Things I Don’t Understand About Growing Old: Part I

I am 44 years old as of this writing, and will turn 45 in May of this year. Therefore I am officially “middle aged”, as I understand the term. I find myself studying my older friends, acquaintances, and relatives – as well as older strangers – wondering which of their elderly habits I’m going to pick up when I reach their age.

I’ve been meaning to write myself a series of notes for a long time, which I have been mentally calling “old age warnings to self”. Lately, however, I’ve begun to wonder if such warnings are useless. Are certain things inevitable as one ages? What don’t I know about growing old? Are old age changes constant throughout history, or are they distinctly cultural or generational in nature?

So rather than a series of warnings, I’m going to post these as a series of questions and observations. Perhaps, over the years, I will simply answer them myself as I age. Or, hopefully, other people can send in their answers and advice. I’ll consolidate the answers and advice for future editions of this same column. And we’ll see what we get.

Cars

Why do old people always drive huge, smooshy-riding cars? Is this a function of old age, pure and simple, or is it a cultural or generational thing that just happens to affect individuals in their 60s and 70s at this particular point in time? I’m talking about Lincoln Town Cars, Continentals, Cadillacs, and cars of that sort. These are always domestic vehicles, very long and very wide. Big engines in the front. Big wide seats front and back. Big ass trunks in back. And they drive like boats.

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The Lincoln Town Car: A Smooshy Drive

I’ve driven these cars numerous times, and I can’t stand them. The power steering is so dialed up that there is hardly any resistance or feedback – you can turn the wheel with your pinky. There is no feeling of actually steering the car at all. When you hit a bump, it’s like you’re driving on pillows – you kind of “smoosh” over it. They have huge turning radiuses; you can just about forget making a U-turn on any normal street. Their hoods are so long I feel like there’s another car in front of me. The air conditioning (or heating, depending on the weather) blasts out so powerfully that even the lowest setting blows my hair out of place. I can’t hear a thing outside of the car, and inside the car the turn signal is so loud I find myself looking for the volume setting somewhere on the dash. In short, I feel like I’m remote operating a simulation of a car in some test facility. It’s so cushioned and removed from the real world that I don’t feel like I’m actually driving.

I cannot see myself ever owning a car like this, no matter what. Frankly, I’d rather not drive at all than drive a car like that. And these cars are driven almost exclusively by people 65 and older. If I see a Lincoln Continental ahead of me on the freeway, I instantly think “old person”, and 90% of the time I am correct. Now, since I never see young people drive these cars, that means… what? That when you turn 65, your taste suddenly changes and you long for a smooshy riding car? Or is it simply that for people born in the 1920s to the 1940s, this type of car represents the ultimate ideal car, which they were finally only able to achieve in retirement?

Right now I drive a Mini Cooper S, which I’ve had modified to drive even tighter and harder than a standard issue Cooper S. Before that, I owned a series of BMW’s. The last domestic car I owned was a Ford Explorer, after which I resolved that I would never, ever buy an American made or designed car again.So, what will happen to me when I turn 65? Will I turn my back on tight suspension vehicles due to encroaching arthritis and osteoporosis in favor of a giant land boat? Or, being a child of the 1960s, will my cultural driving icon in retirement be something very different from that of today’s older folks?

Technology and Gadgets

I love technology. I anxiously latch on to each new gadget I can get my hands on the minute I can get my hands on it. Right now I’m still checking stores for a Wii, and looking forward to June when I can buy an iPhone. I upgrade my computer operating systems and applications the day a new release is available. I replace my computers on average every 18 months. I love learning new computer languages. I read everything I can about upcoming technologies and advances. I do everything I can electronically – banking, insurance, bills, communication, you name it. I’ve had my eyesight laser corrected. I look forward to the day when I can have my genes altered to remove things I don’t want and to add things I do want. In short, I am a technophile to the extreme.



I can’t wait! Will I feel the same way in my 70s?

