Purple (hair) ‘Daze’

Reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of Some Godforsaken Backwater” will now have to compete with “Sunset Daze,” which follows some residents of an age-restricted, active retirement community in Surprise, Ariz. You have to be 55 or older (there is no upper limit) to buy a home there, and you have to know how to drive a golf cart at NASCAR speeds so you don’t waste an extra moment getting from one of the development’s myriad golf courses to one of their tennis courts, swimming pools or the nearest singles bar.

This suburb of Phoenix is in one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, the Southwest. No other places in this country are growing, are they? For the first time in years, Florida actually lost population last year. It may be the economy, or maybe Florida is full to the brim with retirees and can’t take any more – while Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico still have plenty of empty deserts to fill.

Plenty of room to build one-story houses free of hip-breaking stairs, with maintenance-free rock gardens instead of lawns to mow, without a snow shovel in sight, without roving gangs of self-centered, needy teens who think the world should stop when they walk into the mall. Surprise! Surprise doesn’t need them.

One of the selling points, besides all the golf, swimming, tennis, activities riff-raff-free lawns and sunshine is that local school taxes are low or non-existent. Why? Because no one under 55 is allowed to live there; who needs a school? Let the suckers up North pay for them. Then there’s the other big selling point, no screaming grandchildren. Oh, the grandkids can come and visit, but there’s nothing for them to do there, no kids their age to play with, so they want to leave almost as soon as they arrive. Many of these developments have rules that prohibit children under 18 for visiting more than 30 days a year. To some people this will sound like heaven, to others it will sound Scrooge-like beyond belief. But the folks that hate the idea of living in a place like this avoid doing so – the ones that do are all on the same coot wavelength. They don’t just like it, they love it.

If you need proof, Surprise has grown from 30,000 people in 2000 to more than triple that today; almost all of the newcomers are retirees pouring in from the cold and wet places of the world. And they’re not alone. Sun City Grand, where Sunset Daze takes place, is next door to Sun City West and not far from the original Sun City. And there are plenty of similar places all over the South; The Villages in central Florida may be the most famous one the east coast.

But what surprised me most about “Sunset Daze” were the commercials. They were not full of ads for medicines catering to the sick and the elderly, which pepper the nightly news. There were ads were for fashion-forward clothing chains, wrinkle-curing soap, upscale automobiles – normal, run-of-the-mill advertising aimed at a broad range of consumers. Sally Field in a Boniva commercial was the closest they got to an ad for the elderly. Sally is a well-preserved 63. Does she look “elderly” to you? If that’s what elderly looks like, I’ll take it. Cher is 64, but I can’t picture her in a souped-up golf cart going to speed yoga at the activity center. In case you wonder what communities of retired men and women, many of them widows and widowers, do for fun in their golden years, studies have shown that the many of these places have some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in their states. And you thought Tiger Woods had a problem. Some of these kids in their sixties and seventies are making him look like a choir boy. It gives a whole new meaning to the words “active seniors.”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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