Back when Leisure World borrowed half our name and started calling itself Laguna Woods — eschewing the stunningly obvious Laguna Viejo — I had a pretty snotty attitude about the place. Seizure World! (To think they decided to rename it.) Fast forward: I now own a small condo there.
It’s an investment, mind you, not a fallback plan. Although I could do worse. Yes, it has a certain homogenized beige-ness, and the woods aren’t much. But the natives are friendly, the amenities are exceptional, and you get a lot of bang-for-the-buck. To be frank, the most age-friendly community is always going to be one that’s built one from scratch … and I’d still rather live in a high-variety hometown.
From my 20s to my late 40s, it was New York City, with frequent side trips to my gene pool here, all of whom thought I was crazy to live there. By 1990, I agreed with them. I was in a rut as a business writer, too many friends had died of AIDS, and the city was going through its Calcutta-on-the-Hudson phase. Even as I was leaving, however, I vowed to come back.
I knew New York would be great when I was ready to retire: I wouldn’t need a car, the cultural life is unequalled, and my many friends there would stop telling me I was crazy to live anywhere else. In 2003, after careful planning, I moved back, bought a small place, and lasted four months. That’s how I came to realize that I loved Laguna and wanted it to be my final resting place.
Plan A is to die in my sleep of advanced old age with a full set of teeth and all my marbles. Plan B is a work in progress. Hard work, actually. Pondering my options has helped me appreciate why so many of us put off planning for the future until it lands on us like a ton of bricks.
My house is geezer-ready: compact and conveniently located in the “village area” (a term almost as vague as “Laguna casual”). It still needs those industrial strength towel bars, and my all-glass shower is a death trap. But the AARP-sanctioned step-in shower/tub/spa will slot in nicely where a plain old tub now sits. Best of all, unlike my brother Charlie’s house, mine is on one level.
Charlie’s canyon home climbs the side of a cliff. It’s the yin to the yang of my friend Stuart’s house, which you enter at street level, walk to the picture window, and find yourself hundreds of feet off the ground. Stuart has compensated by installing an electric stairlift. Charlie will need a funicular. But what if he needs a wheelchair? Enough about Charlie. What if I do?
Which brings me to one of my lines in our sand. In buzzwords that debase the English language but could not be any clearer, what if I am unable to toilet myself? I wouldn’t mind moving to a place where trained professionals handle that for me, but it puts the kibosh on my plan to live here forever. (Laguna Beach has no assisted living. Ironically, neither does Laguna Woods.)
At least I have choices I can afford to make. Watching every penny — which no one outside of Laguna thinks any of us has to do — dramatically increases the degree of difficulty of growing old gracefully. That’s why I’m glad that the Susi Q is beginning to start to commence to promote “what if” conversations among ourselves. Our decisions will be our own. But I’ll find mine easier to make in good company.
Laguna resident Chris Quilter climbs five steps to his porch.