Recently I was talking to a friend whose mother now lives alone and relies on her car to get her around. She does not want to give her independence, and her independence is tied up in owning and operating a car. I remember those days well. Then I think of the day that my father, a man who made his living driving a station wagon loaded with engineering equipment up and down the interstate highway system, announced to me that he wanted to give up his car.
Two things convinced him. First, he had a finely-honed survival instinct. One reason that he made it to 93 years of age was his keen ability to assess the odds in life or death situations and make the right decision. Driving had become dangerous and he knew it. The second was that we had talked about the price per ride of having his car.
One Sunday together, we sat at his desk and collaborated on the math. As he aged, he had limited his nighttime driving, then driving in bad weather, then his driving to unfamiliar places, and by the end, most driving other than to my place. By the end, he was down to 20 miles every other week tops, which at $3/gallon and 20 miles per gallon was not much, about $100 per year. “It’s not that much” was his logic.
Then I started in with the green-eyeshade techniques. His insurance cost him about $1,000 year. His car was still depreciating. Although his car was a middle-aged Chevy Impala with some signs of “gentle use”, it was probably another $1,000 per year. Registration, fees, inspection, taxes, you name it – call that $250. I’m not even adding repairs, which (a) middle-aged Chevys need and (b) middle-aged sons need to help organize for their elderly fathers. So they were expensive all around.
The arithmetic added up to almost $2,400 year for about 1000 miles of driving, or $2.40 per mile. Or, we could call his favorite Framingham outfit Tommy’s Taxi and they would drive him anywhere he wanted, anytime he wanted, for less than $1. A trip to my house would be $30 round trip – he could do that 80 times before he came close to being behind.
Was appealing to my father’s Depression-era cheapness kind of a dirty trick? Maybe. But I just wanted him to have all the facts.
This was in the era before Uber really became mainstream in the suburbs. Now it might be even easier to describe this to your parent who doesn’t want to hand over their keys. My father got to keep his independence and feel like he had outsmarted everyone: his 2 favorite things.
I picked up a pretty serious triathlon habit a couple of years ago. I started taking it seriously, hired a coach, and started caring about racing rather than finishing. Triathlon is a sport that consumes a lot of disposable income; race entry fees are steep and of course, the equipment is expensive. Some people spend $10,000 on a bike to shave off a few minutes on that part of the course. I made a serious tri bike investment myself, but not to that level. I got the advice that it’s not the chassis – it’s the motor. And my motor needed a lot of work.
There are some less expensive cheats though. One of these is no-tie shoelaces on your running shoes. Having them will prevent you wasting precious time in the bike to run transition. They can save 30 seconds and cost $4.
And they would have been great for my father.
No-tie laces fall into the category of “why did I not think of this while he was still alive?” He wore slippers nearly everywhere because tying his shoes was very difficult for him.
Another one that I missed is going to the drugstore and buying cheap reading glasses. His eyes were not the best and his eyeglasses pinched his nose. For $100 I could have solved this problem. There were times when he sat down in his powered recliner (probably the best thing I ever helped him buy) and his reading glasses were across the room. Getting back to them was a lot of work, so he would go without. The same $100 would have solved this problem too.
I have a remote-controlled fan in the bedroom and another next to my basement man-cave bike that lives on the trainer. I love them. If he were alive, I would remote-enable everything.
I bought an $89 Nespresso machine for my ever-expanding basement man-cave. Espresso is my incentive for crawling out of bed for 5:45am workouts. It just works. But now that we have a puppy who sleeps 20 feet from my kitchen espresso maker, I had to supplement it with a unit that would deliver the caffeine I need without waking up Ollie. My dad would have loved one of these things. It’s so easy even he could have used it.
I think I did pretty well with his equipment; enabling him to live as independently as possible as was a good for him, and truth be told, probably just as important for my brother and me. It was sheer self-preservation. For years, keeping my sanity meant avoiding “emergency” phone calls. I get it though. You and I might take performing basic function– tying our shoes, cooling ourselves with a fan, making coffee – for granted. Our elderly parents sometimes cannot. It’s a loss of control and dignity, and when feel like you are running out of days, that’s an emergency.
I don’t watch my phone with that kind of bated breath anymore. Every now and then though, I am reminded of those days, sometimes by something I have for a totally unrelated purpose. It is like that.
Today is 9 years since my mother passed away. I remember that day like it was yesterday, and still miss her like it was yesterday.
This year is a little different because of the virus. If she were alive, who knows where she’d be living (at age 85) or what kind of health she’d be in. I do know that I’d be worrying about her. She’s a Holocaust survivor so in many ways she was pretty resilient. Her cousin who is still alive and living in New York City is hunkered down and you can see the razor sharp survival instincts kicking in. In other ways though, she could be brittle. You never knew which version of her you were going to get.
I admit though that I am happy she is not here to see what is happening right now. Not just in America, where we have botched this thing so badly so far that she barely would recognize the country that once put a man on the moon. Her native Hungary is even worse. The prime minister there just used the pandemic to make himself a dictator, which since he leads a brazenly anti-Semitic party, is not going to end well. She was glad to be out of there and never felt the love or allegiance to it that my father seemed to have. I sort of feel the same way.
This is always a hard day for me. I re-live it hour by hour, mile by mile from Wellesley down the Merritt Parkway and NJ Turnpike to my parents’ house in Lawrenceville, to the hospital where she had already passed away many hours before, back home again, back up the Turnpike to Newark Airport to get my brother who flew in from California, and back home again where I finally could lay down for the first of what would be weeks of sleepless nights. I miss her. This might be the first time that I am a little bit grateful, for her sake, that she did not have to see this day.