The Streetcar I Desire

new orleans streetcar

Barring something unforeseen, I will be turning 65 tomorrow. I will spend most of  the day driving to New Orleans where I’ll be doing some business next week and occasionally popping into the Bouchercon host hotel (as well as assisting Jim Born with his excellent Weaponry panel at 9:00A on Saturday September 17, for both of the attendees who do not drink even when they’re in The Crescent City). The major milestone for me, however, will be riding New Orleans’ iconic streetcar line…for 40 cents a ride. Senior citizens in New Orleans get to do that.

An elderly friend told me that getting older is actually like aging in reverse. When you’re just a few years old people are constantly taking things away from you or putting them out of reach, a practice which we now call “childproofing,” You get trusted incrementally with objects, privileges and responsibilities until one day you wake up and you’ve got a whole collection of those, which include but are not limited to driving and automobiles, jobs, voting, drinking, military service, intimacy, and child rearing. You think you’re overdue for most of them by the time you get them, but the truth is that you’re probably not ready. Experience is the best teacher, however, and we all muddle through a continuum that runs between success and disaster and all points in between.

After several decades, though, things begin to change. People start taking things and choices away from you again. The guy at the hardware superstore asks if you need help carrying any purchase that weighs more than a pack of light bulbs. Your children think that you have early dementia if you are unable to keep their schedule and yours straight without a calendar. The question “How is work?” is replaced with “When are you retiring?”. Your first birthday congratulations at 65 is from the federal government: it’s a red, white and blue Medicare card. And that driver’s license that was so important to obtain five decades ago is possibly only an accident or three from being retired. As for me…everything still works. I can carry an old-fashioned microwave up two flights of stairs without sustaining a heart attack (though it was a very near thing). I can drive nine hundred miles in one day (though I’m split it up out of caution). Things aren’t being taken away from me yet, even though I am more  Mickey Donovan than Harry Coombes at this point. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I am going to ride those streetcars next week —on every line I can — for 40 cents a trip like they are a pack of 3-dollar government mules.

So let’s open it up. What was your favorite birthday celebration? Do you have a tradition? What would you like to do, but haven’t had the fortitude or the ability to do, at least at this point in your life?


45 thoughts on “The Streetcar I Desire

  1. Happy birthday, Joe! Wishing you a year filled with joy, laughter, great food, huge success, and so much love it’ll feel like your heart might explode.

    We have a card tradition that we do for all holidays and birthdays, where we recycle the ones from previous years by adding the date to the back and a new sentiment inside. It’s so cool to see how many years have passed and reminisce about previous years, because we always include something about that particular year. As a whole, the cards are akin to a journal of our lives together.

    • First! Thank you, Sue, for your good wishes and sharing the card tradition. That’s a great idea, and I’m sure that many of us here will begin doing that or something like it in the future, thanks to you.

      Ummm…at my age, my heart exploding from any number of causes is always a possibility. I think of St. Augustine’s prayer for chastity — “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet, please!” and apply it to mortality. Fingers crossed! Thanks again!

  2. Happy Birthday, Joe! Have a great and productive time in NO. I’m a year and a couple of days behind you. I can identify with what you’re going through. The other day I had to give my hair color as gray for the first time. (What’s left is gray.) I spent my 20th birthday in a bar in Udon Thani, Thailand. By all accounts it was pretty memorable.

    • Lance, re: the hair…with me it was a race to see whether it would fall out or turn gray first. I solved that problem with a razor.

      I am surprised at all of the guys I know who 1) have celebrated a birthday in Thailand and 2) can’t remember anything else about that birthday. Welcome to the list.

      Thanks for stopping by, Lance, and for the good wishes.

  3. Happy Birthday Joe!
    Wishing you the strength and passion of Clete Purcel, the wit and resilience of John Corey, and the health and “un-chasteness” of ‘Win’ Lockwood lll. ?
    Great post! All the best to you!

    • Thank you so much, Tom! Very kind of you. I think I’ve got Clete down (I’ve actually had people ask me if I’m Clete!), I’m halfway there with regard to John Corey, and I’m taking the fifth on Win Lockwood III. All best to you!

  4. Happy birthday, Joe! What a lovely way to spend your day!
    With the speed that the years are whizzing past, we usually have a quiet family dinner for our ‘in-between’ birthdays…i’m just a couple of years behind you, so party hats and balloons don’t have the same thrill 🙂 My husband and I like to celebrate the milestone birthdays. I’ve had a surprise party for him and then he planned a big party for me for my 60th. There had been others planned, but my birthday day in early April is subject to surprise snowstorms, so not all have come to pass!

