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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

“Burning Man!” suggests Joshua.

Grandparental Trendsetters

A funny thing happened on the way to older Americans accomplishing everything on their bucket lists: their kids and grandkids stole the idea, taking Grandma and Grandpa’s renewed spirit of adventure as improbable inspiration for their own life course.

Walking through the crowd after the first round of the Cave Creek Running of the Bulls, the younger participants talk about crossing out another adventure on their own bucket lists, which seems just a little, well, premature to be charting a final act before fully launching a first.

“It’s all about doing epic stuff in life,” explains one young man, surrounded by admiring females and hoisting a beer. He seems to have adopted as his hero the weathered Dos Equis pitchman, heralded in commercials as The Most Interesting Man In The World. “And it’s never too early to start working on that!”

Savvy marketers are beginning to pick up on the trend. Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, a senior advertising strategist at Leo Burnett Chicago, blogs that today’s Millennials care more about accumulating life experiences than material goods, and aim to grow their personal currency throughout their all-important social networks by simply doing awesome things. For this generation, Hahn-Griffiths says, “success is more likely to be defined by sampling a rich array of life experiences — including culture, travel, innovation, sustainability and the environment.” The travel industry has already taken note: according to research by hospitality marketing firm TIG Global, Millennials — those born between 1977 and 1995, and grandkids to those over 50 — now account for 12 percent of the nation’s leisure travel market.

MTV has capitalized on the trend as well with its reality show The Buried Life, which recently wrapped up its second season. In the show, two brothers and two of their friends travel across America in a big purple bus completing their own list of “100 things to do before you die” — and, in an altruistic twist, helping strangers along the way complete one of their own. So far, the adventures have been a bit sophomoric: season two opened with “No. 50: Streak a Stadium and Get Away With It.” But they did, in their second visit to the White House, get to shoot hoops with President Obama — wish No. 95.

The inspiration for this new bucket-list youth movement? Their feisty parents and grandparents, who’ve shown them that when it comes to accumulating friends and awesome experience points, there’s no beating seniors on a bucket list spree. An ad by Saatchi & Saatchi for Toyota shows a pale young girl glued to her laptop, chiding her parents for only having 19 Facebook friends — interspersed with scenes of her high-spirited parents grabbing bicycles off their Venza’s roof rack to go mountain biking with another vivacious couple.

Sometimes the youngsters can’t even keep up with their daring elders. Jean Pettit, a retiree at the Freedom Plaza independent living center, took her first skydive two summers ago, at age 84. It was a 13,400-foot freefall over the Eloy desert and ended up landing her on the big screen in Times Square as well as in news clips alongside former President George H.W. Bush, who completed his second skydiving attempt, at age 85.

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