I can't drive. I mean really, I’m under orders not to get behind the wheel at all. Not only did I just have total knee replacement surgery, but I’m also on massive doses of narcotic drugs. For some reason, my doctors think this combination would make me a menace to the highways. Driving, they say, is going to have to wait for a while. A month? Two months? More? They want to play it by ear. Or knee, in this case.
I’m going nuts.
And just to torture me, some nice fellows just delivered me a $110,645 2016 Jaguar F-Type R with the extended leather package. There’s a 550-horsepower supercharged V-8 under that hood, with zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and a 186 mph top speed. It’s in my driveway. And I can’t drive it!
My wife took one look at the beast and said, “Don’t even think about it. No doped-up husband of mine is going to get behind the wheel.”
I’ve been driving since I was 16—literally, the day I turned 16. In all that time, I can’t remember any other long-term situation that kept me off the road. I’m addicted to driving, and what it enables. Keep in mind that I also can’t ride a bike or walk for more than a couple of blocks—so alternative transportation is out, too. In the old prison movies, didn’t they call this “going stir crazy”?
If I lived in the city, I’d probably not miss driving so much. You can walk to stuff in the city. But I live in suburbia, where you need a car for everything. I could maybe limp painfully to the dry cleaners, which would be a thrilling experience.
I know people who didn’t drive. My mother-in-law, for instance. A driving instructor yelled at her for going up on a curb during the test sometime in the 1940s, and that was it—she never got a license—and her whole life depended on the kindness of friends and family, or took the bus. And she never complained about it.
I complain. Woe is me. I have to ask that no-nonsense wife to take me on errands.
But there was life before everybody had a car. By the early 1900s we were becoming an urban country—that’s where the work was. Public transportation got people around. Trolleys went everywhere—my own street, lined with minivans now, had them through the 1930s.
The suburbs grew up around the affordable private cars that were widely available in the post-war period, when ex-GIs had some money in their pockets and the American auto industry—which stopped dead in 1942 as the economy switched to war work—came roaring back to life.
Even in 50s suburbia, there’s a reason most houses had one-car garages. Cars were expensive, and if families had one, it was shared. My mom drove my dad to the station if she wanted to use our base-model Ford Falcon that day. I was applying to colleges by the time they had two cars. So this thing about always having a car at your beck and call is relatively recent.
I’m beginning to see what it’s like for seniors when the well-meaning (OK, probably right) family wants to take away the keys. My first impulse would be to say, “But I’ve been driving for X years!” To which they’re likely to reply, “Right, that’s just the point. All good things must come to an end.”
Here’s the understatement of the year: “Taking the car keys removes the parent's independence, the ability to drive to the market or to meet friends for coffee, to church and the senior center, the library or to visit friends. The experience can be traumatic.”
It “could be traumatic.” That sounds like an unspeakable medical procedure I just had that the nurse said might cause me “minor discomfort.” How does howling in pain sound?
“If you feel that it is time for them to hand over the keys, recognize that you may run into resistance,” Aging Care suggests. “This is understandable. However, if that is the case, there are several ways to legally revoke your loved one's license. You just have to find a tactful, loving way to approach this topic.”
I remember my grandfather, whose free-form way of parking his ’62 Chevy Bel Air in the garage was making the car’s sides look like a relief map. We asked him for his keys. He said no. Right there, I’d say we’d run into resistance. But he eventually decided on his own to give up driving.
Did I mention that I recently bought a Mazda Miata and really want to take it out during these lovely Indian Summer days? But it’s a manual, and it will be a while before I have the necessary pair of fully functioning legs. I know this no-driving thing is temporary, but it still feels like forever.