Bring On Self-Drivers!

Not only do I own what I am sure is the last station wagon in America, but apparently I am among the last drivers to be unfamiliar with push-button cars. I learned this on a recent four-day trip to Colorado where I attended a funeral for a friend of long-standing, followed up by a quick visit to Nieder family relatives.

I’d ordered a Volkswagen Jetta but at the Denver Airport’s car rental facility I was presented with an upgrade at the same price, “a white something-or-other parked at the curb” but as a lifetime VW owner, the names of other makes and models is meaningless to me. I did remember “white” and “parked at the curb.” It was evening so as I made my way out in the dark in the indicated direction, I headed for a white vehicle avalon-front.pngsitting at the curb with the motor running. The driver side door was unlocked so I put my bag on the back seat and got behind the wheel. That was when I noticed no key in the ignition. Where a key should be was a button with the words “push to start or stop while keeping your foot on the brake pedal.” I’m paraphrasing there but since the car was already running, I eased away from the curb and headed toward the exit, stopping at the gate to get pointed in the right direction,

I set the mobile phone’s GPS to lead me to the mortuary. I had very little time before the visiting period ended and sure enough, one missed turn or two and the required backtracking and reasserting of myself on the dark unfamiliar highway, and I quickly missed the visiting time altogether. Okay, so I told the GPS to take me to the motel. Once there, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the headlights; I went inside and played the first of what would be several days’ worth of “old lady cards.” The nice young man behind the desk came outside in the cold – Did I mention it was cold and I’d just flown in from Southern California? – and walked in his shirtsleeves with me toward the car. Just then, the lights went out on their own. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that keep the lights on long enough to get you in your building,” he said, “My car does that.”

I didn’t tell him my car at home doesn’t do that. If you forget and leave the lights on, you will be greeted in the morning by a dead battery. So passé.

Other old friends of the deceased arrived a little later, having “UBER-ed from the airport, and we agreed to meet at breakfast the next morning. There, they accepted my offer of a ride to the funeral later that morning, albeit pointing out that if I hadn’t made plans for a visit after the funeral, I could have done without the rental car. (My shared-ride company of choice is LYFT, so yes, I could have LYFT-ed everywhere, but didn’t.)

At the agreed-upon time, we met at my car and headed for the funeral, which was in a chapel at the mortuary located at the edge of the cemetery. Armed with individual mobile phone GPSes, each shouted directions at me, but we nevertheless arrived shortly to take seats in a pew at the last row. The chapel was lovely with tasteful flower arrangements and our friend’s flag-draped coffin at the front. A large glass window overlooked the cemetery beyond, a natural setting without headstones and other statuary. Shortly after the minister began the service, a flock of wild geese flew past the window, wheeled and circled again, as if on cue. Could Hollywood do any better? I wondered.

At the indoor service’s conclusion, we were informed that those who wished could follow in our cars to the gravesite where prayers were offered and the coffin lowered into the ground. A bagpiper stood off playing, and at the final conclusion, continued to play as he walked off into the distance. It was all very moving and beautiful. The snow boots I’d purchased especially for this instance were in the trunk of the car but it was alright.

Back at the mortuary, a reception was underway with refreshments and a slide show of photos from the life of our friend and his family. Deep in conversation with someone, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of one eye, of a picture of our friend sandwiched between two of our giant dogs. I smiled to remember when we moved next door to that Bismarck at fencefamily, our friend’s consternation, not only that we had a giant dog but that we planned to completely fence in our yard, placing one side up against that neighbor’s driveway. It took hardly any time during the brief year-and-a-half we lived there, for the dog and our friend to develop an early morning ritual, the dog on his hind legs looking over the fence and our friend calling a greeting on his way to his garage.

Snow started falling the day after the funeral, and I headed – wearing my newly purchased snow boots – up the 65 miles to Fort Collins. I quickly realized I didn’t know how to work the windshield wipers, except to do it manually with one finger each time I needed to clear snow away. The same was true of defrosters; as the clear visual area became smaller and smaller, I put the palm of my hand to use. But what to do about the heat blasting out at my midsection? I pushed every button I could reach in an effort to make some of these functions work. Why don’t rental car agencies keep a copy of the car’s manual in the glove compartment?

There was no place to stop, no one to ask and so I just kept driving straight ahead for 65 miles until I pulled into my sister-in-law’s driveway. The bright white car was a mess with splatters of slush and mud and gunk. The next morning I drove to a car wash where I played the “old lady card” once again. When a young employee noticed me puzzling over the start of the drive-through, he approached and showed where to insert my credit card. “When I get through,” I said, “do you suppose someone could come out and show me how to work all these various buttons on this rental car?” “Oh sure,” he replied, “I’ll meet you in the parking lot. I have a car just like this.”

 

Thank you, George H.W.

I GHW Bush 1never voted for President George H. W. Bush nor any of his relatives — and probably never would, left-leaner that I am. But his death the other day at 94 was, in a way, one more gift to the nation after a lifetime of public service: It reminded us of how a leader should comport him or herself, and as many commentators are expressing today, presents a truly stark contrast to what we’re currently witnessing. And not only in the office of the current president, but throughout public and private life.

I am sorry I ridiculed our 41st president when he expressed amazement at his first encounter with a supermarket conveyor belt moving shoppers’ selections toward the cashier or when his handlers told him he should do some clothes shopping to demonstrate how consumers could help the then-ailing economy. I laughed along with the rest of the nation when he emerged from the store with nothing but a single pair of socks. Of course, this man whose life was privileged even before he entered public life, had never done his own grocery or clothes shopping. We should have cut him some slack.GHW Bush 3

We all need to learn to put ourselves in another’s shoes and think for a moment before lashing out, whether in jest or in anger. As someone trying hard not to let my advancing age be too obvious while the changing world catapults ahead of me, I know I need to keep my mouth shut until I have an inkling of what I’m speaking about.

