"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Bigger and Badder SUVs

     My wife and I know enough not to go out on the road on New Year's Eve. But we don't always know enough not to drive when the weather gets bad.

     My wife B desperately wanted to drive up to New Jersey to see her grandkids the other day, especially since her last trip was canceled when her son and granddaughter got sick.

     But then the weather report turned bad. A storm was coming in, bringing snow overnight, then turning to rain. It was supposed to stop, so B thought she could still make the drive. But she really didn't want to be out on the highway with the trucks and the speeders and the possibly icy conditions.

      I offered to go with her. But what I really thought was that she should cancel the trip. And, finally, she did. Which was a good thing, because the rain and slush lasted throughout the entire day. It would have been a miserable and dangerous drive.

     But the honest truth is, I don't like to drive at all anymore, except maybe around town and on an occasional back road. I don't like the speeders, the tailgaters, the horn honkers, the distracted and aggressive drivers.

     The fact is, American roads are more dangerous than they have been in years, as reported in a recent CNN article This Cultural Touchstone Is Killing Far Too Many Americans

     Automobile deaths peaked in the late 1970s and stayed high through the 1980s. Then they started to go down, due largely to seatbelts, airbags and other safety measures. But starting around 2012 they began to go up again. And they've been increasing pretty steadily ever since, for the past decade.

     In 2011, a little over 32,000 Americans lost their lives in car crashes. By 2022, auto deaths rose to more than 42,000. And in 2023, when the final figures come in, deaths will almost certainly be higher than 2022.

     According to the CNN article, high and increasing vehicle fatalities are a  particularly American problem. Why? Well, there are the issues mentioned above -- speeding, tailgating, distracted driving. But another significant factor is the extra large cars and SUVs that we now drive -- vehicles that are getting larger and larger with each new model year.

SUVs keep getting bigger and badder

     Tall trucks and SUVs with blunt hoods are particularly dangerous -- 45% more likely to kill pedestrians than smaller vehicles. That's because the hoods block driver views, creating blind spots in front of the car.

     Also, SUVs are heavier than they used to be, which is especially bad news for pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and people in smaller cars. Just as an example, 2022 saw the largest number of pedestrians killed in America in more than 40 years.

     The bigger SUVs may be marginally safer for the drivers and their passengers. But they turn out to be weapons against anyone sharing the road with them. The heavier vehicles are also harder on the roads, which we all pay to maintain. And they consume more fuel which creates more pollution and drives up the price of gas.

     Maybe it's time . . . well, the answer is obvious. If government safety agencies won't do anything about it, there's no reason why we should buy or drive those big behemoths.

     Oh, also . . . school's back open, drive carefully.

Monday, November 20, 2023

How Not to Be Cool

     I was recently a guest on the podcast Awe-Inspired and Retired. We talked about all things retirement, from where we're going to live, to what we're going to do, to who we're going to do it with . . . or what we called the "three likes" of retirement.

     (You can now listen to both of the podcasts I've done using the links under "Retirement Podcasts" on the right hand side of the blog.)

     Anyway, toward the end of the conversation, hosts Caleb Miller and Riley Anderson brought up the subject of "tribes." Apparently, some of their previous guests, talking about retirement, suggested that, after we're done working and raising a family, we have to find a new place in life, find what they call a new tribe.

     Okay, that sounds reasonable.

     Or maybe retirees have more than one tribe. Actually, we all probably have different tribes in our lives -- with different people for different reasons. In my own case, I have my golf group, and my senior learning colleagues, and my "old friends" from back home. My wife and I have our couple friends. And we have, basically, two families (hers and mine, since we're both second spouses). 

     And then the hosts asked me, What's the tribe that everyone wants to be a part of? You know, the group where people are saying, "Yeah, I want to be in that tribe. I want to be with these kinds of people."

