Friday, May 02, 2014

Modern Mature Motoring, or “Confusion in Paradise”

Down here at Senior Sentral, down here in the swampy southern section of the Sunshine State, down here one never assumes anything.  For example, when navigating Florida parking lots, whether afoot or abike, your chronicler of murder, mayhem, madness, and more is as nervous as a roach in a flashlight factory.


Well, as a quick example, not so very long ago this elderly couple—let’s call ‘em Ruth and Roy—seems Roy and Ruth stopped at a local grocery store and while Ruth unhitched her walker Roy screwed around in the car trying to remember how to turn the infernal contraption off. As she was passing slowly behind the vehicle, one of the legs of Ruth’s walker slipped on something—a pebble, a grain of sand, a molecule, who but someone a million years old using a walker could slip on anything in a parking lot?-- causing Ruth to fall. Well, since he was so preoccupied looking for the car keys the addled husband naturally didn’t see his wife disappear.  And, of course, since he couldn’t find the keys to turn the damned thing off, Roy naturally chose this moment . . . to back up. Now, rolling over something similar in size and shape to a large log might cause most folks to stop and check it out; but not old Roy, not he. And again—and in the face of all logic--Instead of continuing backwards, Roy now suddenly found a forward gear and decided to drive over the “log” once more. Had not arm-waving passersby stopped him, the husband might well have remained in that parking lot all day, rolling backwards and forwards over his dead wife.

That’s why!

One must be on one's toes sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, 24/7/365.  Never assume while walking in a store parking lot here in South Florida that the driver of a car backing up sees you.  If it's a geezer behind the wheel, odds are heavy they do not see you and will not ever see you until a cop knocks on their door two hours later and shows them a photo of your lifeless body laying back at the parking lot. 

Also, never assume just because you are on an interstate or driving on a one-way street down here that everyone is on the same page.  With a million senile seniors driving around here, that assumption can easily earn you a one-way ticket to the graveyard. Never assume in a bank or restaurant drive-thru that everyone understands which way is the proper way to enter and exit.  In all likelihood, just around the corner of that building is a modern mature motorist totally "confused" and heading your way.

As I hope I noted in previous articles, Michelle and I are Florida “stay birds” (those who live in the Sunshine State year-round) as opposed to the seasonal “snow birds” (mostly septua- octa- and nonagenarians who flock here in the winter months under the precept that it is better to be half-dead and warm than it is to be half-dead and cold).  Once these snowbirds hit the state there is no mistaking the matter.  Not only do the roads suddenly become congested with sensible sedans, white, gray and beige, but the quality of driving drops while the quantity of accidents soar.  The arrival of snow geeze also manifests itself in a myriad of miserable little ways, as per coots who creep along in the pass lanes and nothing, not angry looks from me, not multiple middle fingers from teens, not horn honks from road ragers, not laser light shows from emergency vehicles, nothing can blast them from the pass lane.

I think even more than their sloth-like reaction time, even more than their turtle-like traffic creep, even more than their mole-like blindness, even more than their some kind of animal-like deafness, it's the deadly indecisiveness of oldsters that’s most frightening.  "When in doubt, do nothing!" seems to be their guiding principle.

Again, take Roy and Ruth for example.  When this typical octa-couple is out enjoying some modern mature motoring and either of them decides to make a turn, well, for some reason, and without fail, they slow nearly to a stop right in the middle of that turn.  It's almost as if they 1) forget why they are turning, or 2) they think slowing to a crawl half way into a turn is as good a place as any to scout out a parking space, or 3) they become suddenly taxed by all that exhaustive turning motion with the power steering.  Many an accident--I wager--and many a near-accident--I KNOW--has been caused by this maddening characteristic of older drivers. 

Just as they seem baffled ("confused" is the word newspapers use) when making a turn geezers seem just so at intersections; they pull too far into the pedestrian crossing and block the path for walkers or cyclists who want to cross. And given their penchant for mistaking the gas for the brake, none but the quick and the dead would venture in front of their vehicle. 

In fairness to old folks, most all age groups pull too far into crosswalks. Unlike most age groups, however, when the slow bulb finally flickers on that a bike--me--is flying along and wants to cross, stunned seniors just seem to flash freeze. 

"Do . . . I . . . pull . . . forward?” seems to be the painfully slow mental process.  “Or . . . do . . .  I . . . back . . . up?   Or . . . do . . . I . . .  just . . .  sit . . . here . . .  and . . . stare . . .  like . . . a . . . fossil . . . frozen . . . in . . . stone . . . and . . . make . . . this . . . stupid . . . idiot . . . go . . .  out . . . into . . . traffic . . . to . . . get . . . around . . . me?" 

Actually, I may be giving these geez too much credit--they may not be thinking anything at all. 

Seldom doth a day pass, it seems, unless some local Sunshine senile confuses the gas pedal for the brake pedal, then proceeds to blast a large hole through a post office wall, rocket right into a canal or mow down some slow dodger in a mall parking lot. Two illustrations . . . .

