On Friday my friend and I drove from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, a distance of 160 miles, which usually takes a minimum 6-1/2 hours on high mountain roads, through truck traffic, potholes and endless switchbacks. That works out to about 23 miles per hour. It’s a tough drive and took us a bit over 7 hours including a stop for lunch.
I drove the whole way, and in the last 10 miles or so hit two topes (speed bumps) pretty hard—feeling really stupid because I’ve done this road scores of times. On arriving I was so tired and wrung out that I couldn’t meet friends for dinner. It finally came to me that fatigue had made me lose my concentration. And you cannot do that in Mexico.
So no more long-distance solo driving for me. Like many oldsters, usually male, I’ve been proud of my driving. I drove sports cars in my salad days and for a long time thought my capabilities generally persisted. In a short book, I spoke about
avoiding the kind of hubris or testing of fate that old codgers manifest on the roads. Giving up the keys for most of us would relinquish a final vestige of independence. Like coasting downhill on an empty tank. . . . If I had to quit driving I’d be giving up one of the remaining joys in my sedentary life. It’s a matter of maintaining, as we all do, the fiction of one’s life.
So much for that. Hubris is what happens when you’re making other plans. A good local friend of mine drives so badly that I refused a few years ago to ride with him unless he let me drive. He once fell asleep on that same mountain road and nearly killed himself and a companion.
With the arrogance of youth I said to my father Jerome years ago when he was driving too fast in big glitzy Lincolns: “How about letting me drive for a change?” No way that was going to happen because I had told him his new car looked like a Baroque church. So he kept on driving big cars until he once roared through a stop sign, hit another car, and then argued about fault with the insurance company.
Oldsters are naturally jealous about keeping their driving privileges, and they can get very testy about it. Younger relatives may force the issue, but many states have no age restrictions. Make ‘em all take a test, I say. Yet the politics of aging may not let that happen. The AARP opposes this, calling it age discrimination.
And as the public approves of more electronic junk and digital screens in cars, the distractions for seniors and all of us will get worse. Drive safely to your Christmas destinations.