Seventy? Seventy!

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When younger and later in life as a married man with two young children, deep into my career and family, I thought that when a person turned seventy years of age they had matured to a point and would share their lessons of life with their loved ones. This didn’t happen. I assumed wrong. No one in my family did that.

My father lived until age 91, but started to decline in his late 80s, and during all those years of decline I waited and waited for him to sit me and my brother down to tell us all that he had learned in his nearly nine decades of living through good times and bad. I wanted to hear about the meaning of life, what was most important, how to be a good man …. but that was wishful thinking. On reflection this probably has more to do with my sense of lacking than of his.

Sitting around and hearing about his life in the way I imagined didn’t happen but that doesn’t mean to say I didn’t learn his view of the world and what mattered to him. He had imparted it to me by virtue of living with him. That’s the only way one really gets to know someone anyway; by living with them day after day, month after month, year after year. I learned that he looked forward and not back. He made his voice and point of view heard – often when it was not asked for. He believed strongly in perseverance, in not giving up. He strongly believed in living within one’s means. He said problems are good; if you didn’t have problems, you wouldn’t be alive. Save more, spend less. Don’t give in to immediate gratification; critically analyze the situation before acting. These were his truths; most of them are mine too.

Now I just turned seventy years of age and it made me think of what I might do if I turn eighty. And then I looked back and reflected on what I did when I turned sixty.

A decade ago, my wife and I flew out to Arizona to visit with friends Steve & Andrea whom I’ve known since I was twenty four years of age. Steve and I first met while living in a group home in Brookline, and while there discovered he was born barely a week before I was and we shared a lot in common. One thing in particular stands out about the two of us: we’ve both been told we’re immature. So we’ve kidded ourselves about it incessantly and point out incidents to each other that proves the point time and time again despite our advanced age. One time we decided that we were going to produce a new magazine called “Immature Man”. To further illustrate the point, I created for Steve a 60th birthday card mock up with a similar likeness to the TIME magazine’s “Man of the Year” cover; but in place of TIME at the top it said “Immature Man” and included a banner running on a diagonal with “Debut Issue” on it. It featured a full blown head shot of him 8 x 11. On the bottom right corner was his actual birthday date.

We know we’re not the only ones; so we are going to recruit other people who also qualify as immature, describe the attractions of being immature, and then invest in our publication, join our staff and make “Immature Man” a success. We’ve done our media research. There is no other magazine like it covering the joys and attractions of being immature.

So now I’m seventy. Though some might think most of the best years have passed, I don’t think so. I finally know now who I am and that I don’t need anyone to tell me how to live my life or what to do about it. I’m not a know-it- all; far from it. I can still listen and learn. But it’s my life to live as best as I can with an eye towards the rest of the world too. (I am fully vaccinated, wear a mask, keep my distance from others. I follow the science and live within the law).

I have an agenda that I would like to follow, but I don’t know how long I have on earth to pursue it. The length of my time on earth is hardly in my own hands of course, but some things are. I acknowledge that truth, accept it and try to live in the present while planning for a future. I know I am going to die and so hope to continue a path of self-improvement with respect to how I live and how I treat other people until I do.

The things I’m doing now I hope to continue going forward: continuing to do some good in the world. Taking care of myself while also doing something about the threats to our democracy and planet. I want to be mobile as much as possible, as long as possible. It’s when I’m physically active I feel best.

What will the future hold? The coming years of this decade will have a lot to do with that.

The planet is burning up, and the world hasn’t really accepted it or at least not enough to act with urgency. Fossil fuel companies are lining up to fight the truth that burning fossil fuels kills. Public health disasters loom as the climate changes.

We seniors (even immature seniors) and most seventy year olds alike will be gone before the apocalypse occurs in earnest. The Climate Clock is ticking and no one will escape it. I see value in using one’s time well, to live as best as possible – but within one’s means – for one’s own good and for those younger too. I believe we can do something about the climate crisis at the grassroots and local level, educate ourselves and others through our own behavior, voice and our vote. All is not lost; in fact, now’s the time to act.