     The presumption is, maybe we feel left out of some group -- some group we think is cool -- that seems to enjoy a life that's easier, or richer, or somehow better. Maybe it's some special lunch group, or maybe the elders at church, or the crowd at the theater, or the board of the condo association. Or maybe we envy friends who retired to Florida or Arizona, or even abroad, because they are more adventurous than we are. 

     So, they asked me, is there a tribe where you say, "Gee, I wish I could join that group."

     The question made me chuckle. Because my answer is a definite: "No."

     The reason is, when I was a kid, through high school and beyond, all I wanted to do was be cool . . . be in the cool crowd. But in reality, as I've discovered over the years, the last thing you want to do is be cool. You don't want to be part of the tribe that everyone else wants to join. Instead, you want to be in your own tribe. People who you like, who do the weird things that you like to do, who accept you for who you are.

     And you do not want to be envious of some other cool people who may be richer than you, or more intellectual, or more artsy, or more sporty or more adventurous -- whether they're in town, or in church, or at the senior center, or living somewhere else. You just don't want to get into that.

     I am very anti-cool. And if you don't believe me, just ask my kids.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Choices in Retirement

     For the most part I have stopped bogging because . . . well, because I've gone on to other things. I'm more involved in my local center for learning in retirement. I've taken up pickleball. I still play golf. I do my daily back stretches and leg exercises. 

     My wife and I have noted that as we've gotten older, just taking care of ourselves seems to eat up most of our time. Going for walks, doing our physical therapy, making doctor appointments, brushing and flossing, trying to eat right, getting enough sleep . . . it's exhausting! 

     But the real reason I've cut back on my blog activities is . . . well, I don't know, I just feel like my posts were beginning to repeat themselves. Why go to all the effort just to say what I've already said before?

     However, I still do like to check in on my blogging friends now and then, to see what you all are up to. And I've kept the blog "live" just in case anyone stumbles onto the site and wants to check out my take on "health, finance, retirement, grown-up children and . . . how time flies." Some posts may be dated, but others still seem relevant and may prove helpful to someone, somehow.

     Also, over the years I have collected a number of links to websites that offer information, inspiration, research and entertainment geared to people over age 60. You'll find this list of Retirement Resources down on the right hand side of the blog, below More Grownup Voices. I've found many of these sites to be helpful, and so I encourage you to check them out.

     For travelers there's a link to Roads Scholar and National Geographic. For lifelong learners there's a link to the Osher foundation. Volunteers might find an opportunity through Volunteer Match.

     I also have some of the standard sites for seniors, such as the AARP site, links to the New York Times, U. S. News Retirement and others.

     There are also links to more offbeat sites, like the sometimes-humorous Manopause, which bills itself as a place for "men over 50 and the people who love them." 

     Another interesting site is The Legacy Project run by Karl Pillemer, professor of gerontology at Cornell University. He has interviewed more than 1500 Americans over age 70, and he shares some of their memories, wisdom and advice, all appropriate for the rest of us.

     For those who are academically inclined, I've posted a number of links to universities that sponsor research on aging and retirement. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College is one well-known resource. There are also research centers at Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Stanford, University of South Florida, University of Utah.

     So scroll down on the right to take advantage of this trove of information, all available for free. Meanwhile, if you've run across any other useful websites that will enrich our retirement lives, I hope you'll share them with us.
     One more thing. I have been interviewed on the subject of retirement by the podcast Retirement Tips Radio. (Have podcasts taken over blogging?) Anyway, you can find the link at the top of the right-hand column.

     Take care. Still hope to see you around from time to time.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Notes from the American Road

     We just got home from a road trip -- three weeks from Philadelphia to Madison, WI, then back through Canada and upstate New York to a family gathering near Boston. We drove 2,500 miles in all. Oh ... my aching back!

     Aside from the reminder about my arthritic back and knees, here are a few things I noticed about being on the road in America.

