I try to live like a senior citizen.

I try to live like a senior citizen.

I try to live like a senior citizen.

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Aug. 23 2006 7:30 AM

A Visit to My Future

Bingo. 3 p.m. dinner. Leisure World. What happens when I try to live like a senior citizen.

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Gwen Leannarda. Click image to expand.
Big Red. Real name: Gwen Leannarda

Next I meet a woman universally known as Big Red. She is Gwen Leannarda, 83, tall and slender with orange-sherbet hair. She moved to Leisure World 16 years ago because of increasing crime in her old neighborhood; crime is one of the best friends of developers of active-adult communities. Big Red spent the afternoon rehearsing for the Leisure World production of Guys and Dolls, and now her knees are paying her back, she says.

Doris and Dorothy Bell. Click image to expand.
Doris and Dorothy Bell

She says she's got a pair of redheads I should meet, the twins, Doris and Dorothy Bell, 82. The Bells spent their careers working together as secretaries at the phone company and now share an apartment at Leisure World. "We're two old maids," Dorothy says. They've been here for three years, and their favorite event is the sing-along at the bar on Friday nights. Dorothy says the pianist plays "Me and My Shadow" and she and Doris act it out.


"You two keep the place open until 9!" says a friend sitting nearby.

In his delightful book, Early Bird, Rodney Rothman tries retirement in a Florida active-adult community while still in his 20s, and he describes his difficulties mastering the hard-core bingo played with multiple cards and different patterns. When the Leisure World game starts, everyone falls silent and concentrates on their boards—you play a minimum of three at a time, although some players have nine going at once. It starts off easy, with a bingo requiring a straight line of winning numbers, but then the caller announces a "specialty" game. Addie explains that it's an "inside picture frame with four corners." She advises me to fill in my card only when the number matches the pattern, but I quickly lose track of the design, to my elders' delight.

"Emily, don't get mixed up," Ann advises after seeing my mess. "They tax our brains here!"

Bingo lasts for two hours, and, as with any sporting event, it's both relaxing and stressful. But there's no grasping the Leisure World experience without taking a road trip with the ladies.

Traveling is as much a part of the active-adult lifestyle as having the podiatrist on speed dial. In her 18 years at Leisure World, Addie has been on 18 cruises. She has taken bus trips to Chicago and Las Vegas. And, of course, she makes regular trips to East Coast casinos. Almost every Friday morning, she, Ann, and Charlotte take a $29, 8-hour round-trip bus to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J. They are such regulars that the Eyre bus company makes a special Leisure World stop just to pick up the three of them.

They agree to let me join them on their Trump run. The bus picks us up just before 9 a.m. outside Leisure World. Everyone packs a lunch to eat on the bus, because when we arrive at 1:00 p.m. we only have six hours to gamble—interrupted by a 3 p.m. dinner at the buffet—before boarding the bus back home at 7:15 p.m.

As the bus approaches Trump Plaza, Addie starts opening various pockets and zippers in her purse. Each is stuffed with coupons for free play and free food. I follow Addie to a machine where she turns in her coupons for vouchers—the casino has given her $45! I was given a coupon on the bus that I trade in for a $20 voucher. Then Addie tells me we have to stop at a computer kiosk and enter a sweepstakes that promises everyone wins something. I know I will never win the sweepstakes, and I have no desire to drag home whatever dreck The Donald is giving away, so I decline to press the button, much to her astonishment. A few minutes later Ann comes up holding a large, stuffed bear.

"Did you get your bear yet?" she asks me.

Addie explains I have refused to enter the sweepstakes.