In Awe of Authors

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Medical doctors, PhDs, and authors alike are people whom I’m in awe. Anyone who can consciously slave away for thousands of hours over multiple years to create a book of any type: memoir, history, fiction, dissertation or serious treatise is remarkable. Novelist Philip Roth considered it a very good day of writing if he produced one page that satisfied him. Writing books is not for sissies. 

Stephen King said: “Writing is a lonely job. It isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well”.

The five books briefly described here are written by friends and family whom I’m privileged to know. Two of them are “Halperns”, my brother Skip and my wife Arlyn. The others are good smart people I have gotten to know along the way. I was an early reader of three of the books, and I wanted to share them all with you.

The blog post is much longer than the usual length, but worth it. Each of the authors submitted their abbreviated descriptions of their books. They are listed in alphabetical order by author. They are all available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller (or will be soon starting with the first one below):

GOOD BOYS – GROWING UP AWAY FROM HOME! By Tom Brodnicki

We were lucky. Actually, in retrospect, without knowing it, we were blessed.

Born amidst the “Baby Boomer” generation, we grew up as 13 or 14 year old boys on a quest to follow our parents’ dream for us to become Roman Catholic priests. We attended St. Augustine Seminary located in Michigan away from home as high school seminarians during the turbulent 1960s. Although away from home, family and friends – together we learned, we grew, we experienced the events and turbulence of our nation and the world. We lived in a bubble of sorts as we shaped our values and discovered how we would choose to live our lives and our faith over the decades to follow. “GOOD BOYS” captures our story and answers the question often asked “Given the time, energy and money invested in seminaries like this, was it worth it?”

——–

DANCING INTO THE LIGHT: A Spiritual Journey of Healing By Arlyn Halpern

A heartwarming memoir that captures one woman’s transformative journey of self-discovery by making peace with a family at once extremely dysfunctional, yet oddly endearing: a troubled interaction with her depressed mother co-existed with the affection she held for her happy-go-lucky father.

A series of fateful events, from exotic dancing in a carnival to travel to Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War, led her to falling in love with a Swedish man and moving to his native land. A meeting with a college professor, and their subsequent marriage, set Arlyn down the path of Buddhist practice. A pilgrimage to India where she received teachings from Tibetan Buddhist masters and where Arlyn undertook the rigorous study of Indian classical dance sustained her through heart-rendering challenges along the way.

Throughout this engaging and courageous tale, she never wavers from looking inward, facing her demons and developing greater wisdom and compassion. It is a redemptive tale of love and loss that will leave no reader unmoved.

——

WELLSPRINGS OF WORK: Surprising Sources of Meaning and Motivation in Work

by Samuel Halpern

Whether you’re just starting out, in mid-career or retired, WELLSPRINGS OF WORK: reveals often- unappreciated sources of meaning and motivation in work. Unlike the many books bemoaning how work brings you down, “WELLSPRINGS” explores a dozen sources of fulfillment to lift you up.

This book is for anyone considering the value of their own work as well as its limits and trap doors. These concerns are especially urgent today because of a range of societal forces – from Covid to the digital revolution to the gig economy.

For anyone involved in business, investing, consulting or law – occupations that strike many as soulless – “WELLSPRINGS” points the way to values and meaning beyond the buck. Samuel “Skip” Halpern found his own nearly 50-year career across those fields spiritually rewarding. His far-ranging experiences – with investor Warren Buffett, legendary fraud Bernie Madoff, the 2008 Financial Crisis and investment funds covering professional athletes, Inupiat Eskimos and hundreds of millions of Chinese workers – are springboards for exploring purpose and value across a wide range of work.

“WELLSPRINGS” provides insight into what clicks for a variety of workers …and maybe what clicks for you.

——-

EAVESDROPPING IN OBERAMMERGAU by Hilary Salk

A Jewish American child living in Germany three years after the Holocaust is the first-person story told by Alison Gold, an inveterate eavesdropper and daughter of a U.S. Army officer stationed in Oberammergau, Germany. She narrates her discoveries of Nazi hatred for the Jewish people in this village known for its holy Passion Play, perfumed every ten years since 1634.

Alison overhears the stories told to her mother and her visiting grandfather by the German piano teacher, who we learn is a Jew, through a convert to Catholicism. Based on a true story, this fictionalized character, renamed Stefan Hirsch, came to Oberammergau in 1934, where he lived until attacked on Kristallnacht by a group of Nazi youths, one of whom performed the part of Jesus in the 1950 pageant.

