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Heaven's Waiting Room

Boca Raton is the preferred getaway for many snowbirds and families. In this essay Bernie Farber gives us a lighthearted look intoa few weeks of Boca Raton life at Century Village and beyond.
By: Bernie M. Farber
Published: February 9th, 2012 in News » World

It's called Heaven's Waiting Room, and why not? Warm temperatures, year-round, sunny skies, lush vegetation.

Boca Raton is indeed a wonderful place to while away the time one has left.

It is also one of North America's prime spots for baby boomers now entering their senior years. In fact, you can buy a condo in the most iconic of retirement communities, Century Village ("CV"), at the ripe age of 55.

For the last several winter vacations, my wife and I have headed south to Heaven's Waiting Room, where my in-laws own a condo in Boca's CV. Until recently, I felt like a veritable youngster at the pool, tennis courts and workout facility at CV's clubhouse.

This year, however, I turned 60, and it hit me: I'm comfortable here.

As a result, I found myself becoming more and more part of Century Village's daily routine. Other friends from Toronto noticed it too. One buddy has actually purchased his spot in the village. "After all," he explained, "I turned 56 last year. Why wait?"

So I too now found myself on this vacation spending even more time by the CV pool, chatting with the full-timers (we visitors are not real CVers) about all things to do with age and aging: hair loss, which Tom Clancy novel I am reading, the shopping hours over Christmas (especially when the Festival Flea Market opens) and the most durable topic of all: who has died over the past year or is in the process of exiting the waiting room.

This winter talk around the pool centered around a persistent rumor that deep within the shallow man-made lakes surrounding Boca’s CV was an elderly alligator. Like Sasquatch there were numerous sightings. Even I could have sworn I saw the fearsome reptile though turns out it was a drainage pipe sticking out of the water with a turkey vulture perched on top.

The residents of CV are no strangers to death and take it with their usual sardonic good humour. "They don't call it 'Cemetery Village' for nothing," jokes one of my pool buddies. Rita (names have been changed to protect me) is a spry 78-year-old, "You have to think young" she tells me. "Only way to keep sane and alive is to keep attached. It's always better than being alone." Rita should know: She has outlived two husbands and is actively searching for a third.

And then there are The Rules. Non-residents are especially targeted with rules, and more rules. Some are easy to understand but others... Pool chairs, for example, must be lined up in a certain manner. Failure to do so will, at the very least, generate stern stares by the full-timers, if not a severe scolding from the CVer who has appointed himself in charge of all things pool related. We lovingly refer to him as "the Pool Commandant."

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the theatre shows in the clubhouse. Acts I thought were long time dead have been resurrected and make their yearly appearance at CV. Entering the 500-seat theatre about 20 minutes before showtime, I find I am late. The place is already packed. It's understandable: Tickets are only $5, which does not prevent the existence of scalpers, some leaning on canes outside the door, hawking tickets they can't use. It's against "the rules" to be sure, but some of the bolder ones take their chances and make a killing.

The front row seems always reserved for the most senior of the community. Walkers line the floor below the stage and many of those seated are already sleeping.

The opening act was one of the “Double-mint twins”, from the radio and TV jingle (not exactly sure what happened to the other twin) while this year's star is a comedian I recognize from a 1960s sitcom.

His timing isn't what it used to be. The audience is unforgiving. I persevere but the majority who do not feel "entertained" enough loudly and with much fanfare express their criticism. Hoots, hollers and cries of "Feh!" are not uncommon. They reach for their walkers and demand that their caregiver help them back to their units. It's not pretty, but the comedian is oblivious. I figure, like much of the audience, he is somewhat hard of hearing and his vision isn't what it once was.

Finally, let's not forget driving in Boca Raton. While the legal driving age in Florida is 15, I'm convinced the average age of drivers is closer to 80. Speed limits on highways and main roads run between 45 and 65 mph. They are ignored or worse, reversed. On the Florida Turnpike you regularly stare in wonder at drivers with hands atop the steering wheel and heads below the dashboard, driving at 30 mph, while on residential roads, they change lanes, kamikaze-like, at 65 mph.

"Heaven's Waiting room" is crowded. We line up for Early Bird dinners by 4:30 p.m., which allows us to be home for that bridge lesson or mahjong game in good time, followed by bed by 9:30. With sun, water and exercise, the lifestyle is a healthy one. I'm sure God planned it this way. He seems to be in no particular hurry. Gives the whippersnappers like me a lot to look forward to, I would have it no other way.

Bernie M Farber is the former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress. For two weeks every winter he considers himself “retired” at Century Village

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