No Kids Or Minorities: 5 Realities Of A City For Old People
One day you're going to be old, and you'll have to decide what musty retirement home you want to spend your remaining days in, doing jigsaw puzzles and having teenagers wipe your ass for you until you die. But it doesn't have to be like that; we talked to a couple, June and Michael, and to Russ, residents of Sun City and Sun City West, two Arizona towns where almost everyone is over 65. They made their communities sound like the geriatric equivalent of those teen comedies where everyone's always screwing around and getting laid. We're talking about a place where ...
Kids Can Be Legally Banished
The two Sun Cities have a combined population of over 61,000, and almost everyone is old enough to spend all day at Denny's complaining that the Grand Slam was two-fifty cheaper back in 1967. But why is this, like, a thing? Were they banished there by the government? Is there some kind of quarantine? Don't old people want to be surrounded with children's laughter to distract them from their own inevitable demise? Actually, as Russ told us, "A lot of us moved here to get away from children."
A big part of it is taxes: Younger residents mean you have to fund a school district and then worry about accidentally running over the little tykes. The Sun Cities are meant for the elderly, by the elderly, and as long as they keep the average age up they can focus on enjoying their retirement instead of having to supply the many amenities younger people need. Technically, anyone 19 or older can buy a house, but there has to be at least one 55-plus person living in it. And you're allowed only 90 days of visitors younger than 19 a year. Got nine grandkids? You better hope they each get their fill of fun with you in 10 days. Kids are considered so out of place that Michael's grandkids are watched like a hawk when they visit.
"We keep close tabs on them and don't let them leave the house. If they do and cause mischief on a neighbor's lawn, then they can be reported. It's been done to others, and we don't want to go through that."
It sounds like a horror movie -- don't go outside or the old folks will get you. And if you're caught, you won't just get a slap on the wrist and a lecture about shiftless millennials. They're serious about calling the police to enforce a charge of "harboring children," to the point where fines and threats of legal action will be used to maintain their reverse Logan's Run. One age cop's description of his child patrol duties sounds like a Terminator hunting for signs of human resistance. A little misplaced sandal on a front step or a ball in a backyard with a fence not tall enough to hide it? Sound the alarm. It's reached the point where people who have fallen on hard times and want to move in with mom or grandma until they can reassemble their lives are being turned away, because crippling economic depression really puts a damper on Bingo night.
And, yes, it's completely legal to enforce this; the Fair Housing Act has a loophole the Sun Cities exploit as the sole basis for their existence. While you can't discriminate against potential homeowners on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, it's totally fine to tell someone they don't have enough gray hair to occupy. And you'd better believe that people who've spent their whole lives working hard and raising kids are going to take advantage of that to get a little goddamn peace and quiet.
It's surprisingly easy for a community to survive without any kids. Although, as June explains, it does create oddities, like jobs normally associated with a college student working minimum wage for beer money being done by someone old enough to be that teen's dad.
"Most of the people who work here are past retirement age. At the food store we can't get help with our groceries because there is only one bag boy young enough to help us. He's in his 40s and there is sometimes a wait to help load up your car."
The Security Is Entirely Too Old For This Shit
So who, exactly, is keeping kids off of lawns with extreme prejudice? Technically, the Sun Cities are under the jurisdiction of the county, but they don't have any local police departments. That would just be one more tax they're trying to avoid, and you don't see a lot of bar fights in a town where everyone's more concerned with being home in time for The Price Is Right. But there's still crime, and it's addressed by posses of elderly vigilantes who survived their two weeks before retirement long ago but got talked into coming back for one last job, kind of like if the cast of Criminal Minds all decided to settle down in the same condo complex.
They look like they're ready to solve the crime of "Where's my goddamn gin and tonic? I ordered one like 20 minutes ago and slots are thirsty work," but the posse (their name, not ours) can be called to all but the most serious of crimes. A lot of their work is what you'd expect of any community watch group -- checking on your home while you're on vacation, telling unwanted solicitors to take a hike, etc. If you have a problem, you can call it in and expect a septuagenarian with a badge to show up. They serve a legitimate and useful purpose, and they do it while having an amazing webpage.
Unfortunately, they're not always as helpful as you'd think a small army of concerned grandparents would be. June's seen them take their job too seriously. Especially when youngsters are involved:
"When [my grandson] was leaving once, a few posse members blocked the driveway with their cars and questioned him [because of his old van]. It wouldn't have been an issue, but every time he visited they would stop him, sometimes in the driveway, sometimes a block away. They never gave a reason beyond 'suspicion,' and one time they even referred to it as a 'drugs van.' He never got a ticket, but the posse kept harassing him, even after learning who he was."
That seems unwarranted unless June's grandson had Rush album art airbrushed on the side of his van, and even then you'd think they'd give up after the first couple of stops. And speaking of custom rides ...
Everyone's Pimping Out Golf Carts
Stereotypes about Metamucil and ribbon candy aside, there are certain truths about senior citizens, and a big one is that they often have mobility difficulties. When you've had both hips replaced, walking and biking look a lot less attractive than they did when you were 25. But the Sun Cities don't have a thriving automobile industry either, because cars are expensive overkills given the size of the community (and some residents can't legally drive cars because of health problems). The compromise? Golf carts.
While some still stand by their cars, a majority go cart. "Almost everyone here uses one," Russ told us. "We aren't going anywhere. I just take my cart to the store and bank. And, on Sundays, church. And I don't need a car for that."
Since carts are the vehicle to have, the city is designed completely for them. Lanes are narrower, stores have cart-sized parking spaces, there's a cart-driving school for the inexperienced, and if you can't borrow your mom's cart on Friday night, everyone's going to think that you're just such a loser. Because vehicle enthusiasts are competitive regardless of their age and the vehicle in question, Sun City brings out a new subculture: "Pimp My Cart."