Case in point: When my (younger) brother, the computer science guru, mentioned a “nifty new tool” that showed up as he was composing an email to me, I grumbled that I’d already encountered that “nifty tool” and sacrificed several minutes of my diminishing time on earth trying to figure out how to get it off the screen. I passed along my contention that continually “upgrading” computer software along with other changes in everyday life (popular music, television personalities, slang expressions) is part of an ongoing plot to show old people it’s time to think about moving along.

But almost immediately I was reminded of an elderly (probably younger than I am now) aunt in New Jersey asking me if I planned to do the newly allowed “right turn on red” driving practice. Having just moved back from California where that was a long-accepted procedure designed to keep traffic moving, I scoffed: “Of course!” “I’m not,” she said. “Then,” I thought but did not say out loud, “You’re going to have a lot of angry drivers behind you leaning on their car horns and otherwise exhibiting their displeasure at the delay you are causing them.”

(How did I get from trying to say nice things about George H. W. to imagining angry New Jersey drivers’ expletives? I don’t know; it’s a gift of old age. “Reel it back in to the subject,” one of my daughters would say.)

Reading and watching coverage of the ceremonies surrounding the elder George Bush’s death brought a new appreciation for the man whose New York Times front page article was headed “A Genial Force in American Politics.” Inside that same Sunday issue a special section with copy by Adam Nagourney elaborates on the “geniality” theme with a headline reading “A Genial President Who Guided the Nation to the End of the Cold War.” A lot of American history represented in those 94 years.

Photos: azfamily.com; pbs.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Our Nation: Please Pay Attention

The New York Times wants to hear from women about the whole Kavanaugh debacle, and my first thought, after all those days in front of the TV for the Supreme Court hearings was, what’s the point? The time to hear from us (and the many, many good men who stand with us) is Nov. 6 and dear God, do I hope we make our voices heard then. We need to overwhelm the ballot boxes from one end of the country to the other because we simply cannot continue in this direction much longer. It’s more than a matter of showing our displeasure; it’s to save our democracy.

 

For the Birds

condorAs a break for those of us who have been glued to TV-radio-print coverage of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I want to talk about the return of the condors. I stumbled across this NPR coverage of the once-a-year releases of young birds to the wild after a 20-year effort by the Peregrine Fund helped by various organizations and state and federal agencies.

“With a wingspan that can stretch nearly 10 feet,” the Fund’s Chris Parish observed, “California condors are some of the largest birds in North America. They’re also some of the rarest.  After the population plunged to just 22 in 1982, all were taken into captivity for safe keeping and breeding.”

Just a few are released once a year into the wild in Northern Arizona; others are released in California and in Mexico. Thanks to interventions such as this there are now nearly 500 California condors in the wild.

I have never forgotten seeing a condor in a zoo either in Sacramento or San Francisco.  While we stood in front of the enclosure, the giant bird jumped down from its perch with a huge whoosh of wings. and craned its naked pink neck toward us. That might be where my fear of birds came from and not, as I used to imagine, from my friend Lucy’s parakeet. In high school, when I’d stop at Lucy’s house, her father took great delight in watching my reaction when he’d let the bird loose to fly around the kitchen for exercise.

In spite of that, I’d love to attend one of those condor-release viewings. Especially because the birds circle above cliffs some thousand feet above the eager binocular-wielding bird-watchers. My kind of bird-watching.

bird watchers

 

 

 

How Dare You!

The images have been haunting from the start of our current government’s outrageous treatment of asylum seekers. And you knew it was only get worse.

There was, of course, the one that landed on the cover of TIME and gained worldwide notoriety (and lampooning) — the wailing toddler standing at the knees of her manacled mother, the armed border agent alongside. It was gratifying to learn later that mother and child were reunited and safe. But what about all the other images that slid across my consciousness and vanished? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling in vain through online photo archives for the images that remain forever lodged in my mind.

For me, it was one of two very small boys walking hand-in-hand alone between two rows of men’s knees in what was obviously some kind of waiting facility. The children were vulnerability personified. I hope there was a parent nearby; I hope everyone is safe.

And then there was the photo of a small clutch of girls walking with a chaperone on a dark New York City street toward a shelter. The caption noted they’d just landed from a flight halfway across the country. The mother in me wanted to scream (and maybe I did) “How dare you put my child into an airplane for what could well have been her first plane ride? How dare you!”

Or now that children and parents are beginning to be reunited, what about the heartbreaking video of a mother trying to embrace her little boy who kept breaking loose from her arms and running off? “What is wrong with my son?” the shocked mother shouted. And I wanted to shout along with her, “What have you done to him? How dare you!”

Except for being stuck in my mind, these images are unavailable for me. But today, and before I lose it, is a front page story in the Los Angeles Times about a Guatemalan family’s reaction to the changes they see in the 12-year-old boy returned to them after four months.  While in detention, the boy was hospitalized and treated for depression. Among his belongings, the family found a powerful prescription medication used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They knew about his hospitalization but had never given permission for him to be administered medication. Again the parent in me wants to shout, “How dare you!”

We’re just at the start of this horror, you know. If our inept officials manage to put every child together with every family and allow asylum petitions to resume, there will still be the matter of long-term psychological harm that was inflicted on the children. Whose responsibility is that? And, not to be crass, but what about the money families scraped together to finance what is an internationally legal undertaking just to be sent back to the dangers they were trying to escape?

How dare we?