We were sitting on the patio at the Nancy Lopez Golf & Country Club when the martinis began to take hold.
After convening an event last week for university speechwriters at the University of Florida in Gainesville, my colleague Mike King and I spent the weekend with his dad Pete, an hour south at The Villages, the impossibly sprawling corporate retirement community in central Florida: As The New York Times reported recently, these are 32 square miles filled with 60,000 golf-cart accessible homes, lived in by 130,000 “Villagers,” as they are called.
From talking to Pete extensively, from golfing with another pair of Villagers, from visiting a town square on late on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you this, about the Villagers: They are proud of where they live. Proud, in a very familiar sort of way.
It’s not that they think it’s perfect or that everyone should live here. It’s not that they uncritically worship The Developer, as the management of the place is creepily called (in a way that it sounds like people are referring to a person, but really it’s a corporation). And it’s not that they believe The Villages Daily Sun newspaper tells them all the news that’s fit to print.
It’s more that they are part of a phenomenon, where something remarkable is taking place. The Villages is on the come. The Villages boggles the mind. The Villages is like no other place on earth. That’s the way they thought about America, when they were young.
I think that’s why this place resists writers’ and documentary-makers’ conventional attempts to mock it: When you’re there, you understand why it’s there.
A lot of us thought Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was a dog whistle for “Make America White Again” or “Make Me in Charge Again.” And of course that was part of it, for some.
But in the Villagers I talked to—a small but insistent sample—my instincts told me those hats might better have said, “Make America Cool Again.” Which would automatically “Make My American Life Matter Again.” And might even boil down even further to “Make Me Young Again.”
That’s the feeling I got down there from the Villagers: They are living in a place of consequence, and they want to talk about it.
And though I disagree with their prevailing Trumpian politics and their taste in fountain water, I don’t blame them one little bit for feeling the way they do about the place they live.
If they weren’t all so damned old, I might even envy them.