Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

(Sorry about another rerun but I'm still a little fried from finishing the book. I promise I'm nearly back among us. I rerun this post in honor of the tiny, incredibly elderly woman who backed into my car today in a parking lot. She was the size of a ten year-old and too unstable to put the keys in the door without leaning against the side of her car but she possessed both a driver's license and a leaden foot. Miraculously, my car was unscathed but she neither stopped nor even looked my way as she careened off to inflict mayhem in parts unknown. Look for her: she's driving a dented Mercedes. The only thing you'll see in the interior are coral-painted nails wrapped around the steering wheel.)
* * *
It’s been a bad month for good behavior. First, I had to restrain myself from hitting someone, and now I’ve yelled at an old man.
You may call me Gandhi.
Getting a battery replaced at Sears should take no longer than twenty minutes unless, of course, you are me. Then, you get the slowest-moving mechanic in the free world and a new battery which refuses on principle to speak to the computer which has to sign its adoption papers. I read every battered Golf Digest in the waiting room. I then read the radial tire brochure. I then read the tag on the underside of my chair. Eventually, my mechanic lackadaisically motioned me outside.
Unwilling to expend the energy to talk over the whine of an air hose, he simply motioned to me that it would take no more than five minutes. I was standing next to my car, staring off into space, when I noticed an old man. He was standing next to his dusty sedan about ten feet from me, waving to get my attention. I walked over, thinking he needed some help.
“Do you need some help, sir?” (I’m not burnishing my reputation here. I actually said “sir”. In light of the following conversation it’s important to mention that I was raised right even if it was a very long time ago).
“Is it my turn to get a battery? Was that man (pointing to my lethargic battery guy) waving at me?”
“No, sir. He was just telling me that my job would take another five minutes.”
The old man chuckled.“I can’t see too well from a distance.”
Wow, I thought. Ten feet shouldn’t be an insurmountable distance with the thickness of those glasses you’re wearing. But I held my tongue.
He continued, “I’m heading down to San Diego today; want to make sure the car is in shape.” At this moment the mechanic indicated that my battery had at last chosen to acknowledge the computer and I was finally free to go.
“Well,” I said brightly “I guess you’re next.”
I watched him slowly teeter back to his car, walked to my own car, and drove off. It is a testimony to my desire to have this errand done and be on with my life that it took me a full block before I finally put it together: This old man couldn’t see a car length in front of him and didn’t seem to have full use of his legs and yet was about to drive over a hundred miles on the freeway. I spent one block convincing myself that this was none of my business. I spent another block telling myself he would get to his destination without incident and that it was also none of my business. I spent another block thinking about how dearly I had wanted to leave Sears forever and how this was none of my business.
I then turned around and drove back.
I found the man leaning against a post next to his car. I hailed him, and noticed that he didn’t recognize me until I was about eight feet in front of him. Believe it or not, I dearly hate conflict so I tried starting this off as neutrally as possible.
“I happened to notice,” I began nervously “you had some difficulty seeing.”
“It’s bright out.”
“I agree,” I said, thrilled to have found common ground. “It is bright out. But it’s going to be just as bright when you drive to San Diego. Perhaps there is some other way of getting there which wouldn’t be so…bright.” I trailed off because I was now uncomfortably dwelling in None-of-My-Damn-Business Land and the temperature there gets pretty cold and the natives are unfriendly.
Understandably, he waved me off.
“I’m due to take my driver’s test in September. I’m sure they’ll revoke my license. So why don’t you just [suggestion made which can only be achieved by certain Cirque de Soleil performers]”.
Readers, that’s when the yelling began. Not because of what he suggested I do; although it was odd to hear coming from a man who could have voted for Roosevelt (Franklin, not Teddy. He wasn't that old). I yelled because he all but admitted he could no longer drive safely, but was prepared to put himself and others at risk for another month until some government agency told him to stop. Let me sum up the next few minutes. Please imagine both sides being said at top volume:
MAN: I’ve been driving for fifty years.
MAN: I’m only driving to San Diego.
QUINN: I’m supposed to be relieved you’re not driving to San Antonio?
MAN: [Anatomically unlikely suggestion is repeated].
QUINN: I’d sooner do that than drive near you.
MAN: If you don’t like it, call the DMV.
QUINN: I’ll just do that.
So I took down his license plate, drove off, went home and called the DMV (I had some free time today, can you tell?). You’ll probably be unsurprised to know the DMV could care less about this information. There is no button to push to report a potentially unsafe driver. I finally hung up and said a silent prayer for anyone who might unknowingly drive near this man today. I know it was none of my business but all I could see was was a rusting two-ton weapon in the hands of someone who admitted he shouldn’t be using it.
What would you have done?


Anonymous bethany actually said...

Tricky. I'm sorry to say I probably wouldn't have been brave enough to confront the gentleman (ha!) to his face. I probably would have called the DMV, and if I'd gotten the same "So what?" reaction you had, I might have called the cops. I don't think you did anything wrong.

11:16 PM  
Blogger CDP said...

