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Bucket Brigade

Don’t look now, but Millennials are making their ‘bucket lists’ and they have their adventurous grandparents to thank.

Jimmy Magahern | Nov 8, 2011, 2:11 p.m.
Bob and Jean Pettit, five-year residents of Freedom Plaza Retirement Comm-unity, are walking on air following her thrilling tandem jump at SkyDive Arizona in Eloy. The happy couple embraces the surprises that still pop up after 20 years of marriage. Marla Levine

Fifty-three-year-old Paul Kelly, his buddy Paul Smith and Kelly’s twenty-something son and daughter stand out at the front of the line, backed by a rowdy throng of fellow adventurers — and staring into the eyes of 21 hungry 1,500-pound bulls.

Being held on a dusty stretch of private land just south of the Buffalo Chip Saloon, it’s the first Cave Creek Running of the Bulls.

Decked out in the matching traditional garb of the original bull runners in Pamplona, Spain — white shirt and trousers, red waistband, neckerchief, beret — the foursome lead the pack from the rear, as the gate rises and the bulls charge out onto the makeshift quarter-mile track for the first of four runs on this warm Saturday afternoon.

After a brisk but, relative to Pamplona, tame chase from the fairly domesticated, rodeo-trained bulls, the quartet gather at the beer tent at the center of the track to celebrate yet another milestone.

All around the beer garden, packs of fellow thrill seekers, all over the age of 50, slap one another on the back, catching their breath with the same phrase: “Well, that’s one more thing I can scratch off my bucket list!”

But for Kelly and Smith, it’s just practice.

“One of the things on our bucket lists is to do the actual running of the bulls in Spain,” says Paul Kelly, pointing to himself and his buddy, the taller Paul. “So we figured we would do this first as a warm-up, since it was right in our hometown. And next year, we plan on going to Pamplona.”

Together and, frequently, along with their kids, the two pals regularly check a number of items off their “bucket lists,” a term popularized by the 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as a mismatched pair of terminally ill men on an around-the-world trek to try everything on Freeman’s list of things to do before he “kicks the bucket.”

Dismissed by critics but influencing everything from websites like Bucketlist.org, to Bill Clinton sharing his own list at a 2010 International AIDS Conference (tops on the former president’s list: “Climb Kilimanjaro before the snows melt” and “Live to see my own grandchildren”), the bucket list has arguably become as emblematic to today’s aging boomers as another Nicholson film, Easy Rider, was to them four decades ago, and Kelly and Smith, with their matching panache and gusto-grabbing aspirations, could be the movement’s new Capt. America and Billy.

“We’ve gone skydiving, we’ve bungee-jumped,” Kelly says.

“Gone white-water rafting, cliff diving,” Smith adds.

“We’ve always been daredevils,” Kelly says. “Always kind of pushing the envelope.”

What’s different about this bucket-busting bro-mance, however, is that the kids are along for the ride. Kelly’s son Joshua, in matching beret, says he heard about the Cave Creek Running of the Bulls first but can’t remember who talked who into signing up.

For Kelly’s college-aged kids, having a bucket list dad is something they clearly enjoy.

“On the bucket list now, it’s either daring stuff or it’s parties that we want to go to,” Paul Kelly says, with a laugh. “We’ve done Mardi Gras, but we haven’t done Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. There’s Oktoberfest in Germany . . .”

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