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Richer or Poorer. Webb's Sun Cities are only for a small minority of the aged. Those who are richer can buy into specialized old-age communities such as the Casa de Mañana in La Jolla. Calif., one of 100-odd similar projects operated by the Methodist Church. The La Jolla colony has fewer recreational facilities than Sun City, but its chief feature is guaranteed until-death medical care, including treatment in the colony's hospital. The price can be high: as much as $27,500. For this, plus a monthly $200 maintenance charge, a buyer receives lifetime tenancy of an ocean-view cottage, free meals in the community center, free linens, and cleaning service every two weeks.
In most other church-sponsored groups, the custom has been to demand a "founder's fee," which means the tenant has to pay a proportionate share of the building cost of the entire project. In some cases, he also has to agree to remain in the project for life, and to assign the community all personal assets in exchange for permanent care until death (many oldsters find this humiliating and restrictive of their freedom of choice).
Those who cannot afford Sun City can always go to St. Petersburg, where they can sit on pastel-colored benches in the sun and stare into space, or tell each other what they did yesterday. In St. Pete, they can have their blood pressure taken for 35¢ at a street-corner booth, or play shuffleboard on 107 courts. They can listen to free band concerts almost any day in the year, or dance most evenings for a quarter, or "Eat Like a King for $1.60"−or less.
Lonely in the Sun. And this is important, for 85% of them are living on less than $5,000 a year, 11% on less than $1,000. "What you do," explained one octogenarian, "is sleep good and late in the morning. That way I eat a breakfast for lunch about 11 o'clock, and then I don't have to eat lunch at all. Sure I'm lonely. But it's better to be lonely here in all this sunshine than back in Cincinnati. The old neighborhood's gone now.''
At St. Pete's Municipal Pier one recent evening, 94-year-old Bill Robinson was on the stage quavering Let Me Call You Sweetheart into the microphone. Three ladies were talking in the back of the room. "I can sleep up a storm." said one, "especially if it's raining." A man joined them. "Got up about noon," he said. "Went down to Williams Park and read the paper. Went home and took a nap. Ate at the Driftwoodsoup, roast beef, carrots, mashed potatoes. JellO, coffee for $1.25. Went to prayer meeting. Heard a lecture. Moseyed out here to see who's here."
Arnold Baker, a 75-year-old former engineer on the Maine Central Railroad, watched the square dancing at the Senior Citizens' Center (this produces several heart attacks a year) and winked at some of the women who were acting kittenish. "You can have a lot of fun in this town if you don't just sit down and die," he said. "You got to keep on the move. I play cards a lot, take a girl out to dinner now and then."