Still crazy after all these years. Attending the 2008 AARP national convention, a place for self improvement for seniors
By Tom P Blake - Finding Love after 50
So there my partner Greta and I were last Saturday night, in a front-of-the-stage mosh pit made up of 50, 60, 70 and 80-year-olds, dancing to Paul Simon and his 7-piece band playing, "Graceland," in the Washington, D.C. Convention Center.
The Simon concert was the final happening of the AARP's annual three-day life@50+ National Event & Expo, which Greta and I attended. Attending these events can lead to self improvement and a lot of fun.
I was on an Internet dating panel called "Love at first click." The ratio of women to men in the audience was about 25-to-one. And yet, one couple who met right after my talk, made plans to go on a date that night. One of our members, Judy from Baltimore, was in the audience.
Prior to our trip, when I told people that we were going to the AARP event, some rolled their eyes or made comments like that's just old-people stuff. That couldn't be further from the truth.
The three days are crammed full of inspirational speakers, entertainment, and displays of the latest products designed for the older generation. There was even a job fair. And what a great place to make new friends.
The AARP now has 40,000,000 members and has become a powerful voice in the United States. So significant that both presidential candidates addressed the event via satellite.
Regis Philbin kicked off day one by talking about how he entered and has remained in show business for 40 years. Shirley MacLaine gave a fascinating discussion on life, health and aging. At night, Natalie Cole and Chaka Khan performed.
One of the bonuses of attending an AARP annual event is taking time away to sightsee. On one day, Greta and I walked to the White House Visitor Center, The White House, the Washington Monument, the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum and had lunch in the Smithsonian Castle.
Then, we took in the recently opened Newseum. It has six floors of videos, newspapers, and radio clips of every major world news event since WWI. Viewing them is like taking a refresher course on the events of your life. The Newseum charges an entry fee, $18, but it's worth every penny.
Included there is a not-to-miss FBI exhibit, which explains how criminals including John Dillinger, Patty Hearst and the SLA, and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, were apprehended. Throughout the Newseum, the lives of journalists such as Walter Winchell, Edward R. Murrow and Tom Brokaw are chronicled.
Also, there is an extensive 9/11 exhibit; the documentary film about that day is still difficult to watch.
The most inspiring session was a casual conversation between world-famous poet Maya Angelou, now 80, and renowned record producer Quincy Jones (winner of 37 Grammy Awards). Maya said the key to life is to "Live, love, laugh and give." Later, Greta and I interviewed Quincy one-on-one.
One presentation was extra special to me. Pulitzer-Prize-winning author David Maraniss talked about his new book, "Rome 1960. The Olympics That Changed The World."
I attended those games as a spectator for 17 days. It was fun to relive--through Maraniss's comments-events such as Rafer Johnson so proudly carrying the American flag during the opening ceremony and his winning of the decathlon against UCLA teammate C.K. Yang.
When Maraniss autographed a copy of his book for me, he wrote, "To Tom Blake, who was there!" I thought that was pretty cool.
And that brings us back to the mosh pit. During the concert, Simon put his hands above his eyes, looked out across the audience, and said, "Just kids out there," which got a big laugh.
When he added, "I don't care if you stand up, dance, or come to the front of the stage," 2,000 rockin' old folks bolted from their seats, came forward, and carried on like teenagers. It was special to be a part of. Maybe we are "Still crazy after all these years."
The AARP annual event next year is in Las Vegas October 22-24. Put it on your calendar. It will be awesome-and fun. And a wonderful place for self improvement.