Once under way, Betts Rasch began warming fried chicken in Pipedream's galley while Tracy, the couple's black Labrador, lazed on the afterdeck. From the way Lee Rasch was easing the 42-foot vessel through narrow channels and out toward the Intracoastal Waterway, it was apparent that the couple felt as comfortable on Florida's water as on its land. Considering that they had compounded the disruptions of retirement by migrating to a new community—making them pioneers not only in leisure but in literal fact—their adjustment was even more impressive than that of Larry and Mabel Westerberg. But the Rasches are not unique; because of such boldness multiplied many times over, Florida ranks first in over-65 population, a retirement haven where the official state song is Stephen Foster's Old Folks at Home.
Stuart, the self-proclaimed "Sailfish Capital of the World," is a drowsy settlement 40 miles north of Palm Beach that has lately attracted hordes of older people. While no planned community, it is at heart not much different from the Sun Cities, Leisure Villages and other for-retirees-only towns that are proliferating across the U.S. Many residents of these geriatric ghettoes, attaching an importance to the postman's visit equaled only in prisons, stay in touch with the outside world by putting themselves on as many mailing lists as possible. Not everybody is quite so desperate, but a slight sense of estrangement sooner or later reaches even so acclimated a retiree as Roy Erikson, who dwells in a country-club community north of San Diego surrounded by golf-playing corporate refugees exactly like himself.
Erikson retired eight years ago as a ranking executive of Whirlpool Corp. Visiting New York soon after, he was coolly received by a former business associate who had always welcomed him enthusiastically in the past. "It was a shock," Erikson recalls. "I realized it wasn't me he liked all those years but the position I occupied." But Erikson maintained other contacts in the business world, and these proved useful in playing the stock market, which he did with great success. Recently, however, death and distance have thinned out Erikson's contacts, deflating his pride and portfolio alike. "My sources aren't as good as they once were," he grieves.
Some people can adjust to the inevitable isolation and decompression of retirement better than others. One who might have been expected to recoil in terror from the whole experience was Lee Rasch, described by a longtime friend as "the sort who could never bring himself to play golf on weekends because the work ethic told him he should be mowing the grass." Yet it was without a moment's pause that Lee and Betts Rasch sold their antebellum house in Charlottesville, Va. three years ago and betook themselves to Florida. Their two daughters were married, and Lee, a manufacturer's representative for heating and cooling equipment, had wearied both of air travel ("I was afraid I was pushing my luck") and personnel changes in the industry. "The new people didn't always see things the same way as the old," he admits. "If I were younger I'd have adjusted. But frankly, I didn't need the money."
Soon the Rasches were living it up in Stuart with new friends like retired Air Force General Don Graham and his wife Dottie, who joined them aboard Pipedream last spring for a cruise to the Bahamas. Where Rasch regarded even golf as frivolous, he now found himself caught up in nautical hijinks so giddy as to inspire a thicket of exclamation marks in the trip's log. When Lee and Dottie chanced to flush Pipedream's two heads at the same instant, thereby blowing a fuse, an entry mused: "Wonder what odds they'd give in Freeport on that happening again?!" After the last conch fritter was consumed ("Great!") and off-color joke exchanged, the log concluded: "The great trip with good friends was over. Ah, the lotus life!"
Behind Rasch's seeming transformation was an adaptability not uncommon among successful businessmen. Having prospered on the job, he was simply not about to countenance failure in retirement. Then, too, Rasch's days in Stuart were not really the unbroken round of fun and games they sometimes seemed. He also flung himself into civic affairs. He became a fund raiser for a save-the-beaches movement, president of a homeowners' association and member of the Bank of Stuart's advisory board, which was set up, according to President Jack Williams, "to keep the community's pulse." It says something about that pulse, and maybe the community's heartbeat and blood pressure as well, that four of the board's nine members are retired.
Sitting on a bank board, even in a retirement community, is a surer way to stay in touch with the workaday world than getting on a lot of mailing lists. As if to preserve another link with that world, Rasch also has saved the black loose-leaf address book he used to carry with him as a manufacturer's rep. At home in Stuart before the outing on the Intracoastal, he took out the book and began leafing through its pages, pausing occasionally to sip a gin and tonic. The book contained addresses of old customers, some of them typed, others written in a small but confident script. "There are a lot of good people in here," Rasch said with a trace of wistfulness. "I miss them."
But now Rasch was on the broad waterway, steering Pipedream past sun-bleached seawalls guarding $250,000 houses. The fried chicken was gone and Rasch was talking about something as revealing, in its way, as the emotions stirred by his old address book: not long before he and Betts had felt compelled to call a 10-day moratorium on all party-going.
"We thought we needed a breather," Rasch said at the wheel. "The social life here can be a little much." The moratorium had ended a few weeks before. Only that morning Rasch had received the itinerary for an upcoming cruise on which Pipedream—with the Grahams along again—was to rendezvous with seven other Stuart-based boats. Even without exclamation marks, the itinerary conveyed the promise of new gaiety. For Saturday night in Key Largo, it read: "Plans now include a cocktail party for the whole gang in a room all lo ourselves."
Nathaniel Mansfield Goodhue, a volunteer member of Warren Engine Company No. 1 (pages 100-101), had just left the fire station in downtown Carson City, Nev. when the alarm sounded. Goodhue bounded across the street, an urgent, broad-shouldered figure in work shirt, Levi's and dusty boots. A fire engine, its siren blaring, screeched from the station just as he reached his Land Rover. He drove off in pursuit, passing a 24-hour wedding chapel with a sign out front: MASTER CHARGE ACCEPTED. "Probably just a brush fire," Goodhue said nonchalantly. "That's what we mostly get this time of year."