While aging baby boomers may dread the approach of gray hair and aching joints, there's at least one consolation prize they can look forward to: Elderhostel.This non-profit organization serves over-55-year-olds with trips, seminars and educational excursions at modest prices. Anyone who has ever received one of its hefty catalogs can attest to the scope, variety and quantity of the programs.
The trips can be as educational as a college course without homework and grades. They can be as sophisticated as a tour of the coastal waters of Antarctica. And they can be as kick-back-and-have-a-ball fun as a week in Florida for Phillies spring training.
That's the trip I took last month. I did it before in 2005, and the sweet memories so endured that I figured I should do it again.
The timing was perfect: the beginning of March when it seems that winter will never end and the scheduled arrival of spring seems like a false promise.
I hopped a plane to Sarasota, Fla., and caught a free shuttle to the nearby hotel. The group leaders met us all - a group of about 45 from all over the United States - that evening, fed us well and sent us off to bed to rest up for a week of games.
The next morning, and each morning thereafter, we had several hours of speakers - usually old seasoned veteran players, coaches, scouts and umpires who told us tales of baseball.
One speaker, former catcher Jeff Torborg, spoke about signals and showed us his catcher's mitt that had been torn by Sandy Kofax's lightning fast pitches.
Baseball scout John Zizzo gave us the lowdown on searching out future big-leaguers, and local author Ray Wescott reminisced about the Phillies and their history.
Afternoons and evenings were spent at the games.
For those who have never been to spring training games, they should know that it's an entirely different experience from the summer season. The stadiums are small and festive. There are no bad seats. And the players are more than happy to give their autographs before the start of the games.
The Phillies Bright House Stadium in Clearwater is sparkling new and comfortable. In the left field stands is a huge bar called "Frenchy's," and just beside the entrance gate is a souvenir store that is so popular they have to control the volume of people in the place at once.
The stadium also caters to the Philadelphia fans - of which there are hoards - by selling hoagies and Philly cheesesteaks as well as hotdogs, funnel cakes, beer and ice cream. I was surprised to bump into three people I knew from home, and I didn't even know they were going to Florida. Yes, somehow, when you're sitting there at Bright House, you feel as if you are in an intimate Philadelphia neighborhood and the only thing that's missing is Mummers music.
The trip was only a week, but it was a great break in the bleak days of late winter. And the chance to sit by the pool and soak up the sun during off-time was the right medicine for the winter blahs.
I have taken other trips, and they were just as enchanting. One was a Lewis and Clark excursion in Montana; another was crime scene investigation in Pittsburgh; another was nature photography in the Rocky Mountains; and still another was Adobe Photoshop at Snow Farm in Massachusetts. Each time I met intelligent and well-educated people from all over the country who had lifetimes of adventure to share. Several of them remain my friends today.
To find out the scope of Elderhostel trips and adventures, just go to Elderhostel.org on the Internet and let your imagination run wild. It's every place you ever wanted to be, and they do it all for you at a good price. Good luck.
o Chris Barber is editor of THE KENNETT PAPER.