Sunday, May 15, 2016
Many years ago when I lived in California I had a co-worker named Ron who lived in Arizona. He used to constantly complain about “Snowbirds,” the term coined to describe these retired refugees from the North who invaded the state each year seeking refuge from the harsh winters back home. Like a lot of the natives here, Ron wasn’t particularly keen about this annual incursion, and the subsequent effects it had on his daily life. In fact, he couldn’t wait for May or June to come along with its triple-digit temps to send these elderly interlopers packing.
“Oh my God, they are a horrible menace to safe drivers everywhere! They drive sooo slow, and then stop on the freeway, usually during rush hour, and wait for someone to let them merge into the next lane! They will be the death of us all!”
Naturally I just assumed it was the melodramatic, insensitive rant of an intolerant, middle-aged curmudgeon. I mean, who would dare take an angry swipe at the elderly? Now its thirty years later and I find myself living in Arizona and dealing with the same “Snowbird” issues and, quite frankly, not liking it a whole lot. Apparently I have morphed into someone a bit more curmudgeonly, insensitive and intolerant in my middle age. (This might help explain the whole Trump phenomena. I’m not sure.)
In fairness, many Arizonans become the very thing they detest each year when they invade San Diego to avoid the blistering heat here at home. The San Diego natives even have a derogatory name for them - “Zonies.”
Nonetheless, I am finally happy to report that our long Arizonan nightmare is almost over! Complaints about this rampaging herd of grizzled old senior citizens include their weird speech, funny clothes, and penchant for inconveniencing and annoying the hell out of the natives with their poor driving and camping out at restaurants for hours at a time (and not tipping well, to boot!) Of course reports of this type of behavior are at best an unfair and blatant form of ageism as most seniors conduct themselves respectfully and with consideration for others.
Unfortunately we live in a world filled with stereotypes. For example, some believe that people from the Deep South are dim-witted, gun-loving, NASCAR-watching, racist, redneck, white trash. This is not entirely true. Others brazenly claim that all women are terrible drivers. Again, this is an exaggeration. It’s just that the 92% of them that have difficulties with the task make it look bad for the 8% that drive just fine. I’m just kidding, of course. Women are really super great drivers.
(My wife told me to say that.)
Another common stereotype is that many people feel that Donald Trump supporters, and Republicans in general, are hateful, bigoted, self-righteous, insensitive, hypocritical, lying, ill-informed, greedy buffoons.
Okay, so maybe that last one is a bad example.
My point is that even though stereotypes are wrong and hurtful, sometimes…well…they sure seem true (even if they absolutely are not) and it is easy to make generalizations about people, such as the elderly, for example, but also so completely unfair at the same time. Yet some persist in believing what they will because of what is happening around them, regardless of looking at the bigger picture.
Dealing with elderly drivers is nothing new to us in Arizona. We live near the community of Sun City, a veritable mecca for retirement living. Many are the times I have been stuck behind cars at stop lights where the drivers have apparently drifted off into some quasi-narcoleptic trance.
Honk the horn, you say? I do, but apparently that only further confuses them.
We are used to them slowing down and putting on their blinkers a mile ahead of their turn, or using the road reflectors as some kind of auto braille-type device to try and keep a fixed position on the road. I mean, just because they learned to drive during the Hoover administration is no reason to disrespect them.
Of course I can’t really blame these elderly drivers for their poor driving performance. I imagine if I was similarly trying to navigate my old Lincoln Town Car, craning my neck to see over the steering wheel past the expansive hood of this monstrously large land yacht while sinking into the plush leather seats, I too might not notice that my left blinker has been on since the first Bush administration.
Okay, so they drive slowly. And sometimes they swerve into other lanes. And maybe once and a while they connect with parked vehicles and stationary objects. Is that any reason to be upset? And who cares if they have funny accents or end every other sentence with an “Eh?” In the final analysis, does it really matter if one pronounces the word “about” as “aboot” or uses the word “zed” instead of saying “zero?” At least they are very, very polite about it.
Likewise, you can’t fault people from Canada or the states for not being as fashion forward as those of us in Arizona. Their style is their own and shouldn’t be ridiculed because it doesn’t measure up to ours. It is certainly not hard to pick out the snowbird in a room though. Something about him screams out-of-towner. Could it be the short sleeve button down shirt with the sweater vest? Perhaps it is the pastel blue shorts hiked well over his waist with the black oxfords and white socks. Maybe it is the weathered Vikings baseball cap hiding a silvery plume of hair. It’s anyone’s guess, really.
None of those things matter anymore, though, as the snowbirds are leaving us. The grand exodus has begun, and like the bygone caravans of covered wagons which travelled Westward bringing settlers seeking a better life, the Spring migration of RV’s and assorted out-of-state vehicles are returning to their respective homes to places like Canada, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Illinois, New York, and other similar frozen wastelands. At least until the freezing snow, biting cold and sub-zero temperatures lure them back to our sunny state. Safe travels, snowbirds!
To quote a certain song by a famous Canadian songstress, Anne Murray, “Spread your tiny wings and fly away.”