Episode 603 Getting Around
This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.
Irene was a Berkeley woman in the sixties. She wore tie dye and lived in a group house. She moved to Bellingham, Washington within the last twenty years. She is retired. I got to know her because she was a biker. She had a nice blue bicycle with a little pinwheel on a stick taped to her front basket. She had a few colorful plastic flowers woven into the basket. Her helmet was white with flowers painted on it and she always wore a yellow jacket. You could see her coming and going. The bike was how she got around.
We met Irene while on our bikes. Irene doesn’t bike any more. I must be in her eighties by now – perhaps ninties. Irene is fairly heavy. She has had leg problems; can’t walk well at all. Now she can be found cruising down the street in her wheel chair. She has some plastic flowers attached. Her solution to getting around is to choose her housing carefully. She lives in a very cohesive neighborhood; grocery store just across the street, post office just across the street and down one door, pharmacy; one block away. There are more than twenty restaurants within five blocks. A great books store, shoe store, and multiple art galleries are within a few blocks. Three doctors have offices within two blocks. Irene has chosen well. She talks of getting a three wheeled bicycle.
Retired and having problems getting around? We might all take a lesson from Irene; choose our residence carefully. Of course, money could play a part in our decision as to where to set up housekeeping. But, Irene is not rich. She lives in a low-income housing unit. Perhaps she is lucky to live there, then again, perhaps she was smart in finding the place and securing residency. It makes a difference in her life on a daily basis. Sometimes she has to take a bus and when she does the bus stop is right at her door.
The bike is how we(my wife and I) get around. We have a car, but it moves rarely. Usually only when we go out of town or go some where after dark. We like to bike. The bank, the post office, the grocery store, the pharmacy, the book store, coffee shops, etc. are all within biking and walking distance. I would say we are some of the lucky ones and it would be true. I must add that when we went looking for a house while still in our forties we look for those features. Being able to walk and bike to a local business center was a feature we demanded. It sure has paid off.
My old friend, Dick Smith, stopped by to record a program for this show a few years ago. He was a happy guy – he had just renewed his driver’s license. It took him to age 89. He loved to drive. He also biked a few miles each day to get his morning paper, but he was a driver. He loved to get in his pickup camper and head out on a road trip. Renewing your drivers license is something one worries about as one gets older. I’m sure there are lots of relatively new Buicks sitting in garages because the owners have not been able to get their driver’s license renewed. The doctor won’t allow it, the eye sight won’t allow it, or the kids won’t allow it. Accidents have a way of happening. Just a few years ago a woman in her eighties mistook the accelerator for the brake in her car just a few blocks from here. She ran right over a guy who had just started retirement. He was sixty seven and in a crosswalk. Similar stories abound.
My mother never drove a car. She lived in a small town. She walked to most stores, but her savior was a daughter that lived in the same community. Rides could be provided when needed. Another friend of mine moved to this town when she was in her sixties and relied entirely on the bus system for transportation. It can be done.
Some retirement communities stand alone; they are built out on the edge of town. There are no grocery stores, pharmacies, or post offices within walking distances. Lives are dependent on the car. It seems to me like all of these things need to be build with walking, biking and wheelchairs given consideration. I have a friend who lives in a mobile home park in Sarasota, Florida. He tells me, “you need a car to live there”. He is in his ninties now and lives there with just the use of a bus provided by the community aging agency and Uber.
We visited a sister of mine a few years ago in Sun City, Arizona; one has to be 55 or over to live there. I asked about visiting her neighborhood community or town center and received a quizzical look. Then I rephrased the inquiry; “Where you buy your groceries, pick up mail, get your drugs, buy a cup of coffee”. The answer was that they do these activities out along a strip at various stops. A car is required. Time has passed. Now they live without a car. They rely on a paid caregiver to take them everywhere they want to go which is almost always to a doctor or hospital. Meals on Wheels brings food three times a week. They are isolated for the most part. Living conditions could be better.
Brenda and I spent half of our time living in Vancouver, BC these last fourteen years. Once in the city we used our car perhaps a couple of times? I’m not even sure of that. We walked. Or we biked. People in downtown Vancouver have learned to spread upwards rather than outwards. They have added over thirty thousand people to the down town in the last 17 years. Yet, at the same time, downtown traffic has declined. Cars are not a necessity. We can obtain whatever we wish within walking distance and certainly within biking range. From the Opera, to the Future Shop, to beautiful old growth forest, to recreational centers, to Universities, to grocery stores or doctors. They are all within a few minutes.
In this area of the lower mainland in British Columbia high-rises are being built outside of downtown. Smaller suburbs are now seeing twenty story condos being built. Mass transit winds out of downtown and ties these hubs together. If you can walk and find anything you might need, or want, the problem of getting around can disappear – along with your car. For us it has been perhaps our most important decision for enjoying our retirement years. We talk about it almost every day as we walk to a coffee shop, grocery store, pharmacy, credit union, restaurant or most any other businesses we need or want. When it comes to retirement and getting around, the best answer seems to be to choose your housing location carefully.
This is Retirement Talk.