Every once in a while someone comes up with an idea so brilliant yet so obvious (once I hear it) that I am amazed and chagrined I didn’t think of it myself. Dreaming of retirement and struggling to decide where to go, New York lawyers Gilen Chan and Gene Preudhomme were just getting serious about their research when the pandemic hit. “Gene thought ‘If we can’t visit places, why not let the places visit us?’” recalled Gil. “And the idea of a podcast about retirement cities was born.”
“I have always thought Gil had a voice and presence for radio,” says Gene. “Beginning several years ago, we started considering where we might retire. Once Covid hit, I had the idea of Gil hosting a podcast about places to retire. Although I have the face but not the voice for radio, Gil insisted that she would not do it alone. So here we are.”
They spent the summer of 2020 developing plans for their weekly podcast, Retire There with Gil and Gene. When it launched in November 2020 it focused on domestic locations, but gradually they began adding international guests, and this week's interview is with (drumroll please!) Karen and Rich McCann.
When they approached me about the interview, I thought, “Spend time talking about how great it was to move to Seville? I can do that for hours. Just ask any of my friends, relatives, or bartenders!” Rich thought it sounded like fun, and soon we found ourselves in a long Zoom call with Gil and Gene, chatting like old friends.
Click here to listen to the podcast, Retiring in Seville, Spain with Karen and Rich McCann.
Afterwards, I asked if doing dozens of interviews has helped them narrow down their own list. Gil admitted they are no clearer about their dream destination than when they started. In fact, “This information overload has made our relocation decision more difficult.”
“We have conducted over thirty-five interviews and many of the locations sound great,” added Gene. “However, I am hoping that once we hear about the place for us, it will be obvious and beyond exciting. Like the first time I met Gil, I knew she was the one.”
I asked what helps people find the right spot. “First, do your research, carefully,” said Gil. “Second, test-drive the location for at least a month, if possible. Third, do not feel trapped! You can always move again if this place did not turn out to be what you envisioned.”
What are the biggest worries about retirement? “Finance is, by far, the number one concern,” Gene said. For those trying to figure out how far your money will go, “Some helpful sources include Market Watch, US News & World Report, International Living, blogs, social media blogs, such as Facebook’s group titled “Where to Retire,” etc.”
Future retirees, said Gil, have to ask themselves plenty of practical questions. “Do they have enough to live on? Have they saved enough? Can they afford to retire before becoming eligible for Social Security? If they retire before becoming Medicare-eligible, and their former employers do not provide healthcare insurance for the gap years, do they have enough funds to remain in their current location? Some of our guests lived in areas they could afford while they were employed but not after. This last issue is what prompts many people to move abroad. The options of living in foreign countries are endless! And attractive!”
(I should mention that Medicare doesn’t cover you when you’re abroad; you’ll need some other insurance. Luckily international policies tend to be far less expensive than American equivalents.)
“Beyond money,” said Gene, “the concerns run the gamut. Some people are greatly concerned about healthcare, while others say they are in great physical condition and healthcare played no part in deciding where to retire. Politics have been of great concern for many of our guests. Some will only live in a blue state, while others will only live in a red state. Some want a variety of outdoor activities and arts, others will only live in any area where it will be convenient for them to play golf every day.”
Selecting the venue is the toughest thing to get right, notes Gil. “There are an overwhelming number of places with which to choose and if you factor in other criteria, such as the importance of being near family, it changes your options. One may find their fantasy location to be Portugal, but if that hinders your ability to see family more than once or twice a year, you may need to re-order your wish list. Expect to make compromises.”
When asked how couples can navigate disagreements, Gene said, “Surprisingly, most did not seem to have major disagreements. For many of our guests, retirement calmed them. After retirement, they were less likely to start arguments and a number of guests lost significant amounts of weight.”
“Retirement is a significant event in and of itself,” Gil pointed out, “and retiring elsewhere is another enormous act. The best advice we’ve heard on the issue is this: couples need to recognize that their lives may markedly change at this point, i.e., a spouse who always worked outside the home may develop new habits post retirement that may surprise or annoy the other person. Recognize and acclimate yourselves to this new life. Make sure both parties find things they like in the new venue.”
