Valley Voices

Gary Wayne Walker: Baby boomers pepper Fresno with pharmacies, retirement villages

Rite-Aid on the southwest corner of Shaw and West avenues is one of dozens of pharmacies in Fresno.
Rite-Aid on the southwest corner of Shaw and West avenues is one of dozens of pharmacies in Fresno. Fresno Bee File/2009

“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”

– Woody Allen

Today’s aging population is one of the few current realities accepted by conservatives and liberals, fundamentalist Christians and modern secularists, rich and poor, even vegetarians and carnivores.

Much has been said and written about the economic impact of the 78 million baby boomers now in the process of retiring, including pressure on Social Security, Medicare and Medi-Cal. Other effects of this phenomenon, however, have largely been ignored. For example, the landscape of our cities has been undergoing major changes for at least a couple of decades.

My wife, Lonna, and I were on our way out of town recently to join our kids and grandkids for several days in Santa Cruz. But first, we had some errands to run. She wanted to stop at a card shop, while I picked up an audiobook at the library nearby. We needed to drop off a package at the post office, and while she ran into Costco to pick up a couple of items, I decided to fill up my Prius for the trip.

While waiting in a long line to get gas, I began reflecting on the scenery we had just passed in north Fresno. It was hardly recognizable from the general panorama of the area when I arrived here 36 years ago. While heading out of town, we talked about how the face of Fresno has changed over the years and how a lot of it has to do with baby boomers.

I told her when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, you couldn’t drive more than a block or two on a busy street without passing either a Chevron station or a Bank of America, or both. Because of mergers and technology, there are not so many Bank of America branches anymore, even though the institution is larger and more dominant than ever.

The same applies to Chevron dealers, which were known as Standard Chevron stations back then, with the emphasis on the word “Standard.” Born and raised here, Lonna told me it was pretty much the same situation in the Fresno-Clovis area.

So, what has replaced them? Mainly pharmacies, and retirement and life-care communities.

We started counting the number of pharmacies within a five-minute drive from our house, and came up with four, and another three within a 10-minute drive. Pharmacies appear to be everywhere. There are Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies, in addition to a good number of independent drugstores still around from the old days.

There are the grocery chains, including Vons and Save Mart, and big-box stores like Costco, Walmart and Target, and all have pharmacies. In the same geographical area, there are now two Chevron stations and one Bank of America.

There’s also the skyrocketing increase in the number of retirement and life-care communities in our Valley, including more than 30 listed in the current phone directory for the Fresno-Clovis area. A number of them contain 200 or more units. When you throw in the rehab facilities, and an ever-growing number of organized activities for seniors, it’s evident that our aging population has had a considerable impact on our community.

More than anything else, though, I’m eager to know the impact that all this will have on our local culture.

Will an aging population mean increasing productivity and creativity from a rising number of those fortunate seniors who tend to blossom with age? Like Grandma Moses, who didn’t begin painting in earnest until she was 78, and subsequently lived to be 101? Or Nelson Mandela, elected president of South Africa at 75? Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes,” began writing at 65.

Clint Eastwood is one of those talented men whose peak years come late and then stretch on for decades. While he directed a number of excellent films in the 1970s and ’80s, his first Oscar for best picture came in 1992, for “Unforgiven,” when he was 62 years old. Then, he won a second Best Picture award in 2004, at age 74, for “Million Dollar Baby.” Last year, at age 84, he received a nomination for Best Picture for “American Sniper.”

“Aging can be fun if you lay back and enjoy it,” said Eastwood. While I’m sure he’s having fun, I’m not so sure about that “laying back” part.

As we turned off of Highway 99 onto 152, on our way to Santa Cruz, we turned on the audiobook. It was time to listen to another James Patterson thriller. He is is 68.

Gary Wayne Walker is a resident of Fresno. He’s writing his second novel, “Vengeance Unbound,” which is scheduled for release in July.