Hirsch was imprisoned in Dachau and eventually released. He lived out the war in England, after which he returned to Oberammergau.

The novel creates the reason for this return, which drives the plot of her novel.

——-

WORLD WAR BRANDS by Barry Silverstein

…. shows how the war itself was “branded”, how brand advertisers leveraged the war, and how the post-war economy helped birth the modern brand. Included are 38 vintage wartime ads and scores of stories about some of the best-known brands of the ’40s and ’50s. Many brands from this time have survived and thrived into the 21st Century.

This unique book takes a fresh look at the impact of World War II on America from a marketing perspective. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a convincing history about the role of World War II in developing brand consciousness among consumers in the United States.”
——

There you have it. Do you have a book “in you” too? If so, what’s it going to be about? I’d love to hear more. Thank you.

Reasons to be Cheerful

David Byrne of Talking Heads and Elon Musk of Tesla are known to be “on the Spectrum” as they each have Asperger’s syndrome.

The dictionary definition of Asperger’s syndrome is one who has a developmental disability that is related to autism. Asperger’s people are characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictions, repetitive patterns of interests and activities.

I have followed Byrne’s activities for many years because he was born the same year as I and attended college in Providence, Rhode Island at the same time I did too. His music and video performance in “Stop Making Sense” on Netflix (shot over three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre in 1983) is a celebration of his genius, and nobody can watch it without feeling good, happy and privileged. Stop Making Sense is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest concert films of all time. Rogers and Ebert say “the film’s peak moments come through Byrne’s simply physical presence. He jogs in place with his sidemen, he runs around the stage; he seems so happy to be alive and making music”.

One of his latest gambits is Arbutus Foundation a nonprofit that was created in 2018 and one of its initial projects is “a solutions journalism online magazine” (his words) entitled “Reasons to be Cheerful“. Arbutus is a meeting place for putting people together from various disciplines and perspectives so as to create new wonders. Just this week in The New York Times there was an article about his drawings which are meant to “connect” people with each other.

I found his compilation of reasons to be cheerful definitely reasons to be cheerful considering the bad news that’s all around us: the tens of thousands of people dying from Covid, the Republicans’ efforts to restrict voting rights and perpetuate The Big Lie, the imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, continued slaughter of innocent children at the hands of gun toting Americans, likely ban of abortions by the Supreme Court, to the continued climate emergency, etc. on and on it goes and where it stops, nobody knows).

So here is the good news to be shared by Reasons to be Cheerful:

  • To prevent the Sahara Desert from spreading southward, a 5,000 mile line of trees is being planted across the African continent.
  • A California law gives non-car commuters a cash payout that helped increase transit ridership by 50%.
  • The El Paso Community College (Texas) used its pandemic relief aid to forgive $3 million in student debt.
  • A solar-powered fridge that can last up to two weeks without electricity is being used to transport vaccines to over fifty countries.
  • The United States’ phasing out of HFCs in refrigerators could eliminate emissions equivalent to 4.7 billion metric tons of CO2 by 2050, about as much as a billion cars’ emissions in a year.
  • A stretch of beach worth $75 million and taken from Black people 97 years ago, is being return to the Black family descendants, in order to correct a historical incident of racial injustice.

And for good measure here is a podcast of some importance that counts as my good news of the day worth cheering about:

  • The Climate Minute podcast hosted by Ted McIntyre PhD (Massachusetts Climate Action Network) examines current news on global warming, climate change, renewable energy and the prospects for progress on international negotiations, carbon taxes and clean energy policy.

There’s all kinds of good things going on all across the country and the world if one is open to them. Looking for things to be grateful for and volunteering time with those unfortunate is another way to contribute to good news. There is progress being made and there are some reasons to be cheerful. Activism is alive in a number of causes and you too can be a part of it. Try it sometime and see if doing good yourself inspires you to do even greater things for others as well as one’s own self.