I think you did exactly the right thing. And having been raised in a household that contained the most profane WW2 veteran who ever lived (my late grandfather), I wouldn't have been shocked by the Cirque du Soleil grandfather often made the same suggestion to people who annoyed him.

7:12 AM  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

I would have called the police. In fact, I have done this. One Sunday morning we noticed an elderly woman veering all over the road. We gave her a wide berth and continued to watch and follow her. She was going the same direction, so it wasn't that difficult. She ran red lights (after slowing mid-intersection), she paid no attention to which lane she traveled in and she was a menace to everyone around her. I called the non-emergency number, gave them the make and model of her car and the street intersections. She ended up in a church parking lot and I hope the police caught up with her. I should've insisted that we wait until the police arrived. Next time, I will.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Chatty said...

I wish that I was braver about confrontation - any confrontation - so I applaud you! And I do SO know what you are talking about. Maybe it's because I lived in L.A. for so many years, and things like this happen almost daily - not to me - that only happened every MONTH or so - but to others, from whom I would hear the stories. It's a bit better now that I'm in Arizona - not that the drivers are any better here, but because the city is smaller. Still...there either needs to be better legislation or the DMV needs to get its act together. Wait! We need BOTH! I know that the elderly need a feeling of independence - we all do, at any age - but there should be limits. I have a friend whose father drove so badly that he couldn't even get insurance anymore - but the DMV was still letting him drive! My friend finally "took the car in for repairs", and whenver he asked for his keys back, she told him the car was still in the shop. It took months, and she felt terrible about lying, but he finally stopped asking. At least he had a daughter who addressed the problem. I have many similar stories, but you get the drift. However, many elderly drivers do NOT have children around willing to do this, and those drivers are just accidents waiting to happen. *sigh*
Coral fingernails wrapped around the steering wheel - I laughed until I cried, then I just cried...

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Michaele said...

Probably would have confronted him as you did. You never know, maybe you made the old guy think a little. I may have called in the license number, if nothing else to satisfy my need to DO SOMETHING. Wrap that superhero cape around your shoulders, or let it fly in the wind, but do gooders are, as the name would imply, really good people.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, that reminds me of a similar encounter we had in the parking lot of a stripmall. We overheard a woman complaining about the able-bodied taking all the disabled parking spots that ought to be rightfully reserved for her and her true disability. She was legally blind. (Yet driving.)

2:34 PM  
Blogger K said...

I am not sure I would have been able to fight the momentum of actually being in my car driving already to turn back, but assuming I was feeling less than lazy on that particular day...I would have called the police with the plate most likely. I have done this before with potential drunk drivers and even had the police have me "tail" the car until a cruiser could find us. Weird, but necessary.

Additionally, if you see my Momzilla (MIL) out there driving, feel free to report her. She's a horrid driver and has no business keeping a license. She says scary things like "the lights coming at me are too bright and I can't see anything at night." And then proceeds to drive at night.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

I'm almost pathologically conflict-averse, so I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done the first right thing, which was to talk to him about it. I'd probably have taken the license number and called the police, though.

Scary how some people's minds work. No ability to take a step back and think how their actions affect others. or the risk to their own lives, come to think of it.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Carol said...

Probably the same thing. I was raised right too, and to respect my elders. That doesn't mean however, they can't be approached in a respectful manner. I think this is what you tried to do. Unfortunately, some people are defensive, especially when they feel threatened. You're probably not the first person to broach this topic with him, perhaps his children have. This gentleman undoubtedly views giving up his drivers license as losing his independence. Take it from someone with an aging parent, I know, I have had this discussion with my mother, and it was not pleasant. You're never wrong by sticking to your convictions.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Amie said...

Ugh. Both your stories reminded me of a time when I was leaving a parking lot and being followed by an 800 year old woman. She was waiting for me to exit the intersection, and her way of knowing when her car was close enough to the car in front of it was when the car stopped on it's own. She actually hit me TWICE - light taps, both, just the slight drift of taking her foot off the brake, but after the first one I tried to give a friendly (seriously, more than one finger was involved) wave to ask her to back off, and the second time I actually got out of my car to tell her to back up. There was someone else in the car with her (who I would have thought would have been able to tell that the bump and bang they were feeling and hearing wasn't how a normal stop should be, but maybe they drove with her a lot). The driver said she had no idea she'd hit me. When I was finally able to pull out of the parking lot, I glanced in my rear view mirror to see someone have to swerve wildly to keep from hitting her as she pulled out.

I'm a firm believer in people having to take their full drivers test each time the license expires, not just sign a paper, because I don't think there's a set age where people lose the ability to drive, and it is SO serious when it happens. I don't understand why it's so easy to keep the ability to handle equipment that can kill so many people so easily.

On a completely unrelated note, I just spent a good two minutes staring at the word verification below, trying to figure out how to type a "u" with an umlaut over it before I realized it was actually two "i"s

1:57 PM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

Oh, yes, I'm with you on this one. I'd have topped what he could do with the Cirque performers, AND I would've called the cops on his homicidally indifferent withered ass.

The license to drive a car IS NOT A RIGHT. It's a PRIVILEGE. One which should be REVOKED if you are a danger to yourself and/or others.

3:40 PM  

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