Gil and Gene don’t seem too worried about disagreements arising over their own retirement. “In general, we are similarly minded, in that we share the same values,” said Gil. “We respect and enjoy each other’s company. The podcast has solidified our decision to relocate after retirement. It would be foolish to stay in NYC when the dollar will go sooooo much further elsewhere, allowing us to live the way we’ve dreamed.”
“We want a less congested place where we can enjoy nature,” added Gene. “We love New York City and its people, some of them, but the world is large and we seek to enjoy more of it.”
Just thinking about retirement opened up whole new worlds to Gil and Gene. “The podcast has been a godsend, an absolute brilliant surprise, thanks to Gene,” said Gil. “We have been in our professional legal careers for over 25 years and it has created new excitement and unexpected, intellectually satisfying achievements. We are producing a show! Who knew?”
By the end of our conversation, Rich and I were inviting Gil and Gene to come see us in Seville before they make any final decisions about their own retirement. They would be a welcome addition to the city’s expat community and fit right into the vibrant social life that’s such an integral part of Spanish culture. But whatever their final destination may be, we can all be grateful that for now they are providing future retirees with practical ideas about hitting the reset button on their lives and having a grand time doing it.
OFF WE GO
This week Rich and I are heading to a family reunion in the mountains and will be staying in a cabin that's off the grid — meaning no electricity, phone service, TV, or wifi, although there is a generator and indoor plumbing. The owners keep reminding us to bring insect repellant. You'll hear more about all this in my next post. Just wanted you to know why we'll be off email and social media for a bit.
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Rich never bursts through the door when I’m taking my sister’s online yoga class, so I knew something was up even before he said, “I thought you should know I’ve just gotten an emergency alert. Town officials are telling us to lock our doors and windows and shelter in place. Something’s going down.”
Instantly my mind flooded with hideous possibilities: terrorist attack, chemical spill, kidnapping, sniper, some vicious new Covid variant soon to be known as the San Anselmo Plague… “OK,” I said, continuing my cat-cow backbends and trying not to hyperventilate. “Let me know if you hear more.”
Half an hour later, all was revealed: A 250-pound black bear was up a tree in our neighbor’s yard.
As you can imagine, every game warden, cop, firefighter, and public official within twenty miles rushed to the scene; nobody wanted to miss out on the hottest happening around here since the Great Flood of 2005. The bear soon gave up all hope of a quiet siesta, climbed down the tree, ambled back through the neighborhood, and disappeared into the woods. Town officials texted residents to say it was safe to emerge from our shelters, then immediately addressed everyone’s most pressing concern: “The bear is fine.”
The next morning officials sent out an advisory about bear-proofing our homes. “It says we should keep our trash bins in the garage and our pets indoors at night,” I told Rich at breakfast. Not having a garage, or any pets, we agreed to ignore this advice. “It also says that if the bear gets into our house, we should not engage with it. What do they think we’re going to do, ask it what it’s watching on Netflix these days? They also suggest leaving immediately. Good to have a professional opinion on that! Hmmm, do you think we should distribute jars of honey around the house, in case we have to distract the bear while we make our escape?”
In an ordinary year, I’d scoff at the idea that the bear, now named Archie, would return to our neighborhood, let alone invade our kitchen. But these days it’s hard to predict what wildlife will do. Their habits and habitats are so thoroughly disrupted by climate change, drought, wildfires, and human routines upended by the pandemic that you might wake up any morning to find coyotes, bobcats, wild turkeys, even peacocks foraging in your backyard. Last month in Tehachapi, Carol Mickols returned from a weekend getaway to find more than a dozen giant condors, an endangered species with nearly 10-foot wingspans, living on her porch — and willing to fight for their right to remain.
The condors eventually took off, but encounters between humans and wildlife continue to make headlines. On Memorial Day, Bradbury teenager Hailey Morinico saw a bear threatening her dogs and instinctively ran forward to shove the bear over a wall. The only reason she survived the encounter is because her actions were so insanely foolhardy the bear was too flabbergasted to respond.
Strange wildlife visitations lend post-apocalyptic drama to the landscape, but they're the least of my householder worries right now. Two weeks ago, after the driest winter in 140 years, county supervisors declared a drought emergency and asked residents to reduce water consumption by 40%.
