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I hated giving up my car, but found a new kind of freedom at a slower pace

First person

I get around

A car is freedom. A car is independence. But I've traded all that in for something more my speed, 90-year-old John Fisher writes

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I recently gave up driving. I passed my test last year, but I stopped voluntarily. I turned 90. It was time.

Needless to say, my family was relieved. They don't have to have "that talk" with Dad. My doctor was relieved, too. Next to diagnosing an incurable illness, taking away a senior's driving licence is probably one of the hardest things he has to do. As a widower, I made this decision alone, although I'm sure my late wife would have approved. I knew my reflexes were slowing down. My peripheral vision was deteriorating. It hurt to turn my head when backing up, and, after lengthy shopping trips, I was exhausted. I had already stopped driving at night and I avoided the 400-series highways. It was time.

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As I handed over the keys of my 2013 Honda Civic to my son, I thought of all the cars my wife and I had owned over the years. It was like a mental archaeological dig. Every car represented a stage in our 56-year marriage that began in Calgary in 1952. Our first car was a 1936 Ford Coupe convertible we bought for the princely sum of $300. It had a rumble seat and a canvas top that required two people to operate it. With a V-8 engine and mechanical brakes, it was hopelessly overpowered and it became a standard joke in our family that a good day was when I didn't go off the road, or get laid off.

As our fortunes improved, a house was built, children came along and we became part of the great postwar baby boom period. We traded up to a 1949 Ford Meteor and toured Western Canada. In 1959, we bought a brand new Vauxhall station wagon and began our camping expeditions. For a while, we were a two-car family when we bought a 1963 Pontiac convertible, with red vinyl seats and our first automatic transmission. American Motors seduced us with a new 1968 Nash Rambler, and when that conked out, it was replaced with a bright red Datsun station wagon as we were building a house in the country and needed better cargo capacity. We had a brief romance with a British-made Austin, but it quickly rusted into oblivion and was replaced by a sturdy Subaru, which took us into early retirement to run a B&B in Prince Edward County, Ont.

Wintering in Florida, we needed something more comfortable for long trips, so a Dodge Lanser hatchback entered our lives and stayed with us for 240,000 kilometres. When we truly retired, we traded that for a Plymouth Breeze, and then a long-term relationship with Honda Civics began. As our lives changed, our cars changed to match.

A car is freedom. A car is independence. A car is an extension of your personality, and without one, you seem somehow diminished. I miss my car like hell. No doubt about that.

I have a son who lives close by and we shop together at least once a week. Good friends also offer me rides, and bless them for that, but the idea of being dependent on other people after a lifetime of independence is hard to take.

I've learned to adapt and change. With my own car, I could take off at a moment's notice. My car also acted like a giant purse: It carried an extra coat, cough candies, sunglasses, water bottle, shopping bags and my own music. I rarely used the umbrella stored in the trunk. But now, my horizons have shrunk and I must plan ahead for everything, from grocery shopping to medical appointments. No more "popping out" for milk or bread or impetuous afternoon drives. No more lengthy trips to shopping malls to search for bargains. I've discovered Amazon and online shopping.

I still get around. Last year, I decided on a nice new four-wheel electric scooter. It's my convertible for life in the slow lane. At a top speed of 12 km/h, it now takes 20 minutes to get to a grocery store. And I'm lucky to live in small town where the old rail trail goes right past my back door. My route is free from traffic and noise, with trees and shrubs making a path of greenery. I sail along with my Canadian flag and DayGlo reflective jacket draped over the back of the seat. It's a necessary precaution. When I am back on the city streets, the last thing a distracted motorist expects to see is me bobbing up on my scooter.

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At 12 km/h, you get to smell the flowers and freshly cut grass. You can hear birds sing. You get to talk to people who jog by, walk their dogs or ride their bikes. You see more. You learn to slow down. Better yet, you sail past gas stations where frustrated motorists are filling up with ever increasing gas prices, and you smile indulgently as they make feeble jokes about the mileage I'm getting. Oh, sweet revenge.

The winter is another story, of course. I have to leave my trusty scooter safely in storage and plugged in until the snow is gone and the weather gives me back my freedom. The first day of spring is clearly marked on my calendar and I dream of sunny days and new adventures. Without a car, you pay more attention to public transit, or lack of it. You rely on volunteer drivers and taxis. You come to terms with the aging process.

Giving up driving is a state of mind, and some of us never accept the loss and let it colour our lives. I refuse to do that. For me, it's the culmination of a long and lucky life. Life in the slow lane is turned out to be so much fun, and so much cheaper!

John Fisher lives in Collingwood, Ont.

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