THE OTHER DAY I met a woman who told me she had an ankle tattoo of a Chinese symbol for wisdom. In Portland, tattoo confessions aren’t exactly shocking, but this woman was, shall we say, of a certain age, and by that I do not mean 40. She had salon-spun hair, a soft voice, and artfully applied cosmetics—she looked like someone’s chic, petite grandmother—and she had acquired the tattoo not in her youth or even in middle age but rather at age 65, because “I knew I still had so much to learn.”
We met on a streetcar, so our time together was brief; I never learned her current age. And I would hardly dare to guess, but by the way she talked, birthday No. 65 passed some time ago. It’s hard not to admire a person who keeps an open mind as she lives out her third act, and who actually declared those intentions by branding herself with this notion about her life—about life. A Portlander for 30 years, she no doubt was inspired by the city itself. Portland has distinguished itself in the aging game by addressing the kinds of problems (transportation, neighborhood planning) that have made broken-down messes of other cities. It wouldn’t be much comfort or fun to get old in a place where you’re an afterthought.
In the past few weeks, we at the magazine have been learning a lot about our seniors, reporting that culminated in “The New Old” (the package begins on page 64). You may be surprised to learn that today’s retirement communities aren’t always the grim places we read about in news stories: At Terwilliger Plaza, a home unlike almost any other in the United States, residents are known to keep fine-wine collections and beat the staff in Wii bowling. “It’s more like a sorority house here,” as one resident told senior editor Bart Blasengame. And perhaps you didn’t know that more than 200 senior Portlanders have volunteered to turn their homes into laboratories of sorts in order to help Oregon Health & Science University researchers figure out how to spot serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s earlier. These volunteers live with sensors placed on their complimentary computers and throughout their homes so that scientists can monitor them around the clock. As you’ll read in contributing writer Tom Colligan’s story (p. 72), these folks have subjected themselves to everyday scrutiny not for their own sake but rather for the health of future generations they won’t live to meet.
All these people have decided to live their late years in ways that make them feel connected and vital, and in a city that helps them do that. Portland Monthly would like to add support, in our own small way, by supplementing the facts in one story: The orange text in “Vital Signs,” which begins on page 66, denotes web links to agencies, services, and other resources that you can access by going to the story’s cyber-version on our ever-expanding website, Portlandmonthlymag.com.
Considering that people 65 and older are said to be the fastest-growing population of computer users, we have a feeling the extra information will come in handy.
Editor in Chief