Rich sprang into action researching how to use greywater — the relatively clean runoff from sinks, showers, and washing machines — to protect his beloved garden and our trees, some of which are already dropping leaves at an alarming rate. He spent weeks calculating usage (shower: 17 gallons; washing machine: 19 gallons; dishwasher: 3 gallons) and working out how to collect the runoff using a network of pipes and a large rain barrel. Meanwhile we have a bucket in the shower to capture the water while it heats (2.5 gallons) and another bucket in the sink for non-soapy rinse water.
Our first setback was realizing the plants receiving kitchen water looked increasingly morose. We naturally blamed soap contamination but eventually discovered it was stray cooking oil; apparently greasy water is more detrimental to plants than a little mild detergent. Who knew?
But the big blow? Turns out it’s illegal to collect greywater in barrels due to smells and worrying bacteria. You have to release greywater directly into the soil via a vast network of underground perforated PVC pipes, which would require tearing out our entire garden, our little brick patio, and who knows what else. Ballpark cost: $3000. Loss of Rich’s sanity watching 15 years gardening effort destroyed: incalculable. So we’re sticking with the buckets for now.
Officials are also encouraging us to conserve electricity in hopes of keeping those pesky blackouts to a minimum this summer. “Maybe this is the year we install solar panels on the roof to power the house — and that electric car we keep talking about,” said Rich.
After weeks of research, he reported, “Looks like installing solar will mean replacing the electrical panel. That requires tearing out all the knob-and-tube wiring, so we’d have to pull off sections of the bead-board walls throughout the house, and then replace and repaint. We’d also have to buy new electrical appliances: furnace, stove, oven, and hot-water-on-demand system. Given how little energy we use now, we probably wouldn’t save anything on utility bills. But we would have enough energy to recharge an electric car if we decide to go ahead and get one.”
“How much would all that cost?”
“I’m not sure I can count that high without getting a nosebleed.”
“What happens if we just use the township’s electric vehicle recharging station?” I asked. “It can’t be more than 150 feet from the house. If we ever had to, we could push the car over there.”
“Then we don't have to do any of this.” So that’s where that stands.
These days I feel like I’m living on the edge, always preparing for the next catastrophe, and the next, and the one after that. I’ve got a constant, low-grade case of the collywobbles — an old-fashioned expression for anxiety, often accompanied by queasiness. Perhaps that's our natural state. Back in the 1950s they told us America had made the world safe, and I somehow expected the feeling to last. But looking back over human history, it’s clear the only time we haven’t been on the edge of a catastrophe is when we’ve been in the middle of one.
And that goes double for our animal cousins. Most bears are solitary animals, always struggling to find their next meal, hunted since prehistoric times for their meat and fur. When winter hibernation is over, the safest they’re likely to feel is resting in the arms of a sheltering tree. I can imagine Archie’s sentiments when he woke from his siesta to discover he was surrounded by first responders, many with tasers, guns, animal tranquilizers, and itchy trigger fingers. I picture him afterwards, texting that teenager’s bear: “You’re right, humans are nuts! But hey, any one you can walk away from.”
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What do you think of California? Frank Lloyd Wright embraced the continental tilt theory that everything loose rolls to California. (True enough.) Truman Capote sneered, “It’s a scientific fact that if you stay in California you lose one point of your IQ every year.” (False, I hope.) Author Edward Abbey said, “There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”
But as a fourth generation Californian whose family arrived by covered wagon back in the day, I feel the best description comes from Mark Twain’s Roughing It. “It was a splendid population — for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home — you never find that sort of people among pioneers — you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day — and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, ‘Well, that is California all over.’”
To this day my home state remains a dizzying mix of can-do and anything-goes, a living embodiment of the saying “If you’re going to do something, you might as well go too far.” Last Friday I was gobsmacked to discover this was true of The California Museum as well. It was my first visit, and knowing the museum was partly sponsored by state funds, I assumed I'd find a pious whitewash of our checkered past. Instead it showed the good, the bad, the ugly, and the outlandish boldness for which the state is famous.
But before I get into that, I would like to pause and point out that the really astounding part of the story was finding myself actually standing there, in our state capital Sacramento, on my first road trip in over a year. Ever since Rich and I made the harrowing journey from Seville to California on May 18, 2020, we’d hunkered down in our San Anselmo cottage feeling lucky to be alive and determined to do whatever we could to stay that way. I actually slept in my own bed for 373 consecutive days — a lifetime record!
