A couple of conveyor lines at the Buzzfeed listicle factory must’ve accidentally got crossed because it belched forth a piece of atypical depth and insight, and on the topic of The Villages, Florida’s sprawling, surreal retirement community, of all things!
As a lifelong Floridian, I’ve watched cow pastures, tomato fields and watermelon patches sprout golf courses, stucco villas and gated checkpoints for years now. I’ve always found the transformation disconcerting.
I like the snowbirds; plenty of them are wingnuts, but many others drive south with their blue state sensibilities intact, and they and the immigrants are what distinguish Florida from Alabama, IMO. My OFA group comprised many snowbirds and year-round retiree transplants who worked their asses off to swing the state for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Anyhoo, the author of the Buzzfeed piece, Alex French, conveys the weirdness, wackiness, corruption and humanity of The Villages in particular and the phenomenon of segregated aging in general affectingly.
Retirement communities like The Villages are overwhelmingly white, so they’re segregated in that sense, plus they’re segregated by age. This gives a weird vibe to the whole enterprise.
My own feeling, which I’ve expressed in real life and online before, is that humans aren’t meant to live like that. By walling themselves away from organic communities and living a thousand miles from their families, our elders deprive us of their wisdom and risk losing an essential connection to the human race — the cyclical, multigenerational nature of life.
I understand why they do it. No one wants to put up with sulky teens and screechy toddlers, and our society generally treats older people like shit. Old people might be the most discriminated against demographic of all.
In this society, people tend to reflexively consider old people helpless, stupid and ridiculous — until they start approaching Social Security age themselves. Then the problem is the kids with their saggy pants and hipitty-hop.
Anyway, French does an admirable job of describing the specter of death that hangs over these retirement communities, at least in the minds of visitors:
I start thinking about my own end. What scares me the most? It’s not the darkness or the ceasing to be while the world moves on. It’s not being forgotten, either — that’s inevitable. What scares me most is the moment, just before it happens, when you know this is it. That your life, all of it, is now behind you.
I pack my bags and walk to a bar. I sit alone and watch these people who are all hurtling toward their ultimate moment. They’ve fought their fights and now all they want is to drink and fuck and play pickleball and hang out.
And who can blame them? But The Villages model of retirement can’t survive the passing of the Baby Boom generation into history. That retirement model depends on middle class people retiring with a decent pension and savings.
Very few of my peers have such assets, so corporate greed will eventually burn down The Villages. We Xers can be the vanguard of the bridge stanchion-dwelling sparrow roasters retirement model, engaging in an unbelievably active new retirement lifestyle and getting our exercise from scrounging for cans and dumpster diving. Something to look forward to!