Music to our ears

“Fun” doesn’t follow me around all that often so when in Asheville, North Carolina the day after Christmas, the jazzy, up tempo beat of the Uptown Hillbillies was quite literally music to my ears. My wife and I paid the cover charge, showed proof of vaccinations and booster, and then waltzed into the pub where the air sizzled with the Western swing beat, a dance music that’s part country, part cowboy, part polka and part folk. It’s got a kick to it that lifts one’s spirits, leaving any tension or troubles behind.

Live music has been a casualty of Covid, but fortunately, we lucked out at the Cork & Keg. I was able to sit at a side table near the open front door, mask on, with two other gentlemen around my age, also masked up, nursing amber-colored glasses of beer. Nobody bothered me for anything just the way I like it. I was able to instantly settle into the rhythmic dance beats of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Ray Price, while my wife danced up a storm, as she’s known to do whenever and wherever there’s any music within earshot. You can’t keep a good woman off the dance floor during the classic country music of the 50s and 60s with songs like ”Love me Honey Now as I’m Too Young to Die”.

On December 26th while some patrons drank beer, a few couples got up, took off their masks and waltzed with their partners. Some of the men wore cowboy boots as did their partners. Children too, were at the pub and were handed dollar bills to stuff into the tip jar out front near the fiddler Kevin Kehrberg. Western swing music is family friendly though it was a surprise to see little girls about five or six years of age there with their moms.

I, on the other hand was just happy to nod my head and tap my feet to the band’s ensemble of rhythm and pedal steel guitars, snappy fiddle, quiet brush drums and bass. The music mesmerized me and transported me back in time to a memorable scene from the Peter Bogdanovich 1971 critically-acclaimed coming of age movie ”The Last Picture Show”. Hank Williams music, tumbleweeds and dust blew across the sparse, empty Texan town square while Billy, a mute, mentally disabled, young adolescent boy sweeps a broom back and forth for no apparent reason. In my early twenties I watched ”The Last Picture Show” numerous times as it spoke to me with its loneliness and clumsiness about two high schoolers coming of age. (Cloris Leachman, who died a year ago, won an Academy Award for best supporting actress, while Cybil Shepherd broke into the big screen with her debut performance as Jacy, the blond attraction of every boy in town).

What is it about music that gets one feeling good? It’s certainly a universal language that resonates with anybody, whether one dances, plays the music, or simply watches the musicians play and/or sing. It’s good medicine for the soul, a welcome respite from the stress of the pandemic and the stress of being on a roadtrip.

Music is a social phenomenon that connects people to one another whether listened to live, on Sirius, played on vinyl or heard on the radio. Scientifically speaking, music releases endorphins providing feelings of comfort, relaxation, fun and pleasure.

I don’t know if the musicians were enjoying their time as much as the patrons but it appeared so. Russ Wilson playing drums and vocals took the lead most of the time until a special performer, Rebecca O’Quinn, a female singer, around 30 joined in. She carried a tune that worked perfectly into the masculine-driven sounds of the original band in what appeared to be an impromptu occurrence. (Rebecca has her own band Rebecca and the Renderings, also known as Fancy and the Gentlemen).

If I ever find myself back in Asheville, and the Uptown Hillbillies are performing with Rebecca, or even without her, I’d certainly go out of my way to catch their show. It was a fun time in a fun town at a festive time of the year.

Sit back and binge

I could be a member of Binging Anonymous, a new 12 step program, and while going public removes the anonymity from this fellowship, its just a handful of us in the blog community who will know.

Binging Anonymous or BA for short could also be known as lip-smacking snacking anonymous (L-SSA), though L-SSA admittedly falls flat. BA has a better ring to it. It fits well with its cousins AA and NA. The Steps ring true:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over salty snacks – that our life had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of …..

By being a program, BA is an acknowledgement that I can not easily manage snacking in a short period of time, most often when watching video or TV. It often becomes a self-indulgence in munching as in “he went on a binge”, or ”he binged the last six episodes of that Netflix series and went to sleep really late”. Guilt and shame can play a part in it.

Many people especially during the pandemic have binged. Some profess to it as an achievement. Of course no therapist would suggest binging or snacking to excess as a means to good mental health especially right now with so many patients feeling anxious, lonely, stressed out and/or depressed during the pandemic.

