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The Riehl World: Not Your Typical Retirement Home

By Richard Riehl

Things are quiet at the Crystal Palace Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona on this Friday evening of August 16, 1881. Saloonkeeper Quarrelsome Karen is badgering a poker player to order another drink, when Cutthroat Chris and his gang, Los Banditos Del Lago, burst in, demanding money.

Quarrelsome K refuses to cooperate, so Cutthroat and his gang drag the saloon’s best poker cheat, Oscar “Hot Tamale” Arango, out to be hanged.
Hearing the saloonkeeper’s desperate cries for help, Town Marshal Will arrives with his deputy, Gun-Slinging Sam, a former ballet dancer. They promise to guard the money, go after the thieves, and save Oscar.

There’s a shootout at the OK Corral. Ruthless Russell, the Los Banditos sharpshooter, staggers off, after being shot by Deputy Sam. He falls, lifeless, into the Corral’s pond.
Saved from the noose, Oscar grabs the money and shouts, “Whoohoo! It’s my money, now! I’m going to Disneyland!

This occurred last Friday night at the Château Lake San Marcos Independent Living, Active Adult Community.

The community center’s dining hall was transformed into the Crystal Palace, festooned with decorative reminders of the 1880’s. A stage set, depicting the OK Corral, stood on the grounds outside.

Quarrelsome Karen was played by the love of my life. I was Roadhouse Riehl, a former preacher who became her wimpy husband. We were cast in the roles by Cutthroat Chris, (not his real name) the HOA executive director of this 55+ community. He wrote the script and directed the show.

The rest of the cast were Chateau employees, including kitchen staff, (Rattlesnake Richard and Oscar “Hot Tamale” Wrango), the resident services director, (Gun Slinging Sam), the maintenance director (Ruthless Russell), the activities coordinator (Hurricane Katrina) and the transportation coordinator (Wild Will).

Six extras, posing as poker players, were young enough to be our grandchildren. They serve us our daily meals in the dining hall with consistent courtesy and professionalism.

Band Diego Oldies provided the dance music, with tunes from the 50’s and 60’s. Fifteen of our fellow residents, billed as The Red Hot Peppers, provided the line dancing.

According to an article in Berkeley Wellness, published by the University of California, Nov. 20, 2014, “The Many Health Benefits of Dancing”: Many studies have found dancing can improve balance, even in frail elderly people. Some have shown improvements in gait, walking speed, and reaction time, as well as cognitive and fine motor performance. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time.

The dancers that night ranged from a 102-year-old gentleman to a young lady in her teens. What they all had in common were their smiles.

Dinner/dance celebrations occur almost monthly here. On each occasion the attendees are multi-generational, with guests, including children and grandchildren of residents, welcomed with open arms. This place doesn’t feel like an old folks’ home.

Karen and I are looking forward to the Halloween party, our next opportunity to dress up in costume. Last year Karen went as Charlie Chaplin. I had hip replacement surgery the day before, so I wore my hospital ID wristband and posed as an operating room escapee. At 7 pm, giving in to post-operative pain, I pushed my walker back across the street to our condo, where I downed an Oxycodone and slept like a baby.

Today we’re booked on the Château’s monthly noon hour boat cruise on beautiful Lake San Marcos next door. Just another day in the life of a lucky couple, who found the right place at the right time in their lives.

The Riehl World