In our increasingly youth-centered culture, those who are fifty-years-old and older often hide or play down their age, all while worrying about their waning status in society. A member of that group myself, I certainly feel this divide. Recently, however, I was reminded of the power the elderly can exude. Before venturing into this story, I just want to clarify that it contains no violence and that it is based on the unexpected hutzpah of a quintessential New York character.
The story actually begins last night over dinner with a divorced father and friend. Both single parents, we were sharing the sagas of parenting teenagers on our own. While couples have the benefit of experiencing such scenarios together, we single parents are on our own and periodically need to seek out each other’s company for a sympathetic ear, commiseration and advice.
At one point, our conversation veered toward the surprising and infuriating viewpoint held by some youth who consider the middle-aged population beyond the point of engaging and enjoying in life’s pleasures and follies, such as dancing, having sex, following passions and just getting a little crazy every now and then. It’s as if we should be ready for La-Z-Boys chairs and soft food. Of course, this viewpoint is not held by all youngsters, and advertising has a lot to do with it in the first place, but regardless, it is an opinion I find disappointing, insulting, upsetting and downright incredulous. When I was a teenage, I remember thinking of my parents as older, but not old. And anyway, they proved me wrong so many times with their get-up-and-go that I eventually stopped thinking about it, and then I hit middle age myself.
Yesterday morning, I was reminded me of the fire and power the elderly can exhibit. We all need to be reminded of that, and in these times more than ever. I had run to catch the Saturday morning train to get downtown for my favorite yoga class, but discovered that my subway stop was closed for the weekend. I would need to take a shuttle bus to the closest working train, which meant taking a bus and then a train, which would make the trip much longer than usual. Begrudgingly, I took my place in the line for the bus with the other disgruntled customers headed to lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
A bus soon came, but it was packed. There was no available seating, and only a little standing room left. I managed with a few others to squeeze inside (my yoga classes are essential). Sardines in a can, we had to hold on as the bus rocked and rumbled past illegally parked cars, garbage trucks and traffic lights controlling the heavy Saturday traffic. Realizing during this slow going that I was most likely going to miss my class, I found myself swearing under my breath, and I was not alone.
After what seemed like an eternity of stops and starts, the 96th Street subway station on Broadway was finally in sight, with just three remaining blocks to go. We were stopped at a traffic light when a little old lady hunched over a walker rolled past the front of the bus to position herself by our door. We were not at a bus stop, and we were not even a regular bus, but she wanted in.
The driver motioned that he would not open the door. He ignored her and looked straight ahead, but she was not deterred. Determined to get her way, she changed tactics, rolling her walker into the middle of the street, right in front of the bus and directly in front of the driver and then put on an intense stare. The light turned green, but we didn’t move and she continued to stare him down. Fortunately, he remained calm and composed. He did not beep his horn. He simply picked up the phone to call for assistance.
Meanwhile, the passengers, including myself, just wanted to get off the bus. A routine 7-minute train ride had become a 25-minute bus ride and we still had to get the train. We couldn’t move forward and there was no way the driver was going to open the door to let us off. We were being hold hostage! There was a little complaining, but I think most of us were completely stunned by the actions and hutzpah of the older woman.
This unspoken communication between her and the driver continued for a few more minutes until a younger woman, obviously having the seen the lady blocking the bus and the traffic behind us came over to help. She assisted the older woman out of the middle of the street, and stopped the traffic in the open lane next to us so that the woman could make it to the sidewalk.
Shortly afterwards, the bus driver got us to the station, and I made my train, knowing that I wouldn’t make my class. But I had a story and a reminder not to underestimate the elderly. Our hostage taker had stood face to face with our driver and wheel to walker with the bus. We can call it determination or even madness — in both senses of the word — but she made her point.