For me, watching TV or video is the trigger that sets me off to binging. I do it even though I regret it afterwards. I often get a migraine headache from all the salt, or feel terrible the next day for the self-indulgence experienced. I look at my bod in the mirror the next day and think ”this is not the me I want to be”. I have to learn a more healthy way of being. Or watch less TV.

HBO, Netflix, Hulu and the New England Patriots is the problem I say to myself. I break down and stop my conscientious attention to healthy eating while watching. It’s not easy to stay ”snackingly sober”. And food marketers and food chemists don’t make it easy for the viewing public or sports spectator either to stay true to one’s lifestyle goals.

Marketers know how to combine sweet and salty into a mouth-watering snack that’s hard to put down. Sometimes marketers and food chemists dream up snacks that are the best of two worlds: sweet and delicious but low in calories, sugar or fat.

Consider the FAT SNAX cookie package: it boasts 2 chocolate chip cookies with ”no sugar”, part of a Keto diet. And it’s “gluten free”. A picture of the chocolate chip cookie is packaged in an attractive blue metallic foil package that’s small enough to fit in your pocket or purse. It promises a chocolate high without the guilt. It’s the perfect cookie for today’s consumer. It may not be a big brand name snack anytime soon, but you found it in a health food store or Whole Foods and you’re going to enjoy it. You’re in the know. You could even be a brand influencer and convey a new status attained just by eating and sharing it on social media.

On the back of the package it gives me permission to indulge it on my own time:

SNACK AWAY!
You can eat fat and be fit. We left the sugar behind and cut down the carbs, without sacrificing taste. We create unapologetically fat-filled snacks, so you can have your cookie and eat it too!

Since they’re so satisfying with no fat and no sugar, I could easily eat four, or six, or even 20 of them. Why not – they’re fat- free!

We hear it all the time: Live a little. Take it easy. You worked hard, take a break, sit back and relax. Be good to yourself, for a change. You only live once.

But I don’t really believe munching is what these messages were getting at.

So you sit back and binge to make the show even more special. You add another sensation into the mix. Whether its football with three announcers, replays and vivid color on a 54” wide screen or a new ”must watch” Netflix series, simply watching the show is just not enough.

Munching is also a way to try to control or manipulate an experience, making it more than what it is. It’s a way to make a show a media event, and munching forces the show to be even more special, more memorable, a better story for sharing on social media tomorrow (or while watching the show). But life doesn’t have to be spectacular all the time, does it? It is satisfactory just as is. Isn’t it?

Why do people drink? To help lose their inhibitions. To gain confidence, to laugh and make friends, to get on the dance floor, to make mistakes.

On further reflection, snacking is a little different. I eat snacks to enjoy two things that naturally go together: watching and munching. But I’m not inflicting pain on others or poisoning my liver.

Snacking or binging is not really enough to qualify as a new 12 step program. I don’t think BA has a future.

An off the hook dilemma

Can I continue being “off the hook” and work part time?

Now that I’ve re-entered the workforce working about 10-15 hours a week, the question I labored over before accepting the position was whether I could remain “off the hook” and work at the same time.

When I started blogging ”off the hook” nearly five years ago, I quoted William Whyte who defined ”off the hook” as being able to return to one’s true nature, to focus on what to do with one’s (personal) life. I’ve written about this identity issue in plenty of blog posts.

Being off the hook means molding a new life with time on my hands and little structure to start. I have structured my days and nights with some new volunteer pursuits and activities and interests that I could only dream about while working full time and driving about 500 miles a week (often in traffic).

What else does it mean to be ”off the hook”?

To be ”off the hook” means many things: setting my own schedule. It means not driving to and from work, sitting in status meetings nor rushing around in a frenzy to get out the door when its still dark, cold and early in the morning. It means setting my own pace and filling the day with pursuits that are self-fulfilling and for the good of others. I still have responsibilities and obligations but it’s entirely different now.

Being ”off the hook” is setting my own schedule and having a sense of freedom. It’s doing my own thing, researching and writing and producing material, some of which contributes to a larger goal shared by others. It means not worrying about a presentation nor playing office politics. It means not putting on a face when personal matters are bothering me. (Because shit still happens in retirement. But at least I don’t have to go into the office and say everything’s fine, when it isn’t).

