Did you ever have your self-imaged abruptly changed?
You know; you're going along minding your own business, thinking of yourself as you usually do (in my case, as a middle-aged man in pretty good shape and not all that bad-looking), and some stranger addresses you as "Gramps?"
No, it didn't happen to me quite that way. Let me explain.
On Halloween I had just picked up my brand new hybrid car (see post below). Sure, the salesman at the dealership showed us all the features including how to sync up my bluetooth-capable cell phone with the car's hands-free phone system (a pretty slick setup!) But I hadn't had time to really internalize or practice finding the different controls and using them. So I was busy checking out features while driving instead of paying attention to driving.
It was dark, and I was on the same stretch of road where I had hit the deer a few weeks ago. I didn't feel as if I was driving fast at all, and activated the cruise control while Carol and I played with the ambient lighting selector. Within a minute the red and blue lights of a highway patrol cruiser were flashing behind me. I immediately pulled over. The car was quiet, engine off.
The trooper approached on the passenger side and tapped on the window. I had been waiting for him to come to the driver side. I fumbled around for what seemed like forever trying to find the button to lower the electric window on Carol's side of the car.
He grinned patiently, and then introduced himself and asked if I had my driver's license and proof of insurance (a requirement in Texas). I told him I had JUST picked up the car, was still trying to figure out all the features, and confessed I hadn't been watching my speed. He politely explained that he'd clocked me at 62 in a 55 zone.
We discussed the fact that I DID have proof of insurance, but only because the dealer had asked me to phone my insurance company and request them to fax over a copy. In the middle of that discussion the car . . . Well, the car screeched at me!
This horrible, LOUD "R-R-R-R-E-E-E-E" noise made me jump, and the trooper jerked his head back from the window. Carol and I looked at each other in confusion. The car did it again; "R-R-R-R-E-E-E-E!" The trooper then said (a bit condescendingly, I thought), "THAT's your phone."
OH! YEAH! The salesman had synched it to the car, and now the whole CAR was ringing!
Well, I had no idea how to answer it! (I now know there's a button on the steering wheel, but at the time . . .) I grabbed at the phone itself and started pushing buttons. All I wanted was for the car to stop screeching. It did, and the trooper again waited patiently while I said, "It's my daughter."
I turned to the phone and said in haste, "I can't talk now. I'll call you back and explain." Then I hung up on her.
The trooper said he would go back to his car and just write me a warning. I thanked him, feeling like a total idiot. But it wasn't over yet. As he walked back toward his car, my engine started! (Remember, this is a hybrid. When you stop, the gasoline engine stops. But if you have the air conditioning on, eventually the engine starts and will run a while to power the compressor for the A/C.)
I quickly shut it off and sat there, face burning. Carol was reminding me that when you are stopped by the police you are supposed to shut off your engine and leave it off, or else they are likely to think you're going to drive away. When the trooper came back with my warning we apologized for the engine starting and told hime we hadn't intended to start it, that it just started by itself because I'd forgotten to turn off the key, and . . .
He smiled and held up his hand. "I understand," he said. "It'll do that every time you stop at a light, too. That's the way they work. That's one of the ways they save gas."
At this point I REALLY felt like an idiot. And I knew HE thought I was an idiot, too.
He asked us where we were going. We told him straight home. He nodded and said, "Good. Please drive safe."
As he walked away I think I saw myself through his eyes. And what I saw was a gray-haired man approaching senility, with little command of anything the least bit technical or mechanical. An old fella who ought to be in bed once the sun went down.
Now that is NOT me! But it was an ugly reality check regardless, to realize that people might see me that way.
Getting old sucks, but it probably beats checking out early! (Hey, at least he took pity and only wrote me a warning!)