It seems the kind of car I drive gives my age away. Not that I’m hiding my age. Certainly not on this blog. And not that the car is so very old. Actually it is, by some people’s standards, but lots of youngsters drive eleven-year old cars. So it’s not that.
What is it then? I recently learned what my car reveals about me from M., whom Bill discovered after we both decided he should not drive me to the Newark airport and then pick me up again at the other end of my recent trip to Tampa. He tends to get lost outside of Princeton, GPS or no GPS. We also decided I should not drive myself because of the aggravation and cost of parking for all those days away and because Bill declared he would worry. [Isn’t that sweet?]
M. is a fit-as-a-fiddle former police officer, probably in his early sixties, who has built a thriving business subsequent to retirement by driving people anywhere (including quite long distances) in their own cars for set fees far lower than those charged by commercial limousine services, plus $35 an hour waiting time (in the event he is taking you to a hospital or doctor’s appointment, or something like that).
His client base is now so large he has six other retired policemen working for him and his fees are as low as they are because he has no need to pay for vehicles, or insurance, or gas. Since the six other drivers are independent contractors for whom he acts as booking agent, he need pay no employer contribution to social security either.
M. got behind my wheel on September 1 and commented: “A stick shift! I haven’t driven one of these in a long long time.” Well, that made me feel like Methuselah. Mind you, back in 2004 when I bought the car, I had specified that I did not want an automatic transmission. Apparently no one does that anymore.
M. explained that people used to think you got better mileage per gallon with a stick shift but that was no longer true. I have about twenty years on M. and recall that the stick shift was once preferred because you supposedly had better control of the car — and for all I know, you still do. But I simply smiled and nodded. Especially as M. hurried to assure me that I shouldn’t trade the car in because my stick shift was still working fine.
Well, I wasn’t going to. And I knew it was. (Although all I said was, “That’s good to know.”) The truth is when on occasion I’ve rented cars at airports, always with automatic transmissions because that’s all car rental places seem to have these days, my left foot doesn’t know what to do and taps the floor uselessly while the right one moves from gas to brake and back again, nervously expecting it’s about to strip the gears.
It all comes down to your past catching up with you. I learned to drive in Los Angeles on a 1937 Plymouth coupe. It was fifteen years old by then, but no cars had been manufactured from 1942 through 1945, so many pre-war cars were still on the road. None of them had that new-fangled automatic transmission yet. Once I had my license, my father replaced the Plymouth, just as it was about to die, with a used 1946 Chevrolet allegedly driven by a little old lady in Pasadena who took it out of the garage only to go to church. Whether or not that was true, the Chevy was in fine condition. And yes — the little old lady had driven a stick shift.
The Chevy lasted me a long time. It brought me back to New York, where it was followed by a used Studebaker belonging to my first husband, nine years older than I was, and then a snappy Volkswagen bug convertible belonging only to me, in which I found my second husband, two years older. The second marriage featured two more Volkswagens. [Given their respective ages, it goes without saying both husbands preferred stick shifts.] By then, you might conclude about my selection of transmissions that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. My post-husband-pre-Bill period featured a stick-shift Nissan. Why not? My first serious boyfriend, one year older and then being recycled, drove a stick-shift Nissan of his own. [The Nissan service station was two blocks away.] Now I have a 2004 stick-shift Honda. Wouldn’t you know? Bill, three years older, has a 2002 stick-shift Honda.
I have been reproached by many of the stick-shift men in my life (although not by Bill) for riding the clutch. I must not ride it too much though because, as I’ve already told you, M. said my stick shift is still working fine. You might also be interested in knowing what M. said about my age — yes, I let it out, just to see what would happen — when he picked me up at Newark on September 4. “Well, there’s 84. And then there’s 84.”
Tactful, wasn’t he? But who am I to argue with a cop, even a retired one?