Trip Start Apr 30, 2009
17Trip End Jun 05, 2009
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On the cruise ship I read the book Leisureville by Andrew Blechman (www.andrewblechman.com/leisureville/index.html) because I'm interested in the part enthnographic research-part sociological reportage style of the text. Also, since Brad hit the big four-oh last December and I'm retiring in 18 months time (no, NOT in my dreams!!! Play along!!), we've found the life of retirees pretty fascinating. Leisureville told of a sunshiney life of riff-raff-free gated communities with wonderful facilities, hobby clubs, golf carts, neat lawns and barbecues. A place where active adults live out their years (between cruise holidays and visiting family of course) resort-style. The researcher in me IMMEDIATELY wanted to investigate personally, yet, realised that I probably wouldn't see one of these outside Orlando or Phoenix.
But... this Memorial Day Long Weekend... Brad and Terri Mountford were 'active adults' too. (I sound like that voiceover guy who does movie trailers).
Many of you will remember our 'Thanksgiving Challenge' from the U.S.A./Mexico trip of 2008. We attempted to be invited to stay in a real American home for Thanksgiving. You know... yams, turkey, people coming home for the weekend, giving thanks around the table. Love it. BUT we failed. We ended up having Thanksgiving in a hotel in San Diego. It was nicely done and we enjoyed it, but we still hadn't been in an American home for a 'holiday weekend'.
Yes, we are pleased to report that we have finally managed to infiltrate an American home. We were officially invited to the lovely Beaumont, California home of Mike and Marilyn (who we met on a cruise to Mexico pre-swiney last December) for the Memorial Day weekend. AND they live in Leisureville! A real, live 'active adults' 55+ riff-raff-free planned & gated community!
This is indeed a privilege, so we thought we'd best approach the honour with some serious research questions. In the interest of Brad not muzzling me in case I turned into Jana Wendt (if you're not an Aussie, you won't know Jana... try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Wendt) we narrowed down the questions to two:
1. What is Leisureville really like?
2. How do Americans spend a holiday weekend?
You know how I get with research. For brevity, we'll skip the transcripts of interviews, analysis coding, etc and just give a summary of our findings. (Warning: some findings may have been tainted by a combination of margaritas and sunshine).
1. What is Leisureville really like?
We've changed the name of the actual complex to Leisureville because that's what we're going to call it from now on. Approaching a gated community as an alien visitor is a bit tricky. We were in a resident's car obviously (a very noice Lexus) so we just had to 'hit the button' to open the gates. I was wondering if we aliens were going to have to hide in the boot or something, but no, residents are allowed to have the occasional guest. But, I had to ask, how do others get in? Obviously, those who we don't want in Leisureville are left to admire the lawns from outside, but offspring and friends of residents can be registered with 'the gate' and allowed through with a pass.
There are nearly 1400 homes in this complex. The entry roads (limited to 20 miles an hour) have neat rows of trees and American flags flying that have actually been to Iraq and come back unscathed. There are three different sized homes with three different frontage options. The floorplans are seniors-friendly and quite clever really. Guest wing, big kitchen, GREAT master suite. Some even have a special little garage for the optional golf cart that you can hoon around the community in. No one under 18 can live in Leisureville. Kids can visit, but can only use the community centre pool between 10am and 2pm and ONLY if they know how to use a toilet (love that rule!) So, you don't see teenagers wandering down the roads or hooning around in Monaros. Oh, and no doorknockers can get in either which is rather pleasant.
Although we lily-white Canberrans didn't really think Alaska was THAT cold (yes, we know we weren't exactly roughing it somewhere like the Arctic Circle in January), we were kind of looking forward to that 'So-Cal' (Southern California) sunshine. Mike and Maz have the 'large house' with a guest wing resembling the Bellagio Hotel and a gorgeous sparkling pool, which totally gave us the 'right to bare arms'. Apparently it's called 'getting some sun'. After three days of this I ended up with sunglass tan marks on my face. So I kind of look like I've been skiing (I explained this so you know why in photos from this point on I look... well...like I've been skiing.)
Leisureville has its own newsletter and Board. Bob from next door successfully ran for office. He and his wife also organised the recent chilli-cooking thingy at which Mike and Maz helped (interesting story about how single old 'active adults' were on the prowl and resembled teenagers, albeit with wrinkles). The newsletter lists the community activities as well as local issues and stuff like restaurant reviews. There are lots of activities to choose from, not unlike a cruise ship (Brad would obviously excel in Bocce, tennis and aqua-aerobics and everyone would eventually tire of him winning everything). Oh, and it's time to spray those neat lawns for crabgrass. You know, if you don't keep your lawn neat a 'reminder letter' arrives in the mail.
So, what is Leisureville really like? Well, something to look forward to I would think. Like living in a riff-raff-free resort on the Gold Coast where you can do as little or as much as you want, talk to your neighbours over the fence, drink freely and barbecue often. BYO sunblock.
2. How do Americans spend a holiday weekend?
What was this public holiday for again? Oh yes, Memorial Day. Like ANZAC Day for us Aussies, except it always falls on a Monday so everyone can have a long weekend. Some local ceremonies were evident and there was a bit of coverage in the news, but apart from that, we're pretty sure Memorial Day long weekend is about travelling, shopping (sales!!!), drinking, barbecuing and catching up with family. Seems simple enough. We can do that.
We travelled from San Francisco for the weekend, just popping down with some carry-on, flying domestic. Easy, right? Geez, you should have seen San Fran airport the Friday of the long weekend. MADNESS. People everywhere, security going off like a frog in a sock and little planes going everywhere, especially Colorado and Boise, Idaho.
Once safely ensconced in Leisureville, we did what everyone else does. We shopped (LOVE Ontario Mills Outlet Centre, only a couple of pairs of shoes, some sunnies and a handbag I SWEAR!), went to Palm Springs, drank, barbecued, and caught up with family (Mike and Maz's, not ours obviously). The all-American family was pretty cool and very Apple Pie. We shortened their names and tried to Aussie-fy them, but essentially we had Highway Patrol Cop Dan & Jules with very good teeth, Sean (runs the family plumbing shop and trailer park... yes, they actually OWN a trailer park!!!) & Steph who looks like she belongs on the Gold Coast modelling) and kids Quinn and Keegan.
We drank Margaritas from some yummy pre-mix in the sunshine next to the pool and barbecued hot dogs and carne asada, both of which were new to us. We had enough 'rice and beans' left over to feed a trailer park or small country, and really, where else but the local Mexican Market can you get fifty corn tortillas for $1.99 (oh, plus tax of course)?
In fact, it was all so truly American that I got up one morning and made scones with jam and a cuppa tea for breakfast. Charlie stuck to his American roots and wouldn't play 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, woof, woof, woof', but did seem to like Vegemite on toast, so there may be hope.
So, thanks Mike and Maz for our truly amazing American Long Weekend experience. We had heaps of fun. As an Aussie would say, "Onya Mate!"