On Cars, Culture and Aging Gracefully

So this past week I took the first step to begin simplifying my life and down-sizing a bit. You learn a lot about yourself when you car shop if you’re paying attention (smirk)

My goal was to trade in my SUV, take the cash, and buy used, since all the online guides told me my vehicle was worth decent cash. Lies. All lies. Yes, because it was 0 percent finance, for once in my life I actually had some equity. But when gas is kissing 4.00 a gallon, SUV’s aren’t the vehicles flying off the lots – everyone is unloading them and taking home little baby cars. And that was my first purchase – a 2007 Mini Cooper S. After my initial let-down on a cash buy, I asked to see the cheapest vehicle on the lot. We never made it there, as a nice pick-up caught my eye, then a plain white van (both over priced in my opinion) and we circled back to the front. There they were, the Mini’s. In a neat little row, small, low to the ground and, well, cough, cute as hell. I sidled up to one and whew, it was a stick. Saved! But oh no, there was the cutest one, in British Racing Green Metallic, that was an automatic. And this one sported the lowest price. Hrm. The test drive ensued during which I learned of the awesome gas mileage, the great suspension,high quality craftsmanship, etc. After the gymnastics of finance, managers in and out of the office, and learning about the three for free drive opportunity, I bought it. Now, transferring the contents of an SUV into a Mini is um, a learning opportunity. I recently helped my daughter move and still had some of her things in there. Tools, books, CD’s, cloth shopping bags, a comforter set my mom recently recycled to me and a tricycle for my grandson. Hey, I didn’t go there to BUY a car, just to see what mine would sell for. First lesson here – I carry around way too much crap in my vehicle. Second lesson – cars are like puppies, RUN AWAY. This cute, responsive, purring little driving machine came with a total cost of ownership that a middling income person like me should never attempt, especially when I’m trying to simplify. Special oil. Premium gas. A history of breakdowns with scarily high costs once the warranty evaporated. One good research online proved to me that I really couldn’t afford this car. And I haven’t even mentioned the disturbing fact that I, a previously responsible, no ticket driver, apparently have an alter ego lurking inside of me that only expresses itself when sitting in the driver’s seat of a small performance vehicle that idles at just the right vibratory purr to make me think I have relatives in the Andretti family or something. What the heck??? Yes, that little car was a hot sexy mess and would get me in trouble probably in more ways than one. So back it went and I retrieved my sedate SUV. Whew.

In the interim, I got credit approval at my credit union, and sat down and actually thought out the criteria that matters for a replacement vehicle . Sexy, exhilarating and sporty did not make that list. Fuel efficiency, ease of repair, tow capability and reliability did make the list. I ended up with a little 2008 Honda Fit with only 20K miles, a bumper to bumper warranty for the next 80K miles, flat tow capable, a vastly lower insurance and monthly payment cost and incredible gas savings. These are all things that will complement the move toward my real life. Third lesson – for heaven’s sake don’t impulse buy a car. And if you do, TAKE IT BACK. They really don’t shoot you when you return it. Not even in the foot or somewhere non-life threatening. Even if you go elsewhere to make your final purchase. Trust me.

Fourth lesson – I am spoiled in ways that I have no idea I am spoiled in. My SUV had auto headlights, heated leather seats, sound system controls on the steering wheel,remote start and other little nifty gadgets. Wow, I miss them. Huh? I wasn’t even conscious of the fact that I used them so much. I wasn’t really aware that many cars don’t include those things. I mean, yes, I was AWARE but never gave it much thought before. I didn’t drive a Cayenne or an Escalade, just a Saturn Vue. It met our needs when we lived in the mountains and in remote areas with occasional inclement weather. It hauled a LOT with its fabulous tow package and AWD. The cargo space trucked big dogs in cages, hundreds of pounds of dirt and more hay bales than I ever expected. But no doubt, it was a luxury vehicle and I took that luxury for granted. I’m learning that I take a lot for granted. That is sobering. It makes me wonder how much I really know myself.

When my husband died suddenly, I moved to a very remote area and lived alone for the first time in twenty seven years. I hauled wood, learned to make a fire, ran a chain saw, wrangled a weed eater, drove my first riding lawn mower, and learned a lot about who I was inside. I battled ticks, wasps and field mice. I killed my own snakes when I had to. Got hit by tornadoes. I discovered weather radios, below zero weather and emergency preparations. I had a clear picture, I thought, of what kind of stuff I am made of. Yes, I can rise to the occasion when called to do so. Now that I’ve had to move back to the city to earn a living and spent nearly a year under the barrage of that mind set, I worry I’ve lost the person I had become. I feel the fear that followed me around on the farm the first six months hovering again over my shoulder as I work towards this mobile lifestyle. Our culture promotes things getting easier and more comfortable as we age. The fact that everything we could need is within a fifteen minute drive and that we are protected behind a gate with a guard is a siren song to the over fifty crowd. You can be near more stuff to buy while someone else protects your stuff you already own! Adventure is sold as a comfort-wrapped cruise to somewhere else rugged.

Which brings me to culture and aging gracefully. Our culture teaches me that I should start relaxing now, and defines that for me. Why do I feel the need to kick against that cultural imposition? What is driving me to shuck off a stressful but moderately financially beneficial job and throw myself out there to do something completely different without all the ‘luxuries’ like 401K, insurance and a retirement luncheon? What will my response be to that lack? How will I handle the possibility of at the end of a six month tour with a campground, not having any place to work next? And that’s considering I can translate my life experiences into something a campground will find fitting for them in the first place! Thinking ahead to advanced aging, seventy and beyond, how will this lifestyle impact that? While there may be exceptional eighty year olds still driving cross country to Quartzsite that make the news clips, what is the reality going to be? When I am ready to find a partner, will I be more successful on the road than staying put in one place? Will my mobility be a blessing or a problem when taking care of aging parents falls on my shoulders?

The reality is that you just can’t plan for everything, because as a friend once told me, the unplanned happens when you’re busy making plans. You can only move forward, think, but not too much, and work with what happens. And that dear readers, is aging gracefully.


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