Monday, August 15, 2005


Wake up, kiddies. Grandma isn't in her kitchen baking cookies and other goodies. She's not stitching an apron or darning socks. She's not sitting back in her rocking chair, reminiscing about the good old days.

Every day, busloads of Senior Citizens are driven to the area Casinos, where they spend a pleasant day, gambling, eating lunch, and visiting the gift shops before boarding the bus to go homeward. It's a busload of Grandmas and Grandpas, seeking adventure, waiting for the big Casino Jackpot just as they wait for that big Jackpot in the sky!

These bus trips cost a minimal amount, just a few dollars. In return, the Senior gets a good return for this money, sometimes a ticket giving a discount on lunch, usually some gambling money. The Casinos also have clubs for the Seniors to join. They issue little cards signifying that the Senior is a member of the club, which gives benefits for money spent in gambling. You can spot the club members. They wear the card hanging from little ribbons or chains around their necks, and stick the cards into the slots made for them.

When the gambling money runs out, the Seniors sit on the benches in the lobbies or outside the Casinos, watching the world go by, trading information on who won or who lost, and generally passing the time away. Here, they trade political views and opinions. Here, one shakes one's head over the antics of the young, while deploring the need for War.

These trips are great fun for the Seniors. They can enjoy day trips, or sometimes splurge a few extra dollars for an overnight journey, with a stay in one of the luxurious Casino hotels. Often breakfast is included in the price. A good bargain, unless one gets carried away by the gambling instinct and few of them do, because they have lived lives of frugality.

I suspect that many of these Seniors take this inexpensive trip and drop hardly a quarter in the slots. Loneliness is a terrible problem for Seniors and a trip is a way to get out of the house, enjoy the company of others, have a nice lunch, and enjoy the bus ride home.

It also gives them the hope of winning a Jackpot....even a small one. After all, when one approaches the end of life, so many things are denied him. Overeating leads to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Eating the wrong foods upsets the digestion. Drinking can be disastrous when you can't even see well enough to weave your way home. Sexual freedom is something you hear about in Republican press releases, but its not much of a problem in your own life.

So gambling is an activity that is available to you, isn't too costly if you play the quarter machines, and gives you a spell out of the house. The comedian who comments, "Why don't the government just mail the Social Security checks to the Indians?" ought to try a few days in a Senior Center, playing cards and making objects out of chips of glass or pieces of macaroni.

But their propensity for riding the Casino buses partially explains why most Seniors are dead set against the Bush proposal to change Social Security. They consider stock market investments akin to gambling, and experience has told them that, while it is fun to take a chance on those slots, your quarters are swallowed up and disappear faster than you can say, "Senior Citizen".

I don't suppose President Bush gambles. In the first place, if you are a millionaire, what does a $400 Jackpot mean to you? It would be just pocket change. But, to a Senior, living on just a few paltry dollars a month, a Jackpot is akin to a miracle and opens up new horizons. It might be a vacation. It might be a new chair. It might just pay the bills.

So, as they drop in their quarters into the machines, they dare to hope. And life without hope is an existence of sheer boredom and apathy. It's good when Seniors gamble, as long as it is with a few quarters. But to gamble with their Social Security is a risk they aren't willing to take.

America has a youth culture. There is hardly an American under the age of thirty who even believes he will ever grow old. Old age is so far in the distance, it seems like a faint, misty dream that may never arrive. But those years pass, as years always do, and age creeps up on you like a kitten chasing a string. The first thing you know, you are old...and no amount of Botox, collagen, vitamins or minerals will belie that fact or turn back that clock.

Social Security has been a successful program. To Seniors who have had devastating bad luck in their lives, it still provides a pittance to live on. To others, more astute or perhaps more fortunate, it adds to the funds available. Social Security is like a pack of matches, useless if you don't need it, absolutely necessary if you do.

So, even as the Seniors while away busy afternoons in the Casinos, they disapprove of gambling. They disapprove of taking a chance with their Golden Years, and don't want to see their children growing older without that lifeline.

If President Bush would get closer to the people he represents, he might understand them. And Senior Citizens are the ones he should socialize with before going on to other age groups. He should have asked Seniors about Social Security before he embarked on that gruelling, expensive tour trying to sell his ideas. Seniors are savvy! After all, they collect those checks and know how important they are! They are smart, they know what they believe is right, and they vote! What more could a politician want?