Recently, I was 35. Then, on Aug. 25, I turned 70. Time flying? Not really. It’s warping.
Just like Chuck Berry, I’ve spent my life, since 1961, “riding along in my automobile.” Now, after a half-century of cruising, physically and mentally, on four wheels (notwithstanding some bicycle and motorcycle time), the new reality is, “Leigh, get outta that car. Left foot, right foot. Dust off that bike. Don’t forget the Big Blue Bus. And, just think, the Expo is on its way.”
For years, driving around town listening to “50s on 5,” “Real Jazz” and “Radio Classics” on satellite radio while buying local, taking my wife to doctors, going to eat, attending civic meetings, and visiting friends, I thought I was doing the right thing. Now, I find out that what I thought was being vital and participatory, engaged and a part of, was actually being obstructionist.
Now, I’m told that, to be with it, my wife and I should be walking here and there, riding bikes, taking the Big Blue Bus and light rail. Super idea. For some people. And, for some people, not.
Funny how things get confused. Just back down the road (about the time I was turning 40), mortality was a figment of someone else’s imagination. Then, I did a little elementary school math. Statistically, the life expectancy for the American male was about 71. I divided that in half and found myself a bit over middle-aged. I thought, “Are you talkin’ to me?” Pop went the bubble.
Here’s the challenge: Where do my wife and I (along with thousands of other seniors) fit into the new walk, bike, bus, Expo paradigm?
There is one thing I’m not confused about: all of us sprint out of the gate at birth and, whether on foot, bike, bus, rail, aircraft or in a car, at a certain point we reach the end of the line. The seemingly immortal 35-year-old morphs into the 70-year old diagnosed with high blood pressure, cataracts, and who needs a stair lift to ascend to the second-floor bedroom. It’s likely that pain will become your most trusted and constant companion (along with the medication needed to manage it). And, no matter who comes into or goes out of your life, pain will always be true.
I didn’t mention it, but my wife has both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, plus a bunch of other stuff that, together, cause the pain from that oft-mentioned burning place some call Hades. Here I am with only some low-level arthritis from a broken foot and periodic, chronologically-induced aches while my wife has a rough time walking from one room to the other in the house, let alone trekking a block.
Fact is, in today’s Santa Monica, without a car, we’d be in deep stuff. Until the people of our city (City Council members are you listening?) step up to the plate and get serious about putting in place a transportation infrastructure that meets the needs of all Santa Monicans (yes, seniors are members in good standing) to maintain maximum command of our comings and goings and to be able to contribute to our fullest potential to the economic, social, cultural, and political life of our town, we’re keeping our cars gassed up and ready to roll.
My honey bunny and I just can’t walk the walk anymore. So far, the Big Blue Bus isn’t positioned with sufficient and practical routes to satisfactorily accommodate our needs (please, I’m not talking fancy stuff here) and, for us, as far as transportation, the spoke is a joke. Dial-a-Ride, though deserving of praise, is not there yet. There’s no reason, in a place like Santa Monica, that seniors (or anyone) should accept second-class transportation resources. Mark my words, you’ll be singing the same tune someday, especially if we don’t get our act together now.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying seniors are the only ones in need. How about a mother with three children trying to get around town? School drop off/pickup? Market? Sports? Tutoring? The other day, I saw a guy on a bicycle going down Olympic Boulevard with three or four grocery bags hanging on his handle bar, another under his left arm. Sure, he was trying to do his bit, but it’s unsafe for him and others. Coming up with a transportation system that provides mobility, safety, access to the many wonders of Santa Monica and that helps keep people vital and in the swing of things is good for all of us — not just those with senioritis. Trust me, what’s good for seniors is good for all Santa Monicans! And, it’ll be good for you when it’s your turn to slow down.
A big obstacle to progress is the seemingly ages-old rivalry between the young and the old. Throughout history, the scenario seems to be that the fleet of foot view the elders as has-beens. It’s like if you’re not moving at the speed of light, you’re not moving at all. If you don’t have a phablet and earbuds, you better stay on the porch.
We’re all moving toward the checkout stand, so let’s get real. Let’s drop the denial. Let’s accept the fact that the only real difference between us as members of this community is when we left the dock to sail the sea of life. For some, everything they see is new. Others see the pink and orange sunset of their lives unfolding just off Point Dume. No matter; as long as what we see in the mirror is a good neighbor.
My wife and I have been talking up our concerns around town and look forward to opportunities to confer with other residents as well as civic leaders about this issue. I hope you will, too. It’s time for some creative, realistic, people-centered ideas and activism. Time for caring.
In the meantime, honey bunny and I will be riding along in our automobile tuning in to “60s on 6” listening for the Youngbloods’ “Get Together” and trying to figure out how we’ll get to the Expo station without the Ford. At least the DMV still lets us drive. Living proof there’s still compassion in the world.
Mr. Brumberg and his wife, Elaine Blaugrund, have lived in Santa Monica since 2001. He is a retired public school teacher and a former member of the Santa Monica Social Services Commission. He may be contacted at email@example.com