Pushing my grocery cart towards the automatic doors, I can’t help but notice the older man just ahead of me. He is tall and spry, and the bright, yellow sweater he wears sets off his sharp, new haircut. I observe these details because when the automatic doors open, he doesn’t budge.
“Waiting for the light to change, huh?” I laugh, making light of his hesitation.
“Nope. Just waiting for my wife,” he sighs. “Apparently, I’m not allowed to drive anymore.” The heavy loss of independence sits deep in his eyes.
“It was just a little fender bender,” he explains. “The guy ahead of me just stopped too fast.”
His son took away his car keys. Now he has to be driven everywhere like a school boy. He’s mad but mostly he’s sad. I would be, too. No more jumping in the car on a moment’s whim and letting the world swirl past your windows. From here on out he will just be a passenger. I imagine him raising that son; the one who took his first steps as Dad looked on with pride. Now that boy will watch him take these last ones.
Having seen my share of retirees motor through 4-way stop signs or suddenly stop for seemingly no reason, I get it. Many shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place. Right now, there are one million licensed drivers over the age of 80! And while one could say the same for teen drivers, statistics don’t lie: drivers over 85 have four times the fatality rate of teenage motorists.
At 17, I drove almost the entire California coastline in an old, Chevy Nova. Still remember the hairpin turns approaching Big Sur, the scary, high cliffs where mammoth waves crashed on the rocks below. It was a thrilling and heady ride and I was the master of my fate.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” No wonder. That’s where all those wild and free memories first ignited in us; the ones we thought would last and last with just a turn of the key. I would like to believe that someday I will be in that one percent still cruising in their 90‘s with the top down. Praying, of course, that I never hear: ‘Get off the road Grandma!’