Monday, January 28, 2013

Wedding in Las Vegas

In my senior year of college at UC Santa Barbara, I rented an apartment across the street from the beach with three roommates. Forty-three years later, three of us are still in touch. Sharon and Ann and I get together every couple of years. Sharon and her husband Bob live in Massachusetts; Ann lives in Toronto. This weekend, we're all in Las Vegas to celebrate Ann's marriage to Larry, a fellow Canadian she met several years ago at the same RV resort we're wintering at this year.

I've only been to Las Vegas once before, three years ago when my husband Art and I spent President's Day weekend in the company of two of my cousins, one of whom I had never met. We did a lot of walking that weekend as my cousin Mike and his wife Jamie gave us the grand tour of the Strip and then took us to Hoover Dam to see the final construction of the new bridge which has opened since then. 

So this time Art and I booked two nights in a timeshare, invited Sharon and her husband Bob to join us,  made plane reservations from Tucson, and rented a car. The Mandalay Bay, where the wedding was held, is less than a mile from where we were staying, but we knew we'd be doing a lot of walking within the hotel and casino.

About 40 people attended the wedding, all of them from somewhere other than Las Vegas. The ceremony was really nice - vastly exceeded my expectations for a Las Vegas wedding. Larry grinned from ear to ear as he watched Ann walking down the rose-petal-strewn white carpet toward him. My three kleenexes weren't enough.

I'd told Ann to let us know if there was anything we could do to help. Turns out she needed us to pick up the wedding cake across town - all three layers, in separate boxes. Thank goodness for a GPS, shortcut driving instructions from a helpful bakery deliveryman, and communication via text with Sharon, as she and Bob waited at the front door of the Mandalay Bay to pick up the boxes. I got out of the car, while Art went to park, and carried the top layer as the three of us made our way across the lobby to the elevator. Everyone at the reception was ready to eat cake as soon as we'd assembled it.

Ordinarily I'm not keen on wedding receptions. Until I took my mediation training I was a very bad mingler. But I had pretty decent conversations with several people I'd never met before this weekend. I surprised myself!

We spent Sunday walking, walking, walking. At the Paris, where Sharon and Bob were staying the last night, and at Caesar's Palace. I started with a $20 and played the slots for a couple of hours, losing only $7 overall. I've decided Las Vegas is a 48-hour kind of place - about once every five years. We were very, very ready to get on our plane last evening for the 58-minute flight to Tucson.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Snowbird, Week 3 - Why not diversity?

We continue to love the sun as first-year snowbirds in Tucson.  Last week I danced too much, I guess, and pulled a muscle in my leg, so I'm taking it a little easier for a few days. I couldn't resist going to another dance last night, though, so I'm slowing up my own healing. Oh, well.

I'm continuing with my exploration of who my fellow snowbirds are, why they're here, and why they're almost all non-Hispanic whites. I've figured out that most of us are from the northern states where it's either cold or wet in the winter - and dark. Our homes are rarely east of Ontario in Canada or Michigan in the States. I think that's because the people more eastern go to Florida, a closer warm destination for them. Though I have met a few people who tried Florida, didn't like the humidity or the bugs, and were willing to drive a little further to Arizona.

The ethnic issue is more complicated, I think. When I ask people their opinion on why almost everyone spending the winter at this resort is white, I get a variety of answers. Here are a few examples:

1. In the 60s, when people in the north started their careers with big companies that provided good salaries and pensions, those companies were hiring mostly whites. This was before the big changes that came from the civil rights movement. People retiring now with pensions or investments have enough money to afford to rent here in the high season or to own spaces year round even though they're only here with their RVs for a few months a year. People living on Social Security or more limited income sources would find this place out of the reach costwise.

2. "Black people probably don't seek out the sun."

3.  Some cultures hold family in the center of their consciousness, so the retirees are still extensively involved in the lives of their parents, siblings and children in a community, and don't see a need to get away.

4.  "The Pakistanis are busy working and buying businesses. They own an awful lot of property in our city."

5. "I guess this is just what older white people like to do in the winter."

I'm interested in your thoughts on this. Actually, I'm working on an article about the subject. I want to talk to more people in the park, do a little more reading, get some input from fellow bloggers.

I talked to a friend yesterday about this. She said one definition of community is "a shared culture, a shared past." How do you think that might contribute to what I'm observing here?

