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Retirement villages

This week I visited a couple of 55-plus RV parks down here in Tucson. I was even invited to join a jam session of a trailer park band -- quite an honor given that I am only 44 years old.

The drummer was off playing baseball so the tempo sometimes lagged, but otherwise, the 1940s and 1950s big band classics such "String of Pearls" were entirely recognizable.

Other songs, such as "The Birth Of Jazz," we're new to me, so I just sat back and listened.

I was impressed that the retirees to put together a band out of a trailer park with only 400 or so residents. That means that every little town in the Upper Midwest should be able to put together a band of retirees as well -- but I won't hold my breath.

Everywhere you go in Arizona, retirement and retirees are evident.

Shop at a mall in Mesa and the accents you'll hear sound just like the ones at West Acres or Columbia Mall. Some of the Midwesterners even take their power walks in the Arizona shopping malls -- as if there's a raging blizzard outside!

Head out on a rocky back road in the mountains and just when you think it's time to engage the four-wheel-drive, around the corner comes a bouncing Dodge Dart loaded with rowdy post-menopausal Midwestern women finally living it up after decades of repression back north.

But it isn't just Midwesterners who retire down here. Visit an Italian restaurant and you'll wonder if there isn't some truth to the rumor that Tucson is a hot retirement spot for New York mobsters.

Some of the retirees don't display good Midwestern manners, either.

Last week, a refried old bag at the next table was giving a young waiter a hard time about everything he did. He was trying his best, but his best was never good enough for her.

Finally, she demanded, "Are you a Mexican?"

The waiter politely replied that he was Hispanic.

"Well! We're going to come and get you in the middle of the night!" she barked.

What was strange was that the woman had a heavy German accent. She was an immigrant herself, yet she assumed that her waiter, who probably was a citizen by birth, was in the country illegally. Nice.

Retirement villages are inherently discriminatory, although not in such an openly ugly way.

Last week, I passed through Green Valley, Ariz. I stopped at the tourist information center to get a map of a local hiking trail. I overheard an elderly gentleman from the Chamber of Commerce giving a history of the town.

"Ninety-percent of the town's developments are limited to people fifty-five and over," he said.

"And nobody under the age of eighteen is allowed to be a permanent resident of the city!" he added, beaming with pride.

Wow. It seems that young people are one group you can discriminate against without offending anybody -- and you can take pride in it to boot!

Can you imagine a smiling guide at the tourist office saying, "And we don't allow handicapped people in our city, so you won't have to worry about getting hit with a wheelchair!"

Or, "We haven't had a Swede here since the late 1950s, so you can leave your trailer unlocked!"

Despite my relative youth, I felt very welcome at the 55-plus trailer park. In fact, I was told they could probably find some way to bend the rules and let me buy one of the units that are for sale.

Why are the rules bending?

Hard economic times have hit Arizona retirement communities hard. The trailer parks have empty lots. Many snowbirds stayed north this winter.

The market for trailers already set up on lots has collapsed. For less than $10,000, you can move into a decent place in a safe, youth-free neighborhood. That's a fraction of the price of the price you'd have paid two years ago.

However, I don't think I am ready for the shuffleboard slab yet. In fact, I may never be.

I've gotten along well with older people all my life. Growing up in a small town, you have no choice.

But when I get old myself, I think I might want live around people of all ages. I enjoy the vivacity of youth!

Of course, only if they don't make too much noise or stay up until all hours.