Ludovia Journal #4

This is the fourth entry of a journal about an upcoming class I’m facilitating called Ludovia. I’ve been traveling for the month of February, partially in preparation for the class, and I’ve been gathering my thoughts about how adults play together. I spent the first week of the month visiting my fiancée in Vero Beach, Florida, where she was performing in a play called private lives by Noel Coward. It’s a 20th century English comedy about posh people honeymooning and falling into scandalous romance.

The audience at the Riverside theater is almost entirely of retirement age, and most of them are subscribers to the whole season, which means that every show is a social event where elderly couples mingle with friends in the lobby over wine and cookies. The plays themselves are only a part of the overall experience, and in some ways, the audiences don’t mind what they see, so long as it facilitates their time together. The show I saw was well executed, but it didn’t speak much to my experimental-avant-grade-snobbier-than-thou tastes. After the show, I spoke with Catherine (my Fiancée) about the choice of show, the direction of acting, the nature of the audience, and the rehearsal process. She’d really enjoyed working on the production and I recognized that while the theatre wasn’t artistically innovative, it was providing a happy lifestyle to its performers and its subscribers.

Much of Vero Beach is built around a similar aesthetic; a pursuit of comfort and care for an elderly population. The beach itself is lined for miles with pristine gated communities named some variation of Seabreeze. The shopping district has all the quaint, pastel offerings you’d imagine of a snowbird wealthy Florida beachside, from the weekend farmers market to the boutique glassware gallery. My parents, recognizing the value of an invitation to Florida in February, took advantage of their retirement and decided to build a short vacation around Catherine’s show. While she was performing, my folks and I would meet near the beach and meander around, looking for things to eat, drink, and do. During one of those afternoons, we found ourselves at a cafe/restaurant called Grind & Grape. We sat on the front patio under an umbrella and ordered some fancy snacks to go with our fancy wine.

Within minutes, a two-piece band started their second afternoon set. They were older guys, wearing Hawaiian shirts, bracelets, and shades, and they played a mix of American jazz standards, Cuban dance classics, and smooth pop covers — exactly what you’d imagine. When I caught up with them after their set, I learned they were former New Yorker session musicians, booked solid through the Winter playing fun-loving, Florida gigs like the one I’d just witnessed. I also learned that their band’s name actually was Seabreeze. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because my first impression was not to speak with them; my first impression was to make fun of them. I must have looked like an angsty teenager, rolling my eyes at the string of middle-aged groupies who wiggled their hips and whooped in delight. The drummer was keeping time on his congas while making dirty jokes out of the corner of the microphone and everyone was eating it up. Mom started to bop in her seat, and my dad was singing along in broken Spanish like he knew the song. I realized that I was right in the middle of a brilliant play cycle, and that I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t dance.

So I got up. As I grooved out into the middle of the ladies, I saw that I was probably the youngest person in the restaurant by about 20 years, but I resolved not to let my nerves get the better of me. We were all twirling and beaming and giggling to a Bruno Mars cover when mom came up to join in. She’s was singing along because she’s been doing Jazzercize for the last 35 years, and she prides herself on being up to date. We danced the shit outta that old folks cafe.

As Seabreeze packed their instruments, I thanked them for the music and asked a few questions about how they choose to play. The Drummer had been born in Cuba to a dancer of a mother and a singer of a father. Music was in his blood and he’d kept it pumping his whole life. The man on keyboards was born and raised in the Bronx, and spend the 1970's playing with many of the jazz greats including Tito Puente and Ruben Blades. When I asked about building joy for a living, they scoffed like it was the only way to live. They’d found their way to Florida for the Winters, where they hustle up gigs out of every restaurant, cafe, and amphitheater that can afford them. In the Spring, they would be back in NYC. They said old age kills you quickly if you follow money instead of joy. They said that America is suffering from a poisoned mentality and that hard work does not necessarily lead to happiness. Instead, it seemed to me that their happiness led to hard work. They said that they didn’t know what to do about a culture that had so lost its way. I said they were already doing the right thing. They were getting snobs like me to dance with my mom.

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