March 2, 2021

I have decided to quit driving! Painful decision. Very!

By John Guy LaPlante

It’s one of the most difficult I have ever made in my many years.

How would you feel if you had to give up driving your car after years and years? And you? And you? And you?

I’ll bet you’d find it as difficult as I have.

Some might even call it a traumatic change.

Finally I just had to face it head-on. Be decisive. Get it done.

The fact is I will be turning 92 in April, and that would be the start of my 93rd year on this earth.

I’ve still been driving but maybe only 500 miles a year. If that.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has considered me a safe driver. I have evidence of that. A year ago they renewed my handicap permit for two years. They would not have done that if they had considered me unsafe.

It is definitely not because I’ve wanted to quit. I love to drive. Always have.

But I know that my reflexes have been slipping. How awful it would be if I got into a bad accident that was absolutely my fault. Maybe even killed somebody!

Quitting is just the right thing to do. The smart thing.

My family was not telling me to quit. And there was no pressure, ever.

But if I mentioned that I was going to San Luis Obispo, the big city 15 miles away, my daughter Monique or son-in-law David would quickly say, “Oh, I’ll stop by and pick you up!”

So I knew they would be absolutely delighted if I never drove again.

And so would my sons Arthur and Mark and their families, who live thousands of miles away, but who keep tuned in about me in chats with Monique and David.

In a way to me this is ironic.

After all, I am the one who taught Arthur, Monique, and Mark to drive, as I did their mother, Pauline, who was my wife-to-be back then.

I have been driving since the age of 19. So I have had years and years of experience.

It’s my Pa who taught me. He told me time and again that it was important to obey the law! To drive safely! Never to drink and drive! To be careful!

Well, in the hundreds of thousands of miles I have driven, I have had only one bad accident. Totally my fault.

I was 78 years old, as I remember it. I was driving alone on a four-lane highway in Rhode island, my home state.

I had been on the road a couple of hours. It was about 4 p.m. on an early fall day. I still had a hundred miles or so to go. Well, I dozed off and hit the left rear corner of a parked car.

There was nobody in it, thank God.

My safety bag inflated and smacked me in the face, breaking my glasses. That’s the worst thing that happened.

Within a few minutes a state police car pulled up, I opened my window and before the officer had a chance to say a word, told him, “I dozed off!”

He accepted that. Maybe he thought I had been drinking. If so, he didn’t give a hint of it.

The damage to the other car was minimal, everything considered. I’m sure he spotted that right away.

He asked to see my driver’s license and auto registration and so forth. And released me to go. He was letting me off easily.

“Thank you, officer. Thank you very, very much.”

And the most amazing thing about that is that I never lost my driver’s license for even a day.

A tow-truck showed up, attached a cable to my car and cranked it up onto its back deck and delivered it to a garage near my home.

My auto insurance covered most of that.

A Good Neighbor who had stopped to check out the accident kindly gave me a ride to the nearest town. I was dazed, as you can imagine. Left me off at the railroad station. Lucky me, I was able to ride the train to a station about 6 miles from my home.

I went to bed still dazed, thankful for being alive but greatly worried about what might happen next.

My insurance premium went up for a while and that was about it.

Yes, I’m the one who had taught my wife Pauline to drive. She was my girlfriend back then. I had a nice Terraplane two-door coupe.

I’m sure that’s a brand you never heard of. I loved it.

It was 11 years old. I had bought it for $100 a year earlier at the end of my senior year in college.

It had a stick shift and it was quite a trick to learn to shift from one gear to the other smoothly.

Anyway, years went by and Pauline and I had two kids.

Mark had not come along yet.

I had become a reporter at the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram & Gazette, a very large newspaper. In a few years, I had become a staff writer on the paper’s own Sunday magazine, called Feature Parade.

Pauline and I had become interested in family camping, which was beginning to boom back then. I began writing a Sunday column on the side about that. It was called “Camps and Camping.” I wrote hundreds of them.

One day I got the idea of taking a short leave of absence from my job. And using a home-made tent trailer. Tent trailers were the latest thing in family camping back then.

we’d take a family trip clear across the United States to California and back. And I’d write articles about all that which would get published in the T&G.

And we did that. Arthur was just two and a half years old and Monique was just one and a half years old. Imagine that!

That was long, long before the construction of our interstate highways. All those miles were on slow roads.

I had made arrangements to interview interesting people across the country. When we showed up for one, I would go in to chat with my interviewee while Pauline sat with the kids in the car.

When we got to our next campground, Pauline would put the kids to bed. I would take out my little portable typewriter and write my story and the next day would mail it back to Worcester.

A few things went wrong. But nothing serious.

I did all the driving — 8,000 miles or so!

A few years later, I heard about family camping through Europe, mind you.

Well, leaving our kids in the care of her wonderful Mom, Pauline and I and my father and mother hopped on a plane to England. Rented a “caravan,” which is what they call a small RV, took a ferry across the English Channel to France, and then drove south to its Mediterranean coast. Then we turned north and rode up into Belgium and then back down into France.

We stayed in beautiful campgrounds throughout the trip. Even in Paris.

The French loved family camping as much as we did.

Then we crossed the Channel again and drove back to England to return the little caravan. And then flew home to the good old USA.

I had done all the driving.

I wrote a series of articles about that for the T&G, and then for another major newspaper, the Providence Sunday Journal in Rhode Island.

As I said, I’m the one who had showed Pauline and our three kids how to drive.

I used my car in my work back then. I drove a lot, We had gotten a car for Pauline, who had become a public school teacher.

