Whether one is on the left or right side of 50, it’s always fun to anticipate the kiss that’s about to happen.
I loved Frank Terranella’s entry yesterday about retiring in Arizona because of the dry heat. But let’s be honest here – the entire state is a desert. Of course it’s dry – bone dry – like the desiccated remains of livestock and other unfortunate critters that found themselves stranded in that dry heat a little too far from water for a little too long. Without air conditioning and plenty of water, every living thing in Arizona would quickly dry up and blow away.
Then there’s sunny Florida, a perennial punchline about people with blue hair peering over steering wheels and peeing into Depends, filling their days with golf, Mah Jongg, and kvetching about their health. Its climate is the exact opposite of Arizona – it’s a giant swamp. Like Arizona, it gets hot as hell, but it’s a moist, clingy, slice-the-air-with-a-knife kind of heat. Without air conditioning it would be incredibly uncomfortable, but there sure would be plenty of water – oozing up from the ground, or pounding down in torrents during one of those severe thunderstorms that target Florida’s trailer parks every other day, or simply hovering in the ambient air.
Desert or swamp, desert or swamp…it’s so hard to choose. With its ravenous mosquitoes, water snakes, giant cockroaches, and prehistoric eating machines (alligators, to you Northerners), Florida seems to have its fair share of icky predators. But so does Arizona – it’s loaded with rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions.
Okay, let’s call that a draw. It’s really a matter of preference – would you rather spend your declining days in the sauna of Arizona, or the steam room of Florida?
And what about the future? For all we know, Arizona’s water supply may evaporate as a result of climate change. And the melting polar ice caps could soon raise ocean levels so much that most of Florida would be underwater.
Maybe I’ll just stay in New Jersey.
Several years ago, I saw a cartoon showing a man at the gates of hell. Satan is there in all his horned glory sitting behind a desk and before him is a man who has obviously just arrived. Sweat is pouring off the man’s brow as he wipes his brow with a concerned look on his face. Satan is speaking to the man. The cartoon’s caption reads: “Yes, but it’s a dry heat.”
On my recent trip to the Southwest desert I was able to experience this dry heat for three full weeks. And after all that time, I have to say that there’s something to this retort by residents of Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico when asked how they can stand triple digit temperatures for weeks at a time.
Of course, traveling in April and May, I did not get to experience 100-degree days. The hottest it got in Phoenix while I was there was 98, but a few degrees don’t matter too much when you’re baking in an oven. So what’s the difference between 98 degrees in Phoenix and 98 degrees in New York?
You can breathe in Phoenix. It’s as simple as that. Breathing on a hot August night in New York is like drinking a thick shake through a narrow straw. It takes effort. Breathing hot air in Arizona takes no effort at all.
The other advantage of low humidity is the fact that shade brings instant relief from the heat. I didn’t bring a thermometer too measure it, but I swear it felt like a 20-degree difference. The low humidity also means that due to radiational cooling, the temperature drops like rock as soon as the sun goes down. Our days began in the 50s and rapidly increased, but the mornings were always delightful. Likewise, the evenings were comfortable enough to sit outside and dine al fresco.
Having said all this, it is a fact that modern life would be unimaginable in Phoenix without air conditioning. The afternoon heat seems intense enough to bake bread. Air conditioning is not a convenience; it’s life support. The evidence of this is that in 1950, only 107,000 hardy souls lived in Phoenix. Once air conditioning became practical, the people came. By 1960 there were 440,000. As of 2012, there were 1.5 million.
And people are still coming. Why? One word — sunshine. We were in the Southwest for 20 days and had 19 days of sunshine. Those are pretty good odds. On average, Phoenix gets 296 days of sunshine every year and just 8 inches of rain. By contrast, New York averages 50 inches of rain. Even Los Angeles averages 15 inches of rain a year.
So if you want to wake up every day to sunshine, Phoenix is the place.
And in fact, thousands of Americans retire to Arizona every year. The famous retirement village Sun City is just outside Phoenix. Everywhere we went we met former New Yorkers who had retired to Arizona. I don’t think I would want to go that far, but if I could swing it, I certainly would love to spend my retirement winters there. Sure it’s hot, but it’s a dry heat!
It’s been brought to my attention lately by my children, and by other young people in my life, that I say “Excuse me?” or “I’m so sorry, but I didn’t catch that,” and “What?” as much as I say, “Hi!” or “I’ll have a Chardonnay.”
I have noticed that I pump up the volume to ear-splitting levels when listening to music in my car or on my phone. And my television is turned up to number 25 or more. (Uh – like the movies! I explain to other people in the room who question the volume.)
And that little voice in one ear that was urging me to get my hearing tested (I believe the last time I had a hearing test was 1980-something), went right out the other.
