Getting Old Ain’t For Sissies

“I want to cancel my order.” The doddering old man says as he walks up The Passer. “I changed my mind.”

“You didn’t order anything, Sir.” The Passer says and watches the old man wander off.

About twenty minutes later, the old man comes back-wanting to cancel his order.

Directories are made for retirement communities as well as churches, and there is seldom any money to be made at a retirement community.  I have done Shoots in places like Sun City and Sun City 2, places where the roads are made for golf carts and most of the parking lots are striped for golf carts.  These are also places where it can be worth your life to walk the halls where these antique Jeff Gordons zip around at top speed in their motorized carts.

Many of these old folks homes are nice enough places, but there is something pretty disturbing about the over management of every waking moment.  At Sun City, AZ the room we were using was booked for every second of the day-and we only had it for the time we were scheduled for Shooting.  This meant we had no time for setup or tear down and had to fight with the Domino Club and the Bridge Club while we tried to work around them.  The old guys said things like-You better step quickly. Really?  Your game can’t wait?  Apparently not.

There are a lot of old people out there, and there are more showing up every day.  A lot of these old folks are not doing so well.  Once they hit the late eighties and nineties, things start to fall apart in pretty serious and obvious ways.  The minds often go even when the bodies still function more or less normally.  It’s not uncommon to have people who sit around after they have viewed their Portraits because they don’t remember viewing their portraits.  When told that they had already viewed them, they ask if they liked them.  We tell them: you loved them.

These Waiting for God Shoots can be a bit depressing on several levels.  First and foremost, very few of these old timers have any interest in buying portraits.  They often tell us things like everyone they knew is now dead, or that their children control their money, or that they have a portrait from twenty or thirty years ago that they like better.  Many of the ones who do want portraits find that they don’t have any money, or have lost their credit card, or don’t know what a credit card is, or where they are.

While I am not exactly a spring chicken myself, being around so many people who can barely move or think makes me want to take a long walk on a short pier once I hit about sixty-five.  I told that to a Passer once and he asked me why I was waiting.  Of course, I never really thought I was going to live as long as I have.  I did duck and cover drills in school and fully expected the world to end at some moment long before now.

Of course, I am never really happy with any Shoot.  Large families with screaming children can be a bit of a bother as well.  After my first couple of years I never wanted to see another two or three year old, but they keep showing up on a regular basis.    The Moms can be bitches, the Dads mostly sit around with glum looks on their faces, the Teens have that whole angst thing going on, children who have never been told no in their lives run around like speed addicts, and so on and so forth.  Most of our money is made from older couples, but not too old.

At the Old Folks Home we have people who tell us they are buying Obituary Photos and I have been at Shoots where people I have shot in the first week were dead by the time we got to the finial week.  I asked one or two what they think about people who put a baby pictures on the Obit page for a ninety year old and they all hate it, so I’m not sure how that bizarre fad got started.

It’s also pretty common for the old timers to tell me to Never Grow Old.  When I was shooting Shrine Directories I heard that all the time.  It’s hard not to agree with the sentiment when you see people with bent spines, gnarled hands, pencil thin limbs, and generally look as if a good sneeze would kill them.

On the other hand, not all old people are among the walking dead.  A lot of these folks are vital and active and can hear what you say to them.  They have sharp minds and often have good smiles and aren’t afraid to laugh.  This doesn’t mean they have any more interest in buying portraits than any other old timer, but at least I don’t have to shout at them to get their attention.

I have often said that The Company needs to supply us with a small megaphone and a pair of those orange cone flashlights they use to guide planes at airports.  They could put The Company name on them and they could offer an online training video on how to use them.  For some reason The Company has never be receptive to these kinds of suggestions.


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  • Good glory, how I would love to be a fly on the wall at one of your projects.

    My dad lived in an assisted living facility (hate that word facility), and he said every day someone would leave in an ambulance and not return. He became pretty glum (and deaf) by the time he took his last ride in an ambulance. I’m sure he was happy to get out of there regardless of where he was going.

    I’m thinking the golf carts are glorified wheelchairs for longer distances – what’s your take?

    You did duck and cover drills? I’m older than you and we didn’t have to do any. Hmph. Only time I was under my desk was to pick up a pencil.

  • The Photographer wrote:

    Most of the healthy people seem to love the places I have been. They have restaurants with pretty good food, things to do, new people to talk to, and they love nothing better than complaining about how lousy the service is and how so-and-so is stealing everyone’s jewelry.

    These are not really places for the independent minded, it’s all about group thinking and what the majority will be happy do together. I’m more of a sit alone reading a book kind of guy myself.

    Yes, I’d say very little golf is involved in the life of a golf carts at most assisted living facilities.

    I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas with B-52s making regular flights over my house, a lot of sonic booms, and the last of the DDT trucks puffing down my street. We were often reminded that Carswell Air force Base would be one of the first targets in a nuclear attack. So yeah, we did Duck and Cover Drills for the first few years I was in school.

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