I was driving a lot, going here and there to interview people and writing feature stories. Pieces stories.

Drove thousands of miles year in and year out.

Pauline and I split up, sad to say, and a few years later I retired.

Then satisfying a sense of curiosity and adventure that had long been bubbling in me, bought a used Volkswagen minibus camper and began long solo trips.

The little van was a nice sunny yellow, so I dubbed it “Dandelion” and began crisscrossing the country.

I had agreed to write a series of reports about my itinerant journeying for my old newspaper in Worcester. the Sunday Telegram. And I set off on the road by myself.

I began running into interesting people and places and experiences. And I’d write them up.

It became a series, and the Telegram dubbed it “Travels with Dandelion.” All through our 48 states.

I was having a good time. Readers enjoyed my reports and I was getting paid to do it.

Home again, I took a break for a few months and then took to the road again.

This time through the U.S. along different routes, and even into Mexico and Canada.

And oh, I just remembered this. I did have another bad moment. I was driving alone as always, this time through the long, dull, endless stretches of western Texas.

And one afternoon, around 4:00 p.m., I dozed off again and ran right off the two-lane highway onto a field and finally came to a stop in a field. Wow!

No collision, thank God. No damage to anything. No police officer.

You can be sure it made me much more careful about driving long distances into late afternoon.

Later I began broadening my travels, now voyaging a lot by air, even to other countries.

Again I was writing feature stories that got published in newspapers large and small. And that culminated in my first book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!”

And then a second book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83!”

That was nice for a special reason. I brought my sister Lucie, a few years younger, for half the trip.

She had told me from the start she would have to come home early.

Anyway years went by. Traveling and writing is what I did.

I had to quit driving during the time I served in Peace Corps in Ukraine. Peace Corps would not allow that. Most roads there were not up to our standards.

But I continued writing, publishing my 540-page book, “27 Months in the Peace Corps. My story, Unvarnished.”

Peace Corps was very good, but nothing is perfect.

When I returned home, again l resumed my life of driving and writing and publishing.

And when I made the big, big decision to move from Connecticut to California to be close to Monique and David, again I drove across the country solo in a big Dodge station wagon, which was an iteration of my VW “Dandelion.”

Right now I own a ’92 Hyundai Sonata. It has only 77,000 miles on it. I hate the idea of giving it up. But I feel good being realistic rather than stupid. I’ve come up with what I think is a neat idea. I am going to give it to my granddaughter √Člise. So there’s a chance I will ride in it again.

I will no longer be driving, but as most of you suspect, I will happily continue writing.

I do not think there is much of a chance of my hurting or killing somebody doing that.

One more thing I should tell you.

I learned how to ride a bike when I was 10 years old and I became a bicycle rider for years and years. In fact, on nearly all my solo auto trips up down and around the country I nearly always brought a bicycle with me. One day I took a spill from my bike. No broken bones, but that put an instant end to my biking.

Some years ago I discovered tricycling. Yes, pedaling a three-wheel cycle, a wonderful three-gear Worksman PortoTrike.

If that interests you, Google “Worksman PortoTrike.” I believe you’ll find it interesting.

I bought one in Connecticut and put many miles on it. And bought another when I got settled in California.

Trikes are much more stable than bikes.

One of the wonderful things that I found out about living here in Morro Bay on the Central Coast is that there is no ice, no snow ever. In fact, there are palm trees in my neighborhood.

I go off pedaling my trike every afternoon seven days a week. I skip only if it’s raining.

Nowadays it’s the only exercise that I get. Folks around here know me as “the old gent with the trike.”

I live alone now. Very few visitors other than family.

In getting out and pedaling, I run into folks I know here and there and that has become a key part of my social life.

But! Yes, I can pedal around parts of my neighborhood, which is reasonably level.

And I can go downhill to the Embarcadero, which fronts the Pacific Ocean. But I can’t get back up. Too steep!

But I have just ordered a battery-assisted Worksman PedoTrike. It’s a big addition to their line of cycles.

Battery-assisted cycles are quite brand-new.

With that I’ll be able to get up any hill in town.

That will do wonders in helping me to preserve my sense of self-sufficiency and independence, which are so important in anybody’s old age.

I intend to continue writing, well, until my mind begins to cloud over. Which I hope will not be for a while.

So do wish me good luck, please!

And I do hope that you, and you, and you will be able to adjust when you finally accept that your driving days are over.

* * * *

when finally you have to decide to give up driving.

It ain’t easy.

* * *

Comments

  1. Hi John,
    I started to write at the bottom but couldn’t make it work, couldn’t figure out how to erase it, so I’m rewriting it up here. I really liked your article because it happened to me too. At 89, I decided to quit driving after 70+ years, since I was 16, It was just part of me, and I too hated doing it. I gave my car to my son Mike. It was in good condidtion and he was surprised when I did it. Now sometimes I get to ride in it. It’s a lot messier.
    I’m glad you’re still writing. You are a very adventurous person, I have always admired you. Keep on keeping on. EV

  2. evelyn maron says

    Hi John,
    I’M HAVING TROUBLE SENDIDNG THIS BUT WILL TRY AGAIN. I started to write at the bottom but couldn’t make it work, couldn’t figure out how to erase it, so I’m rewriting it up here. I really liked your article because it happened to me too. At 89, I decided to quit driving after 70+ years, since I was 16, It was just part of me, and I too hated doing it. I gave my car to my son Mike. It was in good condidtion and he was surprised when I did it. Now sometimes I get to ride in it. It’s a lot messier.
    I’m glad you’re still writing. You are a very adventurous person, I have always admired you. Keep on keeping on. EV

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