Monday, January 11, 2010

Are Boomers’ Bad Habits Spreading To Their Parents?

Boomers are stereotypically self-indulgent, but now there's the possibility that they've spread the attitude to their parents. If so, it proves the adage: insanity is hereditary — you get it from your kids.

The New York Times published a story on Friday entitled Seeing Old Age as a Never-Ending Adventure. Talk about maddening. It was about seniors — people in their 80s and 90s — continuing to engage in adventurous pursuits. One of the sources was a man who engaged in wing-walking at 89.

The story's anecdotal lead told the story of an Ocala, Fla., woman who, at age 90, went hiking in South Africa. At some point during the three-week trip last August, she sprained her ankle, and because no one had thought to bring crutches along, she had to cut her trip short.

What the story doesn't mention is what "cutting the trip short" entailed, and what effect it had on the itinerary, the guides, and the other participants. I have some limited experience with this, one that was not pleasant. We took a cruise through Tahiti for my 50th birthday, and one of the optional shore excursions was a jungle walk on Raiatea. It was blatantly advertised as a strenuous hike, involving the use of ropes to climb up dirt slopes.

There was a very sweet man on the cruise named Henry (see photo), who, though well into his 80s, thought this would be a fun excursion. He lasted no more than about a third of the way through the journey, when he became short of breath and realized his folly at coming with us.

So what then? My spouse, an internist, was reluctant to leave him alone on what could barely be described as a trail. But there was only one guide; for him escort Henry back to town would mean essentially cancelling the trip. Henry insisted he would be okay, but my spouse wasn't confident of that. So what happened? She stayed with Henry, and missed a spectacular hike through the jungle that ended at a swimming hole at the base of a picturesque waterfall.

Back on the ship, our inquiries as to why a man of Henry's advanced age had been allowed to sign up for this excursion were met with shrugs and apathy. Nor was there any offer of a refund for my wife.

I don't want to sound ageist, for a variety of reasons. First, I realize that everyone is different. Back in the days when I was a travel writer, I spent a week in Morocco on a familiarization tour with a group of travel agents. One of them was 77, and after a day’s activities, she would jump into a cab with a couple of other agents and visit other hotels in the city to jot down notes.

Second, I know that there's only a narrow sliver of years from the time you have the discretionary income to travel adventurously to the time you stop collecting frequent flyer miles entirely.

Third, and most important, I know that I'm going to be making this decision myself someday. I only hope that I have the common sense to recognize my limitations. My own father, who will be 90 next month, went to Venice and Dubrovnik a couple of years ago with one of his granddaughters. I tried to explain to him, having just been there myself, that Venice is the quintessential walking city. But you can't just hail a cab to take you back to your hotel if you get tired. You can hail a gondola, of course, provided your hotel is actually on a canal and that you have converted most of your retirement fund into euros. To my father’s credit, he swore off European travel after that trip.

I'm all for staying active, but have some consideration for your fellow travelers. That certainly is not the case with the woman from Florida who sprained her ankle. She's going back to South Africa this year to complete the journey. Sheesh.


  1. Crankier than usual, but you make some good points.

    I'll add this: it's not always about age. Jane's illness took its toll on her mobility, but she still wanted to travel and try just about anything that was offered to her. (I think that her motivation was probably similar to that of very old folks -- there may not be other opportunities in this life, so I'd better take this one.) I tried to make sure that _I_ was the one inconvenienced if something went wrong -- which, thankfully, it rarely did. (Your wife upheld her professional ethics, to her great credit.)

  2. Clearly, Howard, you haven't met my dad who climbed Kilimanjaro at age 72. Of course, he's kind of hyper. And in exceptional shape for his age. Okay, I get your point I really do. It's a tough call. I admire Henry for "going for it" on his vacation. But I do agree that someone with the cruise trip should've looked at him and advised him against the hike. Monica is a saint!