     People are still speeding. There are stretches of road in Michigan where the speed limit is 75 mph. That seems awfully fast to me. But there are plenty of places around metropolitan areas and construction zones where the speed limit is 55 mph -- and people are still driving 75 mph!

     And when some people are driving 75 in a 55 zone -- or even 65 in a 55 zone -- they're passing on the right, cutting in and out of lanes, and generally making the road less safe for all of us. They're also using up a lot of gas, and spewing out more than their share of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from their car exhaust.

     Yes, there are a lot of construction zones. That Joe Biden bi-partisan infrastructure bill is hard at work everywhere we went -- widening roads, replacing bridges, repaving streets.

     We saw a few Teslas. But by far the majority of passenger cars are actually SUVs. Most people don't seem worried about the price -- or the consumption -- of gasoline. What does this mean for our environment?

     The trees are dying. It's hard to miss all the dead trees lining our highways. Is there some connection between and trees and SUVs? I don't know. But something is wrong.

     America grows a lot of corn.  As you drive through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, you see acres and acres of corn growing in the fields. I mean . . . a lot of corn! I'm told most of it is not for human consumption, but feed for the animals. There must be a lot of cows out there, a lot of beef being consumed by the American public.

     But ya' know, red meat's not all that good for you . . . or at least, too much red meat. Maybe we'd all be better off if we cut out the middle man, skipped the cow, and just ate the corn ourselves. (I admit my bias. I love corn, especially corn-on-the-cob in the summertime.)

     The worst traffic is . . . where? My sister-in-law who lives in a Boston suburb told us that Boston has the fourth worst traffic in the world. The world! My sister-in-law is prone to exaggeration. We drove through Boston twice, and both times sailed right through, no problem. I maintained that Chicago has the worst traffic in America. I drove through Chicago in 2021. It was miserable. And I vowed never to do it again. Instead, on our way to Wisconsin, we avoided Chicago by driving to Muskegon, MI, and taking the ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. It's a fun boat ride.

View of Milwaukee from Lake Michigan

     From my experience, after Chicago, it's Washington, DC that has the worst traffic. But anyway, I looked it up. According to U. S. News, Chicago does have the worst traffic in America. Boston has the second worst. Washington, DC, comes in 8th worst.

     The worst highway traffic we found outside of cities was on Route 287 in New Jersey, and surprisingly, Routes 402 and 401 going through southern Ontario from Port Huron, MI, to Toronto. The traffic is 80% trucks. Or seems like it. We felt like an ant among elephants. 

     It's expensive to travel! We like to stay in a Hampton Inn. It's the cheapest nice hotel, I like to say. On last year's trip to Wisconsin, the various Hampton Inns were averaging about $120 a night, plus taxes. On this trip, they averaged $190 a night, plus taxes. That's more than a 50% increase in one year. Our nightly hotel bill was typically over $200. (We stayed in an Airbnb for a week in Wisconsin; that wasn't cheap either.)

     The other thing is that for the extra money, you get less service. Admittedly, it's hard for hoteliers to get people to work for them. Still, the hotels were not as clean or as well-kept-up as they were last year. Our Hampton Inn in Muskegon had mildew in the shower, caulking that was falling apart, a refrigerator they had neglected to plug in, a scaled-back breakfast . . . and for that they charged $195 + tax for a total of $216.47. 

     In Canada I had booked the wrong day, and when I went to change the reservation I was told: You missed the cancellation deadline. They charged us the full amount for the extra night. So we stayed one night, but had to pay for two. Arghh!

     Was it all worth it? Of course. My credit-card bill will be astronomical. But I got to spend time with my daughter and granddaughter in Wisconsin. We saw old friends in Canada, another friend in Buffalo, and we got to attend the 80th birthday party of my brother-in-law in Boston. Travel is rewarding. It's an adventure. It can be fun. But it's not for the faint of heart.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Never Say Never

     My intention was to close down this blog (see my May 2023 post "Last Lines"), because I've written around 1200 posts, and -- good grief! -- how much can we say about Baby Boomers, retirement, or our personal lives?

