it. You’re much better off in New Zealand than in the States. Well…California is still OK

  11. May 12, 2011 12:18 pm

    I have friends who live in the Villages — or at least connections of my Albino Ex (as distinguished from my Brit Ex and the rest of my comet trail of strange exes). The golf cart thing, from what they tell me, is apparently a sort of cult. As much as I would love to live in a place where no children whatever were allowed (up to whatever age they stop screeching — I think about fourteen?), I find the notion of institutionalized Old Fartdom — defined as a permanent spectator identity — worse than creepy.

    I was a guest in another area of Florida once. The weirdest thing I remember was the “Lingerie Modeling Studio” that advertised a buffet after the show to meet the (ahem-ahem) models and had a weekday Early Bird Special. You would see these guys in bright yellow pants belted around their floating ribs, walking stiffly across the parking lot.

    • May 12, 2011 7:20 pm

      I so get the mental picture–yellow pants, white belts and shoes too! Probably one of those mesh baseball hats too? And big glasses?

      However, one very positive thing about the Villages is that it seems to provide a community where people can get out and mingle, volunteer and not spend their retirement isolated and lonely.

      • May 18, 2011 7:58 am

        The guys inching across the parking lot to meet cute models definitely didn’t plan on being lonely. 🙂

        But agreed; I’m just waiting for the day when more major metropolitan areas will feature communities like this, smaller than the Villages but still allowing people to live real life with whatever adaptations might make it easier to be old.

  12. May 13, 2011 12:26 am

    I met some people who live in the villages while I was at a music festival in the keys. They loved the place, but I do wonder about the stepford aspect…it does sem kind of controlled.

  13. May 14, 2011 4:35 am

    I don’t know how you escaped Florida without being roped into a time share presentation. I went to great lengths to avoid them, then decided that for a free dinner at Medeval Times I’d give it a shot. The saleswoman did everything including- for real!- strongly implying that she would have sex with me and my girlfriend.

    We declined.

  14. May 17, 2011 4:19 pm

    I’ve been living outside of the US for 10 of the last 14 years, and we have the same questions about what we call home. Our kids still call the US home, but they’ve lived abroad their entire lives.

  15. May 21, 2011 2:56 pm

    I dunno, Thomas, maybe I’m just weird but I can’t imagine living someplace where there are no children. Yeah, they can be a pain in the butt when you’re shopping and some parent is letting little Herkimer scream at the top of his lungs, but still…I guess grandparenthood has made a softy out of me.

    Say, I hear the Rapture is supposed to start first in New Zealand on Saturday. Are you being beamed up or are you staying here with the rest of us heathens? 🙂

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