I can wake up when I wake up. I can go to sleep when I’m ready.

I can volunteer, try new things, I can go once and if it doesn’t feel right, I can take a break, without any repercussions. I can volunteer and cook lasagna for a family in need. I can donate time and money to causes I believe in.

But the truth is while retired I missed not working. I missed marketing and secondary research, writing, and learning new things about life sciences, resources and what others did with their lives. I missed not getting paid. I will fess up here: when my monthly college news magazine arrives in the mail, I typically first turn to the Obituaries to see what alumnae have done with their working lives, before and during their retirement, how they are remembered, what they enjoyed doing with their spouse or families, their reflections on life and purpose. I look at cause of death and age too and I’m reminded that this is my life and my time. Whatever I’m doing is not going to last for very long. I may be off the hook, but for how long? How can I make it purposeful for myself and others and our planet? Can I make a lasting impression or inspire others to do so?

So before I signed up for part time work, I decided to re-examine causes I want to contribute to: climate emergency, saving democracy, examining police misconduct. I want to build greater awareness and become a better person too, for myself and my loved ones. I want to help those who have less than myself, while being easy on myself too.

So after much deliberation, I decided to take the opportunity to re-enter the workforce. I’m using many of the skills I honed in my career, and am re-invented as one whose searching and sourcing talent for a laboratory engineering firm. I’m working remotely and on my own.

When off the hook I’m able to reflect on how grateful and fortunate I am. There are so many things that can go wrong or could go wrong, and I’ve been able to dodge them or not fall victim to them. And while I’ve made mistakes, I have been able to bounce back. I can breathe and see things more clearly now (sometimes). I know more about what really matters and what does not, and what I can do about it or not. That too is what being off the hook allows me to do. I am lucky.

A Solo Trip

A week before Thanksgiving I unintentionally embarked on a solo trip. Acting much like a millennial, I was briskly walking on my daily midday jaunt around the neighborhood and playing a game of “Spelling Bee”, a complex letter sorting game from the New York Times, on my phone at the same time. And then I wasn’t. I hit something with my foot and with my phone glued to my right hand, I fell on my left side. I knew instantly that I really took a tumble. I really hurt myself. In an instant I went from enjoying two favorite daily activities – simple physical exercise and mental exercise – to doing neither.

Being mobile has always been a priority. It’s why I walk and do some exercise most every day. Loco-motion is what I like. Little Eva sang it well in 1962 in her one and only gold platinum record:

“Do it nice and easy now, don’t lose control, … A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul, So come on, come on, do the Loco-motion with me”.

I knew immediately that this solo trip was a real screw up on my part. Whereas walking is a prescription to stay out of the hospital, my screw up was going to land me in a hospital. (Count that three hospitals and two ambulances in a matter of two weeks).

There was a crunchy kind of sound when I tried to walk on. Something was not right. Something was very wrong. I was really worried.

So I proceeded to do something really stupid again. I walked on down the road for about 1/2 mile in the woods back to my house. I did not call ”911”.

I went to Urgent Care, had X rays taken and learned I broke my pelvic bone – in two places – on my left side. Fortunately it was a ”stable fracture”, and required no surgery. As such, weight bearing pressure (like walking) did not cause any more harm.

This wasn’t the first time I acted stupid while walking. Forty five years ago – I remember the occurrence as if it were yesterday – I was hit by VW beetle while (jay) walking between two parked cars near Inman Square. The VW ran through a yellow light and I practically walked right into it. This time it was my head that I damaged: and it landed me in the Cambridge City Hospital which was conveniently situated directly across the street. I didn’t have to call ”911” this time either, and couldn’t anyways because I had a concussion. But luckily, no broken bones, just black and blue marks in every joint in my body.

I was released and two days later we buried my grandfather.

But this time I will learn. No more phone time multitasking while walking. No more multitasking at all. Time to slow down and enjoy the roses.

#####

In my October 29 blog post ”Reading Your Mind” there was commentary about driving. A couple days later in the November 10 edition of The New York Times, an article by Neil Vigdor reported that a drunken driver warning system will be installed in all new cars as part of the new $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

This innovative deterrent system will go along with intelligent braking systems and “blind spot sensors” that warn drivers not to change lanes. I found it ironic that there are new technologies being developed to augment driving performance and to cut down on drunk driving when humans refuse to make the right choices themselves.