But apparently poo-pooing a potential compromise in hearing is not unusual. Hearing loss is among the most untreated of the age-related disabilities. It seems that for us 50-somethings, as long we can hear the human voices around us, we tend to peg any auditory decline as not in our ears, but in the soft-talkers among us and the increasingly noisy world that we live in.
But, hear ye, my skeptics – I finally heard you. I tested the ears. And I’m normal. I guess I just like loud.
I found this cool hearing test offered by The National Hearing Test. May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, so the test is free (it costs only $8 regularly). It’s done over the phone (landline only) – call 866-223-7575 – and it takes about 20 minutes. You put one ear at a time to the phone, and punch in the numbers recited by a recorded voice amid static, which rapidly increases throughout the test. At completion, you are told whether or not your hearing in each ear is in the “normal range.”
And for those of you who may know someone like me, where broaching the subject of hearing fell on deaf ears, there’s a nifty little offering from The Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) in New York and Florida. Check out Soundgram. You record a message to your loved one, and CHC will notify them that there is a message waiting for them, along with an offer for a free hearing screening at one of their locations. Your recorded message will be played for them at their free screening.
So listen up; take heed. Take the test. Send a Soundgram. And like me, either assure yourself that frequently saying, “What?,” means that you’re annoying (or as my son said when I shouted my test results, “Then maybe you have ADD?”), not hearing-impaired, or, if the test suggests your hearing is not in the normal range, go to an audiologist for further testing and treatment.
Studies show that ignoring hearing loss can lead to Dementia and Alzheimer’s – why rush those? There’s sophisticated technology out there for the taking – for free – to ease concerns, to diagnose hearing impairment and to treat accordingly.
Monday is Memorial Day. Pragmatically, this translates into a three day weekend, a four day work week, and the onset of trips to the beach. But where did it come from? I know it is a day of gravitas to honor and remember those who have died fighting for their country, but I had no clue as to its genesis.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, during the Civil War, women in the South, commenced a tradition of placing flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died for the Confederancy. Three years after the war ended, the Grand Army Republic, an organization composed of war veterans, proclaimed that May 30 would be the “official” date that the nation would honor soldiers who had died in the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers. And so commencing in 1868, there has been a Decoration Day celebration at the end of May. (It was believed flowers would be in bloom all over the country.)
But it did not become a federally recognized national holiday until 1971. This was at the height of the Vietnam War while Nixon was in office, and rather than May 30, it was codified that the last Monday in the month of May would be the nation’s day to pay homage to those who had fought for their country.
There are still American soldiers overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the discussion of what to do about Syria is endless. There will always be debates about whether America should enter a conflict that does not directly impact the safety of our country. Personal, political and religious beliefs dictate one’s philosophy on the subject of war. However, honoring those who have, or had, a job that takes them to the front and back lines of armed conflict is not debatable. I raise a toast to them.
And, to the men and women who were members of the United States Armed Forces and died in its service, in my heart I place a flower on their graves, along with a wish for no more graves. May everyone return safely home.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but people in Florida just generally seem a lot nicer than in New Jersey.
We recently stayed at a friend’s condo in a complex in Bradenton, which is on the west coast near Sarasota. Every time I drove through the development – at the required sedate speed of 15 miles per hour, enforced by periodic speed bumps – I would pass people walking their dogs or strolling along the side of the road. And they waved to me. It was a simple raised palm salute, accompanied by a smile, and pretty much everyone did it.
At first I thought I was going too fast and they were giving me the “back off” sign, but if so why were they smiling? And where was the raised middle finger that normally punctuates that gesture in New Jersey? It seemed to be a genuine friendly wave. I shrugged it off as “retirement lifestyle” insanity, and lamely waved back.
But then I went to the local Home Depot. I had compiled on my iPhone a list of odds and ends we needed – light bulbs, tape measure, WD-40, picture hooks, Philips screwdriver, all in different parts of the store. I was walking down the aisle peering at my notes and looking perplexed when a guy in one of those orange aprons walked up, cheerful as can be, and asked if he could help. I showed him the list and he promptly took me on a guided tour of the store, pointing out where everything I needed could be found. I stopped to grab a tape measure from an aisle display as he herded me toward Fasteners. He stopped cold.
“Don’t buy that one,” he said, scurrying off toward Lubricants. “At the front of the store, straight ahead, there’s a whole bunch of tape measures on the wall. You can compare and get the one you really need. I’ll be back in a minute with the WD-40.”
When he came back with my spray oil he explained the differences between the tape measures and suggested which one might be best for my needs. I felt like I was in Nordstrom’s with a fussy personal shopper, except this guy was selling me hardware instead of khaki pants. When I’m looking confused at my regular Home Depot back in New Jersey, the salespeople usually avert their eyes and act like they’re busy with something else. You have to get up in their face and demand help, and even then they treat you like the unpopular pimply kid at the junior high school dance.
