Mr. Chatterbox: On Being Old in Sarasota

By: Bob Plunket

We are old! Hear us roar!


Mr. Chatterbox Sarasota Magazine

Did you see Sarasota Magazine a month or so back, the one called “The Young Issue?” I took one look at it and it was like an arrow had been shot through my heart. Young! In Sarasota! How dare they?

The article went on to explain how difficult it is to be young in Sarasota and how there’s nothing for them to do. So? That’s exactly the way I want it. Let them do their twerking elsewhere. Not in my back yard, thank you very much.

Sarasota is one of the few places in the world that celebrates Old. This is where “our” culture, the culture of Americans over 60, still flourishes triumphant and unimpeded. We still have Johnny Mathis concerts, for God’s sake. We still read newspapers. We actually write things down on paper, with pens and pencils. We buy books. We go see Meryl Streep movies and love them, no matter how bad they are. Most of all, we don’t tweet, we don’t Twitter, we don’t take selfies. I am proud to say that I don’t know what an app is, unless it means doctor’s appointment.

We are Sarasota! Hear us roar! (Or is that just the phlegm that we’re trying to cough up?)

Sarasota is not just another city when it comes to age. It’s more like another country, where the elderly emigrate in order to find a better life for themselves, a place where they will feel loved, understood, and catered to. It’s a beacon on a hill. Here’s where you can spend all that money you accumulated on what really matters, like a new Cadillac or a really nice set of golf clubs. Where the food stains on your shirt are socially accepted and that hair growing in your ears is the norm. Where you never feel conspicuous about your age—how many times have you looked around a restaurant in New York or Los Angeles and thought, my God, I’m the oldest person here?—because there’s always someone older than you. I’m 68 and that’s still a kid in Sarasota years. The people here keep going well into their 90s.

And yes, I do feel sorry for those poor kids with not enough “clubs” to go to. How tragic. Let me tell you something: At my age I do find it hard to muster up sympathy for a 25-year-old, any 25-year-old, even the ones in prison. Isn’t being 25 enough? Now they want subsidized apartments conveniently located halfway between the beach and downtown, plus jobs that pay more than $100 an hour, plus lots of other young people they can go to these mysterious “clubs” with. Enough!

I suppose that in some Chamber of Commerce way we should probably try and attract younger residents and try to keep kids who grow up here from leaving town. But if there is any lesson I have learned from my own life, it’s that kids—the talented and ambitious ones, anyway—should leave the small town they grew up in and move to the big city, in order to, as Tom Wolfe so memorably put it, “dance for a while in search of the big honeydew melon.” It’s being young in a big city, struggling and trying to make your way, being exposed to people and things you never knew existed, that teaches you everything you need to know about how the world works. Then, after you turn 40 and you’re all bloodied and battered, you move back to Sarasota and boss everybody around.

This is not to say that us older Sarasotans don’t have our own problems. Like the young, we suffer. For instance, the whole town’s schedule is a little off. Everything should be moved up a couple of hours. Dinner at 5 is ideal, and I’m starting to lean toward 4:30. (I take back every joke I ever made about early bird specials; they’re terrific.) The Van Wezel should begin earlier, like 6:30. For many of us, 8 p.m. is like the middle of the night. And more matinees, please.

The young people say there aren’t any good jobs. Well, it’s the same with us. We need better volunteer jobs. Yes, it’s wonderful “making a difference” and serving those in need, but the actual jobs the nonprofits come up with just aren’t exciting enough. How about surveillance? I’d certainly volunteer to spy on people. Or be a talent scout for a modeling agency or a strip club. Does anybody need a restaurant critic? I’d do that as long as you bought the food.

And speaking of restaurants, I bemoan the fact that so many of the new places are hip and happening, which is not what people my age value in a place to eat. Oh, they’re OK every once in a while, but the noise level and the fancy-dancy “cuisine” can be too stimulating for our irregular heartbeats and hearing loss. We prefer the more classic restaurants, the ones with circular booths, dim lighting, big drinks, muffled sound, and steak and fish prepared in ways you’re familiar with and have been ever since your folks first started taking you to the country club.

These slices of Americana have been disappearing at an alarming rate, but, this being Sarasota, a couple of good ones can still be found around town. I particularly recommend a place called the Candlelight Dining Room at the Helmsley Sandcastle out on Lido. Its décor is firmly rooted in the early 1980s, and the clientele is mostly tourists staying at the hotel. The food is surprisingly good and the service is great. On weekends a guy comes in with a keyboard and sings Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett songs, and he does it very well. People dance. It’s a great manifestation of “our” culture.

But the future does not bode well. I give it another 15 or 20 years. The young people with their clever gadgets and machines have sealed our fate. They will take over, there’s no getting around that. But until then, there are so many of us, and we’ve still got all the money. Let’s not surrender. Join me in my crusade. Let us make the next decade in Sarasota a brilliant finale to our tastes, to our values—to our culture.

I’m 68 and that’s still a kid in Sarasota years. The people here keep going well into their 90s.

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This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine. Like what you read? Click here to subscribe. >>

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