Department of Wit: Age by Design

A rallying cry for the old and stylish.

Department of Wit: Age by DesignThere are few perks to turning 60, but the one guaranteed to thrill every newly minted sexa­genarian is senior discounts. There are special bus passes, reduced movie ticket prices, loyalty coffee cards. There are also deals for golden agers at certain dining establishments, but no senior worth her salt would be caught dead there: 4:30 is happy hour, not dinnertime.

That term “senior” is odious, isn’t it? It’s okay when it indicates your rank in a law firm but not when it trumpets your rank in the age spectrum. A discount, however, is a discount, so when the opportunity presented itself, I signed up for a senior’s rail card. In Britain, where I now live, train travel is a necessity, especially for transplanted Canad­ians who haven’t sucked up the courage to drive on the wrong side of the road. For a modest annual fee-about $55 Canadian-a sen­ior’s rail card promises one-third off train ticket prices. With careful manoeuvring, the savings (accrued over a year or so) might allow me to indulge my fancy-footwear fantasies and partake of the rarefied realms of Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo.

When my rail card arrived in the mail, my good cheer quickly morphed into disbelief: the card was hideous. Greyish blue, it takes on an unfortunate lavender tinge when examined closely. The words “Senior Railcard” are rendered in a Comic Sans-style typeface, while the “Valid Until” date is in a font found only on tombstones. There is a picture of boats marooned in a desolate cove, but even with the assistance of bifocals (yes, bifocals), the image looks more like a smudge. The card is so dull, so soul-leeching that it makes even a Dignitas brochure look better.

It’s not the first time I’ve been burned. Marketers hear “senior” and they default to dreary-one need only look to cruises aimed at the
60-plus crowd for further proof. Or to clothing catalogues. Who decided gear festooned with maple leaves and cats and polar bears was the thing? If I want to wear nature, it’ll be snakeskin on my handbags and mink on my collars. Neither of which go with a greyish-blue Senior Railcard.

Nowadays, our wallets bulge with plastic cards of various types and uses, all reflecting companies wanting to be branded as modern, vibrant and distinctive. We seniors also want to be recognized as modern, vibrant and distinctive. Our own individual brand is built around the fact that we love to laugh, we’re game for adventure, we eat out, volunteer, ski, see films, and shop for books, clothes and items for our smart digs. We grew up in the ’60s-is it so surprising we’d like a sprinkling of psychedelia on everything? In the ’80s we went to rock concerts; in the ’90s we took our kids to rock concerts. When the millennium hit, we adopted the latest technology without a second thought. Ditto for the latest nail-polish shade. But a greyish-blue travel card? Forget about it.

A lot of ink has been spilled in recent years bemoaning the sense of entitlement among boomers. To that I say, “So what?” We still want to live on the edge-if it comes with a state-of-the-art bathroom.

As for the train company, I’ll be writing a letter. It’s not always about the discount, after all; sometimes it’s about appealing to a client base that’s looking for a little Choo with its choo-choos.