I had seen a few house sits listed in an area called The Villages over the past months. Until recently, I thought it was just another town in central Florida, nothing special about it. I was wrong. This place is special, and in more than one way!
Mark and I took this two-week house and pet sitting assignment, because the ad sounded attractive and we wanted a break from the New England scene and its cold-ish weather. When we started telling people that we would be going to The Villages, the reactions were interesting and made our venture more exciting. Statements like “I didn’t know you guys played golf.” “Make sure you don’t get in trouble!” “I hear that people show their marital status and sexual desires with certain flags displayed on their golf cart.” “There is a black market for Viagra, and STDs are widespread.” “Did you know children are not allowed?” and “Watch out for those old men, they might try to steal you away from Mark!” peaked our curiosity…
When looking The Villages up on the web, our eyebrows raised higher and we became even more intrigued about experiencing this infamous place. Instead of just sitting on their couch watching TV, while the days go by slowly, realizing that death is waiting just around the corner, the oldest generation in The Villages has a good time and dramatic media coverage to show for it. Old-ish folks here have fun and are happy and tan. They dance, drink, play sports, drive around in golf carts and sometimes act a bit more extreme or liberal than the usual Floridian retiree, but so what? Some scandals have made the news and therefore put The Villages on the map as an eccentric retirement community, but all in all, people are well-behaved here and always have a smile on their face.
Having been in The Villages now for over a week, we have gotten a good idea about what this well-manicured, organized and thought out place is about. Initially, we were curious about all the talk hounding this community. Our hosts told us that a lot of the stories were just myths or exaggerated truths. Like in all societies, you have people standing out (yes, there are swingers and orgies), behaving poorly (not cleaning up dog poop, creating heaps of garbage, being selfish and self-righteous, or sticking their nose in everybody’s business). There are people condemning others, people being narrow-minded, and people being liberal, generous, forgiving and in a good mood no matter that.
The Villages is the biggest retirement community in the world and the fastest-growing city in the United States. Everywhere you look, you see retired people out and about, in their golf carts, walking, playing golf, driving their American car, shopping, sipping two for one happy hour drinks, watching live music, strolling the fake historic centers or line dancing on the squares. They mostly have a smile on their friendly face and are happy. They enjoy their lives to the fullest and who can blame them?
As for the stories going around… Yes, there are a lot of golf courses (40+), public pools and community centers. Free golf was the biggest enticement to get this “city” started. Golf carts are currently decorated with colorful lights and Christmas scenes, but we haven’t seen any particular flags or illegal trading of drugs. DUI in golf carts happens, but crime rates are low, so much so that the police tried to set an example last year, by arresting a couple having sex on a square at night. They were sentenced to six months in prison! The neighborhood pools have a minimum age of 30 to enter, but there are family pools throughout The Villages. We have seen quite a few (grand)children happily being part of the scene. They are allowed in the retirement community, but they need a pass to use the facilities, just like any other guest. We have seen young people, mostly as employees, although plenty baby boomers can be found at cash registers and bagging groceries. And no, none of the old men have succeeded in stealing my heart. Mark and I are still happily married!