     But never say never. I have a few more topics that could addressed . . . including a particular medical procedure that I last suffered through about five years ago. And after that humiliation, I said I'd never do that again!

     Well, here I am five years later, and guess what? I found myself lying on my side on a cold hospital bed, after a full day at home in the bathroom cleaning out my system. Yes, I was getting another colonoscopy.

     I've read that when you get to a certain age, they stop giving you a colonoscopy, because the reason for a colonoscopy is to find pre-cancerous polyps and get rid of them. But polyps are apparently slow-growing beasts. Once you reach age 75 or so, and you're still clean, they figure something else will get you first, even if you do get a cancerous polyp in your colon. I figure I might have one more colonoscopy to go.

     On the other end of the age spectrum, they recommend you start getting colonoscopies at age 50. In my case, I managed to delay year and had my first test -- it was actually a sigmoidoscopy -- at age 51. A sigmoidoscopy (which I don't believe they do anymore) does not use any anesthetic (yes, it hurts!), and only looks at the last few feet of your colon, where polyps are mostly likely to grow.

     When my doctor first told me about this, I was horrified. I couldn't believe that anyone would do that to me! I rushed home and called my parents, who were alive at the time. Had they ever heard of this? "Oh, yeah, sure," they responded off-handedly. "We go in every few years. The doctor usually finds something. He cuts it out, and we go about our lives. No big deal."

     Well, the doctor did find a polyp in that sigmoidoscopy. He then made me come back for a full colonoscopy. So with those two procedures, I had quite the initiation. Then I had to go back again three years later. Fortunately, that test was clean, and so I was then given a five-year reprieve.

     Now I've been through several colonoscopies. In one way this current test was easier. Instead of the gallons of dreadful-tasting drink they used to make me gag down, they prescribed two rounds of pills, chased with a couple of quarts of water over the course of an hour and a half.

     But in another way it was harder. My procedure was scheduled for 8 a.m. That meant I had to start round one at 5 p.m. the day before. Then I had to do the second round starting at 2 a.m.

     So the bottom line (forgive the pun): I was awake most of the night. But here's the thing. If I had never had my original tests, the polyp that started growing when I was 51 would probably have killed me by now. So I credit my doctor for saving my life all those years ago.

     Colon cancer is the second most common cancer killer in America today. It typically begins with the growth of a polyp, small abnormal tissue that can appear on mucus membranes. Most are benign. Some can eventually progress to cancer, but it is a slow process that usually takes five to ten years.

     The symptoms of cancer include a change in bowel habits, bleeding, anemia, bloating or unexplained fatigue. But the sneaky thing about colon cancer (like a lot of other cancers) is that the symptoms often don't show up until it's too late. So the trick is to catch it early, before symptoms show up.

     There is one non-invasive test that detects blood in the stool long before it becomes visible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, the test is not very accurate. But if you do test positive for blood, or for anyone over age 50, doctors typically recommend going the next step, which is the colonoscopy.

     There are variations on the procedure. One option is the virtual colonoscopy, done with computer imaging -- but the more recommended method involves a doctor snaking a thin tube equipped with a camera and a cutting instrument up the length of your colon. If there's a polyp . . . snip, snip, and it's gone. The procedure is done with minimal risk. Or, as the nurse in the hospital room told me, "I like this assignment, because nobody dies here."

     That was a relief. Anyway, Medicare pays for most of the procedure, especially if you have supplemental insurance like AARP United Health Care.

     So, proving that human beings can get used to almost anything, the colonoscopy has become a regular routine for me (for my wife, too). And judging by how crowded the medical office was, it's become routine for a lot of other older people as well.

     If you want to know more about colonoscopy you can check out information at the Mayo Clinic or Web MD. Meanwhile, I hope I haven't been too flip about what is really a serious disease. But, hey . . . at least I didn't include a photo!