Exciting news flowed fromn the newspapers in February. A big flash dealt aging a boost. One report said men start a precipitous decline from age 45 to age 70, especially in memory loss. That explains the numbers of the middle generation in the checkout lines swatting pockets looking for their billfolds, or stalled at hat racks analyzing raincoats and sombreros.
In the same daily edition, a cell phone study showed users in traffic drove as bad as the elderly. The jolt gave us clutch-pedal-riding graybeards a new support group in talkers attached to speaking into a plastic mouthpiece and listening to a tinny earpiece. It’s a bond so tight it makes the seals on a stack of thousand-dollar bills at Fort Knox look flimsy as a soap bubble.
It took a half-dozen e-mails, a dozen postcards, and four or five phone calls to express my glee. Couldn’t wait to contact my proteges to announce that their descent had begun, and that an apology of 25 words or less would be considered at my postal address in Mertzon, zip code 76941, to cover the decades of derogatory criticism of my driving. (Twenty-five word apologies stem from the old English scaffold right of offering the condemned a maximum of 25 words to apologize to victim or victims before the noose tightens too tight to utter one word. Thought you needed to know in case some busybody pops the question of where the custom originated.)
After the first surge, I got a different view of the telephone. Just walking in Mertzon, I rarely see an SUV driven by a motorist with both hands on the wheel. Took me awhile to learn not to wave, as that meant the return salute freed both hands from the wheel. Further to ponder was fashion — ladies’ fashion. Main body of traffic was young mothers, good-looking dames dressed for work in a rush to drop off school kids or toddlers at day care, or making the reverse trip in the afternoon to retrieve the subjects.
Since the drivers roared by in a flurry of smoking exhausts and whining tire tread to dump the kids and make work on time, it gives little time to think. Yet I worried that the telephones jammed against their heads meant the beginning of a rash of deformed earlobes, smashed cartilage like the cauliflower ears pugilists develop from the horrible pounding of the ring.
Next came the grocery store episodes. Each trip to San Angelo, the aisles became more congested by shoppers chatting on the wire. Many wheeled dual-seated carts filled with noisy boys making sputtering motor sounds, backgrounding the mother’s recap of her day with a pal shopping in the same store.
So I found myself — if there is such a thing as finding oneself for an hombre 50 to a hundred years behind the times — wishing for a dinky little telephone. One to use as prop to portray, say, a foreign agent never free from an unnumbered link in Zurich, a coded identity in Montevideo, or a secret address in Istanbul.
But instead, I pushed the wobble-wheeled cart along, avoiding influenza-wracked kids barking and snorting germs as bad as a racing barn infected with distemper. Avoided the overflow of voices saying, “She just thinks she’s the Queen of Sheba, my mother-in-law does,” or, “Guess you noticed old Tarzan gained 20 more pounds Christmas.”
The American Association of Retired People will be the media to announce that pressure is shifting from older drivers poking along hugging the white lines to the one or two fingers on the wheel smooth-cheeks speeding in the passing lanes. The AARP will be covering news of magistrates ordering offenders 60 days off the wire, probated six months without so much as being allowed to hold a handpiece inside a moving vehicle.
Big thing is if the charge is true, a mass terror may hit the roadways. Already few young people have the courage to ride with Granny or Granddad. Suppose what will happen if the thought hits suddenly that cell phone users are as dangerous as their grandparents. They might panic on the access roads; stall before going on the interstate. Do something rash like joining the National Guard. Car bombing in the desert is a horrible fate, but it is swift.
Can’t say go on hold until we have more information or better contact. I don’t really expect anyone to believe a telephone can make a person drive as bad as I do. Be a big jolt, however, if research discovers cell phones accelerate memory loss. Misery sure can become crowded, and from unexpected sources, too.
by MONTE NOELKE