Reading your mind

They’re out there, amongst us all. They’re sharing the highway with you, on your way to work, on your commute home or while doing errands around town. High schoolers out for a joy ride. Women texting their boyfriends cruising st 75 mph. They’re your neighbors who believe vaccines have tiny micro chips controlled by Bill Gates. Some others are stoned, some are drunk; some are stoned and drunk. Some are narcissists who believe the rules don’t apply to them, others mentally ill or back from a war, traumatized or otherwise depressed over a loss of a loved one due to Covid, or an accident or a mass shooting or abuse. There is no escaping the American driver.

I take comfort in knowing I don’t have to take my life into my hands driving amongst them much anymore because I’m off the hook. I spent half a lifetime driving behind the wheel to and from work. Driving was more treacherous and anxiety-producing than work itself.

Still, when one drives a lot one has time on one’s hands. One gets to thinking, to daydreaming and wondering ”what if?” or ”why not?”. I wondered – and still do – why there are so few ways for a driver to communicate to others while driving. Sure, there’s brake lights, directional lights and the horn. But that’s about it for a driver to alert, warn or inform his fellow drivers of his intentions or mindset.

So for example, before changing lanes a driver looks at his mirror(s) to first judge whether it’s safe to do so. He uses his directional signal to communicate his intent. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. For many drivers though there is no signal. Many drivers act as if they own the road, don’t care about you (or their own safety). And it shows.

I wonder how many drivers currently on the road don’t even have a license. No license means no insurance, and the two together probably means these vehicles aren’t properly maintained. I imagine treadless tires, wipers that don’t work well, with tie rods ready to fall off when a pothole is hit. Driving in the Commonwealth reminds me of the ”Hill Street Blues” police captain standing at the lectern warning his officers “to be careful out there”.

If I were in charge of my destiny while traveling on the roads I would write to Ford, GM, VW, Toyota, Tesla too, all the vehicle manufacturers and have them invent and install a special sensor that automatically senses one’s state of mind upon entry into the driver’s seat and communicates it to other drivers. Maybe it would be a colored light that flashes green or blue indicating the driver was distracted or depressed or angry. The sensor recognizes whether the driver’s mind is preoccupied. The sensor would act like a brain imaging machine that reads the mind and brain waves of the driver and communicates that to all the other drivers on the road. (A similar machine called ”The Truth Machine” which eliminated dishonesty was found in the 1996 science fiction novel of the same name by author Jim Halperin). If this new sensor were incorporated into every vehicle I believe it would drastically cut down on traffic mishaps and fatalities.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know one’s state of mind can effect judgment. Drivers preoccupied thinking about the future or the past rather than the task at hand is common. Anyone whose been in an accident knows how one false move or misjudgment can almost instantaneously change the trajectory of one’s life, the life of one’s passengers and/or the driver and passengers of the other vehicle.

I know this to be true: I landed in the Cambridge City Hospital with a concussion after being hit by a VW bus while jaywalking at age 22. I was at fault and the driver ran a red light. I know; a few years ago when I was blinded by the sun while on a ramp driving onto Rte 495 I accidentally hit the car in front of me and thankfully no one was hurt including a toddler in the backseat. Not so lucky was an acquaintance who mindlessly opened the driver’s side door of his car without first checking his side view mirror and slammed his door into a cyclist, hurtling him and his bicycle aside, paralyzing him for life. No wonder ”The Dutch Reach” was invented by Dr. Michael Charney a lifelong cyclist himself to help prevent this kind of mishap from ever happening again. I think of that accident every time I park anywhere and open my driver side door.

Yes, driving around here is not for the faint of heart. While driving, a little civility and consciousness of one’s fellow drivers could go a long way in getting to one’s destination and back again in one piece. Invention and installation of a mind reading sensing machine is not likely any time soon. In that case I suggest we go back to to practicing more courteousness and awareness because the same lack of respect for each other experienced in other parts of society seems to be the norm while driving around here. And that’s a sobering thought.

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