Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

It’s been a bad month for good behavior. First, I have 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 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 off on it.

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.

My mechanic finally lackadaisically motioned me outside. Since he wasn’t going to expend the energy to talk over the whine of an air hose, he motioned to me that it would take no more than five minutes. I stood next to the car, staring off into space, when I noticed an old man. He was standing next to his dusty sedan about ten feet from me, trying 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, but 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.”

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 getting ready 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 half block thinking about how dearly I had wanted to leave Sears, and how this was none of my business.

I then turned around and drove back to Sears.

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, and 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 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 is 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 what he had all but said was that he knew he could no longer drive, but was prepared to put himself and others at risk for another month until someone else told him that.

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.
QUINN: So had the guy who killed ten people at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

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 not 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 this was a potentially deadly weapon in the hands of someone who admitted he shouldn’t be using it.

What would you have done?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For "old person" substitute "drunk" and then ask the question again.
Obviously, it's not that simple, because the older person comes with all kinds of uncomfortable and bitter conotations--lose of independance and mobility, inevitable end looming--which makes removing the older driver's keys all the more difficult. As Winston Churchill said "Tomorrow, I will be sober," not adding "and then I can sheepishly get my keys back." Whereas once we take the keys from the older person, they are taken for good, and back we go to "looming end." But it is interesting that in both cases, the driver often refuses to admit their impairment, as if physical failing = moral failing.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Wow. I'm proud of you. I wonder if you could have paid the mechanic to break the car??

DMV may not have such a button, but it is possible in Oklahoma (and likely California) to report drivers who cannot physically drive safely and initiate the removal of their license. Of course, that would probably take longer than the 6 weeks he has until his September deadline anyway.

I might have called the police and asked them to follow him. Oklahoma police would do it. I don't know about California.

Good job, though. Maybe he thought about it later and decided to stay home. You never know.

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got two relatives in their late 80s who are driving still. Neither should be driving, and I have said over and over to my parents/aunts/uncles that it is time to take the keys away. Unfortunately, I'm in a different city than all other concerned parties, and so they get to just ignore my emails. It makes me sick to my stomach whenever I think about these folks driving.

Point being, I WISH someone outside the family, who doesn't have the whole emotional connection, would damn well go ahead and report my relatives as "unsafe at any speed."

I would totally have wanted to do exactly what you did, and I am delighted you did it. It is also good to know there are folks out there willing to stick their neck out for the greater good, even though they know it might result in learning a new word for a position they had never even contemplated as being physically possible.

(remembers recent incident at the pool in which lifeguard did nothing to stop woman and daughter from playing in the lap lanes, despite there being several folks trying to do laps. Went over to woman and reminded her of the safety issues involved, she told me to mind my own business, I told her she was putting her young daughter at risk and being an unkind pool-goer, she responded again in a nasty way, I chose to exit, lifeguard saw whole thing and still did nothing, I fumed.)

9:17 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

I forgot to mention an important detail. My husbands 86 year old grandmother accidentally ran over and killed his mother on mother's day. Her children tried to take away her license, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. Talk about regrets...

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only thing I would fault you on is your knowledge of bureaucracy, Quinn. The DMV isn't the place to start because, at best, all they can do is take away the guy's license, and what you needed was someone to take away his keys. I think the best course would be to call the local police and/or the highway patrol with an outline of the problem, a description of the car, license number, and his likely route to San Diego. But I admire you for the direct confrontation with the jerk, which I probably would have wimped out on.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My readers are frequently more relevant and are better writers than I am.
Luckily, my self-esteem is based on how many bottles of sunblock I have in my car, so I don't worry about this.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lost my father 16 years ago. He would have been 84 on the 8th of August. He was a wonderful, kind, decent man and if I had to take the car away from him because he was a dangerous driver, it would have broken my heart. But better that than to get a phone call at 2 in the morning telling me he wrapped his car around a telephone pole and was dead. Or perhaps, even worse, he lived but the family of four, whose minivan he slammed into, were all dead. If the elderly man you confronted has any responsible relatives, friends or neighbors even, they better get the car keys away from him. And if they don't, he better pray he never hurts someone I love.

4:29 PM  
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