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Attack of the Shadow People

Michael Grady | Feb 10, 2014, midnight

OK, I’m going to sound old now.

I’ve been trying to avoid this. There’s a subtle self-consciousness that settles over you once you reach the far side of 40: “Don’t say anything that betrays your age,” it tells you, “Don’t gripe about progress. Don’t lament the current era or compare it with a previous one. Don’t complain about new-fangled inventions and don’t EVER use the word ‘newfangled.’”

You don’t want to be perceived as a geezer. Because, once you are, there’s no going back. Break off a single, “In my day…” and perceptually, people put you over by the pickle barrel with a checkerboard, a spittoon, and a pinch of tobacky.

That’s why many of us middle-aged folk choose our observations carefully. We accept popular culture’s never-ending and infantile obsession with superhero movies and video games. We pretend not to notice the Grammy Awards are now weird enough to resemble the “Star Wars” cantina. We accept the emergence of reality stars and the odd cable show-public disgrace-gossip magazine eco-system they live in—because, these are just societal trends. They come and go. And, as long as “Seinfeld” is in reruns, who cares?

But when a societal trend almost crushes you, you realize the label of “old” isn’t really so bad if the only other choice is “dead.”

Let me hitch up my geezer pants and explain:

The other day, I was driving down the highway when, for some unknown reason, the car in the adjacent lane seemed intent on killing me. We’ve all experienced this, to some degree: the mystery car, shouldering ever-closer; crossing the white line—forcing you to weave and swear and cozy up to the howling 18-wheeler on the other side. And suddenly a routine errand has become the chariot race from “Ben-Hur.”

So you manage to cheat death with a defensive maneuver or two. Then, when you pass the offending driver and you look across, what do you see? Not the apologetic wave of shame. No circumstantial explanation—like a wobbly steering wheel or a badger loose in the vehicle. No, this driver is on the phone. This person, unrepentant and unaware, is still absorbed in the conversation that almost killed you.

Why are people allowed to talk and text on their phones when they drive?

If getting behind the wheel with three vodkas in your bloodstream is a crime, why is driving one-handed, with an interactive distraction in the other, a good idea? Is this Natural Selection at work? Did nature create cell phones and texting as a way for our species to thin its own herd? Or did God just say, “People drive too well, now. They need more of a challenge”?

I’m all for progress and mobile access and the “American Way” and whatever. But I don’t want to end up in the morgue, the victim of a phone-happy teenager, who died between choruses of: “You hang up!” and “No, you hang up!”

Twice in one year, my wife was hit by drivers who were talking or texting at the time. On the second occasion, the driver got out of his car and actually told the cop: “Sorry, I just got this new phone and I was texting.”

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