It’s Not Easy Bein’ Old. . . A Semi-Serious Serial Rumination
Now that I’m old, every time I leave my house I become an endangered species.
On the sidewalks of my beloved city, young adults on skateboards, little children on scooters, delivery people on bicycles routinely come too close for comfort. While some shout, “Out o’ the way,” most can’t be bothered Although it’s not all that unusual to hear, “Move y’ol’ bitch.”
I’m actually a fast walker, even for a New Yorker. And I’m not taking up a lot of room. But my younger compatriots have no patience with which to notice that I am not really in their way. They are simply in a hurry to push me aside.
In my personal life, where most of my friends are much younger than I, I forget that I am already a relic of a time long gone. I have vibrant relationships with work, with colleagues, with my grandchildren. Out on the street, however, where I am only known by my gray hair and arthritic limp, I am perceived as just another one of the useless elderly. Nor am I unique. In this country, the wisdom of grandparents is not venerable. Rather, those who reach the age of wisdom are ridiculed, and no codger is immune. Even a president of the United States is fair game to demean at the earliest hint of forgetfulness, at the first sign of public flatulence, at the merest possibility of fragility.
Episode 1 — Driving while Old
Shouldn’t be dangerous. But it is.
Don’t get me wrong. My reflexes are good. My eyesight is 20/20, and I have the stamina of a 30-year-old. I don’t take chances, and I am a safe driver. However, every time I leave my home, I am keenly aware that my wrinkled face and gray hair, not to mention my consistent 60-mph-speed, are open invitations to police and others to discriminate against me.
Driving in Massachusetts last summer, I passed a side-lined trucker, disabled on a shoulder. I set my blinker and attempted to go to the far-left lane — it’s the law — but there was too much traffic traveling at far too rapid a speed. Before I had time to figure a new way of getting out of my lane, I saw, in my rear-view mirror, the dread spin of the red light atop a Massachusetts State Police car. Immediately the voice of young officer sounded over his microphone ordering me to pull over and stop. Though there were at least fifty cars on that busy highway who did exactly what I did, I was the one stopped. He strode over to the rental car and addressed me the way nurses speak to mental patients in old movies.
“What’re you doin’, Lady? You broke the law, you know.”
I argued that it was unsafe to change lanes, given the speed of the traffic, and he laughed at me. “It’s the law, lady.”
I took the ticket, and I paid the fine. What else could I do? If I had driven back to Massachusetts to fight it, some other young buck would have found an excuse to pull me over and wring money I don’t have from my limited coffers. To the young, anyone older than 60, who is not begging on the street, raking in the big dough in Social Security. Since we are on the dole, we deserve to be robbed whenever possible.
Besides, why would a State Trooper want to waste their time chasing aggressive drivers or pursuing those who are truly dangerous — the ones who drive recklessly, weaving in and out of small spaces at speeds that far exceed all acceptable speed limits — when they can easily stop a weathered woman meekly heading for a family visit, in no apparent rush, unlikely to have a chip on her shoulder?
It’s not just on the open road where I have to be wary.
Just before Covid drew the blinds on our normal social lives, my granddaughters and I spent a brilliantly convivial day in Mamaroneck, NY, patronizing a favorite establishment there, a DIY art space where children and their adult companions can choose from an array of media in which to create lasting works of art.
At the end of the day, my girls were proud of the oeuvres they produced so we decided to celebrate by ruining our appetites and headed to another Mamaroneck favorite: a cookie bar, where cookies the size of donuts, stuffed with chocolate pudding or chocolate cheesecake or any other manner of decadent filling could satisfy any dessert-lover’s hungriest sweet tooth.
A short time later, sated and happy to be heading home, I backed out of the head-in parking space, waited for the person in front of me to proceed along Mamaroneck Avenue, and slowly began to move north. As soon as I did, I saw in my rear-view mirror that a policeman on a bicycle was following me, and I heard him scream into his megaphone that I should pull over at once. I did.
The cop ambled to the car with a John Wayne swagger. He meant business. Knowing I had done nothing wrong, I was unintimidated. Further, the man looked to be no more than maybe ten years younger than I. He was certainly of a generation that would treat mine with respect.
“License and registration.” he barked
“What is the problem, officer?” I inquired.
“I said, license and registration.”
I handed him the documents.
“This is not your name on the registration,” he snarled.
“Well, my last name, sir. This is my son’s car. Please tell me. . . ”
“Does he know you have the car?”
Who asks a grown woman with children in the back seat if she has permission to use her son’s car? The officer ignored my consternation.
“This is a no-passing zone.”
“I passed no one, Officer, I was simply pulling out of the –”.”
The officer’s eyes turned venomous. He yelled, “I observed you passing the car ahead of you.”
As soon as he walked away from us to write the summons, my younger granddaughter observed, “Wow, Grandma, you didn’t do that.”
“Yeah, Grandma,” intoned her elder sister. “Why did you let him talk to you that way?”
I blanched. Before my hair lost its color, I would have argued. I would have scolded him for his disrespect. Being treated like an errant child in front of my granddaughters was humiliating. I was never that woman who resorted to flirting to get my way, but neither was I one who backed down from a demand for justice. All manner of personal weaponry had retired. I had nothing to fight with.
When my ticket arrived in the mail, I filled out the form and attached it to a letter explaining what had occurred. I mailed them to the Mamaroneck Traffic Court. Instead of a response to the letter, they sent me notification that my license was being revoked for refusing to respond to their notice of my wrongdoing.
I called them, and a lovely clerk gave me instructions for fixing the situation, and I sent another letter. Again they ignored my defense but offered me a lesser charge. Instead of $250, they would only charge me $100. They were confident a woman my age living in NYC without a car was not about to return to court to fight them. They were right.
I paid the fine.
It’s not easy bein’ old.
The youth-obsessed world we live in is anxious to cast us oldsters aside. We are taken for granted, scammed, targeted whenever an easy mark is needed. We are an inconvenience at best, and at worst a reminder that the only alternative to dying young is to end up like us.