The front-page articles in the Jan. 3 Bangor Daily News on old folks’ driving put me in mind of my own experience. I quit when I turned 90, and I’m glad of it.
Turning 90 wasn’t the reason. I had noticed that my reflexes weren’t as prompt as they used to be. I had sensed an increased chance of going to sleep at the wheel. And I had sometimes failed to see a red stop light or an approaching car.
So when my wife, Helen, and my daughter Martha broached the idea of my quitting, I was a step ahead of them. I told them I already had decided it was time to quit. It turned out that they had been quietly conferring with our other daughter, Iris, in New York about how to approach the matter. They were relieved to find such quick and easy agreement.
Helen and I had been sharing the driving on our long trips to Portland and Boston and to visit friends in New Hampshire, and I had mostly done it on shopping trips and for our almost daily hikes along the Shore Road in Acadia National Park.
She’s some years younger than I and is still a good driver. But we now take the bus to Portland or Boston or New Hampshire. And for night trips we usually rely on friends or hire a driver. It makes sense to pay for service rather than buying more stuff.
When I was still driving, we took one of those courses for old folks. The instructor taught us some useful tricks such as never turning the wheels while waiting for a left turn. That could save us from a head-on collision if a rear-ender shoved us into oncoming traffic. Another stunt: In a parking lot, we look for a drive-through space so that we won’t have to back out. And we learned the value of leaving plenty of room between us and the car ahead in case it makes an unexpected stop.
I’ve always liked driving, but we’ve never had a really fancy car. My first car was a 1931 Ford Model A convertible that I bought for $75 when I was in college. I sold it when I graduated and left to serve in World War II — for $75.
After the war, when I courted Helen in Denver, I was driving a war-surplus Jeep with a rag top. I found out later that she quickly decided that the Jeep would have to go. But I built a station-wagon-type body for it, and it served us through the births and early childhood of our two daughters. Eventually we splurged and bought a little British car, a Hilman Minx, which carried the four of us to the Pacific Coast and back for a visit to our parents.
Then came a yellow Volkswagen convertible, which we drove for 20 years. When Albert Harmon saw it drive into his tire shop with Helen, the new owner of the Ellsworth radio station, at the wheel, he thought it was a joke. We also inherited an old Chevy Nova that came with the station.
Now Helen drives a 2000 stick-shift Honda Accord, the last of several Hondas we have owned. It should last us a long time. I miss my old Civic and its 40 miles to the gallon. I even miss the old Model A and the way I could adjust the carburetor and reline the brakes by myself.
But those days are gone. We get on fine with one car and one driver as long as our caretaker, Arthur Wilbur, can take the wheel when we need him and Mike Povich or Lincoln Ehrlenbach can continue to get me to Rotary on Tuesday nights. And at our summer home on Islesford or Little Cranberry Island, who needs a car? Nothing’s more than a mile, and we walk everywhere.
Actually, it’s a relief to enjoy the scenery instead of keeping my eyes on the road.
Richard Dudman is the BDN editorial page senior contributing editor. He lives in Ellsworth and Islesford.