Dear Tom and Ray:
I am 65 and not yet ready to become a "geezerette." My husband is two years older, and although he may look like one, he is not a geezer yet either. Except when he drives in our university town, that is. He is making me nuts. We have a couple of four-lane main drags in our town with 45-mph speed limits. He drives in the passing lane at 35 with a beatific smile on his face. Last evening, after taking my mother to supper and driving through the same residential neighborhood we always do, he drove 20 mph and commented: "That house really intrigues me. ... Hmmm, the utilities are marked there. ... That bush has bloomed twice this year." I was tempted to jump out of the car. We were going so slowly that I probably wouldn't have been hurt. This issue is not a problem on the highway. He knows exactly how much over the speed limit he can go to not get ticketed. Once in eastern Colorado, he was driving 95 in my BMW. Just to show you the kind of guy he is, this car was his 40th wedding anniversary gift to me. One Saturday we were going to the farmer's market, and I insisted on driving. When we got home, he said: "Well, you have an extra minute and a half. I hope you do something constructive with it." Ouch. My husband is a professional guy and still runs a consulting firm, works out several times a week and volunteers in a variety of places. I just don't want to drive with a geezer and have others perceive him as one! Help! — Gayle
Tom: I've got bad news for you, Gayle. Your husband is a geezer. And before all you geezers write to us and complain, please note that we use the word "geezer" as a term of endearment. Like "knucklehead."
Ray: My brother should know. He's both. But on the geezer side, his average driving speed has declined from about 42.5 mph to 15 in recent years.
Tom: Well, some things change when you get older.
Ray: Like the age range for potential dates in your personals ad, which I see you've adjusted to "48 to 108."
Tom: Well, I've noticed that at some point, my reflexes started slowing down. My eyes don't notice things quite as quickly, and my brain and body don't react to them as fast. So, in the interests of self-protection, my brain has made me drive slower, so things feel manageable.
Ray: Yeah. I don't think he made a conscious decision to slow down; I think his brain did it for him, because it was sending the message that driving faster doesn't feel safe.
Tom: As long as I'm aware of what's going on around me, and I'm not making a traffic hazard of myself (like by going 35 in the passing lane), it's fine to drive a little slower.
Ray: So I don't think you really want your hubby to speed up, Gayle. Even though he isn't saying so, I suspect he doesn't feel safe driving at normal speeds anymore. He even feels unsafe when you're driving at a higher speed, because it seems much faster to him than it used to.
Tom: Why is he fine on the highway? Well, my guess is that highway driving is easier for him. There are no turns in the road, no crossing or even oncoming traffic, no pedestrians, no parked cars, no bicyclists, no tree limbs. So it's easier for him to maintain a steady speed without the distractions.
Ray: So if you're convinced that he's cognitively OK — and it sounds like he is, from the work he's doing — and you're convinced that he's not doing this just to drive you crazy, then you want to check the basics and make sure his eyesight and hearing are where they should be.
Tom: If he passes those tests, then he's just entering geezerdom. Sorry, Gayle — it happens to all of us! Or at least those lucky enough to make it that far. In which case, you have two choices.
Ray: One is to take up meditation. That'll help you learn to accept life at his new speed. The other is to do the driving yourself when you go out together.
Tom: He's obviously developing a "stop and smell the roses" philosophy, and maybe you can sell him on the fact that he'll be freer to enjoy his surroundings since you'll be watching the road.
Ray: Right. That way, he can take note of all the bushes that bloom twice. And all the places where the utilities are marked. Good luck, Gayle. And don't forget to breathe.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)