I hope you'll leave comments to help me with this project.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Week 2 Lessons for a Snowbird

I've figured out the layout of our RV resort and can now get myself successfully to my activities: the indoor pool, line dancing lessons, two-step lessons, handbells, three discussion groups, and classes for Mac users.  And to the restaurant which serves good breakfasts and lunches. I use the mailboxes by the resort post office to orient myself before heading to our place - with 1,576 RV sites, and park models that look remarkably similar, it's easy to get lost.

Here are my current observations:

1. Living here is convenient. We can walk to everything we need within the park. Stores and shopping malls and the usual offerings of a city are within easy driving distance. The airport is ten minutes away. We don't have a yard to maintain.

2. All the activities are geared to the 55+ demographic. This is different from activities geared to the Medicare and Social Security group. There's plenty to do here to stimulate my mind and my body. I'll be 65 this year, and for the past couple of years at home I've been exercising at the local community center with my husband Art, who will be 70 this year. In those classes I'm always the youngest person. In other areas of my life, like mediation at the dispute resolution center, I'm on the upper end of the age spread. Here I am right in the middle, and I like it.

3. Everyone is friendly here, but so far I haven't had more than a cursory conversation with anyone besides Art, our landlords, and our friends Ann and Larry who showed us around the place last year. I'm finding myself wanting to make a few friends for lively conversation (other than politics, probably). We find easy, interesting conversation with the people we stay with while traveling (I've talked about the Evergreen Club and the Affordable Travel Club in other posts), but so far that hasn't happened here. I probably ought to give it a little more time before drawing any conclusions. Maybe it isn't warm enough, so everyone is staying inside.

4. If I were going to be staying longer than the two months, I'd want to find opportunities to volunteer, to be of service to the community - either within the park or in the city. I love having lots of things to do to keep myself entertained, but I need to be useful. I have found a food bank opportunity for my husband Art, who likes doing that, but nothing for myself yet.

5. I love, love, love the sun. The weather has been unusually cold for the last few days (glad I brought fleece), but it's been sunny every single day. 

6. Our rental is in the no-pet section of the park so I have seen no animals here. Today we're walking over to the pet section to pick up a book for a class. I'm looking forward to seeing some dogs. The cats will probably be sitting in their windows looking out. We took great care in making arrangements for our cat Larisa to be cared for at home - Lisa and Justen are living in our house to do that - and I'm embarrassed to admit I don't think about Larisa very much here. Probably just as well - I know she'd rather be at home with different people than in a strange place with us. Cats are like that, I think.

7. In a week and a half here, I have seen only two nonwhite people - a lovely Hispanic couple we met at the dance last Saturday. I asked my friend Ann why she thinks that is. She said, "Maybe this is what old white people want to do in the winter." I laughed, but I wonder. Is it because most of the snowbirds here are from the northern states and Canada? Is it economic? You either have to have an RV or be able to afford high-season rentals as retirees. I'm thinking about this, and I may explore it further. I'm accustomed to a diverse racial population where I live.

8. It's comfortable to look around and see a lot of people who look like Art and me - in couples, middle class, without kids or grandkids present, in reasonable health, active. It's not a posh place. I don't feel like I have to buy new clothes. The golf course is tucked away out of sight - we haven't even seen it yet.

9. I got promoted yesterday from the "newbie" handbells group to one of the two performing groups. I won't be here for the performance in March, but the director's husband will fill in for me. I am excited to be doing music again after 25 years.

10. A 55+ person who decides to take a water exercise class three days a week, line dancing and two-step lessons, and goes to dances two days in a row in Arizona - after arriving with very little Washington State exercise in the last three weeks - is very likely to strain a leg muscle. Yep, that would be me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Addendum to Week 1 Lessons

I accidentally posted a blank blog. If you tried to read it, please go back to Week 1 Lessons for a Snowbird.

Week 1 Lessons for a Snowbird

We've been here in Tucson for a week now. Here's what I've learned so far.

1. I knew this, but will say it anyway. It isn't the warmth I'm after during the winter. It's the sun. A good thing, too, because Tucson is in the grip of a record-breaking cold snap. In our resort, people have put insulated cloths or grocery sacks over the live plants in their tiny yards. It's in the 20s at night and, right now, in mid-afternoon, it's just 41 degrees. I'm fine with this. I look outside and I see bright sunshine, and I can walk outside and be in it if I feel like it.

