Falling Down: will we know when it’s time to call it quits?

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Us older folks’ limitations and their impact on our ability to do our jobs is a hot topic these days, and on Sunday, it got personal.

Thankfully my geezerly gaffe was visible only to the few dozen who attended my band’s performance in a small, wonderful saloon in Pioneertown, California, and the only permanent damage was to my ego. The stakes were very low.

As the band and I were near the end of the last song of our second of three sets at the glorious Red Dog Saloon, I took a step back on the tiny stage and my heel hit the base of our drummer’s kick drum. My momentum carried me back, and before I knew it, I was falling. In a futile effort to defeat gravity and stay upright, I grabbed hold of a few things on my way down. It was a slow-motion fall, in stages, which added to its comedic appeal. In the end I was on my back amid a tangle of cables, mic stands, various drums and cymbals, with my guitar aloft, apparently the result of some subconscious involuntary reaction designed to save the fragile instrument from being crushed by my not insignificant heft.

Nothing was broken, in me or onstage, thankfully.

I’d stumbled during a performance before, but this was the first time I’d hit the deck. I imagine if someone had been taking video it would have gone viral by now, likely under the title “Old musician, meet Father Time,” or something funnier.

As I lay there flat on my back the thought entered my brain that perhaps this was a glimpse into my future.

After disentangling myself, gathering most of my wits, and with a hand from our one-armed (!) soundman, I was back on my feet and facing a wildly cheering crowd, who were apparently quite entertained by my awkward acrobatics. I went with the flow, attempted a self-deprecating one-liner, and took a much needed break.

I was a bit frazzled as we dug into our last set about 20 minutes later, but eventually found my footing and we finished the show.

In the days since I’ve wondered when I’ll truly be unable to get up there and do that job, or this one. My grandfather kept driving into his 90s even after it became clear his depth perception was faltering. Thankfully his late model Cadillac had excellent suspension because he was making left turns over medians on a regular basis. I came to realize his independence — driving, working, taking care of his house — was essential to who he was. As he put it to me a few years earlier, “You have to have someone who’s depending on you when you get up in the morning.”

But at 91 he had to face the fact that he was just not capable of driving any longer. His immobility hit him hard. It was the first time I’d seen him depressed. It was jarring, but I understood. One late summer afternoon we were sitting on the back porch of his house (now mine) and I asked him what was troubling him. This once tall, strapping, imminently capable man, now shrunken and unsteady, said,  “I just feel so puny.” It was a gut punch. “Puny” was a word I had never associated with him in any way. He was larger than life, but not in a loud “life of the party” way. It was much better than that; he was just a good man, the best man I’ll ever know, in fact. Not long after that afternoon he tripped on a garden hose, took a tumble in the back yard, and busted his hip. Within weeks he was in assisted living. He never returned home.

This week I’ve wondered if I will have the strength to walk away before being flat on my back onstage becomes a regular thing. I like to think I will. The trick seems to be in knowing when the job is better left to someone with more vigor and better balance. I had my first glimpse of what it’s like to have a crowd wonder if I’m okay up there. That little delay between the laughter and applause, when I imagine a few folks thought to themselves, “Is this guy dying?” certainly gave me pause. I shrugged it off, and in the end it was okay, but that feeling of being so nakedly vulnerable remains.

President Biden’s recent troubling and heartbreaking cognitive display has everyone questioning his acuity, and thinking about what it takes to be president. Obviously, the stakes of my little show are less than insignificant when compared to the job of President of the United States. But the dilemma is the same: when is enough, enough? When do we admit to ourselves that we’re diminished to the point of being ineffective, even if it’s just on our “bad days”? Is it when we’re driving over medians and our people are having emergency group chats about how to break it to grandpa that he’s got to turn over his car keys?

We’re all heading to that place where we’ll rely on others to help us navigate our later years. I hope to arrive with grace, at least a little more than I showed Sunday. Hold ‘em or fold ‘em: it’s a tricky call sometimes.

Space Car report: one year later

I’m now a year into a leap into the unknown world of the electric car, and am glad to report I remain very pleased with my 2023 Hyundai Kona Electric. After upgrading my home’s electric panel to accommodate the quick 240 volt charger, a learning curve involving creating accounts with charging station providers and allowing for the possibility of sometimes waiting for an open space, I’ve had zero trouble adapting to this newfangled way of doing things. I’ve driven the Kona to Las Vegas (one stop in Baker to recharge on the way out, one stop in Barstow on the return trip), Pioneertown (there and back on one charge), and Ventura (there and back on one charge) with no issues whatsoever.

Prior to making the leap, I had spent about $300 a month on gas, plus oil changes and regular maintenance on my Volvo XC90. As expected, going electric has caused my SCE bill to jump by about 40%. But maintenance on the Kona has thus far been minimal to nonexistent, just tire rotations and computer updates. No oil changes. No timing belt. No catalytic converters. None of those costly repairs that ultimately caused me to ditch the Volvo. The net result has been a savings of roughly $100 per month.

And I gotta say driving right on past hundreds of gas stations for a year has been pretty great.

So if you’re on the fence about ditching your gas motor, I’m here to tell you it’s doable. If this old dude pulled it off, you can too.


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