Up at nearby Venice a while back, old David Rosenberg and his bride, Sue, pulled into the parking lot of a local seaside restaurant. ‘Twas Sue’s 75th and the couple planned on a nice, quiet, uneventful dinner, just the two of 'em.

Of course, David was just a normal old dude as Florida geezers go; just one of our average senile seniors who become bumfuzzled by seemingly anything and everything that shares their environment. And so, as soon as Dave spotted a vacant parking place he did what any other normal 70-, 80-, or 90-year-old Florida driver would do, viz., he became “confused.”  Instead of tapping his brakes for a nice, gradual stop, Dave hit the gas pedal and floored the sucker. Like a rocket, the Rosenberg’s car crashed through a fence, flew over a low seawall and Pa-THUMP-Speeee-LASH, the vehicle sailed right out into the harbor.

Fortunately for the now nautical couple, a number of hero types saw the flying car and quickly ran to the rescue. Said one of those who dove in. . . .

“When my head comes up out of the water I’m right by the driver’s side. The guy looks at me like I am a burglar or an alien. I am pounding on the window, telling him to take off his seat belt. I see the woman. They are staring at me like, who the heck are you? They are in shock.”

The Rosenbergs were in “shock” alright, but it had nothing to do with the deep sea plunge; it was their natural condition.

Despite the frantic attempts of the rescuers, the Rosenberg’s car sank like a stone and the couple drowned. . . . (No, sorry. Ha, ha.  I apologize.  Just a little dark humor and a lotta wishful thinking) Let’s start over. TAKE TWO:

Despite the frantic attempts of the rescuers . . . the couple seemingly would do nothing to save themselves and continued to just stare at the efforts of the men outside.  Finally, one of the would-be heroes grabbed a hammer from the dock and beat out the back window. Just as the water was up to the Rosenberg’s necks and the car prepared to take the plunge, a strong arm reached down and lifted the couple to safety.

One might imagine that after such a close shave, the Rosenbergs would be profuse in their gratitude. One might imagine that after a narrow escape from death the soaked couple would get down on their knees and thank not only the men but god almighty for deliverance.  If one imagined all that one would imagine all wrong. There is nota jota whatsoever that the elderly couple even said “thanks” to the good Samaritans. I suspect that even days after the mishap Dave and Sue still didn’t have a clue and by now both have probably driven off several more piers around the region.

Regardless of the Rosenbergs, the City of Venice held a ceremony to honor the rescuers and the three men were awarded . . . were awarded . . . well, they were awarded awards, that’s what they were awarded. My suggestion to Venice is to place an order for a dozen more such awards and have them handy since there are plenty of seniles out there like the Rosenbergs who’ll need rescuing after they drive into the bay or crash into burning buildings.

One might think that such an incident would be more than enough excitement for one week, but oh hell no. . . .

Soon after that, just up Charlotte Harbor at North Port, some crazy old loon, “for reasons still undetermined,” suddenly turned off busy U.S. Highway 41 and, in broad daylight, headed straight down . . . a bike path! The driver continued speeding along the paved trail for a quarter of a mile! She might have continued on and on in her lala-fruitcake-whacked out journey to nowhere had not there been a bridge standing between her car and a gator-infested creek.   By smashing into the structure the addled woman just missed soaring straight into the murky mess.

Meanwhile, over on the wrong coast, 76-year-old Thelma Wagenhoffer plowed right through the front door of the Publix grocery store.  Witnesses said Thelma’s car appeared to be going at least 50 MPH when it blasted into the building sending people and potato chips flying in all directions.  Although one shopper was pinned beneath the car and a few others got their hair mussed up, it was only by the grace of god and some really fleet feet that more folks were not thoroughly squashed or critically killed.

As for Thelma, well it's hardly worth noting that she still has hardly a clue about what happened.  Contacted at the home, her husband stated that his confused wife (who, of course, was not injured in the least) was “trying to put the pieces together.”

With a little luck, Mrs. Wagenhoffer will be at it again today or tomorrow, exercising her god-given right to confuse the gas pedal for the brake as she crashes through walls and scatters bricks, body parts and cornflakes in every direction. 

It should also be noted that our local post office is going through it’s monthly repairs after 72-year-old Joe Bao blasted a new breezeway into the building the other day.  Judging by the photo, Joe utterly demolished some doors and a wall of the structure.  Safe to say, had man, woman, child, tree sloth, meth addict, “migrant” Mexican, homeless vagabond, or pooping pelican been in the way, they would not be here among we mortals today. 

Hardly does our post office finish patching old holes, I’ve noticed, when along comes another addled geezer boring a new one.  Perhaps officials should just leave well enough alone.  Perhaps they should just give it up, admit defeat and let seniors destroy the building down to the last brick.  After that, just pitch a large postal tent in the palms nearby to serve customers.  True, “confused” folks like Joe, will continue to tear through the canvass but the damage will be vastly less expensive and the financially strapped business will be back and running in a day or so.

