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Friday, February 15, 2008

OLD FARTS BEHIND THE WHEEL

I nominate Fred Hale Sr. of Syracuse, New York as one the most confident (and possibly one of the most deluded) men who ever lived. On November 20, 2004, when Fred died just 12 days short of his 113th birthday, he still had a valid driver’s license. He had last gotten it renewed when he was 104, but he stopped driving shortly after reaching his 108th birthday because all the “motards” – retarded motorists – and “slowers” - slow drivers - were starting to really annoy him. But before Fred there had been Maude, specifically Mrs. Maude Tull, of Inglewood, California. After her husband passed away in 1963, Maude got her first drivers’ license…when she was 91. She got it renewed the last time when she was 104. But should Maude have been driving at that advanced age? Well, Layne Halls, from Silver Creek, New York, was still a licensed driver when he passed away in 2004, at the age of 109, just one month away from his 110 birthday. But I can’t find out if Layne had ever gotten any traffic tickets. I did discover that Englishman Charlie Howarth, got his first speeding ticket in 2005, when he was 99 years old. Charlie has two more years before he has to get his license renewed.
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Mrs. Muriel Gladwin, a 94 year old widow, has been driving for 82 years and has decided that after 600,000 miles or so it is time to quit with a clean record. Muriel has never had an insurance claim, a parking ticket or an accident. Unfortunately 105 year old Sheila Thompson, of Broughty Ferry, Northern Ireland, has not been quite so lucky. After 71 years of unbent fenders she recently suffered a “slight prang” while on her way to church and found her insurance premiums immediately went sky high. But compare her enviable record with that established by an unnamed 100 year old man from Sendai, Japan. In January of 2008 he was arrested for driving without a license after police officers saw his car clip the umbrella of a seven year old boy who was crossing the street. This guy had lost he license last August after a hit-and-run accident, and in November he was involved in another “slight prang”. The cops decided to end this crime wave after the man justified his behavior this way; “When I drive I get nervous, which stops me from getting senile.” It may be too late. I think his bus has already run over that goal post.
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On Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 Ontario, Canada Police Sergeant Cam Woolley was eastbound on a rain slicked and icy Highway 40, when she saw a car weaving through traffic at more than 100 miles per hour. After several minutes Sgt. Woolley finally caught up with the Oldsmobile at Keele Street and pulled the car over. The driver, she discovered, was an irate unnamed 85 year old man. He was even more irate when she informed him that under the Province’s new Street Racing law, which applies to any driver going 32 mph over the speed limit (which he was), she was about to impound his car. Being a Canadian cop she drove him to the bank so he could take out money to pay for a taxi home. But this speed racer has company. So far twenty drivers over 65 have been charged under the Ontario street racing law, and two more over 75. But this schmuck remains the only Mario Andretti busted over the age of 80.
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And if you are thinking that these old farts are crazy (and they are), please rest assured that they are not alone. According to an Allstate Insurance poll of drivers nationwide, 20% do not know that pedestrians in the crosswalk always have the right of way, 33% don’t stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, and 33% admit that they would drive over a pedestrian in the crosswalk to beat a yellow light. (Okay, not really. But they would speed up.) A GMAC Insurance test found that 10% of currently licensed drivers were unable to pass the drivers license test. The safest drivers in America, according to Allstate, live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (who have an accident on average of once every 15 years), and the worst in Washington, D.C. (an accident every 5 years), followed closely by Columbia, South Carolina, St. Louis, Missouri, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Jackson, Mississippi.
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But there is also this: a driver in Mississippi is five times more likely to die in an automobile accident than a driver in Massachusetts; a motorcycle rider is ten times more likely to die than the driver of a car; two thirds of all drivers who die are not wearing seat belts; and 50% of all auto fatalities between the ages of 21 and 44 are alcohol related. In other words, if a 25 year graduate student at ‘ole Miss should offer you a ride home from the kegger on his Harley-Davidson, you’d be better off hitchhiking outside of a prison.
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All of which brings us to January 17th, at the Mickey-D’s on Hercules Avenue North in Clearwater, Florida, when 75 year old Jean Merola pulled up in her Lincoln Town Car and ordered French Fries without salt. (I didn’t even know you could do that!) Now, you may have read earlier accounts of this story, but here is the carbohydrate-ed skinny on this tale of another crazy old lady behind the wheel. Jean pulled up to the first window and paid for her fries. Then she pulled to the second window to get her fries. And that was when, according to the manager, Sarah Curtis, she was told it takes 3 ½ minutes to produce reduced sodium pomfrits. Mrs. Merola was then asked to pull her car forward and to the side to wait for her fries. (What, was this the first time she ever order salt free French Fries at McDonalds?) But, either because at that moment there was no one behind her, or because she is a loony old bat, Jean did not pull forward.
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The plot thickened when Clearwater patrolman Matthew Parco arrived and ordered an iced coffee. But while he could quickly pay for his purchase at the first window, and it could be handed to him through that window, he could not leave because the big assed town car was blocking his exit. Officer Parco honked his horn and motioned for Jean to pull her big ass car forward five feet to let him get back on patrol. When she still did not budge Officer Parco walked up to her car and asked her to please move aside. Over the next two minutes, according to both parties and 9 (nine) witnesses, Jean began by calling Officer Parco a brat, then a smart-ass and then a dumb-ass. Officer Parco kept his arms folded across his chest, and then asked Jean to please pull forward just a few feet so he and others could get around her. Jean said later, “Oh, my goodness, here I am, a poor little innocent woman waiting for my French fries.” Jean says she couldn’t pull forward because of a curb. (Whoever heard of a 75 year old who was afraid of driving over a curb? They do it all the time! It’s one of the perks of senility! ) Over the next 18 minutes (approximately) Jean admits she repeatedly reminded Officer Parco that she was 75, that she had 8 grandchildren, that she could die soon and that he should be ashamed of himself. Even after her French Fries were delivered, Jean refused to pull forward. By this point chants of "Shoot her, shoot her," must have been heard over the resturant intercom.
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I don't really think officer Parco should have shot Jean. That would be horrible. But at this point in reading the first draft of this story my wife turned to me and said, "Please tell me this story ends with him shooting her." Anyway...
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According to the witnesses Jean now announced that she was a personal friend of Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein, and demanded that he be called to the scene. Instead Officer Parco asked for Jean’s license, because, he wrote in his report, he wanted to check if she had a history of mental illness. (Just shoot the bitch!)While he did that Jean got out of her car and walked back to Officer Parco’s cruiser, where she told him that his wife was going to divorce him and his children would hate him. (Shoot, her. Shoot, her!) Oh, yes, and she added, “You are probably going to hell.” (For God's sake, shoot her!) He asked her to please get back into her car and go home. Jean again demanded Chief Klein come to the scene. And it was at this point that Officer Parco finally called for back up and put the crazy old broad in handcuffs. Her arrest was captured on video tape. And a mighty cheer must have risen from that McDonald’s, and reached the ears of the Lord. (Smite the crazy old broad!) Jean was held in custody for all of 90 minutes before she was released. And her only regret was, “…I didn’t get to eat my McDonald’s, you know?”
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Well, hell, Jean, you crazy old bat, all you have to do is just pull forward and bite it. So, I nominate Jean Merola as the biggest old loony on the road - at least the biggest in Florida...this week.

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