One of the key features of Mom's new digs is eating. Of course eating is important anywhere, but wow. it sure seems like a disproportionate amount of space, time, and effort go into it here!
While each apartment has a full kitchen, shuttles make regular runs to local grocery stores, and there is a little market right on the property, the rent here also includes a month's worth of meal chits to be used as each sees fit in one of the two sit-down restaurants, the pub, the cafe, the soup and sandwich take-a-way, the - well it all gets kinda confusing.
Anyway, that means that every one of Mom's visitors is treated to a meal out. During my 4 evenings there that meant 2 sit-down dinners and one Sunday Brunch Buffet. (I'm sure it would have been 4 meals, maybe at one of the pubs this time, but we spent one evening at my sister's.)
As you would expect with this age demographic, the restaurants open for dinner at 4. They do serve through about 7 but from what I could see the early feeding is preferred. After all, there is a full schedule of games, crafts, talks, movies, etc. every evening that has to be fit into one's schedule as well. (This place even has a model railroad room!)
The hungry start working their way through the labyrinth of halls and connecting walkways towards one of the eateries and lining up about 3:30 (If you are going to live here you have to learn how to say "hello", the mandatory greeting every time you pass someone, which is a lot since the people here seem to always be out and about.) The host hands out the same kind of buzzers/flashers that places like Chuy's and Red Lobster use when things get hectic, then you go sit in the nearby lounge or browse the adjacent library or drop into the pharmacy just down the hall and wait for your table.
The servers, bussers, food-deliverers, walkers (The people that lead you to your table, often at a turtle's pace appropriate for the demographic and their various bits of mobility hardware) and drink-topper-uppers are all young people, high-schoolers gaining work experience and earning scholarships funded in part by the residents.
At your table you are handed a freshly printed menu because the ten or so main offerings (Minimum of 25 item on the menu if you count salads, sides, and deserts.) change every day (And are different between the two restaurants as well, each of which has its own chef and kitchen.) Each meal consists of one of several different salads or fruit-cup, an entree, two sides including vegetables and "starches" as they call them, and a desert. And the food is GOOD. Not at all like institutional fare. (Sorry lunch-lady, but you can suck it!) There's things like citrus-grilled salmon and poached lake trout on the menu, and tasty too, (Maybe you can tell I tend towards fish. . .) though they do cook the farts right out of the steamed broccoli. . .
With the population of a small town (something like 1300 residents) the servers are busy, though it was easy to see the occasional kid with less get-up-and-go than the others. They stand out because they are often standing still, or "chatting" with any server/classmate they can snag, and when they move through the dining-room it is at pace that forces the go-getters to flow around them like they are a rock in a fast moving stream.
Now Mom is a tiny woman these days, a lot tinier than when she was packing me off to grade-school in the mornings, or so it seems anyway. Nowadays I can put my chin on top of her head when we stand close and she's so insubstantial she is in danger of fluttering away in any sort of breeze. I have to be careful not to crush her skinny, frail little self in a clinch, (Mom is a hugger.) but I have to say that she ate me under the table! Which was good to see after the last couple of lean years at her condo when cooking for one everyday was just too much of a chore.
As we were wrapping up dinner one night she ordered some fancy French desert and out of desperation (I didn't know what was on the desert menu, hadn't prepared, and the busy server was standing there listing off the evening's choices while throwing shade (That's kid-slang for giving a nasty look) as only a teenager can, for slowing her down.) I ordered the first thing on the list, warm chocolate cake. Mom leaned forward and said, with the clear voice of experience, "You're going to want a scoop of ice-cream on top of that." "I am?" I replied, thinking that I don't usually eat desert anyway and now she's telling me to double-down? "Believe me, you're going to want a scoop of ice-cream on top of that!" Bowing to Mom's authority because - well, Mom's are always the authority, I turned to the server and said, "Apparently I want a scoop of ice-cream on my cake." There was one more moment of panic when the server asked what kind of ice-cream because I didn't want anymore shade thrown my way, then she was gone with our order. (OK, in reality she was very nice about it, but they are run off their feet keeping all the old people's dentures busy.)
Now I'm sitting there expecting a slice of cake with a scoop of ice-cream on the side but Holy Crap! She brought the whole damn cake with this great blob of ice-cream threatening to slide off onto the floor! Granted, the cake was served in the six inch dish it was baked in, but damn! that was a whole lot of cake and ice-cream!
Then a couple days later during the buffet, after an initial trip to the fruit and salad bar then back to the table to consume that portion (Mom was clearly reluctant to head back to the table with such meager fair in her hand but I was her guest and she knows I'm not comfortable in crowds so she sacrificed, as all mothers do, and went with me.) we wandered, plates in hand, down a serving line groaning under various kinds of eggs, all sorts of sausages and bacons, biscuits, rolls, toasts, cereals, grits, oatmeals, pancakes etc. When we got to the end I had about half the plate Mom was lugging but she wasn't done yet. "You go on back to the table," she instructed, "I'm going to go over there and get my waffle." (Over there is yet another a serving line where you can pick up little dishes of various ingredients, hand them to the chef, and have him/her make you an omelet to order right there in front of you, as well as grab a massive waffle [each square is big enough to be a child's swimming pool!] hot off the griddle.)
As you would expect, a feature of a community like this is the plethora of walkers, scooters, canes, wheelchairs, and more, (One neighbor of Mom's has a hoverboard with some sort of hand-control parked outside her door and Mom tells me she zips all over the place on that thing!) so many bits of mobility hardware are in use that during dinner there are a couple of young people assigned to moving this extra hardware off to a storage room next door to keep the dining room somewhat accessible. Like checking your coat, only this time it's your wheels.
As you might also imagine, women far outnumber men in a place like this, and what men there are are often not in the best of shape or mobile status, many of them resorting to supplemental hardware to get around. We're talking men for whom gravity has weighed heavy on their eyelids and cheeks while noses and earlobes have continued to grow to assume proportions, men for whom time has insidiously migrated hair from their heads to ears, noses and eyebrows, and for whom the physical effects of a lifetime of hard work, play, and an abundance of food, has left it's twisted, stooped, and knobby effects. Men who are wearing saggy-butt pants over slippers and miss-buttoned shirts doing little to conceal jelly-like man-boobs. (I always double-check my buttons because nobody, not even me, wants to see what's under there!) OK, I might, just maybe, perhaps, be exaggerating just a bit, but you get the picture.
As I looked around the dining room full of the animated but time-worn, it occurred to me - you know, being a youngster with only six and a half decades flopping over my tightly cinched belt - that I have never before in my life been the best looking man in the room.
And I still wasn't.
And no, I don't want to talk about it.