Like most people, my only regular exposure to Sun City-ites is what I hear them say on talk radio. "Okay, next we go to Raymond in Sun City," the host says. "Ray, thank you for calling." What usually follows is five minutes of bitter invective aimed at politicians, liberals, lawyers, doctors and the media. Which is usually pretty funny, considering the topic of the day is how to repair screen doors. Judging from the call-in shows, having too much spare time is sometimes a problem in Sun City. Now, see? That's not a fair assumption. Like most people, I never get closer to Sun City than a quick drive-by on the way to Vegas. Some people have the advantage of having relatives who live out there, but they only visit when their relatives are sick with prostate problems or something, and that kind of thing pretty much skews their research, if you know what I'm saying. Forming your opinion of a place based on crabby talk-show callers is pretty dumb, but not nearly as dumb as doing your opinion-forming based on a visit to someone who's sitting on a blowtorch.
As team leader of Operation Geezer, I've just spent several days forming opinions about Sun City. Opinions, I don't need to tell you, based on solid, scientific research. My conclusions? I think Sun City is okay. I wouldn't mind moving there right now. But of course I can't. They won't let me. I'm not old enough and won't be for twenty years. Among the many things I've learned about Sun City, that's one that I love the best.
One of the things I love the least about Sun City is its location. Operation Geezer has required a lot of effort on my part, a lot of stomping around in the heat and a lot of heavy pollen-breathing. By far the most annoying thing about Sun City is getting to it, a process that I rather liken to getting to heaven, except that getting to heaven does not involve spending a cumulative 2.4 hours sitting at the light at Camelback and Grand during a period of four days, which I did while reporting this story. The two main approaches to Sun City are via Grand Avenue and Bell Road. On your way to Sun City (or, if you will, on your journey through life en route to heaven) you endure mile upon mile of unsightly roadside distractions. Self-storage lockers follow go-go bars follow drive-through liquor stores follow hubcap farms follow street-corner seatcover peddlers. At the end of your journey comes heaven, or, in this case, Sun City.
Of course, heaven is probably not as nice as Sun City. After 45 minutes on Grand Avenue, Sun City's whitewashed garden walls and immaculate rock yards look pretty cool. The sky is blue in Sun City, and the sun seems to shine brighter than it does downtown.
Upon my arrival on the first morning of Operation Geezer, I squinted through the glare and set about gathering "facts." Like usual I relied on a variety of time-tested journalistic techniques. For example:
* I immediately drove to the visitors center at 99th Avenue and Bell Road.
* I carefully watched a 25-minute video presentation at the visitors center. * I picked up a bunch of pamphlets and a local newspaper. So prepared, I then drove around for several days looking at buildings and bumper stickers, the most popular of which says: "I'm Spending My Kids' Inheritance." Sun City's streets are an agonizing maze of twists, turns, circles and cul-de-sacs. I was totally lost most of the time, which made me feel quite like a native. All of my hasty conclusions about Sun City were formed while creeping through traffic, totally lost, behind slow-moving golf carts, which are street-legal in Sun City and used for getting around by many locals. Like I say, the biggest challenge to anyone involved with forming opinions about a topic is overcoming preexisting prejudices. For example, I've always heard that booze is a big problem in Sun City. You know, Ray gets home from the golf course a little early. Betty's still off at bridge. Ray climbs into the martini shaker. Ray starts calling the radio stations to bitch about Ted Kennedy. And so it goes. Indeed, at first I thought a key part of my investigation would require sitting around in Sun City bars for hours at a time, talking to Sun City bartenders and Sun City drunks. You know, rip the lid off the dark underbelly of Sun City nightlife, that kind of thing. Problem with that is, the nightlife out there tends to end long before the "night" part of the day actually begins. Sure, a few ring-a-ding-ding types insist on ripping it up well into wee time, but for the most part it's safe to conclude that your real party guys and gals tend to peel off before they make it to retirement age. Besides, in Sun City, everybody gets up way too early to do much howling at the moon. Early in my investigation, I made my way to one of the rec centers. It was about 9 a.m. on a weekday, and gray heads were buzzing all around me. Classes were under way in several time-killing crafts, such as metal bending and clay squeezing. Laps were being swum in the big pool. Couples, carrying floor mats and long sticks padded at one end, were arriving for some kind of class I didn't feel like asking about. Over at the tennis courts, four red-faced guys were pounding tennis balls at each other. I wandered over to watch. From what I could tell, the two guys on one side of the net were at one point members of one branch of the United States armed forces, and the two guys on the other side were members of another branch. The vibes bouncing around that court were not groovy. There is a lot of retired military in Sun City, and lots of old vets. The Big One has been the dominant event in the lives of most of the residents, male or female. Sam Huff, the great linebacker, was fishing (sure) on a boat somewhere when he first heard the news that Vince Lombardi was going to coach the Redskins, Huff's team at the time. Huff said later that his first impulse was to row immediately to shore and start doing push-ups. After watching these ex-warriors bash tennis balls at each other for about ten minutes, I had the same impulse. But not all Sun City's residents are graying Great Santinis. After a couple of days out there, I realized that I probably prefer the company of most old people to most people my age.