December 2013

A cautionary tale

By David Feela

A warning two miles before the flaggers should have alerted me: standard road construction, orange cones, black tar, 10,000 pixels dancing on the surface of a digital road sign screaming caution. But I did not expect the early sun so suddenly above the tree line as the pavement curved east, and once I entered the curve the sunlight shattered my visibility.

Luckily I had seen the first notice advising me to slow down, but traffic in front of me had already come to a dead stop. The screech of my tires reverberated off the surrounding tree trunks. The flagger jumped back, like in a game of Frogger, and I could feel a half-dozen eyes glaring at me in their respective side mirrors.

Sorry, I said aloud, though I was by myself. Then I shut off the engine, slouched, and pretended to be fiddling with my seatbelt. As an afterthought, I switched my flashers on, then as an after-afterthought I switched them back off when it occurred to me that they’d only draw more attention my way.

It turned out to be a long delay, vehicles stacking up behind me so that I couldn’t see the end of the line. By the time the traffic started forward, even the flagger had forgotten which car sponsored his heart’s early-morning jump-start. I waved as I drove past, and he waved back with his entire hand, not his middle finger.

Finally beyond the reach of roadwork, careening along at 60 mph, I got to thinking about my little lapse in judgment, which only made me feel foolish, that a man who’d recently turned 60 couldn’t be trusted to drive at that speed.

Suddenly I could see far enough down the road to where the authorities were forced to wrestle the driver’s license from my clenched fingers, ordering me to be reasonable, to behave like a mature member of the Older Drivers Division. My bumper by then would have been painted hunter’s orange instead of its stock chrome, a legal requirement for the ODD drivers like me wishing to remain behind the wheel beyond the age of 65.

No doubt special hours for older drivers would apply, prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle after dark or during inclement weather, or while DUM (Driving Under the influence of Medications). Public-service announcements along the highways would urge drivers to call 663 if they needed to report a geezer.

I know, it’s all more than a few years away, but I’ve always expected delays. According to the Census Bureau, the number of statistically mature people between 2004 and 2050 is expected to increase 147 percent, from 36.3 to 86.7 million Americans traveling down life’s highway at 65 or more. These folks – in a few years, my folks – will comprise 21 percent of the country’s population, but what startles me most is realizing that I could still be alive in the year 2050. Imagine that! My gene pool could theoretically make it possible, because my father possessed a valid driver’s license up to the day he expired, and he was 94.

As father and son, however, we were not of the same mind. I inherited his car, a Pontiac Grand Am, with a spoiler on the trunk lid, dual exhausts, bucket seats, a 6-cylinder engine, custom wheels, and a CD player he never used because he only trusted cassettes. He could have ordered a car to come with a cassette player when he made the purchase, but he didn’t like to wait. He drove it home the same day, the way it was delivered to the showroom. Nothing except a broken hip finally slowed him down.

Since 1963 the government’s Administration on Aging (AOA) officially designates the month of May as Older Americans Month. The theme for this year, in case you missed it, was “Unleash the Power of Age.” I wish they would have asked me before choosing that theme. I’m not comfortable with the word Unleash. It makes me think of domestic pets, and I’m plagued by the image of tiny dogs jumping up and down on the furniture, the epitome of impatience.

The next time I’m sitting in a line of traffic, waiting for the flagger to flip the sign from Stop to Slow, glancing in my rearview mirror as the number of cars grow, I’ll be thinking of the untapped power behind me. I might even pretend once we finally begin moving forward that I’m participating in a little parade, our batteries recharging as our brakes are released and we gently accelerate toward the next construction zone.

David Feela is an award-winning author, poet and essayist in Montezuma County, Colo. He has a blog at feelasophy.blogspot.com.