A couple of weeks ago, as I was taking one of my rare excursions into the shopping mall, a man fell into step next to me and asked, "Didn't there used to be a restaurant there?"
I glanced over to my left at the darkened windows we were walking past.
"Oh, yeah," I said, "It was that cafeteria for old people. Piccadilly or something."
"Wonder why it went under?" He mused, as we started to walk our separate directions.
Of course, I have a theory: old people don't want to eat at restaurants like that anymore, with its array of roast beef in gravy, mashed potatoes, fruit cocktails, and the like. It became an outmoded concept that had no chance of adapting. That is only a theory; I have no idea how the chain is doing in shopping malls across the country. It could be hugely popular in Topeka. But I doubt it.
Down here in Florida among the elderly, as is my habit, I find myself reflecting on aging and retirement. But I am also on vacation. And so, one afternoon, I decided to see a movie. The best reviewed of the bunch was Trainwreck, the Amy Schumer movie that I didn't know much about, but figured, ok, kind of a raunchy, R-rated relationship comedy. Maybe some laughs.
I thought I'd sneak into the 4PM showing when I could get the matinee price and still sit in the relative comfort of an empty theater as the oldies of Venice prepared for their "Early Bird" meals around the city. Boy, was I wrong. As I walked into the theater just before the start, I first noticed scores of people in those seats way up front that no one ever sits in unless they are desperate. Probably can't see from farther away, I thought. Then, as I rounded the corner, I discovered that the entire theater was almost full. As I looked up into the mass of people, I had no interest in trying to find a single seat up there. So I, too, walked down to those awful seats in the front, find a place at the end of the third row.
As we sat through the string of previews, I had chances to look around and to notice how old the audience was--white hairs, blue hairs, and no hairs surrounded me, making comments after each preview like, "Ooh, That looks good. I want to see that."
I kind of lost my bearings. Then the movie started. I've never seen Amy Schumer, but have seen any number of Judd Apatow-directed movies and movies built around SNL alums, so I was ready and willing for the barrage of dick jokes, sex jokes, uncomfortable drawn out sexual situations, candid sex talk and the other trappings of the modern "R" comedy.
What I wasn't prepared for was the howling laughter of the elderly, how they roared their collective ways through the raunchy comedy, whether the romantic leads were were debating how often he should "go down" on her or how every rebuttal from a muscle-bound suitor in a movie theater ended up sounding like a graphic, gay come on. They loved every bit of it. They clapped when the movie was over!
I remember my friend telling me about the awkward experience of watching Tropic Thunder with his parents. I recalled watching the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings when my parents were visiting, and my father refusing to believe that any man would commit any of the behaviors that Anita Hill was accusing Clarence Thomas of. My parents would have walked out of Trainwreck after 5 minutes; my dad wouldn't make it through a single episode of Deadwood.
My movie companions represent a new breed of elderly--they are the ones who would rather eat at Panera than Picadilly, who aren't transitioning into an elderly style of dress, who work their laptops and ride racing bikes, not a single-speed bicycle with thick tires and a basket in the front.
People who are 70 years old right now were 24 years old for Woodstock, 22 for the "Summer Of Love," 18 when LBJ started escalating the Vietnam War. They are approximately the same age as the living rock stars that we continue to idolize--Jagger, Richards, Young, Dylan, Townshend, Page, Plant.
The disconnect between seeing the Rolling Stones prancing on a stage in Atlanta and the active lives of their age mates in Florida retirement communities likely belongs to me. I'm sure the marketing experts have long since figured out that the leading edge of the "Baby Boomers" want to stay active and to not go gently. That's an encouraging trend. But I'm still adjusting to sitting next to someone's great grandmother while she giggles at oral sex jokes.