If there is one thing I learned from growing up in a neighborhood teeming with senior citizens, it’s that there’s really not much that separates me from the 65-plus crowd—you know, aside from roughly five decades and vastly disparate degrees of colon function. In fact, I would go so far as to admit that I am basically an outgoing septuagenarian trapped in the body of a 25-year-old woman. How did I arrive at this seemingly ridiculous conclusion? I think this list sums it all up:
Things I Enjoy that I’m Pretty Sure Old People Also Really Like
1. Crossword puzzles
2. Neil Diamond
3. Wheel of Fortune
4. Small fluffy dogs
5. One-speed bicycles with cute little baskets in the front
7. Tonic-based cocktails
At various points throughout my life, I have made a conscious effort to remove myself from my comfort zone—i.e., the retirement scene—in order to engage socially with a more age-appropriate group of people. Though I have been moderately successful in this pursuit, I feel like the universe is constantly rerouting me back to my true destiny—a destiny of bingo tournaments, weekend trips to the dollar store, and date nights at Cracker Barrel. Case in point: professional opportunities recently brought me to the the West Valley of the greater Phoenix area—a.k.a. Senior Central.
Not that I mind. In fact, I think many of my peers would feel the same way if they just gave old people a shot. If you’re a runner, one of the best ways to experience the joys of interacting with the hip retiree crowd is to take a nice run through an area frequented by AARP cardholders (Florida, Arizona, and the five-mile radius surrounding any Golden Corral restaurant are all great places to start).
To reap the full benefits of exercising among the elderly, however, one must first understand the subtle cultural differences that accompany the generational gap. Remember, old people have been alive for a long, long time. They’ve been through a lot of shit. They are tired. They have spent years catering to the needs of others—hard-ass bosses, nagging spouses, ungrateful children, annoying relatives—and now, all they want to do is go for a goddamn walk in their goddamn Crocs and tube socks in goddamn peace. And the last thing they want is to have that peace disturbed by perky jogging whippersnappers like you.
On the other hand, seeing you run often sparks in them a pleasant nostalgia—a brief flashback to a time of youthful energy and stamina. A time when they, too, wore shoes with laces on them. The key is harnessing that sentimentality for your own motivational purposes. There is nothing more inspiring than a “Looking great!” or a “Way to go!” or even a “You know, I used to be able to do that too!” spoken through the soft, wrinkly lips of a kindly senior.
It’s not always easy. Old people are finicky, and eliciting favorable reactions from them can be a bit tricky. So, to help you maximize the benefit of your foray into geezer territory, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of things to watch out for. Please read carefully. Then go out and make some new old friends.
1. Fanny packs – The fashion powers that be have done a pretty good job of providing the aging population with convenient alternatives to cumbersome wardrobe items—elastic waistbands eliminate the need for belts, Velcro eliminates the need for shoelaces, and Pajama Jeans eliminate the need to ever change pants. Fanny packs also were designed with convenience in mind, and seniors have embraced the ease and comfort of hands-free, on-the-go storage. But when old people take their eyes off the road to rummage around their waist pouches in search of Carmex, prescription medications, or sugar-free cinnamon discs, they put everyone in their immediate vicinity at risk—especially on a narrow walking path. The movement of a distracted fanny packer is unpredictable, and that creates a dangerous hazard for anyone in his or her immediate vicinity. Approach with extreme caution.
2. Unruly Shih Tzus – Retirees are known for having a borderline unhealthy obsession with their small pets. In their eyes, Mitzy and Mr. Snugglepaws can do no wrong, least of all when they are sprinting, unleashed and with teeth exposed, toward an innocent, unsuspecting runner such as yourself. And if said runner inadvertently pins a fuzzy tail to the sidewalk as she attempts to sidestep said bounding yappers, who is at fault? Certainly not Mr. Snugglepaws. On the other hand, old people absolutely love it when you fawn over their fur babies. So if you find yourself approaching—or being approached by—a miniature canine, take a moment to compliment the pooch (“Cute dog!”) or even bend down and give him a little pat on the head.
3. Really dark sunglasses – When it comes to ocular UV protection, senior citizens don’t fuck around. They will not trust their precious retinas to anything less than NASA-grade tinted eye shields. Armed with the darkest lenses available in the retail market, these people could stare directly at the sun for 45 minutes straight without so much as batting an eyelash—literally. While it’s great that they take their eye health so seriously, it makes it really difficult for approaching runners to determine whether they are (a) paying attention to oncoming foot traffic, (b) visually impaired, or (c) sleepwalking. So if you come up on an old person rocking some Ray Charles shades, your best—and safest—bet is to swing wide, avoid direct contact, and offer a friendly wave from afar.
4. Motorized personal mobility devices – Sure, Old Man Jenkins lost his driver’s license last year after he “mixed up” the meanings of green and red traffic lights, but that didn’t stop him from purchasing a souped-up power wheelchair that goes from 0 to 35 mph in three seconds flat. Now he’s tearing up the sidewalks in your neighborhood on the daily, plowing through any obstacles—overgrown shrubbery, children’s toys, decorative garden gnomes—that stand in his way. And you better believe that list includes inattentive distance runners. So when you see him burning rubber down the cul-de-sac like he’s Jeff Gordon in about 45 years, steer clear.
5. Cell phones – You thought you were doing Nana a favor when you bought her one of those nifty Jitterbug phones. The oversized buttons, the simple menu, the louder-than-normal speaker—on paper, it seemed like the perfect solution to the communication needs of elderly women everywhere! Problem is, Nana is becoming quite the little texter. And when she’s more focused on emoticons and TTYLs than the road ahead, her chances of colliding with fellow pedestrians increase substantially. A senior citizen with a cell phone is nothing to LOL about; in fact, when you see one, I’d suggest that you GTFO of the way ASAP.