My parents, on the other hand, live at the opposite end of this spectrum. My father, a retired petroleum engineer, has barely laid hands on a computer since he stopped working, and has no interest in doing so. Neither of my parents so much as uses a debit card – they still write checks by hand for almost every purchase. My father doesn’t trust computers, and actually deposits his checks by waiting in line at a physical bank. He gets cash by writing a check for it in the same manner. They keep their finances solely on handwritten paper.

My mother is a little better. She likes her email, and visits certain websites frequently. She is comfortable enough with modern life that she prints out her airplane boarding pass at home before leaving on a trip, and keeps track of her upcoming cruises on the company’s web site. She watches DVDs, uses a cell phone, and is mulling over the possibility of getting some sort of electronic organizer. But she depends on me (or other young folks in the family) to set these things up for her and to keep them maintained.

And their experience seems to be typical. Yes, there are exceptions – I’ve read lots of things online written by people well past retirement age, and I love Don To Earth, a fantastic blog written by a 93-year-old Nova Scotia scientist. But in my own personal experience, I don’t know anyone past the age of 65 who has any interest in much that is new.

So… will I hit a wall? Will there come a day when my mental desire for everything new simply comes to an end? Or am I a product of my generation, and will continue to embrace every new fangled thing that comes along? Is the technological reticence of today’s elderly a function of being raised in the 20s, 30s and 40s? Or is it just a simple fact of what happens as we get older? I don’t know – but I sure hope it doesn’t happen to me. I’m looking forward to subvocalized phone calls, neural implants, ocular enhancements, and anything and everything else that may come to pass in the time I’ve got left to live.

Music



Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t listen to as much new music as I did when I was in my twenties. Sure. But still, I do my fair sure. Just in the past two years, I’ve discovered Death Cab for Cutie, My Chemical Romance, Green Day (well, re-discovered with American Idiot, in their case), Arctic Monkeys, and even Justin Timberlake. All of those albums blast out of my car stereo at full volume (playing on my 5th generation iPod plugged into my iPod ready Alpine car stereo, of course). I read the reviews both in print and on the web. I subscribe to emusic.com, a great service that lets you download un-DRM’d MP3 tracks of independent artists,. And I try to pay close attention to new music recommended by people whose tastes match mine. The incomparable Wil Wheaton is a great source for this.



Who will I line up to see in 2042?

I still don’t love rap or hip-hop, although I don’t out-and-out hate it like I used to. But then again, I’ve always hated country music, and still do. I consider that a genre preference, and not a time-based one. I’d like to think that I will always want to hear new music, and that I’m still going to be checking out the chart toppers in the 2040s and 2050s. Or am I kidding myself?

When I talk to someone in their 70s about music, I hear about the Andrews Sisters, or if they were really out there, Elvis Presley. They may have heard of current musical acts, but only by name because of their appearance on talk shows or gossip magazines. They don’t listen to any contemporary radio stations or buy any current music. My father repeatedly claims that he literally cannot understand the lyrics in “that rock and roll shit”, and that he does not even feel that it is “singing” at all. When pressed, some older acquaintances of mine will admit that one or two Beatle’s songs aren’t bad, like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude“, but that’s as far as they’ll go.

So… will I be listening to Born to Run over and over in my 70s? When I’m 79, will I turn off the radio when anything recorded much past the 20th century comes on? Will I tell people that music from the 1980’s was as good as it gets, and it will never get better? Will I be unable to understand the lyrics to the #1 song of 2039? Will I have no clue what the latest music even sounds like when I go in for a DNA rejuvenation treatment in 2042?

Once again, I hope not. I’m sure as time goes on, I’ll have less room for new artists, and will certainly spend more time playing music I already know. But I can’t envision a time when I wouldn’t at least buy five or six new albums a year, minimum, and at the very least make sure I know what the current sound actually is. Am I wrong? Is this another case of advancing age changing my tastes? As my hearing deteriorates, will I become unable to discern the melody in newer musical styles, and thus turn away from them? Will my brain become unable to register pleasure from new tunes, and only provide me with rewarding endorphins when listening to old ones?

These are my questions. I hope I get the answers before I have to experience them firsthand.

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