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?