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Plan your funeral or play Nintendo

AARP gathering in Anaheim for "people 50-plus" includes health tips, but ventures far beyond.

October 26, 2006|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Elton John, Bill Cosby, the Pillsbury Doughboy and a NASCAR driving simulator are among the highlights at this year's AARP convention and expo, rolling into the Anaheim Convention Center today.

About 25,000 graying baby boomers and other vintage humans are expected at the three-day event, which offers a curious blend of clinging to youth and preparing for death.

Roaming the cavernous exhibit hall, conventioneers can alternately play Nintendo or plan their funerals, buy motorcycle insurance or soothe cracked cuticles, discuss space exploration with NASA or talk about enlarged prostates with the American Urological Assn.

Electric scooter and wheelchair rentals will be available, but that doesn't mean this is the stereotypical dentures-and-Metamucil crowd. Nearly half of the attendees will be younger than 60, according to AARP officials, and most of the rest will be under 70.

"Please do not use words like 'old,' 'seniors' or 'retired,' " cautions a handbook for convention volunteers. The preferred term is people 50-plus.

In recent years, AARP, which is open to anyone over age 50, has aggressively courted baby boomers. The group has retooled its magazine and conventions to cater to boomer sensibilities.

At the 2004 expo in Las Vegas, the lineup included singer James Taylor, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer and a seminar on "The History of Beer." There was also a giant fake colon next to an Elvis impersonator.

This year, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather kicks off the festivities, followed by a smorgasbord of product demonstrations, seminars, concerts, fitness workouts, movie screenings, tourist excursions and dancing.

"Come and get your groove on and prepare to cut a rug," urges one brochure. "You will feel like you are in funkytown, 'cause you gotta keep on dancing as you do the bump and the hustle!"

The roster of speakers includes comedian Carl Reiner, actor Raquel Welch, author Maya Angelou, NFL veteran Terry Bradshaw, "Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams, Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks and former "Sesame Street" star Sonia Manzano.

Between speeches and seminars, conventioneers can play simulated golf, join the Peace Corps, wander through wheelchair-friendly houses, see a live alligator, tour a $555,000 motor home with its own fireplace and learn about lighthouses at the event's 430 exhibitor booths.

The chance to reach aging baby boomers has attracted some strange bedfellows to the event. On the convention floor, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will compete for attention with Dicker and Dicker furs. Anheuser-Busch will square off against Alcoholics Anonymous.

Another quirky entry is Nintendo. A news release issued by the electronic game maker said, "Nintendo at AARP Convention in Anaheim

The expo is AARP's first gathering in two years. The group's 2005 convention, scheduled to be held in New Orleans, was canceled because of Hurricane Katrina. Admission is $15 for AARP members, $27.50 for nonmembers or $5 for just the exhibit hall. The Cosby and Elton John concerts are sold out.

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