A Treatise on Aging in Prescott, Arizona (Sort of)

I live in Prescott, Arizona. While some view Prescott as somewhat of a backwater, those of us who live here consider it close to paradise.

The central Arizona mountains experience lots of beautiful weather and sunshine. Hiking and even just walking at 5000 feet keeps us a bit more fit than if we did these things at sea level. The leaves change color in the Fall. There’s rarely enough snow to even speak of during the “Almost Winter,” the worst of which really only lasts for maybe a month or so. And highs in the summer are consistently 20 degrees lower than Phoenix. Yes, there is a huge difference between 95 and 115 degree temperatures.

Though less than 150 years old, Prescott holds more history than many cities and towns two or three times older. Prescott’s contribution to history includes being the purported Home of the Rodeo, an original town where Cowboy Poetry was first spun, and the town where Fiorello LaGuardia spent his childhood years. His father was conductor of the local military band.

On weekends, the cowboys, art collectors, music lovers, hikers and campers, college students, and bikers, both real and weekenders, crowd downtown Prescott. The Saturday and Sunday fare at the Court House may be an antique show, a religious revival, a blue grass festival, or a beer tasting exhibition. The latter is usually very well attended.

There is one major group in Prescott that I haven’t mentioned. And that is the Senior Citizen Demographic. At last count, nearly 30% of Prescott’s population was over the age of sixty-five. Because of the weather, the cultural activities, the relatively light amount of road traffic – five cars at a stop light constitutes a traffic jam – and the fact that you can buy a house for the same cost as a parking spot in San Francisco, Prescott has become a senior mecca. It draws Oldsters like a moth to a flame; or like a retiree to the supermarket on Senior Citizen’s Discount Day; or like a social security check to Wal-Mart.

Seniors are migrating in droves; sometimes escaping the Artic-like terrain of Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, or New York. Perhaps they’re cashing in their overpriced and soon-to-be-in-the-ocean homes in California. Or possibly, like most Americans, the rest of their fellow Texans finally got to be too much even for them, Jade Helm notwithstanding. In kindred spirit with many fellow chronologically advanced life travelers, they know the way from San Jose.

Having a population where such a large percentage are considered senior – for personal reasons, I refuse to use the words old or elderly – sometimes highlights some very unique characters. These interesting personalities do on occasion trigger a deeply inhaled breath or two or a loudly exhaled expletive or two from the rest of the local population.

Among the senior sideshows to watch are:

One-Speed Sandy – The 4 and 0 on the speedometer are in the easiest position for even the most vertically challenged 4 foot nothing grandmother to see. As a result, Sandy drives forty miles an hour all the time, everywhere. It doesn’t matter if she is out on State Highway 89 or downtown on Whiskey Row, that’s her designated speed. “It easiest to see the pointer in that position” is her excuse when she’s pulled over.

Rippin’ Ralph and his Centrum Silver-Powered Nitro Jet Engine Shopping Cart – Watch out for this guy on Senior Citizen Day at the local grocery store. He wants to get in, get his bargains, and get out as soon as possible with no nonsense. When he enters the store, announcements are made on the PA that he’s arrived which tends to disperse shopping cart congestion like Moses parting a Gray Sea. The last time someone interfered with his progress, the Depends aisle ended up looking like the aftermath of a demolition derby. Someone said that, just before initiating that fracas, Ralph slammed a bottle of Ensure and screamed, “Semper Fi.” The rest is history.

Sure-Footed Sam and his Four Prong Cane – There is really only one word to describe Sam: recalcitrant. Now that he’s retired, he can do what he always wanted to do – ignore most rules. He doesn’t really care about speed limits, parking restrictions, or pedestrian lights at crosswalks. He figures, if he’s retired, he should never be in a hurry, no matter what. When crossing the street, if he wants to walk slowly, with his cane, taking his time while trying to focus on the newest great grandchild pictures on his dumb phone, traffic can wait. “So the light has changed,” he muses. “Big deal. It’ll change again.” Even when the traffic goes from a five car jam to a seven car gridlock, nothing spurs him to move any quicker.

Drum Circle Debbie – She is a militaristic junior earth mother who feels she has been assigned the role of proving to the Original Mother Earth that there really are good reasons to spare the human race. Debbie still mourns the fact that she became a cheerleader instead of a hippie. She facilitates the monthly full moon drum circle and treats the Summer and Winter Solstice with the same reverence shown on Christmas, Yom Kippur, or Eid Al-Adha. She is usually armed with percussion instruments that look like they were used as lethal weapons by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart. And you can be sure, Debbie will be leading the beat.

Blind Bob – If Bob were in most other states, he probably would have had his drivers’ license taken away years ago. He’s fortunate to live in Arizona where most rules are just a suggestion. Bob can’t see more than four feet in front of the hood ornament on his 1978 Mercedes Benz, but that doesn’t stop him from driving. Most people think pedestrians are intentional targets for Blind Bob. But, in reality, it is nothing that nefarious. He just can’t see except when you try to take his keys away. He always offers to take his non-driving neighbors to the store as long as they keep him updated as to whether the traffic lights are red or green. My significant other and I were almost introduced to Blind Bob in the middle of an intersection a few weeks ago, but he just ignored us like we weren’t there. I’m thinking that in his world, we probably weren’t.

Even the neighborhood in which I live reflects the Senior Side of Prescott. Though not a 55+ community, at 6:00 PM, not only do the sidewalks roll up, but so do the driveways and streets. Driving in my development at 9:00 PM is like a midnight run through a poster community for the witness protection program.

The young people in Prescott, all seven of them, have a tendency to lose patience with the Senior Set. We drive too slowly. We walk too slowly. We tip too low. We drink too little. It’s always something that involves the word “too.” Well let me give you some words of wisdom that may help ease your senior citizen angst:

We Seniors are getting older all the time. We will be dead long before you and will be replaced by the next round of seniors. When this happens, you’ll be a little closer to their age. As successive waves of seniors crash on the shores of Watson and Willow Lake, the same scenario will play out over and over. One day, if you’re lucky, you’ll join them in saying, “Prescott really is a paradise for seniors.” Then you’ll begin to understand why so many Oldsters are flocking here.

However, there are a couple things that could interrupt that pleasant chain of events. First, you could lose patience, run over Sure-Footed Sam, and end up in prison for impatient vehicular homicide. Blind Bob may see you before you see him which means he really doesn’t see you at all and runs you over. Or you may be the car right behind Rippin’ Ralph that blows its horn the instant the light turns green. Ralph has already had his daily maximum of nonsense, is armed, and the last thing you’ll ever hear is “Semper Fi.”

My advice to the youth of Prescott? Relax. Your time will come. You too will have your chance to annoy all the younger people when you become a Prescott Senior. Have patience.