I was fifteen when my future husband, himself a teenager, taught me to drive his ’57 Chevy.The day I turned sixteen I passed the driver’s test, even parallel parked successfully and proudly received my first drivers license.That was a mere 60 years ago.
I remember being a confident, even cocky, driver pulling out in traffic and claiming the fast lane with gusto, Idrove 10 MPH over the speed limit (the Tucson standard).I could drive ‘four on the floor’ with the best of them and even double clutch it if there was an empty quarter mile ahead. Let’s face it, I was HOT.
My dad let me drive our 1950 Dodge, (not so hot) but Old Blue was a great car that resembled a tank.It was in pretty good shape until I was trying to back it out of the driveway.In my defense, the driveway was long and very narrow with a six foot privet hedge on one side and the neighbor’s patio wall on the other. It wasn’t easy to pull‘Old Blue’ into the parking spot and worse attempting to back it out.Trying not to run over dad’s prized hedge I got Old Blue hung up on the wall.The scrapping noise as I tried to pull forward then back up was awful.I think that’s what brought dad flying out of the house.There was a lot of yelling and crying.
When did it all end? Now I’m one of those little old ladies behind the wheel. You’d recognize me, the little lady with the extra cushion on the seat so I can see over the steering wheel. With my hands firmly grasping the wheel at 10 and 2, I drive five miles under the speed limit in the left lane, eschewing turn signals, because I’m never giving up my spot in this lane.
Like most older folks, my head doesn’t turn as far, or a quickly as it used to.A couple of years ago, I decided it would be prudent to back up very slowly to give the pedestrians in the parking lot a fighting chance.I figure if I move slowly enough they have time to mosey out of the way or run for their life, whichever the case may be.
I back out of a parking space at three and a half miles an hour, afraid to back too far lest I bump into something. Consequently, I never seem to back up far enough to actually turn the wheel to move forward but I try it anyway.My head swivels back and forth like a wind shield wiper trying to make sure no one snuck in behind me as I try reverse again.Finally I crank the wheel and barely miss the bumper of the car parked next to me as I creep forward.
Who ever designed the modern cars never considered old people might be driving them.I have a nice car but apparently it doesn’t have front fenders, at least, I’ve never seen them from the driver’s seat.Don’t get me started on the head rests, they are taller than my head, therefore their only purpose must be to obstruct my view.
I recently started counting right turns. If I make one left out of my neighborhood I can make two rights to Target.Isearch the parking lot for pull through space so I don’t have to do that pesky backing thing.In order to find that spot I have to park at least a block from the entrance to the store, my Fitbit cheers me on.
I’ve started avoiding certain intersections.You know the ones with the tricky traffic configuration.Coming home from my sisters house I encounter an unusual entrance into the flow of traffic from the left.The cars bearing down on me from the right can’t be seen in my mirror because of the angle. I have to travel at least a block before seeing the Pepsi truck trying to tag my bumper. A traffic light is at the end of that block, if it’s red, I pray the Pepsi driver isn’t busy texting.
My next move requires a right turn,if I can build up enough speed by jumping the light I might be able to maneuver across three lanes of traffic into the right lane in time to make the next light.The next intersection has a clever ‘yield’ right slide through. I’ve seen cars roar up to this yield and slam on the brakes when they realize crossing traffic is bearing down on them. If I’m the second car watching the traffic I never assume the car in front of will actually go when I think it is clear, I’ve learned to never take my foot off the break and start creeping up.The jolt when you to slam on the brake is unnerving.This whole stressful mile is enough to make me remap my driving route.
I guess it is all a confidence thing.When we are young we think we are invincible and have the reflexes of a cat. At my age I understandvulnerability and my reflexes more closely resemble a sloth.
My sister is still driving at 88, she’s considering giving up her car at 90 but she is leaving the option open. Admittedly her sojourns into traffic are no farther than the dollar store and thedoctor’s office but still, she is pretty awesome.