But with 51% of the state fully vaxxed, and our governor declaring June 15 the end of mask mandates and the reopening of just about everything, even my paranoia is crumbling fast. When four friends suggested a two-night excursion to Sacramento — aka The Big Tomato, The City of Trees, and Farm-to-Fork Capital — Rich and I decided it was finally time to drag our suitcases out of the attic and venture further afield than our backyard and the local supermarket.
We headed northeast on a train so sparsely occupied that we found ourselves in sole possession of the California Zephyr’s roomy observation car. Arriving in Sacramento was like walking into one of those sci-fi movies where everyone’s been vaporized by aliens, leaving just a pitiful remnant of humanity wandering the Earth. We hardly saw a soul as we ambled along the broad, tree-lined streets, admired the handsome Capitol grounds, and meandered past sweet old bungalows and stately Victorians. Restaurants, shops, and museums were mostly open; often we were their only customers. Their proprietors and staff could hardly have greeted us with more enthusiasm if we actually had been the last humans on the planet.
Sadly, the Dive Bar featuring professional mermaids (yes, I mean women dressed as mermaids) that Rich and I visited in 2016 was closed due to Covid. And the once-famous Zombie Walks died out somewhere around 2017. When I broke the bad news to our group a few days before departure, Pete replied, “No mermaids? No zombies? Why bother?”
Even without those attractions, we managed to find plenty to occupy us, including the Railroad Museum, dinner on the deck of the Delta King riverboat (now a haunted hotel), and a Local Roots Food Tour culminating in what was possibly the best gelato I’ve ever had (yes, even compared to Italy’s). We had drinks in the Citizen Hotel’s Scandal Lounge, it’s dark corners and old-school furnishings artfully arranged to make us feel like corrupt politicians making shady deals with nefarious characters. Full disclosure: we stayed at the Citizen and didn’t see anyone who appeared the slightest bit nefarious. Very disappointing, obviously.
Our last stop was The California Museum, where we were greeted by a large wooden bear wearing a mask (which will presumably be ceremoniously removed on June 15). I became immersed in exhibits about the contributions and hardships of Asian Americans in my state, and that’s when things got very real. I grew up hearing stories about the abuses heaped on Chinese railway workers and later upon Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps during World War II, but standing in front of those displays, I grew increasingly sad and ashamed. I read the first-person stories, saw a recreation of the pitiful cramped barracks in the internment camps (where a good friend of mine spent her teenage years), and absorbed the full details of the xenophobic laws defining Asian Americans as second class citizens. Employers exploiting foreign workers encouraged racism in the community, laying the groundwork for generations of prejudice and today’s Asian hate crimes.
On one wall was a video of George Takei, known to Star Trek fans as Mr. Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise. “I am the grandson of immigrants from Japan who went to America, boldly going to a strange new world, seeking new opportunities. My mother was born in Sacramento, California. My father was a San Franciscan. They met and married in Los Angeles, and I was born there,” he says. “I spent my boyhood behind the barbed wire fences of American internment camps.”
Still reeling from those images, I found myself in an exhibit inviting me to become a “unity activist.” What’s that, you ask? It’s about celebrating diversity, organizing the community to protect human rights, and defending the value all people. Amen to that! There were photos of Native Americans occupying Alcatraz fifty years ago, the protest that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and people who, like the grumpmaster I wrote about last week, refuse to be defined by their gender, ethnicity, or physical appearance. Fairly radical stuff for a museum that’s partly funded by taxpayer dollars! I had my photo taken holding a poster about equality, proud to take my place as a permanent part of the unity activist exhibition.
All in all, we had a grand time in Sacramento, even if we didn’t see the Delta King’s ghost, hobnob with nefarious politicians, or encounter large numbers of fellow humans. After June 15, I expect things will get livelier. In the meantime Rich and I are busy planning other road trips to visit family in various parts of the state. Up to now I hadn’t considered a detour to Lake Tahoe, but I might have to revise that. “Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe,” wrote Mark Twain, “would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator.” I can’t think of a better way than that to jump start post-pandemic life, can you?
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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