Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adult Living

Continuing the Florida Tour 2009, from Lady Lake in north Florida:
Ah yes, the dog days of summer and a group of young people hanging out on the sidewalk, possibly plotting revolution or more likely complaining there is nothing to do. Meanwhile, their grandparents are whooping it up next to the bandstand:
The bandstand you say? Indeed, right plumb in the middle of the Villages retirement community there is a plaza in the Spanish-American style and a man accompanied by recorded music belts out the hits of yesteryear and the rest of the community gapes: Now here's one unlikely looking granddad, but apparently ex-bikers are welcome at the Villages: The plaza is supplied with concentric rings of seating so everyone gets a view:
Some people prefer not to descend from their golf carts, others park and stroll:
After I dropped off my rental motorcycle in Orlando I followed the instruction sheet thoughtfully prepared by my wife and I drove north on Highway 27 to the improbably named town of Lady Lake. These spontaneous artificial developments in Central Florida grew up in the 1960's around a number of fresh water lakes that gave people the opportunity to buy cheaper "waterfront" homes than those on the more expensive coasts of Florida. And the developers of these places had pretty loose ideas about what to name their blossoming communities. Check a map and you'll see St Cloud (NOT in Minnesota), Frostproof, Nalcrest (National Association of Letter Carrier Retirement Education and Training) and Windermere (NOT in England) and so forth.
The Villages is a surprising variant on the theme of adult living. It houses nearly 10,000 people ( all white as far as I could see) and until the recession struck was growing at a nice clip. They allow people under 55 to stay for up to 30 days a year and the development has attracted a number of shops and chains which attract people like our friend Nancy who lives twenty miles away in Ocala. When she gave me my instructions over the phone where to find her and my wife she said "Drive down the street and when you see people dancing turn right..." I thought she meant a mural. She meant this:
It's a Florida stereotype, the place where people come to die unencumbered by family or chattels, they and their secure defined benefit pensions have a secure gated community to enjoy their common interests. Despite the soaring architecture this sort of place would feel like a prison to me:
Even though apparently they get up to more than shopping and golf. Gossip is apparently high on the list of activities and the local health department reported a while back that the Villages has the highest reported rate of sexually transmitted diseases of any community in the region. Indeed they blame the increase on the availability of Viagra weirdly enough. Happily I was there to meet the wife and Nancy for dinner, not to shop so I formed no opinion about the stores but I was completely entranced by the place.
I didn't get to drive around the miles of residentially neighborhoods that do exist in the hinterlands but the downtown plaza itself looked like a movie set:
You almost expect management to remove the facades each month and have a different themed plaza for the resident's entertainment. I thought the faux Spanish Colonial look could be replaced perhaps by Red Square or Piccadilly Circus next month.
And in case you were wondering mosquitoes have been banned from the property, as a precaution you understand. I never saw anyone doing anything as gauche as slapping themselves or bleeding from the ankle.
I was disappointed to see a group of youngsters hanging out at the ticket booth of the movie theater (Glenn Ford, Hedi Lamar and Peter Lorre were all absent from the marquee- only 21st century tripe was on offer). I thought perhaps the seniors would get an early start on their Viagra fueled evening with a swift grope at the movies just like when they were kids.
If you ever find yourself south of Ocala on Highway 27 and see this bridge crossing the highway (it's a golf cart crossing to the northern portion of the Villages) do yourself a favor and turn south for a quick visit to the other Florida, the Sunshine State sold in brochures as the ideal winter home and retirement home known as God's antechamber.
I will definitely force Nancy to drag us back the next time we're in the area. And don't forget to turn right where people are dancing. Every community should include such Hansel and Gretel instructions.