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GUEST OPINION: ‘I stopped, but it’s still not easy’
Originally published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 5:11 p.m. Santa Rosa Press Democrat

I am 84. I quit driving two years ago on Dec. 31, 2010. At first it was very difficult. It’s still not easy.

I spent the first six months having anxiety attacks whenever I had to arrange transportation. Two years later, this still happens when I get last minute invitations.

I spent the next six months depressed and introspective while I learned to accept my new self-imposed lifestyle. Now when I hear a neighbor say, “I was bored so I hopped in the car and went shopping,” I confess the sin of envy.

It’s not easy.

I took the better part of the year to assemble a list of available public and private transportation:

Sebastopol Area Senior Center — no charge — but with five working days notice required.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services — with a fee — 24 hour notice.

Sonoma County Paratransit – fee — 24 hour notice.

Sebastopol shuttle — nominal fee — the last bus leaves downtown Sebastopol at 3:30 p.m.

It takes research and imagination. Other alternatives:

Airport Express, $35, takes me to Oakland Airport where my East Bay family picks me up.

Golden Gate Transit is a dreary 2½-hour drive into downtown San Francisco.

Each of the above public facilities has its individual quirks.

It takes creativity. A friend takes me grocery shopping every Wednesday. Good friends live in the country, far from the bus route. Paratransit delivers and picks me up at a restaurant in the village — my friend ferries me to her house. For after-dark events, I have a list of folks who enjoy similar things so I have both transportation and a date.

There were hints to decreasing driving ability. I list them in ascending order: I found it too stressful to drive freeways to San Francisco or Oakland — thus there were less frequent visits with my family. I took three right turns to avoid a left turn. I stopped parallel parking. I drove no more than 20 miles from home. No more night driving. My knuckles turned white when I grasped the wheel in traffic. At the intersection of Highway 12 and Fulton Road, I looked down and saw my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake. I corrected myself, didn’t bash into anyone. But I immediately remembered the Santa Monica man whose “stuck foot” plowed through a farmer’s market full of people in 2003, leaving 10 dead and 63 injured.

I chose to sell my car and gave up my keys.

My four adult children were glad they didn’t have to take the keys from me. Although in retrospect I wonder if I ignored any hints they may have given me. After the fact, one daughter said, “Mom, I felt like I was driving with Mr. Magoo.”

It’s not easy.

I’ve lost two valuable parts of my life: Freedom to go where I want, when I want to and privacy — delicious aloneness inside my car, encapsulated, a special place with windows on the world. Just me with my radio or CDs, sailing along Sonoma County’s country roads. One winter evening, atop Coleman Valley Road, dreaming down at the sea and the sunset, I pushed KDFC and there, miraculously on the radio was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Delicious memory — my car and me.

I kept my expired driver’s license for more than a year.

Ironically, there is a special ID card for seniors that carries the same ID number and looks exactly like my driver’s license —- except it isn’t. And it’s still not easy.