Traveling While Old

In my 20s, a friend and I took a road trip from Colorado to the West Coast in my VW Bug. We made no plans and only had a vague route—check out some national parks like Mount Rainier and Glacier. With our tent, sleeping bags and Coleman stove, we planned to camp along the way.

In those days before campgrounds fill up quickly and reservations are necessary, I didn’t make elaborate preparations. I didn’t yet know all the things that could go wrong: failing brakes (and mechanics who thought they could pull a fast one), my dog rolling in a dead fish at Lake Teton, a night on the beach so cold we wrapped ourselves in newspapers, and eating cold canned beans because we had no fuel for our Coleman stove.

Now, 50 years later, I’ve experienced many more misfortunes while traveling. After the last two trips to Great Britain resulted in flat tires from driving on the country’s narrow roads, I decided to drive as little as possible on a trip to Scotland two years ago, instead relying on trains, buses and ferries. Because my memory is not so great and because I wanted to control the trip as much as possible—I’m too old to be hitchhiking or looking for a place to stay at night—I planned every detail: reserved B&Bs along the way, bought tickets for the train and ferry before we left home, and even figured out the routes from the train station to our B&Bs. What could possibly go wrong?

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Slow Down, You’re Moving Too Fast

Watching a Netflix series recently, I found it hard to follow. The voices were low, and people often mumbled. Plus, a whole series of events was conveyed in one gesture, so if you missed it, you didn’t know what was going on. It’s not just one TV series. A new, more realistic way of filming makes dialogue more life-like—the way we really talk rather than in whole sentences. This also goes along with a choppier way of filming, not fluid but more like the fits and starts of real life.

I applaud this realism, but, as I get older, my hearing is not good enough to capture all the different tones of voice. Nor is my mind fast enough to catch the subtle gestures, the fleeting glances and cryptic phrases that indicate something important has transpired. I’m often asking, “What did he say?” or “Who’s that character?”

Nor am I young enough (or I’m too old) to know all the current memes, tropes and buzzwords that emerge from popular movies, TV shows or popular music. I don’t watch TV shows aimed at young audiences and don’t listen to the new, hot musicians. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram, so I don’t know the current popular phrases. If it weren’t for Facebook and friends who are hipper than me, I would be clueless as to what videos are trending on YouTube and totally miss out on the dancing ducks tribute.   

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Now I Can’t Eat Tofu?

I watch my nephews, both young adults, eat a whole pizza covered in cheese, sausage and pepperoni, with a side of French fries, and think: You don’t know how lucky you are. Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young who can eat anything they want without getting sick, without worrying it will raise their cholesterol levels or cause acid reflux, and without gaining weight. 

The older we get, the more restrictions we face in life: not driving at night, especially in heavy city traffic; avoiding extreme exercise because our knees (or back or hips—insert appropriate physical issue) are worn out; and avoiding late dinners or concerts because we’re just too darned tired. But one of the hardest is having to cut back on our favorite foods because of health issues. When you can’t do other things, eating becomes one of life’s small pleasures, as many people discovered during the pandemic.

Many years ago, a doctor told me to stop eating dairy because it was creating sinus problems. So I switched to soy or almond milk, and stopped eating cheese, which was not easy because cheese adds taste to almost everything, including my favorite Mexican meals. But it wasn’t worth the clogged sinuses and headaches, unless I was in England, where making cheese is an art.   

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