Larry and Carolann Find Paradise?
by Larry Hunter, The Villages SBs
The Villages are located in the middle of central Florida. We saw some promotional materials and set off to pay a visit to the self-dubbed “The Friendliest HomeTown.” As we passed through old Florida towns like Wildwood, Carolann turned to me and said “It better get better than this.” After more miles of run-down homes and, the empty store fronts, we were ready to turn around.
Then, magic happened. We crossed a road and entered what locals fondly call “The Bubble.” Like Dorothy and her pals approaching Oz, we entered a world completely different from all that surrounds it. Flowers everywhere and beautiful landscaping … clean streets and manicured lawns and, especially for me, a golf course every turn. Have I mentioned that golf is the only sport I received a letter for in high school?
We meet a sales agent, Anthony, called “Ant” not “Tony,” a tall Italian guy who really seemed to know the product he’s selling. As a former sales professional, myself –ask me about Mr. Potato Head– I appreciated that. The first few homes he showed us were better-suited from your crazy old aunts, but as we moved up the scale, we started seeing ones we could call home.
After a few days with Ant, as he is known,we became convinced we had found our final resting place. We returned to Minnesota, put our town house on the market, sold it quickly, and returned to The Bubble to find a home. We gave ourselves a week to look and bought our home by the end of the second day.
We are now fully resettled in a state we swore we would never live in. Our biggest concern is how much The Villages are growing. When we arrived in 2011, there were 70,000 people spread over 45 sq. miles. Our buddy Ant assured us the developer was finished with growth. Come 2021 and we’re at 140,000 over about 60 sq. miles. We don’t see Ant much anymore.
Despite what you might have heard, The Villages is a great place to live in retirement. We’ve had our share of skeptical visitors from the North, curious why anyone would live in the middle of Florida instead of on the beach. First, there’s the lower cost of living, and second the infamous Florida hurricanes lose their strength after destroying the coastal towns. I grew up on the Massachusetts coast and remember dodging waves during Nor’east hurricanes as a kid! None of that in The Villages.
An endless stream of friends and neighbors have visited us in The Bubble. To our surprise, 10 of the couples ended up drinking the KoolAid and buying Bubble homes. I’ve become like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Of course, his job was to lure the rats away from the infested town….but you get the analogy.
The draw of The Villages is that it is an active senior adult community. If you’re not golfing, you’re swimming, playing tennis, jogging, playing volleyball, Bocci ball and …yes… even shuffleboard. A new sport to us is Pickle Ball, a cross between tennis and ping pong, supposed named when the game’s inventor told his dog, Pickles, to fetch an errant ball.
For the indoor “athlete” there are 100 rec centers where you can be involved with one of the 2,990 clubs, with names like Carolina Shag Dancing (not the Brit’s version of shagging), Beatlemaniacs, Belly Dancing (women only…even though men have bigger ones), Polka Club (sells out every meeting…why?), and many, many more. You can reach them all in your customized golf cart, which has replaced your need for a second car.
Florida beaches on both coasts are 1-1/2 hours drive, as are the Florida theme parks (Disney, Universal, Harry Potter).
What’s the downside? Sometimes in the winter months it gets down to 35 degrees, and you can’t sit outside in the lanai. When that happens I console myself by looking up the temperature in Boston and Minneapolis. Plus, the volume of people in the winter months can be annoying. Visitors don’t seem to know how to use the ubiquitous roundabout (a rotary for you Bostonians) that are everywhere throughout The Villages. There are the inevitable occasions when a visiting northerner forgets they’re driving their car and ends up wedged in a golf cart tunnel, or a golf cart ends up on a major highwayonly to be stopped by the local sheriff. Dinner begins at 4 PM and ends no later than 7. Live music in the 3 downtown areas ends at 9 PM every night and you’ll be lucky to see another car on the road after that.
Then, there’s politics. For this born and bread New Englander who worked on the 70s campaign of Ted Kennedy and voted for every single candidate that ever lost their run for the Presidency (think John Anderson, Walter Mondale), I am suddenly settled into a bastion of radical conservatism. (Editor’s note: Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene recently hosted a rally in The Villages) The search for like-minded liberals is an endless adventure. When you find one, there is an instant, indescribable euphoria. You don’t let them go for fear they’ll be sucked into the ever-present Republican whirlpool. And yes, Trump golf cart rallies still happen here. Some diehard liberals try to argue with the conservative majority, but the numbers are overwhelming. I’ve learned to give up trying to reason, and to laugh and walk away.
In the our first year living in The Villages we looked around and repeatedly asked “Did we do this too soon?” Now, after 10 years after moving to The Villages, I’m sure there are many new many newcomers are looking at us and asking the same question.