Steve Russell :
METRO | Life in the Soviet Republic of Sun City

A friend had this priceless comment: ‘It’s just like Cuba, only with money.’

soviet statue

Street corner at Sun City, Texas. Not! Image from
Wikimedia Commons.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | May 17, 2016

SUN CITY, Texas — We just had a crime wave here in Sun City, Texas, and that moves me to explain to my old pals how I wound up living in any retirement community, let alone this one.

Having watched politics go crazy on the national level since the Reagan Revolution redistributed so much wealth from the bottom to the top and the Republican sweep of Texas government turn it into an exercise in meanness as policy, Tracy and I naturally looked first to becoming ex-pats.

Canada would not take us because of age. We had not paid into the social safety net we were on the verge of needing.

Mexico looked good and I even located a beautiful place we could afford in San Miguel de Allende, but the disputes the drug cartels were having over prime smuggling routes made getting to the Mexican interior running a gauntlet through what used to be the friendly highways of Tamaulipas. Too much excitement at our age.

We considered Central America where there are  incentives to attract gringo retirees.

We considered Central America, where some countries have incentives to attract gringo retirees. We did not look seriously at Australia because I had actually gotten the paperwork to arrange my move back in 1968 only to discover that I had to lie about my American Indian blood to qualify. That was for a subsidized move, not one where I would foot the bill, but I still considered the racism a bit thick for my tastes.

We looked at a number of places in Western Europe.

In the end, our joint decision about ex-pat life was that we did not wish to be poor people surrounded by rich people or rich people surrounded by poor people. The sweet spot was elusive, so we turned our search back to the U.S.

After considering staying in Bloomington and eyeballing my other favorite college towns — gottta be a college town — we decided we could not beat Austin, where the only seasons are summer and almost summer. Older son had just moved to Austin from Seattle and younger son was stationed at Ft. Hood with good prospects for remaining there between deployments. Older daughter was in Round Rock and younger daughter was in Dallas.

We decided we could not beat Austin, where the only seasons are summer and almost summer.

It did not take much looking to determine that we could not afford a house in Austin and have any pocket money left for playing with grandkids, so we started looking north of Austin on the I-35 corridor. Pflugerville and Round Rock were no longer rural and the kind of development was what we used to associate with Burnet Road in the old days of Austin.

The artsy little village of Salado was very attractive, but it appeared to be well-to-do people plopped down among people not so lucky, and the burglary rate in the subdivisions around Salado was daunting.

I was OK with Georgetown, but Tracy discovered Sun City, about which I knew two things, and learned a third by investigation because I was interested in retiring where there is little crime.

I read about Sun City when it got started in Arizona and it sounded off-putting. Geezers in golf carts. Age discrimination in who could live there. I did not and do not golf and I consider golf courses to be environmentally unsound.

When Del Webb was clearing land, he discovered some ancient burials in a cave.

When Del Webb was clearing land, he discovered some ancient burials in a cave. Probably because Webb had done a lot of business in Arizona, he notified the tribes indigenous to the land as well as the State Archeologist (who did not appreciate the tribes being tipped off). I was appointed to represent the Comanches and the Tonkawas at negotiations over disposition of the remains.

As had been the practice in Texas, the State Archeologist wanted to put the human remains in a box and label them “scientific data.” My clients wanted a dignified reburial — you know, like they do with white people?

The negotiation took place in the law offices of the folks representing Del Webb and it did not start well. The State Archeologist was not giving an inch and because it was a private development on private land, our best weapon — The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act — did not apply unless they proposed to sell the bones or we could show some federal funding in the project.

Looking at an apparent deadlock, Del Webb’s lawyer asked what would be the best outcome from our point of view? I said that would be to put the remains back where they came from. I added what I meant as a sweetener and said we had no objection to any sort of documentation the State Archeologist wanted to do first.

Del Webb’s lawyer asked my adversary whether he would agree to that? He would not.

At that point, it got really weird. The lawyer excused himself to confer with corporate headquarters.

The barbaric grave robber and the primitive book burner waited in uncomfortable silence.

The archeologist looked poleaxed. What was there to confer about? The barbaric grave robber and the primitive book burner waited in uncomfortable silence, since we didn’t really have anything to say to each other.

Looking back on it, he was not gone all that long. It just seemed like forever. He announced the corporate decision.

The archeologist could have the remains for a short period if he wished. Afterward, we could conduct any burial ceremonies we wished on the Del Webb property and return the remains to the cave. The developer would, at his own expense, close the cave with wrought iron bars and erect no trespassing signs.

We were tickled plumb to death. The State Archeologist was not. The transaction left me with good feelings toward Del Webb. The probable explanation was that a developer in Arizona is used to dealing with tribal governments.

So I knew a bad thing and a good thing about Sun City and I owed Tracy for all the support she offered my two successful runs at tenure. We arranged to spend a weekend in Sun City.

While we got plenty of looking done, the most persuasive thing to me was soaking in a hot tub with half a dozen residents and cross-examining them about life in Sun City. They were forthcoming with a lot of tips, all useful and some not in the interests of management.

The real dealmaker was that I did not have to pay for the three golf courses unless I used them.

The real dealmaker was that I did not have to pay for the three golf courses unless I used them. Golf was totally optional, but the courses guaranteed a lot of open space, as did the subdivision plat, some space for drainage reasons but some for no apparent reason other than keeping the rural feel.

