United States – The Third Way

united-states-the-third-wayDon’t ask me why they named it Ridgecrest.There is no ridge and the town doesn’t sit on the crest of anything. Ridgecrest is a nice quiet community of some 30,000 people on the edge of a huge valley in the middle of the Mojave (mo-HAH-vee) Desert, about 190 miles northeast of the Los Angeles area, where I live and work.

They regularly advertise for ‘retirees’ to come and live there, and in exchange for hot summers they promise 360 days of sunshine per year, friendly neighbours and a low cost of housing. It all sounded interesting, so I entered a one-month mail-order subscription to the local newspaper, liked what I read, and decided to go there for a brief visit.

We set out as a team of four – one slightly scruffy 65 year old prospective retiree (me), one slightly scruffy Brompton L5 folding bike, one thoroughly disreputable Chevrolet pickup truck, and one little book – The Third Act by Edgar Bronfman Jr of the Seagrams Distillery family. Mr Bronfman is a retiree and doesn’t like the idea any better than I do.

We set off eastwards for 40 miles on the great Los Angeles freeway system, then turned north, up through a mountain pass and onto Highway 395 into the Mojave desert. The first sign – ‘Next gas, 50 miles’ – said it all.

On the way up US395 we stopped at three old gold mining towns, which today are little more than ghost towns.The newspapers of 100 years ago tell us that when these towns were in their prime, thousands of people lived liked pigs, worked like dogs and died like flies. Looking over what is left of these towns, I believe every word.

We continued up the highway and finally topped a small hill, rounded a bend, and arrived at Ridgecrest. No ridge, no crest, but a nice green oasis in a huge dry valley.The town is about 100 miles west of Death Valley, which is 2,500 feet lower, 20 degrees F hotter, and you don’t ever want to go there.The Mojave desert is hard country, and Death Valley is the hardest place of all.

After settling into a pleasant motel, I took the Brompton out for a ride in the cool of the evening.Three years ago, I bought my Brompton as an aid to car-free retirement.That idea seems more and more practical, but there has been no retirement yet.

Up and down the wide streets we rode, stopping to talk with the local people from time to time.They like their town and a number of them had come to Ridgecrest as I did, answering some advertisement, visiting for a while, and then retiring there for good.They told me that housing is about 25% cheaper than Los Angeles – something I had already gathered from the local paper.

united-states-the-third-wayFor the next three days, my routine didn’t vary. I started the day at 6am with a cool morning Brompton ride around the sleepy town, and then spent the rest of the morning visiting and asking questions.Afternoons – which in August mean 110 degrees desert heat – were spent in the motel reading The Third Act. Evenings brought more sightseeing after things had cooled off for the day.

The afternoons proved to be extremely valuable. Edgar Bronfman has thought seriously about retirement, and in his book, he divides life into three acts.The First Act (‘Learn’) covers the years of childhood, and the second Act (‘Earn’) the long years of earning a living and developing skills. But his main attention goes to the coming of the Third Act, which he sees not as retirement but as ‘Give Back’. He quotes former US president Jimmy Carter who insists that ‘We are old only when our regrets replace our dreams’. Mr Carter, 77, shows no sign whatever of growing old.

During my wandering around Ridgecrest, my thoughts turned from retirement possibilities to Third Act possibilities. Many assured me that opportunities were everywhere – in hospitals, libraries, schools, churches, public safety sites.There are many places to make use of the skills learned in the Second Act, especially if the community doesn’t have to pay for our work.The message from Mr Bronfman and others is the same – don’t retire from life; give back. Retirement leads to boredom, regrets, and endless old age complaints. Give back whatever you can, wherever you can, whenever you can.

One thing surprised me during my daily travels around Ridgecrest. My Brompton attracted much attention, which never happens where I live, with much folding and unfolding of the machine and interesting comments. Perhaps this is just idle curiosity, or perhaps a symptom of the isolation of the town.The community has no regional rail or air service and Bakersfield, the nearest transportation hub, is about 100 miles away.

The capabilities of a folder would be more obvious to an isolated desert dweller than to the resident of a major metro area. If you were to live car-free in Ridgecrest, the only way out of town would be on the Greyhound intercity bus lines. A folder would be your passport to regional and national mobility.

After three days, it was time to pack up and leave. South, down US395 we went, back past the old mining towns (Red Mountain, Randsburg, Johannesburg), through the mountain pass, and then west onto the fast-moving 10-lane Los Angeles freeway system.

The Third Way. Edgar Bronfman & Catherine Whitney . G.P.Putnam’s . ISBN 03991 48698