Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 1 - The Condo

Harbor View Condominiums – Mom and Dad’s winter home. If you have ever dreamed of what your retirement home would look like – perhaps a light-colored stucco home sitting gracefully among tall, swaying palm trees, overlooking a cool, blue body of water – this is not it. Now, don’t get me wrong, their place is not a dump, but it’s not exactly the Vanderbilt Estate either. My sister has nicknamed their development ‘The Army Barracks’ – one hundred identical two-story brown and beige buildings with palm trees and a few small lakes scattered about. And of course there’s the occasional old man driving around in a golf cart. There is no harbor view to speak of, as the name implies.

Now, when you are coming into Harbor View, you might think you are entering an expensive luxury complex that is worthy of the large imposing gate with the guardhouse and guard it has at its entrance. Do not be fooled. This place is hardly luxurious, and the guard is usually a little old man weighing all of 90 pounds. He seems to have his pants pulled up to his ears, both of which, incidentally, have hearing aids in them.

I don’t know why this relatively basic condominium development is gated, except that it seems most Floridian retirement complexes are housed in gated communities. It’s as if when people turn 55 they suddenly feel that they have to protect the treasures they have accumulated over their lifetime – their hi-fi stereos, their collections of spoons from 50 years’ worth of vacations, and their oversized pieces of gaudy costume jewelry. As if any self-respecting burglar would want to steal any of those things.

There are two lanes to drive through at the guardhouse. One is for residents, which is an open lane that is to be used only by residents who have the brightly colored HV sticker on their windshield to prove that they live there. And one is for guests, which is a closed lane with one of those large orange and white arm barriers. If you are a resident, you drive through the resident lane, wave to the little old man, and he waves you in. If you are a guest, you are supposed to stop at the imposing orange and white arm barrier and tell the man the name of the resident you are visiting. He is expected to make a telephone call to the resident to confirm that you are indeed supposed to be visiting. However, the little old man rarely ever calls the residents. In fact, you can make up any name you want and tell the old man you are visiting that person. He won’t know that you made it up, since he doesn’t call to verify. And I’m pretty certain this old guy doesn’t know the names of all 10,000 residents by heart. But all of that doesn’t matter anyway, since he probably hasn’t even heard what you said.

So you drive up and say, “I’m visiting Mr. and Mrs. Blank.” (Insert name – Miller, Cohen, Blank). He’ll wave you in. Or, do what Dad did the first year he visited. He drove through the resident lane (sans the HV sticker) and gave a wave and a smile to the guard. The guard waved him in each time. I tried it the first time I visited Mom and Dad, and he waved me in. Did he really think I lived there? I was only 26 years old at the time.

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