A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story
I sing of Sun City and the dog…
There is no place like this anywhere, not even other so-called ‘active adult’ communities. Those came later and they came smaller, as little niche neighborhoods carved out of bigger towns — like Surprise, just to the west of us. But Del Webb took a big dream to James Boswell, convincing him to put up a dusty ghost town he owned in exchange for 49% of the Sun City Corporation, and a geriatric metropolis was born.
Sun City has its own retail; you don’t have to leave town just to get a burger. Sun City has its own hospital and its own libraries. It has no schools, of course, since the age-restriction is not truly in favor of the elderly, but rather against school-age children, but the rec centers offer classes in everything — and you can set up any they’ve omitted, if you like. Sun City has golf like you never imagined it, with meandering, circular streets threading between the fairways and high-pressure irrigation systems shooting water out in high wide arcs that make miniature rainbows in the bright sunshine all day long, everywhere you look. Sun City has children, even — in small numbers, in small doses, on rare occasions — and children in Sun City are always perfectly turned out and always on their very best behavior.
Sun City has a Fire Department but no Police Department. Why? Because Sun City has no crime. Whatever it is that makes some people burn to take advantage of others, those people don’t move here when they get old. But if you happen to be the kind of creep who thinks our little town sounds like a berry patch, take careful note: Sun City has more firearms per household than any other city of its size on earth. You have to get way out in the sticks to find better, more-experienced shooters. So go ahead and get frisky, chum. You’ll come for what you scheme are easy pickings, but you’ll stay for the complimentary funeral.
But of course funerals are a big business in Sun City anyway. In residential neighborhoods Sun Citians may drive their golf carts in circles, but Del Webb and his people mostly honored the Phoenix-area one-mile-square grid pattern for the major thoroughfares. In consequence, as with the rest of the Valley, there are four big retail developments at every major intersection, twenty acres or more at each corner. To get the money to actually build Sun City, Webb sold every one of those commercial corners to the Texas state schoolteacher’s pension fund when you still needed a map to see where the roads were going to be. By now, every night in Sun City there will be at least one ambulance parked and idling in a parking lot at each one of those intersections. The drivers don’t bother to go back to their home base; they just wait for the next call to take someone to the hospital — or to the morgue.
Sun City is the squarest city in America, or the most wholesomely normal, depending on how you look at things: Almost everyone here is married, and those who aren’t are mostly widowed. Divorced people are becoming more common as the Baby Boomers begin to retire, but divorce itself is the rarest of civil disputes in Del Webb’s gray-haired paradise. He nicknamed the town ‘The City of Volunteers’, but I see it more as a city of good neighbors: Good at keeping up their homes, good at minding their own business and good at keeping their own affairs to themselves. If the towns in the idyllic situation comedies of TV’s golden age had housed only those fifty and over, you would have a better idea of the simple perfection that is Sun City.
But Sun City is mid-century-modern suburban elegance as witnessed nowhere else. Where, snide hipsters, do you suppose the always-hipper-than-you Don Draper lives by now? Golf in the morning. The pool in the afternoon. And grilled steaks and chilled cocktails on the patio at sunset. For the rest of the world it’s a dream vacation, or even just an impossible dream. Here it is everyday life, the normal, the banal, the to-be-expected. Not everyone here is rich, rich, rich — I’m definitely not — but Del Webb was right on the money in his own big dreams: There’s gold in them thar golden years.
And when you take the sum of everything that Sun City is, you come up with this: This town really knows how to throw a good garden party.
And that’s what Naso’s wake was, a garden party in the shade of the olive trees in the late afternoon at the Duffeeland Dog Park. We didn’t have brie with champagne, but if you want milling around and hushed chattering and social butterflies trying to cross-pollinate conversations, we had all of that. No music, no liquor, no fist-fights or hysterical lover’s quarrels. Just calm, quiet people come to pay their last respects to a dog they had loved and who had loved each one of them with a perfect devotion.
It was a waking wake — Naso was still alive — and she met her receiving line leaning against a tree. She’d been leaning for a couple of days, unable to stand still for long without help, so we knew her day was at hand. We were blessed by the calendar: Today is Independence Day, July the fourth. As a serendipitous benefit of giving up the ghost today, Naso will be spared the fate of every other dog tonight, enduring the inexplicable cacophony of ‘Fourth of July’ fireworks.
We knew what we were going to do, so I put a notice up at the dog park, announcing that Naso would be seeing people for the last time this afternoon. Given my recent run-in with Commandante Clipboard from the Sun City Recreation Centers, we didn’t advertise that the plan was to put her down in the park, so she could die in the place she loved best.
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Volume One of The Naso Diaries