The local radio and TV stations are telling people, "Be sure to put on coats before you go outside." That's a rare thing here. But yesterday morning, in my water exercise class, we laughed. We're from Washington State and Oregon and North and South Dakota and Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio and Canada. Weather in the mid-30s and 40s is not cold to us. It's a matter of perspective.

2. My husband Art and I can live contentedly in 650 square feet. The kitchen and bathroom require some getting used to, but we owned a motorhome once and the facilities there were smaller.

3. I can go five days without leaving the resort with no trouble. Art is the grocery shopper, so he goes into town every other day or so, but I haven't seen an out-of-park road since my massage last Monday. I am good with that.

4. I love line dancing! I'd only done it once, at a convention 15 years ago. Here in Tucson I'm in a beginners' class. I can pick up the steps without a problem, and when she turns on the music I am almost transported - even with country music, which I don't listen to much. When I was younger I was a church and community musician for 15 years, but when I became a single mother and moved from a small town in Oregon to Seattle, I didn't have time or energy after my workday to go to rehearsal. I know my voice is gone, but my sense of rhythm and the feel of moving to music is still with me. I have issues with my feet from a back injury, but during the 45 minutes of that class I was so engrossed in the experience I forgot about my feet. How cool is that?

5. I haven't forgotten how to play handbells, either. I was in a handbell choir for two years when I lived in Oregon but haven't played for 25 years. Here at the resort there are two groups plus four "newbies". I spent 20 minutes being a newbie and heard the director say I'd probably be moving into one of the groups in a week or so. I expected that. Handbells are like a bicycle. You remember. You also remember how to read music. Fortunately.

6. People can get really worked up in a discussion group called Current Events/Economics. I'm hoping we can move past the differences. I even suggested that, rather than belittling the Congress for its inability to get anything done, we as a group pretend we're the Congress and see what we can come up with. We're from all over - mostly northern states and Canada - and we represent just about the entire spectrum of opinion. I got the feeling, walking out of the group, that a few participants just wanted to get a rise out of people. I hope not.

7. It's great to be in a group of Mac users, and in a group of iPad/iPhone users. I learned stuff in those two hours yesterday that got me all charged up.

8. I can get out of bed at 7:30 and be at the aquatic exercise class by 8. If I wear a hat to cover up my disheveled curly hair, no one has to see how awful I look before a shower. And, if you exercise in the water for an hour, even if it doesn't seem strenuous, you're still wobbly when you get out of the pool. It's a kind of trick exercise, I think. And if it's 35 degrees between the indoor pool and the dressing room with warm showers, and 70 degrees if you use the restroom by the pool, you can dress in the restroom and shower at home.

9. I can be as busy as I want to be here. For me, the biggest challenge is trying new things. The line dancing was a hard door to walk through, but I wanted to learn. And so did the other 25 people who showed up.

10. Spotty wifi is a time-wasting, aggravating situation. I am profoundly grateful for the DSL tech who talked with me three times yesterday, after a five-day attempt to get us hooked up. With my computer available to me again, I'm back in my comfort zone.

11. My haircut is good for Washington State, where there's some moisture. But curly hair in Arizona looks like straw. I need to figure out how to handle it. Maybe a shorter cut, a bandana, a headscarf?

I don't care how cold it is, if I can see the sun. But I repeat myself.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Driving to the sun

Four days, it took us, to drive from Seattle to Tucson. I did all the driving - 400 to 500 miles each day. We slept in Roseburg, Oregon at the home of our old friend Jeanne; in Reno at the home of our traveling friend Helen; in  Las Vegas at the home of new friends, Affordable Travel Club members Tom and Shirley. We ate at Burger King, Starbucks, Carls Jr and McDonalds during the day, and at more nutritious places in the evening.

The rain ended before we left Washington State. For most of the four days we drove in sunshine, and often with snow on the ground. Temperatures were in the teens to the low 40s. Traffic was light except  around Las Vegas and Phoenix. The miles were long but quiet.

We've left behind the rain, our familiar roads and markets and activities. We've arrived at sunshine, new roads, different stores and a host of new people, all of them friendly. Most people I met have been coming to this resort every winter for years. We wear badges to identify ourselves as residents for the activities. I feel new and a little shy.

I expect to do an exercise class three days a week in the morning, to join a handbells group and two discussion groups and a group for Mac owners. Art is interested in the exercise class, pickleball lessons and poker. We can be as busy as we want to be.

What kind of person am I during the winter in the sun? Where I'm not on vacation for a week or two, but living in this place for two months?