So today was our first day on a vacation to celebrate Supermom tolerating me for a decade. It was a very long day that started around 3a.m. Central Standard Time and after a five hour flight and a five hour drive, ended with us getting settled in our room at around 6:00 p.m. Pacific Coast Time. I know the time math probably doesn’t work out but “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.” The trip out here isn’t really what I wanted to share tonight. It was what happened at the end of the day.
After a drive through the most beautiful stand-still traffic in my life…
We briefly made it out of the resort to grab a bite to eat in the lively downtown district. The town we are visiting is a little Upper Middle Class Cali Style so all of the places to eat that are unique and different didn’t seem like a place I should go with my standard issue cargo shorts, tennis shoes, and Master Yoda T-shirt. We chose Chipotle and quickly finished our chicken burritos.
On the way back to the resort we stopped by a local grocery store for some essentials; Honeybuns, Full Throttle, water, and Gatorade. I know you are thinking we are totally out of control party animals with vacation priorities like that but, they are essentials. As we were waiting to check out, I talked with an elderly gentleman who was having a hard time with the new chip reader device. He had to put on his glasses several times to read the menu and press the corresponding buttons. It seemed like a lot of effort for the 12V flashlight that he was buying. The cashier and I had a discussion about our eyesight and how quickly it could go bad. The elderly man made the comment that he was lucky his had, “been pretty good for a lot of years.” He finished his purchase and moved over to an empty checkout counter to assemble his flashlight. We chatted with the cashier a little more and, once I had paid, Supermom and I went back to the parking lot to leave.
As we walked away, I was curious why an elderly man, who couldn’t very well see, would be assembling a flashlight that he just purchased. I felt like he might have had car trouble so I told Supermom that I wanted to go back inside just for a second and make sure this man wasn’t trying to work on his car by himself at 9 o’clock at night.
I walked back inside and found him in the same location trying to figure out how to get the flashlight assembled. He had purchased a new LED model and thought the bulb was missing. I showed him that it would work just fine and asked if he needed help with car trouble or anything.
“Oh my car doesn’t work anymore. I was buying this to walk home. I missed my bus because I got off work late and I can’t see the sidewalk at night.” I noticed that his nice knit shirt was pale blue and had a Walgreens logo. He looked every bit of late seventies if not eighty. He hardly seemed threatening or dis-genuine so I offered him a ride home. He thought I was joking at first and when he saw I was serious he was that sort of mix when you are embarrassed/excited to get help. In the three mile ride to his one bedroom, second floor, motel style apartment, I learned that Alan had been born in Arkansas in Jonesboro. He went to Oklahoma State University and realized that the further you moved out west the more the humidity dropped so he ended up in San Fransisco. He lived there for twenty five years before moving to Sedona and continuing a career as an artist. He was an avid hiker and mentioned enjoying hiking with his wife; who I can only assume is no longer with us. His eyesight became an issue with his art and he says he found himself working at Walgreens to try and make ends meet. He also let me know that his eyesight continued to be a problem at his new job and that he was moved to the liquor department because he is a nondrinker and therefore the most trustworthy to watch over the wares. He still struggles with eyesight and has even tripped over a curb and had titanium pins in his femur. I could hear pride in his voice when he talked about surprising the doctors with a quick recovery.
He gave excellent directions and within ten minutes he was home and walking up the concrete steps with his new LED flashlight lighting the way.
We were parked beside his old convertible which has a leaky roof and a broken transmission. It was draped over with a dust cover that has been in place long enough to be discolored by the sun. He can’t decide if he wants to fix the car or let it go. I don’t think he can very well do either.
Before he got out of the car he insisted on giving us a list of tips and tricks on what to see in Sedona. I could tell he felt indebted and wanted a way to repay the small favor. He totally did because we now have the inside scoop on how to get up on one of the big mesas that overlooks the valley, and the location of some ancient native civilization ruins that predate the native tribes of the area. I guess that would make those ancient tribes Super Natives. He had lots more to tell but waved us goodbye and insisted on not taking up any more of our vacation.
I felt bad. I could tell he enjoyed telling his stories and that he probably didn’t get to very much, anymore. Here is a man who is trying with all he has to work an entry level job meant for a teenager to survive as his body keeps throwing curves. He had to work late, missed his bus, and instead of looking for help he went to buy a cheap flashlight to walk three miles down a four lane highway to get home. And he felt bad for imposition on a couple who had the big plans of eating a couple of honeybuns and going to bed.
I didn’t write all this to say I did a good thing. I think I did a normal thing and if you think any different then you need to examine your own charity. We spend a lot of time in our own worlds and don’t stop to look around. I have been trying to do better with that.
We have to do better with our old people. As a society. There is so much knowledge and interesting stories. Some much life experience that would help other people who are young in similar careers. (Here is where I go out on a political limb which is rare for me but purely a curious discussion. Nobody get their panties in a wad. Or boxer shorts. Or if you go commando and accidentally get that one hair caught in the zipper and turn just right. Jesus that hurts. Don’t do that either.)
I wonder if we could do retirement like we do every other career?
When you reach a certain age then you retire and get social security benefits right?
Well, what if being old was a treated as job.
Upon reaching that magic age you get notice that you have been hired to just be old. Enjoy life and by-the-way, here is a salary. Performance meetings will require that you are active with younger people in some fashion, sharing wisdom and life lessons. Maybe that includes hurling insults at them for driving too fast and listening to crap music. I count that as wisdom and experience. Furthermore, if you excel at being old and make it through our five year internship period you will get a Professional Elderly Certificate and a salary increase. Feel free to spend this increase on rising costs of living, in home assistance, or a new Masserati. Who cares, it is your money and us young people need goals. In fact, after another five years of successful aging you can be granted tenure as an old person and get another raise. If you make it ten more past that, I vote you get the title Professional Elderly Emeritus and you get the highest designated salary that a really skilled old person should get. That will also get around that pesky problem of the fixed income where within the first year people learn how to spend every dime and when something unexpected occurs (like a busted transmission) or food costs increase they are stuck in a deficit. Maybe this isn’t a fiscally sound or rigorously tested policy but meeting people like Alan makes me wish there was something more to be offered to someone who lived a full life and served his community well. If we as a nation can send billions of dollars in aid to countries that we also sanction and bomb then it seems like we could reshuffle and make a couple of win-wins at home. Who knows it might help morale of the working age group to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t a train.
Maybe I get too caught up in the people I meet. I want everyone to be my friends and I want to be a problem solver. Alan’s eyes were tired and I could feel the weight of his life as he told me the details but at the end of the car ride he was smiling and telling us both how nice it was that we all met. And that people from the south help one another even when they are across the country. I agree on both points.
So if your momma taught you to be nice to people, this post is for you. Mine did too. You’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.