Friday, January 11, 2008

Early Bird (Rodney Rothman)

Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodney Rothman was in the bundle of books I brought with me to the airport for our Christmas vacation. But before I talk about the actual book, let me explain a little about our Christmas vacation.

We dutifully arrived at the airport at 5 am for our 6:50 am flight only to discover that it was delayed for almost 4 hours because of dense fog. We stood in line for 2 hours to get rebooked since we were going to miss our connecting flight. We found out that our new flight would get us to Portland, our destination, about 5 hours later, which wasn't too bad. A lot of flights were canceled, so we considered ourselves lucky. We went to the gate, where I proceeded to read a good half of Early Bird before our new departure time.

But then our departure time came, and our outbound plane wasn't there. We noted that the fog outside appeared to be getting thicker.

About an hour or so later, the airline worker at the counter announced that the plane was in fact "here" if you count the airspace above us "here," but that it was circling above waiting for clearance to land. Everyone got excited, until a half an hour later when the airline worker announced that the plane above had to return to Minneapolis because it could not get enough clearance to land. Our flight was officially canceled. There was no chance for us getting out that day. They rebooked us for the next day.

We managed to stay remarkably calm throughout the experience. (We ended up not getting out the airport the next day either. It was basically the same story as above, but you can replace the word "fog" with "blowing snow and ice" and "incoming plane that had been circling now returning to Minneapolis" with "incoming plane that had been circling now diverted to Cedar Rapids"), and I can tell you, with some authority, that Early Bird is excellent airport reading material. I first heard of the book at an A.J. Jacobs/Logan Ward reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival in October.

While he's between jobs, Rothman, at the age of 28, decides to check out retired life in Florida, much to his friends' surprise. One thing he learns very quickly is that most of the retired people in his neighborhood think he's someone else's grandson, not a fellow retiree. And he finds trying to explain his situation to others to be challenging, but he eventually enters some of their inner circles, such as the group of ladies who sit around the pool daily to gossip.

He notes that the value of the early bird special is very important because very few people he meets actually cook. (And free food usually trumps healthy food.) But not everything is how he expects it to be. He's invited to a Senior League softball team and quickly finds out that these guys can outplay him any day, except the game is a little different:

The opposite side of the "strong arms/weak legs" issue is this---the hitters, once they put a ball in play, run very slowly. And the fielders, once they reach the ball, have the arm strength to fire the ball wherever it needs to go. So when people do get out, it's in ways I have never seen before---like someone hitting a line drive deep into the hole in left center, and then getting thrown out at first.

Rothman also spends his time trying figure out what he wants to do with his life, and everyone offers him advice. Many of the old men want to know why on Earth he's hanging around them instead of out in the world, dating every woman he meets. (This is what they would do, after all, if they were in his position, they say.)

My parents may be considered "older" by some people (not me), and I'm sure there are people their age living in retirement communities. But I can't even begin to picture my parents in a retirement community like the one in this book. My dad has an artificial leg and plays raquetball frequently. My stepmother is getting her volunteer EMT certification (and she's a member of the sheriff's posse). And I think the differences between my parents and the people in this book kept popping up in the back of my mind as I read. I found the book to be funny, but maybe I was expecting more; it didn't quite live up to my expectations. But I was certainly glad to have it in the airport, where it made the "holiday travel" a bit more bearable.

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