I have always wondered what the draw was for those snowbirds who spend the winter in warmer climates like Arizona, New Mexico and California. I couldn’t understand what would be interesting after five months in the same place. What did they do ALL day?
Well, I got a chance to see for myself. The first morning that I awoke in Mesa, Arizona at a trailer park resort, I was astonished to see how active all of these “seniors” were. They were out there playing tennis early in the morning (6 a.m.), getting ready to go hiking, biking, going to the gym or yoga. I felt like a slug, unfit, white from no sun all winter and embarrassed because I figured I was younger than they were! And there I was just thinking about getting up. The crack of dawn is apparently the time to get up and get going.
All that aside, it didn’t take long to get into the swing of the snowbird lifestyle. These huge trailer park resorts are everywhere. They take up acres and acres of prime desert real estate and each has a lot of amenities. There are thousands of Canadians being more active there than they probably are at home. Cruising bicycles with baskets for shopping at the grocery store, and no helmets if not on the real roads. They walk and if they can’t do that they ride in a golf cart. They just don’t sit still – at least not for very long.
The resort I was at had something for everyone. There were studios for any art form you might like to learn. There were billards leagues and baseball leagues, tennis tournaments and something called pickleball. Apparently that is the fastest growing sport out there, kind of a cross between badminton and tennis. For others it was outdoor shuffleboard, horseshoes (not a busy place) and the pool. There was even a putting green for those who might want to practice their short games before venturing into the hot afternoon sun for a round of golf. No lie, 99 degrees in the shade for days on end. I must have been lucky, it was the hottest March on record in Mesa, Arizona, and I went golfing.
Happy hour seems to be the common bond between friends. There seemed to be one every second night and if it wasn’t a happy hour it was a potluck or birthday dinner or a meal in a nearby restaurant. Not to worry about drinking and driving, they used the bus to get to places they couldn’t cycle or walk to.
No one was concerned about the latest clothing or shoes or hairstyles. Living in the desert is about comfort. Flip flops and hiking boots seemed to be the preferred footwear. The hiking boots were important as those cacti have pretty sharp needles and no one wants to step on a scorpion while desert hiking and sightseeing.
The women seemed to like those visor things and the more fashionable could pile their hair around and look like professional tennis players and get away with wearing something short.
No one cares, they’re all older and they do what they want. Most though are young at heart. They are happy to enjoy this place where the sun shines every day.
But, like in any small town, there are those who grumble. Someone was swimming laps and splashed another person. Call security. Someone was shouting directions to people they didn’t know playing pickleball. Someone gets time out from the pickleball courts for a month. Others just don’t like change. Noisy parties are tolerated but only until 11 p.m. at the latest. There are bylaws and they are enforced most often by the residents themselves.
When you get a generation of people who have been active in business their whole life, it’s pretty hard to let go of control. Sometimes that’s all they have left as health and freedom decline. Tolerance is an activity.
Personally, I’d go back there. I get it. I understand these places are small communities and come complete with small town characters and attitudes.
Am I ready to be a snowbird? Perhaps not just yet, but I can migrate south once a year and test it out. After all, it is my age bracket that is nest building for the future.
Pirjo Raits is the editor of the Sooke News Mirror and recently spent vacation time in Arizona with the snowbirds.