One Year on the Road

Not Wild About Wildwood

After Christmas, we landed at Three Flags RV Park in Wildwood, Florida for a couple of weeks. There’s nothing wrong with this place. It’s a standard RV park, I guess. It’s got a small pool, miniature golf, shuffleboard. But for me it seemed just kind of boring. Maybe I’m having a hard time with this slower winter pace.

New Friends

Michael, Dee and Timmy.

The best thing about Wildwood for us was getting to see Dee and Michael again. We had met them at the Orlando RV Park a couple weeks before and after just a brief time felt a “click.” They are from Zimbabwe and South Africa, relocating to Ontario years ago. We had them over to dinner one night and shared stories. It was fascinating to hear what it was like for them as white natives in South Africa during and after apartheid. How the attitude of racial superiority was ingrained in them from childhood. How crime and unemployment rocketed with the end of apartheid. The chaos that ensued from new racial quotas imposed on all government boards when the old guard was replaced with newcomers with little experience and education.

As someone who knew of apartheid only through songs about Nelson Mandela and boycotts of Bank of America, my perspective was so limited. So, well, black and white. Listening to Michael and Dee talk, I was pulled into a new understanding of the complexities of the issue. It’s one of the things I most love about traveling: meeting new people and learning what life has been like for them. And their lives have been especially interesting.

The Villages

Themed homes and shops.

The most exciting thing around Wildwood is The Villages. The Villages is the largest 55+ gated community in the world. It has 76 separate “villages” spread over 36 square miles and boasts a population of well over 100,000. It includes shopping centers, restaurants, movie theaters, 36 golf courses, 176 pickle ball courts, 79 swimming pools, 82 rec centers… all connected by 42 miles of golf cart roads.

We’d first heard of The Villages in Provincetown. Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer talked about flying in for a show and learning from the cab driver that The Villages was a retirement community full of “senior swingers.” That was good for a few raunchy jokes. We searched the internet for some skinny on the swinging rumor, and it turns out that reputation is widespread, but probably not very true. It started with a herpes epidemic back in the 1970s. A gynecologist was quoted as saying that she had seen more cases of STDs in the Villages than she had in all her career working in Miami.

Hey, that was the 70s. It was after the sexual revolution and before AIDS. Who didn’t get a little wild? And seniors were least likely to use condoms because they didn’t need to worry about birth control. Hence, the outbreak in the most densely packed area of seniors in the country. From everything I can gather now, wife-swapping parties are a thing of the past.

Golf carts reign.

What is a huge part of The Villages is golf carts. Over 60,000 of them. Apparently it’s the main mode of transportation in The Villages. Cars are allowed, but I get the feeling that you’re not a real Villager if you don’t drive to town in a flashy little cart. And we’re not talking your basic white putt-putt here. Villagers take pride in driving carts that exemplify their personalities. Fin-taled two-toned carts. Carts that look like vintage pick-ups or Rolls Royces. They even have golf cart taxis, and special gas stations just for carts.

Kate and I visited The Villages a few times. We went one evening to check out the free music offered in the town squares every night. On Saturday, we got vegetables at the Farmer’s Market and ate crepes from a stand. We took in a movie. And one day we attempted to bike between villages on the cart roads. (We were taking our lives in our hands, as it turned out.)

I have to say there’s something a little Stepfordesque about The Villages. The picture-perfect buildings and homes, themed village squares with piped in oldies music (and Fox News), manicured lawns, not a sprig out of place. And very little diversity. Residents can live the rest of their later years without ever having to experience the unease of the real world outside. It’s like Disneyland, without the characters. At least not the costumed type. I was relieved when I asked Kate, “You wouldn’t want to live here, would you?” and I got a firm response of “No.”

Country Dancing

Me, line dancing!

The morning we were leaving, there was a line dancing class in the park clubhouse. I’m not a dancer. Left to my own devices, I would probably pull off something similar to the famous Elaine dance on Seinfeld, full of jerky punches and stomps. But line dancing appeals to me, because rather than having to figure out some creative and appealing way to match your body’s movements in time to music, you simply do what everybody else is doing. This seemed like a pretty low pressure place to learn a few basic moves, and it would likely be blog worthy.

Kate declined. She claims dancing dyslexia. And predilection to sprains. Whatever. She agreed to play photographer. There were just seven women in the class. No men. The teacher taught us steps to one of the most basic dances. A little toe-heel thing, a kick and a clap, a shuffle and a rocking chair. It was fun, even if it did take me most of the hour to get it down. It would take a lot longer just do the steps with any kind of grace, and I don’t know if I’ll actually ever line dance in public. But I’m glad I gave it a try.

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