Yesterday morning while enjoying breakfast with my wife at the local shopping mall, I saw an elderly lady returning to her car in the parking lot. What was significant was that she was pushing a shopping trolley in which there were hardly any groceries.
The disguised purpose of her trolley was obviously to provide something for her to lean on; a source of support as she struggled to walk. Sally was 89 years of age and had sadly become extremely infirm. My observation made me think! This was not the first occasion that I had watched in amazement as elderly people, not having their normal ‘walkers’ to hand, struggled back to parked vehicles, relying on the sole support of a shopping trolley.
A ‘walker’ tends to indicate a different level of infirmity than for example a wheelchair, whose occupant’s single disability is often merely their inability to walk. Many wheelchair bound are younger; their disabilities are not age-related and they normally drive purposefully adapted vehicles and as such they pose no road safety hazards. ‘Walkers’ on the other hand are normally associated with age-related health issues, including balance and stability – important abilities in respect of driving competence.
Such is their reluctance to relinquishing the steering wheel, that some elderly drivers, when visiting shopping malls, display incredible subterfuge and chameleon-like skills. They for example lean on the trolley so casually as to convince even the most observant Oscar Nomination Selector that its sole purpose is to convey the groceries; or that a competent driver is awaiting them in their vehicle. And on reaching their vehicle, they glance around furtively to ensure that other shoppers do not observe their transition from ‘walker’ to steering wheel.
Another visual clue – misplaced loyalty
Another giveaway sign is their relationship with car guards, who are often accomplices; their loyalty guaranteed by out of proportion tips… after-all having disposed of the Movicol, denture cleanser, hearing aid solvent and Viagra in their car boot – how else would they be able to park the walker (Oops! Sorry!) trolley in the designated storage bay – and then return to their vehicle unsupported? Here the giveaway sign is the width of the guards smile… and the manner in which they hover watchfully for the elderly driver’s return from SPAR, hoping that they indeed do make it safely back to the vehicle! Another telltale sign is the fact that when guiding them in their multiple attempts to reverse, car guards NEVER stand behind their vehicles. And then there is the sombre and alarming duet as they struggle to reverse out of their parking bay, a strident symphony played on two instruments – the clutch and the accelerator. However, their rendition of this Wagnerian drama – rather than eliciting audience applause, results in frowning sideways glances and grimaces from other shoppers, as well and disapproving grills with down turned edges from adjacent cars.
A final clue
And finally, a clue which cannot be ignored – a traffic officer’s cap stuck in the radiator! And don’t be taken in by their credible attempts to persuade you that while some drivers adorn their vehicles with daisies on the top of aerials and rhino horn emblems on grills – their choice of a cap is merely a symbol of their respect for traffic officers.
Were you to retrace their steps, somewhere en route to the mall, you will likely discover a traffic officer cringing bareheaded on the sidewalk; or in a hedge – visibly distraught by both their ‘near miss’ experience, and the loss of their customary shades and cap.
And for those of you who do perhaps belong to this elite Shopping Mall Driver Club – remember… if apprehended by the police, you probably no longer have the looks that used to assist you in charming traffic officers 40 years ago? So save the sweet talk – Just go quietly!
And so if you recognize that you yourself are a shopping mall driver, and that rather than using a walker – perhaps it is now time for you to become a walker? Do something about it! (And if you know of others in this situation – talk to them; or speak to meaningful role-players in their lives). Don’t wait until it’s too late!
Author, gerontologist and speaker on retirement matters
E-mail: email@example.com / Phone: 072-514 0913