Again, I rationalized. This is the South, after all, where tools and fixin-up stuff is practically a religion. And it was a Tuesday morning – the guy had nothing better to do. Helping me was easier than stocking shelves, so what the hell.
Then there was the kayak episode. We’d responded to a classified ad listing a used kayak for sale, and the owner had told us we could inspect it after he got home from work. We pulled up at the house, a typical white stucco ranch in a well-kept subdivision, and the kayak was already on the front lawn. The owner was about my age, thin and trim, with sparse gray hair and a relaxed, friendly demeanor. He wore the standard Florida uniform of sandals, t-shirt, and shorts.
The kayak looked great and we quickly agreed to pay his asking price. But then there was the question of how to get it into our car, a smallish rented four-door sedan. It was obvious we couldn’t put an eight-foot kayak inside, and we didn’t have rope or bungee cords to tie it to the roof. We were going to have to make other arrangements to get the kayak to our condo eight miles away.
“Want to take my truck?” he said. He indicated a bright red Toyota Tacoma pick-up in the driveway. He’d just been telling me how he and his wife had bought it a few months ago to tow their new 19-foot trailer, and he loved it.
“Are you sure?” I asked, a bit taken aback. I’d only met the guy ten minutes ago.
“Do you want to drive, and we’ll follow you?” Maria volunteered.
“Nah, that’s fine,” he said, as he went about strapping the kayak to the truck bed. “Just take it.”
Feeling awkward, I offered him the car keys for our rental vehicle which we had parked in his driveway.
“In case someone comes home, and you have to move it,” I explained. But I was really offering a vehicle for vehicle hostage situation. He looked at me quizzically.
“Ok, thanks,” he shrugged. Then he handed me his entire keychain, with not just the truck key but the keys to everything that locked in his life dangling from it, and walked calmly back into his house.
“See you in a bit.”
As we settled into the front seat of this total stranger’s spanking new truck, Maria and I looked at each other and laughed. We weren’t in Kansas – or New Jersey – anymore.
My recent Southwest tour completed my goal of visiting all 48 contiguous states. In fact, it included standing at Four Corners, where Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico all come together. Since we had already visited the first three of those on previous trips, it was the visit to New Mexico that was key. After Four Corners, we spent a week touring New Mexico.
Northern New Mexico was very artsy and high class with art museums, old Spanish churches and great restaurants. But it was Southern New Mexico that was the most surprising.
The Land of Enchantment tended toward the bizarre as we pulled into Roswell. This is the town outside of which an alien spaceship is said to have landed in 1947. The U.S. Government is alleged to have covered up the incident and there is a UFO Museum in Roswell where they lay out the evidence. The thing about this is that even though most Roswell residents probably don’t believe that any aliens ever landed there, they have run with it and created a tourist destination for themselves. You have to hand it to them. Their tongue-in-cheek exploitation of fringe beliefs is just genius. Everyone is aboard for the fun. Even McDonald’s features alien burgers.
Then, a few miles south of Roswell is the second point on the Roswell Triangle — Carlsbad. The fun here begins with an elevator ride that takes you 700 feet below the surface. There you find an alien landscape of stalagmites and stalactites. Carlsbad Caverns is an enormous underground wonderland of beautiful rocks that creates a landscape that would make any Roswell alien feel at home.
The underground pathways run for more than a mile and the temperature is always in the 50s (even when the temperature at the surface is in the 90s). From Carlsbad you can complete the triangle with a trip to White Sands National Monument.
This is where the government tests missiles. They even have a sign that tells you that when the red light is on, missile testing is scheduled and you can’t come in. But when they’re not testing missiles, this is a must see location. The place looks like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia. There’s white sand everywhere!
I think that standing in the White Sands park is the closest we can come to being in the middle of the Sahara. It is nothing but miles and miles of white sand in every direction as far as the eye can see — even on the road! I guess that’s why they test missiles there. You certainly couldn’t hurt anything and it’s easy to find the debris. It’s another unique, alien landscape.
I recommend that everyone experience the wonders of the Roswell Triangle. You could easily visit all three in a day and you will be rewarded with a trip to alien worlds. It’s a break from more familiar cityscapes of Albuquerque and Santa Fe and it provide sights that will stay with you forever.
It’s been a long six weeks. I had toe cyst surgery on April 8 and for two weeks could not put my foot on the ground. Instead I hopped around, using a walker for support. I took a shower sitting on a plastic chair. I went to work and sat at my desk with my foot elevated and came home and sat on the couch with my foot elevated. It was boring and tedious.
Then I graduated to the boot. It meant movement, but not mobility. It didn’t matter. I was thrilled because I could venture outside. That’s when Steve and I made it to the Orchid Show, albeit with him pushing me around in a wheelchair.
Lois would constantly remind me how fast the time was passing and I would constantly reply “Only if you are not in a boot.” Limitations in mobility slows time down. Patience, which I have none of, is mandated. I counted each day.