I should mention that, leaving aside the three golf courses, there are a lot of common amenities for which I would pay. There are tennis courts, a billiard parlor, wood shop, kiln, five swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), meeting rooms and an auditorium.

There are two complete gyms with state of the art exercise equipment that remains state of the art because it’s leased rather than bought and when a new machine is happening, we get it.

There is a library where the check-out period is forever. Bring it back when you are done.

How much do I pay? Right now, after going up a couple of times, it’s $90.83 a month. Try joining a gym with swimming for that price.

There is a library where the check out
period is forever.

But the houses must cost an arm and a leg, right? Not compared to Austin. And they have everything from small duplexes to huge custom builds. We have a two-bedroom/two bath that suits us now that the kids are gone.

Sun City government is soviet, although I’m sure they’d be horrified to learn that. There are block captains, 62 neighborhood reps, and a board of directors — all elected except block captains, who are volunteers. I got this priceless comment out of a friend from the old days, who is in a position to know: “It’s just like Cuba, only with money.”

I should mention that the builders define “neighborhood.” Each new build gets a number, and the whole thing is still being built out. Del Webb sold out to Pulte. At some point (knowable on a map), Sun City is finished and the developer is out of here, leaving this governmental structure we can change if we don’t like it.

There are a lot of bullshit rules, but enforcement pretty well depends on who your neighbors are, and we’ve been fortunate. The older neighborhoods are more laid back and also have more varied landscapes, since the trees have had a chance to grow.

On every holiday that calls for flags, I raise my Cherokee Nation flag.

One such bullshit rule is you can’t fly any flags but U.S. or state flags. On every holiday that calls for flags, I raise my Cherokee Nation flag. My closest neighbor — recently moved, alas — had a career in the Marine Corps, and he would fly his Marine Corps flag and dare anybody to object.

I should mention the people who live here generally. Retirees, of course. Middle class, of course. The most common careers were professionals — teachers, doctors, lawyers. Second is military retirees. Business people come in a distant third. The main thing I’ve found about the people is that they all have remarkable life stories, which most of them will spill if you prime the pump a little bit just by being friendly.

Yes, I’ve met a few bigots, but it appears that I get along here better than they do. In election season, our yard is often a lonely oasis in a desert of GOP signs. That’s Williamson County, but it’s slowly changing. I did note that Obama carried two commissioner precincts in Williamson County in 2008. This doesn’t bother me because I lived in Austin as progressives went from being lonely outliers to running the place.

Oh, I mentioned a crime wave. Before we bought here, I checked the crime reports and found no index crimes reported in Sun City for five years prior. For good measure, I read over a couple of years of the COPS logbooks. COPS are “Citizens On Patrol,” unarmed volunteer neighborhood watchers who drive around in new Chevrolets supplied by the local dealer in return for putting his name on the side.

One of the lengthier reports I read involved returning a turtle to the fishing pond.

The most common report item was garage doors left open, a violation of the aforementioned bullshit rules. Second was animals out of place, usually pets but sometimes wildlife. One of the lengthier reports I read involved returning a turtle to the fishing pond.

Only two COPS reports had anything to do with real crimes. There was a case of building materials walking off from a construction site that sounded like an inside job. The other required some reading between the lines. COPS came to the aid of a resident who was “unable to control his golf cart” as he left one of the bars. Sounds like a DWI, but they drove him home.

Our recent crime wave was all in the last month. Somebody drove on the green at one of the golf courses and proceeded to do donuts. It was an expensive prank that reeks of teenagers, which don’t exist in Sun City except for a maximum of 90 days as visitors. However, this is not a gated community.

A woman found an intruder entering her bedroom in the middle of the night.

On a more serious note, there was a home invasion. A woman found an intruder entering her bedroom in the middle of the night. She screamed and he ran. No harm done and nothing missing except her house key that she apparently kept in some obvious place. So she had to change her locks. About two weeks later, and just a couple of blocks away, there was a virtually identical incident. Nighttime intruder; occupant screams; intruder retreats; nothing missing.

These are happening in a neighborhood out on the edge of Sun City and they are disturbing, but they are such a big deal primarily because we’ve come to expect zero crime. The reasons for zero crime are two. The age discrimination in who can be here keeps out persons of criminal age — yes, there are age brackets for crime, excepting white-collar crime, says the retired criminal justice professor. And, unlike Salado, we don’t have neighborhoods of greatly disparate income levels next to each other.

This new crime wave might mean police patrols, I guess, which will be something new.

The normal deal with the Georgetown PD is that once or twice a year enough Sun City residents complain about speeding that the police come out and run radar on the two main drags, where the limit is 35 mph. After a couple of days of police handing out tickets — virtually all to Sun City residents — the complainers see the error of their ways.

That’s the story of how an old hippie spends his twilight years surrounded by Republican geezers. Now I just need to lure a bunch of old hippies to the same neighborhood, and we can take over the neighborhood soviet!

Oops, I forgot. I’m retired.


Read more articles by Steve Russell on The Rag Blog.

[Steve Russell lives in Sun City, Texas, near Austin. He is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. Russell, who belongs to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is also a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network. Steve was an activist in Austin in the sixties and seventies, and wrote for Austin’s underground paper, The Rag. He can be reached at swrussel@indiana.edu. ]

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