- Written by Bill Levine Bill Levine
A decade ago, my 88-year-old dad lamented being forced to stop driving.
“I should never have stopped driving. It is killing me,” he said.
He even fancifully insinuated that my sister had squealed on him to the doctor who de-licensed him just so she could appropriate his car.
From the bully pulpit of his corduroy couch, I rebutted Dad’s wisdom of voyaging in his Volvo by reminding him that his across-hall neighbor was the poster person for tragic senior driving, as she had killed a pedestrian.
But after this cautionary speech, I still felt sad for him because 70 years of his independence had been siphoned off.
Now I am contemplating buying a new car, which just might be my last car, even though I am only 65. I may be off the road before 75 and struggling with a new reduced normal myself.
The culprit forcing me off the road will not be incipient dementia or glaucoma. It will be non-verbal learning disorder (NLD), a spatial disability.
If I do have to hang up my key fob in the next few years, I will still proudly acknowledge that I held NLD to a drawer by remaining in good standing on the road for 48 years. Right now, though, my wife and two sons don’t see it that way.
Last summer, my younger son, Matt, insisted I ride shotgun in my own car because he experienced a near-demo-derby with me at the wheel. I was not insulted by this request because I have been an uneasy passenger during my own driving.
For instance, at 16 I started driving lessons, and once the lessons migrated to two lanes, the wheel felt unusually clammy. Calibrating the safe time-and-space window for lane changing seemed overwhelming.
I wasn’t very surprised or angry, then, when the driving instructor said I would need an extra batch of 12 lessons to be road-test ready. After all, locomotive independence was not my strong suit. I had only cast off my bike’s training wheels at age 9.
I practiced until I finally felt less endangered when driving my own car, and at 21 I acquired a ’68 Ford Fairlane. But through the Fairlane, Pinto, Previa, and three Corollas, I have never inspired confidence or gained total self-confidence as a driver.
This is because of too many of the following: missed turns, abrupt stops, interminable looping in public garages, ill-advised lane changing, and 5,000 miles driven completely lost.
In 2014 my wife was worried over the prospect of my soloing in the family Highlander for 300 miles to pick up Matt at college. First she asked that I take a friend with me who could at the least say, “Watch out.”
Then, fearing for the Highlander, she espoused my renting a car for the trip. This didn’t make sense. Was I supposed to go to Enterprise and say, “I need to rent a car in case I crash”?
Eventually, I was able to argue for my dignity, if not my driving skills, and with some trepidation set the Highlander’s GPS toward Pennsylvania.
Then, last year, I had a disturbing conversation with my insurance company. I asked about the impact of committing two fender benders in a calendar year.
The customer rep replied in a confidential tone, “Normally, after two at-fault accidents you are put in a high-risk pool, but since you have been such a long-term customer, we won’t do this.”
There are a lot of experiences I could conjure up to ease the pain of no wheels and spearhead a prompt decision. I survived college for three years without a car when friends where tooling around campus in VW bugs or pink El Dorados.
Presumably, my wife would let me warm the passenger seat, or, if I can somehow figure out the app, Uber could save the day.
Still, I imagine that giving up driving involves a down-shifting that is not easy to execute. It will be hard to abandon the notion that anyone with one good eye and a GPS can at least drive down the block to get a newspaper — except me.
Maybe I will luck out and production of the driverless car will ramp up sooner than later. Otherwise, I will be faced with the agonizing decision of when to turn in my ice scraper and old AAA maps.
I picture myself as having the strength to do this. If not, my fate will be like the girl in the Beach Boys song: I’ll have “fun, fun, fun” until an authoritative relative takes my T-bird or Toyota Corolla or used Hyundai away.
Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny.