She enters a wood paneled room with shaded wall lamps that give out a soft, warm glow. Clutches of people stand or sit at small tables, chatting. Others are at a small bar near the door. Light laughter floats across the room.
There are no children at this wine and cheese party, just grownups, men and women in properly informal clothes, makeup freshly applied, hair well-brushed. No jeans or t-shirts, just khaki’s and ironed shirts. A few men wear blazers with pocket handkerchiefs – no ties.
‘Hey!”, says a white-haired man to her, “Welcome. I want you to meet one of the funniest people I know, me!”
“How do you tell when you’re too old to drink?”, he says…and answers,“You don’t. Your kids tell you.” Her laugh is an immediate sharing of backgrounds.
Others arrive. Some know each other, some don’t. Introductions are made and friendships start.
“How many kids does it take to change a light bulb?“ Someone asks…and answers, “Are you kidding? I couldn’t get them to change their socks!” More shared laughter.
It is not all corny Dad (or Mom) jokes, though. There is talk of places they’ve been, cities where they’ve worked, and people they’ve known. Mutual experiences are discovered and discussed. While it is apparent that these are accomplished people, there is no effort to one-up each other, no eye rolls, none of the natural competitiveness found so often in events like this. These are people who have already made their mark.
Outside of a ratio of about five women to one man, this could be any white collar mixer in any upscale bar in the country.
But it isn’t any bar. This is a wine and cheese mixer at a gated retirement community for people 65 and older – for baby boomers.
There are estimates of 73 million baby boomers in the US, around a quarter of the population and growing. These are people who have already climbed the hill and are starting down the other side. It is a $70 billion market, with 50,000 businesses employing nearly 1,000,000 people.
The initial fee at retirement communities can be the cost of a house, from several hundred thousand to well over a million dollars, plus monthly fees of $3,000 to $5,000 that cover everything from wine and cheese events to full dinners to pool and gym memberships to parking garages. There are banks and beauty salons, even handymen on call. Some give residents “Help! I’ve fallen down and I can’t get up!” buzzers or morning robocalls to check on them. If there is no answer, an attendant is at the door in minutes.
Elderly care in the US is not as personal or loving as a spouse or child living with them. It is based on cash. In other countries, from Japan to Greece, wrinkles are signs of wisdom, not weakness. Old people don’t use make-up or nips and tucks to cover what years have earned them. Families keep their elderly close, not out of financial obligation, but love and respect.
The USA is unique in its worship of youth to the exclusion of almost all else. And, like everything else in this country, people with money glide through old-age with grace and aplomb. Those without? Well, you can see them out the car window, sitting on broken steps or inside donated tents or, with nothing else to hold them up, lying on grates.
At 7PM sharp, the wine bottles are corked and glasses picked up, as the new friends move into the restaurant for dinner or say goodbye until the next time and move to the elevators. No-one is even tipsy. The managed mixer is nothing if not careful.
She joins the latter group, wondering if her kids will call tonight.