My Happy Place

“One retiree’s Wyoming is another retiree’s Arkansas.” – Maureen Rogers – Pink Slip blog

My cousin Maureen alerted me to Bankrate’s “best places to retire” list which puts Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, and Iowa as the top four spots. Knowing that we’ve visited Mike’s dad in Atlantic, Iowa, many times, she dangled that carrot in front of me as an alternative to our Naperville home up North. Sorry, Mo, I’m not biting. I guess Florida seems too clichéd, so Bankrate had to shun the same-old, same-old, but, if I were going to list places I’d avoid, these four would be pretty close to the top of my list. North Dakota, even though its claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of my husband and father-in-law, is my Hell, No Number One.

It seems that every day there’s a new list of the best places to retire. This week, my second home town, Sarasota, made it to the top of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a score derived from a blend of essential elements of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. (Am I the only one who is cringing at the lack of parallel construction here? But I digress.) Sarasota seems to star on the “best of…” lists frequently. A couple years ago, Siesta Beach was named Number One Beach by none other than Dr. Beach himself. This year, TripAdvisor and AARP named it number one. Over the years, Sarasota’s accolades included #1 Small City Art Destination by American Style magazine and CNBC’s and “Best Places to Retire” lists.

So, what makes one place retirement-worthy over another? Depends on who you ask. For me, it’s Sarasota. Sure, weather has a lot to do with it. Warm weather translates into being outside, going for neighborhood walks, hanging around poolside with a book, walking across Ringling Bridge over the Sarasota Bay, and sampling the different vibes at every beach. Sarasota has lots of sunshine and blue skies, in woefully short supply in Illinois, whose days upon end of gloomy winter gray wear me down. I haven’t had a pair of socks on since December, and the lack of wintery layers lifts my spirits.

Sarasota’s waterfront dazzles me. The drive along Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota features gulf waters, boats moored offshore and docked along the marina, and a park shaded by palm and banyans. Each beach has its own personality: scrubby sea grasses and rocks along the shore of Caspersan, white powder under a blanket of tourists at Siesta, a parade of boats and fishermen at the North Jetty. Even a simple trip to T.J. Maxx takes me over the Dona Bay and the Venice Bridge, and I’m eying mangroves and sailboats while out running errands.

I sit in our lanai and watch ospreys, killdeer, and turkey vultures swoop in and out of the palms and pines in the preserve. With our bedroom windows open and unshaded, I’m awakened by the rising sun over the palms in our preserve, and the calling birds are my alarm clock. Pairs of sandhill cranes meander through our neighborhood, and in spring, when their babies hatch, we watch the youngsters grow from fluffy newborns to spunky teenagers in a couple months’ time. Spoonbills, herons, ibises, turtles, and alligators big and small hang out around the ponds right around the corner. Our magenta bougainvillea, orange and pink hibiscus, and creamy white magnolias cheer my soul.

But life is more than scenery and sunshine. Not a problem. We’ve seen eight theatrical performances, including three shows at the Westcoast Black Theater, where we’ve volunteered to usher in exchange for free seats. We’ve listened to live bands play along the shores of the Ca d’Zan (the Ringling Mansion) while the sun dipped down over the bay. Outdoor art shows and farmers’ markets are weekly events. Neighborhood get-togethers pop up often, and no one has an issue with a party on a weekday. There’s hand-and-foot card group on Wednesdays, writers workshop on Thursdays. Some neighbors and I do water aerobics that’s just my speed three times a week. On Tuesdays, I meet with my Sarasota Literacy Council mentee who’s become a good friend. The food is pretty good, too. We had Cuban cuisine on Saturday, sampling the Epicurean Adventure menu at Michael’s on East. At Pop’s Sunset Grill, the grouper reuben and the seafood plate are delish, spiced up by the view of boats big and small gliding by.

What about things that make Sarasota less than perfect? Its popularity, for one. Funny how we snowbirds can grumble about the damn tourists clogging up the bridge to Siesta. The local news channel “Eight on your side” sets my teeth on edge. Jumbo pick-up trucks on swimming-pool-sized wheels, twangy accents, so-so pizzas, a zillion commercials for personal injury lawyers (“Who’s that? Jodat!” “Morgan and Morgan, for the People!”), and the creepy feeling that I’m surrounded by concealed handguns are some of the downsides. Its politics? Dreadful.

Our Sarasota season is winding down, and thinking of heading back to Naperville makes me smile. It’s Home with a capital H. Kids and grandkids, my mother, longtime friends, the Riverwalk, a Portillo’s salad, the chaise in my sunroom, and the flowering crab tree on our front lawn are calling me. Then there’s that beautiful city right down the road, the one with the gigantic bean its front yard. I’m ready for a Chicago fix, too.

Maybe the latest poll shows Wyoming as the place to be, but I’ll opt for Sarasota and Naperville, both retirement homes sweet homes.


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