 “Bao," wrote a reporter, "said he did not know exactly what happened, but his foot may have slipped between the brake and gas pedal.”  Right. 

A final example, then I’ll let it go.  One gorgeous Sunday a ways back, 65-year-old Bob Schneider of here in Englewood was out enjoying every minute of the day. Normally Bob’s wife, Mia, would be with him on the big Harley but today the loving “soul mate” was busy at home. She expected Bob back by six. Up the same road from Bob a piece, 89-year-old Evert Gustafsson pulled up to a stop sign. Since he didn’t see any other cars coming Evert pulled out into both lanes of the highway. Of course the older than dirt driver didn’t see the motorcycle. Of course the motorcycle slammed into the car. Of course Bob didn’t make it home that evening. Of course Mia Schneider is now a widow. Of course the driver of the car and his 86-year-old wife were uninjured. And, of course, that’s the end of the story.

I wonder if ANYONE—say a politician who doesn’t give a flip about getting reelected--has considered making it much tougher for senile seniors down here to renew their driver’s licenses. Certainly a significant percentage of these people are perfect menaces and should be stripped of their god-given right to kill the rest of us.

Note #1--Lovely local lady, Anna Bastianelli, was pissed off as hell because she had to wait sooooo damned long for her renewed driver’s license to arrive in the mail. 

Finally, the irate woman contacted our local newspaper and spoke with the “consumer advocate” columnist there. In turn, this scribbling do-gooder promptly buzzed the Florida DMV.  Anna’s license to drive was in the mail the next day. 

And so, Ms. Bastianelli now has a legal Florida driver’s license with all the rights and privileges contained therein including, 1) the right to ram into cars, trucks, ambulances, and school buses, 2) the right to run over and flat line cyclists like me, 3) the right to crash through post office walls and fly off piers, and 4) even her right to drive on the road now and then.   Anna Bastianelli is 93.

Do-gooder?   Do-badder?  Do-deather?  You decide!

Note #2, or Journey to the Center of a Geezer’s Petrified Brain--Some old-timer, let’s call him Orville D. Mentia, rambled on in the paper the other day, and, I must say, most pleasantly did he ramble.  In a letter-to-the-ed the man opined about “seniors behind the wheel.”  I was hoping for some good old fashioned down home common sense and some straight forward clear thoughts from this gentleman, but. . . .  In part, the senior spaketh thusly:

’Spunky’ is often used to describe those who still drive past 90.   One woman told me about her father who was in the 90-plus category and is still a good driver.  She did caution me, however, “If you see him on the open road, I would advise not driving in front of him or behind him.”

It is assumed that the above was spoken with a good-natured grin followed by a mirthful chuckle.  If so, then why am I not grinning and mirthfully chuckling?

Orv continues:

The ultimate driving feat for us oldsters is the coveted ability to “drive at night.”  Those who do are held in high esteem not unlike climbing tall mountains. Those who dread the thought seem unaware of those new inventions called ‘headlights’. . . . There was the joke about the senior lady who married the senior man who happened to be a rather unpleasant person.  Her friends questioned the wisdom of marrying someone so cranky.  Her reason was, ‘He drives at night.’  It seems that deep down inside some of us are still like children, afraid of the dark.  Boo!

Now, as scary as this thought is--sharing the streets, highways and post office parking lots with those “spunky” seniors in their 90’s at any time of day--the notion that we are sharing all the above with these people after the sun setteth is an absolutely paralyzing proposition.  From Orville’s light-hearted attitude, one might gather that driving at age 90-something  is a badge of courage, something noble, a virtue that tests tenacity and bravery, rather than a license to "confuse" the gas pedal for the brake a dozen times per day and proceed to squash, flatten, crush, cripple, maim, mutilate, and murder any and all who share a similar street or parking lot.  I rate anyone who is 90 years and up driving on the roads to be on a par with drunk drivers and texting teens.  All are menaces—all are mere accidents about to happen.

The writer above obviously does not see the issue as I do.  Instead, he and his peers deem it a question of freedom and independence versus . . . versus . . . versus slavery and dependency, that’s what.  I understand and even commiserate with the notion.  But Orville and his peers’ right to freedom and independence end where the lives and safety of the rest of us begin.  Or rather, it should (Florida does not seem to be in that big a rush to test whether its seniors are fit to walk and blink at the same time, much less able to drive a two-ton hunk of metal and momentum on our roads and parking lots).

I guess the ultimate kiss-your-ass-goodbye scenario is to be pedaling your bike some dark thirty trying to mail in your 1040 before the deadline and soon after entering the post office parking lot you spot a drunken 90-something texting and headin’ the wrong way YOUR way.  See that sight and y’all might as well stick a stamp on your ass and ship it since there won’t be no comin’ back from that one!