Thursday, May 18, 2006

Boomers on the Move

They say the sense of smell, being a very primitive sense, can evoke memories from deep in the mind. It sometimes happens to me unexpectedly when I smell something I haven't smelled in years and I can clearly remember the last time I detected that scent. Other aromas I encounter more frequently, but they always bring back memories. It happened to me today.

Even though we are thousands of miles from the Pacific Northwest, western red cedar is commonly used here on the east coast for shingles, shakes and siding. Now, I am aware of what is happening to the old growth forests of the West and I might be reluctant to start a major siding project with this wonderful material, but when making repairs on houses already sided in cedar, I use it regularly. I was replacing some damaged shingles today and, as I so often do, I made a point of inhaling deeply after making my first cut to allow the sweet scent of cedar transport me to other times and places.

My father was a builder and carpenter his whole life. The term "old school" was developed to describe guys like him. He learned much of what he knew from his father and was slow to change. When I was very young, I loved to hang around his job sites, getting in the way, losing tools and being a pest. He would also take me on trips to the lumber yard. Of the memories that stuck with me from those days decades ago, some of the fondest are the smells of fresh lumber. While eastern white pine isn't bad, for some reason the sweetness of Douglas fir and red cedar are my favorites. Every time I smell those great western species I remember the simple innocence of a carefree childhood when fathers were competent and work of the hands was respected.

These woody fragrances also transport me to other places. I've only been to Washington and British Columbia a couple of times, but I love the big woods and big trees. I love the way you can be in Seattle and see huge conical snow-capped mountains in the distance. I love the idea of great coffee and progressive thinking. I like the idea of building a rustic home with wonderful natural materials. I think of totem poles and the fantastic legends they tell. I like to think about what it would be like to live in such a place.

I've been doing a lot of that lately. Although it's highly unlikely I'll ever get to retire in the usual sense of the word, it's fun to think about where we might move to spend our golden years if we could. The problem is, millions of other Boomers are doing the same thing, and a big heap of demographic you-know-what is going to hit the fan. The first Boomers hit 60 this year and lots of them have big 401K's and tremendous home equity. Many of them will soon be retiring and/or down-sizing. I know several who plan to cash it in early. Where will the Boomers go?

Conventional wisdom says they will retire to places that are warm and on the water. Florida is so last generation, although the real estate bubble there shows there's still plenty of interest. Thanks to a daughter who has been living in California for a couple of years, I can attest to the appeal of parts of that state, but who the hell can afford to live there? Many will probably head for Arizona and Nevada, and they're great if you want to bulldoze the desert and bake in cities without souls.

Those places are all too conventional, anyway. We're Boomers and we don't do anything in a small way. If we're going to kick back and sip our pinot noir in the sun, why not Costa Rica or Belize? The South of France? What's the exchange rate this month? Hey, if all the Mexicans want to come to America, why don't we just buy Mexico?

I don't know where we will all go, but I feel sure we'll be on the move and it's gonna be big. Some will trade the suburban spread for a condo in the city, and I think that makes a lot of sense. I see new "over 55" comunities going up. Co-housing seems interesting. I read several blogs by retirees who live in the country, and the lifestyle sounds great, but I shudder to think what will happen to the countryside if millions of affluent Americans all start carving up chunks of it to build American Dream II. If millions more move to the desert, imagine the impacts on water supplies and the impacts of all that air conditioning. One silver lining in this demographic storm cloud may be that when housing prices plunge because we're all selling at the same time, our kids might have a prayer of buying a real place to live.

So, look out, world. The Boomers are coming! I just hope we don't screw it up.


At 10:02 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Oh, I do so love your blog. Your words made me think of my dad, who we lost in 2004 rather suddenly.
Motor oil, freshly-mown grass, and Aqua Velva all bring him right back to me.
And as to where we will put all the Baby Boomers...I hear Iowa is pretty this time of year, and there's lots of space.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

We retired to the pacific northwest in 2004, and we are shingling our house as I type this. I feel like your yuppy stereotype! We feel very lucky to have been able to take advantage of the housing market in California, and getting out of it when we did. Most of the people we know are planning their retirements in the sunbelt. We're glad that we prefer cool temperatures and don't mind the grey skies. Of course we hope that where we have chosen to retire stays as green and pristine as it is. But we'll keep heading north if the peninsula gets too crowded, and the best of it disappears in haze of exhaust and strip malls.

Even if you can't retire, I hope you get to slow down some place where there's plenty of beauty around you, and you have the time to fully appreciate it.

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