"It was an impulsive thing to do," Haas confesses. "The original idea was that we'd spend our winters in Port Charlotte and divide the rest of the time between our home in Mount Sterling and our houseboat. It didn't work out that way. When we got home we received a real fine offer for the house. It was a big old two-story house, and we both had arthritis and were living downstairs. We were hardly going upstairs at all. We figured we were only using half the house anyway. We sold the house and most of our furniture, got ourselves a U-Haul trailer and moved to Port Charlotte.
"Florida's our home now," Haas says flatly, "Not Ohio." On occasional trips to Mount Sterling he makes a point of stopping by the old hardware store—the new owner, he observes with more than a trace of wistfulness, "does things differently"—but it is primarily to visit their two married daughters, one in Cincinnati and the other in Milwaukee, that he and his wife even bother to go back anymore. Old friends? "Some of them are dead," says Haas. "Or else they've retired and moved away themselves."
Probably the most wrenching dislocation for retirees does not concern friends or surroundings, but finances. One Port Charlotte real-estate dealer—not General Development—offers assurances that, once the home is paid for, a retired couple can get by on $179 a month, a figure based on the highly questionable assumption that people of advanced years could safely live in so spread out a community with neither an automobile nor a telephone. The difficulty of making do on too tight a budget is evident in the supermarkets, where men in their 70s can be found working as stock boys to supplement their pensions. There, too, one can see an elderly couple conferring in an aisle for 15 minutes about whether to invest 99¢ in a six-pack of Old Milwaukee or splurge and lay down 88¢ for four cans of Budweiser.
The pinch can also be felt by those relatively well off—those, in other words, who do not depend mainly on Social Security payments. Last Memorial Day weekend Jim and Inez Haas joined in a Boat-a-Cade of 100 craft, ranging in size up to 97 feet, for a two-day trip eastward across Florida via inland waterways to Lake Okeechobee and beyond to the Atlantic. The trip was a success, owing largely to a wholly fortuitous circumstance. As Haas remembers it, "The stock market rose a little just before we started, and that put everybody in a better mood."
If boating enthusiasts are sensitive to financial tides, it is because their recreation comes dear. Haas' Lark cost $8,600 with radio gear, and he spends anywhere from $35 a month to $100 or more on maintenance, including repair and replacement of all those propellers. With fixed costs like that, Haas jokingly figures that what little fishing he does works out to maybe $70 a pound. No great fisherman anyway, he would rather put his boat to other uses, as when he and Inez set out one day recently with the idea of having lunch at a small guest hotel on privately owned Useppa Island, 25 miles south of Port Charlotte in Pine Island Sound.
It was just past noon when Haas, shirtless and in high spirits, took Lark through the canal behind his house, out past bleached seawalls and into Charlotte Harbor. The water was choppy, but Haas opened the boat almost to full throttle, slowing only to correct course. "I believe I'm allowing too much for the east wind," he said at one point. As he studied the horizon, a school of porpoises played in the distance.
Clearing the harbor, the boat sped past islands strung against the open Gulf. Soon Useppa Island, supposedly once a haven for the pirate José Gaspár, came into view, a spot of natural beauty guarded along its beaches by legions of fiddler crabs. Once ashore, the Haases learned that the hotel where they intended to lunch was closed, except for the bar. Haas ordered bourbons for Inez and himself, and it was past 2:30 before they set out again.
The next destination was Bokeelia, a fishing village on Pine Island with a restaurant said to specialize in shrimp boiled in rainwater. On the way, Haas decided on a whim to detour slightly in order to go by the shell-strewn beaches of Boca Grande Pass. By the time they reached the fishing pier at Bokeelia it was 3:30, and a stiff wind had come up to whip the water.
The wooden pier was thick with fishermen who sat along the edge vying for catches with diving pelicans and screeching gulls. Haas approached with great care, lest the waves send Lark hurtling against the pier. Finally he succeeded in docking. He clambered onto the pier, where there was a fishing shack and a potbellied man in a dirty T shirt. Haas asked if he could leave his boat there.
"May as well," the man replied frostily. "You've already messed up the fishing around here for the next two hours, anyway."