Residents have souped up their carts to go up to 50 mph, way above both the local speed limit and their off-the-lot top speed, which tends to peak around 15 mph. Drag races at 1 or 2 in the morning are casually mentioned, although there's no mention of whether the aforementioned police posse come to shut them down and kick off the greatest chase scene ever. Michael's done some modest pimping:
"I don't have the fanciest one, but I've put on new rims, leather seats, and put in a stereo. I doubled the value of my cart."
Doubling the value is impressive, and we can only assume that those rims bounce something fierce when he's cruising the streets and blasting Al Jolson to all the honeys. But other residents triple or even quadruple the value of their carts, because custom jobs can go for thousands of dollars. And when you look at them, it's not hard to see why:
We were joking with that "honeys" comment, but you could totally pick someone up in one of those. They're all perfectly street legal, but with their lack of doors, seatbelts, and basically anything resembling protection, combined with the reputation that the elderly have for being bad drivers, accidents happen all the time. Russ has been in a few scrapes:
"We need to share the road with cars off to the side, like bikes. When we hit a main street, then we get into trouble. I've been hit twice in the past two years, and nearly hit three times."
It reached the point where golf carts have been the subjects of multiple legal battles; law enforcement tried to crack down on speeding, while Sun City residents pushed a bill through that allows golf carts to be driven alongside regular traffic. Some residents, like June, are still understandably concerned about safety:
"The carts are not really made for the main roads. We've had to install mirrors and put in seatbelts just so we don't get hurt out there."
But other residents just don't seem to give a damn, possibly because when you've made it to your 80s there are worse ways to go out than slamming your tricked-out ride into a passing cop car while blasting "Fuck Tha Police" from your brand-new stereo.
Now, if you're waiting for the dark side of this adorable scenario ...
One Of Their Biggest Problems Is Public Sex
We've told you before that old people have way more sex than you realize, which is something you absolutely don't want to hear about when you're young and something you absolutely do want to hear about as you get older. And when you have entire communities full of seniors who are miles away from their kids, have a lot of free time on their hands, and are all out of shits to give, public displays of affection and then the later bases are noteworthy enough to make the news.
We're not saying Arizona is secretly the land of unbridled orgies that would make the ancient Greeks proud, but it's reached the point where the sheriff's office has been asked to help Viagra block less-restrained residents. "We have many beautiful settings, and I'm sure it's people who have been in love a long time getting a little carried away," said a spokeswoman who was clearly trying to avoid having to say anything more explicit. "We just wish they'd show a little more decorum."
We really, really hope that means enthusiastic couples should transfer from their golf carts to their cars, where the windows can tastefully fog up with the heat of their passion. June confirmed the wave of criminal passion, while laughing, "We haven't seen this happen, but we've heard about it. Whenever someone is caught, we get a message saying, 'We remind our residents not to engage in prolonged affectionate activities.' They do everything they can not to say 'sex.'"
Michael mentioned that the posse are actively on the hunt for anything untoward: "Some of the posse have come around and asked us if we have seen [any public sex]. I can't say that I have, even though a few doors away there is a one-seater hammock swing that isn't for swinging, if you know what I mean."
It's not like they're going to throw anyone in jail, but offenders will be treated "firmly," a word choice they probably wish they'd reconsidered. Unfortunately, there is a downside to all this reckless necking: STD rates among Arizona's elderly are rising like a ... uh, they're going up. In a way, though, that's kind of encouraging. Picturing a 70-year-old buying condoms and regaling the cashier with a story of how Johnny Law interrupted his last attempt to make love to his woman in the local make-out hammock and how the STD clinic keeps telling him to wrap it up gives us all hope that our golden years will be less like the grim nursing homes you see in pop culture and more like our freshman year of college all over again.
Oh, and before we go, we should mention one little detail ...
It's Almost Entirely White
So you've already got a city that's literally based around one kind of discrimination, offering people the chance to be around only their own age demographic. It's not some huge coincidence that retiree cities tend to be about as diverse as the Country Music Awards. The Sun Cities are 98 percent white, and they've been that way since the 1970s even as the rest of the country diversified. Their pumpkin spice technology must be years ahead of the curve. It's purposely designed that way -- the cities are located far from the ethnically diverse parts of Arizona, and the marketing that targets people who can afford their fees and luxuries like personalized golf carts is distinctly lily-white.
Even the trees are ... color challenged.
No one really comes out and says that part of the appeal of living in Sun City is the lack of melanin, but Michael implied that that's what many people are looking for.
"People move here for the weather, but also because it's safe."
And what does "safe" mean in this context?
"Well, a lot of people have problems with 'illegals' here and want to live in a place away from that. Sun City is for those with money who can afford second homes, so it's homogenized."
We're not saying that objections to illegal immigrants mean the Sun Cities are secretly fronts for Klan rallies, but there is a certain vibe that implies you shouldn't bother trying to open up an authentic Mexican restaurant. When you have a community that's looked like a Norman Rockwell painting for decades, simple inertia is going to be the biggest factor, as Russ pointed out. "It's just that more white people decided to move here. A lot of people who moved here wanted to be around people more like themselves."
If you come from somewhere that doesn't look like a NASCAR tailgate party is about to start at any moment, it can be a weird adjustment. Michael explains.
"Phoenix has a more Latino population, but you never see them here. Even lawn workers are white. I used to live in Washington, D.C., and it took some time to get used to seeing only white people everywhere. If I hadn't bought this house in full I would have gone someplace else with [my wife] June. It made me feel uneasy my first few months." Probably not as uneasy as seeing his first public senior citizen sex, but whatever.
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder guy for Cracked. Have an awesome experience/job you want to see as an article? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
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