    • Thank you, Julie! I’m not a big party guy, so we’re having a very quiet celebration here (courtesy Tim Hortons…yum). I’m sorry to hear that yours gets snowed in or out on occasion…next time that happens, you could make up for it in early October, six months later on your half-birthday. Hope all goes well on your day! All best.

  5. Happy birthday, Joe! You’re just a couple of years behind me, so I know how you feel. My birthday is November 27th, so growing up it was a constant source of conflict for our family. I was involved in a church youth group that had annual conventions over Thanksgiving weekends. My mother, whose religious views were derived from the religion section of the National Enquirer, always complained that I missed the family time over my birthday. (Trust me I wanted to miss it.)

    As an adult, my second daughter was born on my birthday. Our birthdays now fall on Thanksgiving about every four years, so we try to get together to celebrate. She lives in Florida, and sometimes I go there, but usually she comes here to Missouri.

    A few years ago I had a trip to the Grand Canyon booked with a helicopter flight over the canyon on my birthday. Alas, I was in a car accident just before that and was unable to make the trip. That would be my dream birthday. Maybe some day…

    • Thanks Dave. I’m sorry that your trip got ruined because of the accident…however, if you had to have an accident, better to have one on the ground as opposed to in the helicopter.

      “The religion section of the National Enquirer…” what a great line. I’m gonna write that one down.

      It’s interesting that you and your daughter have the same birthday. Dave, my man, that’s the sign of a guy who knows what he’s doing :-). Congratulations to you both!

  6. Happy Birthday!

    When I read this part: “The guy at the hardware superstore asks if you need help carrying any purchase that weighs more than a pack of light bulbs” I was thinking–glad to know there’s someone out there with customer service in mind, regardless of the reason. LOL!

    • Thank you BK. I don’t think that they’re so much concerned about customer service as they are about potential litigation if I keel over in the airlock exit! All best.

  7. I turned 65 last November and I love it. (except for losing my treasured 20-10 vision and some aches and pains that can be controlled with Aleve).

    Medicare has been a godsend. (I have free gym membership now and got to resume yoga classes!). I get free Cokes at Wendy’s. I am freed from the tyranny of young men’s expectations. (no make-up, no bra even if I so declare!) and I have learned to not give a flying rat fart what anyone thinks except those I love.

    Happy 65th Joe! Have a great time in NOLA. Hoist a celebratory glass in honor of many many more happy years.

    • Thanks so much Kris! I didn’t know about the free cokes. Interestingly enough, the worst Wendy’s in the United States is on one of the NOLA street car lines so I may try my luck with that. Sorry we won’t see you at B-Con. Enjoy your 65th year and your 66th even more!

  8. I think an older woman has a slightly different experience, perhaps because chivalry still exists, but the biggest difference in my experience is that older women become invisible to men.

    To a certain extent, this is welcome because it’s wonderful not to be looked at as merely a sexual object, as so often (but not always) happens. (To women whom men consider attractive… I imagine that women who don’t fit the traditional norms of female pulchritude have lived with being invisible most of their lives.)

    But I think we older folk, regardless of gender, also become invisible, as if we’re uninteresting or don’t have much to add or have much life or fun left in us. If only the younger folk knew, right? (Some do, of course.)

    Enjoy the freedom that comes with aging gracefully, and keep your fingers crossed that you’ll be relatively healthy and relatively financially secure in your “retirement.” (Writers rarely retire, and apparently we live longer than others with different occupations.)

    All the best on your birthday and on every day forward.

    • Thank you, Sheryl. I think older people do become invisible to younger ones, which is why we shouldn’t hesitate to kick up our heels and raise our voices if we need to be noticed. If it creates a problem, we can blame it on our age. Yippee! This is going to be a great year. Thanks again for the good thoughts.

    • Sheryl, I know exactly what you mean about being invisible. I started noticing it in my late forties, and it has gotten worse. I suppose it is truly the nature of things–literal nature (given that humans are programmed for breeding), along with our cultural standards of beauty. Like you, it has made me think recently about all the people in our society who are so often invisible for reasons of class, race, age, disability, etc. I suppose I’m grateful for having had a lovely, long season of feeling visible. But it also makes me feel a bit ashamed for us all.

      • Wearing a pushup bra brings women back into highly visible focus, no matter what age they are. I learned this recently the hard way. 🙂

  9. Good morning, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Joe!

    I’m with you, on the taking away things and privileges. About a year ago, I needed to add cheaters to read. I was still wearing contacts. I tried perching the glasses on the end of my nose so I didn’t have to take them on and off. The first patient I saw that morning glanced at me, and said, “Hmm. Do I need to be looking for a new doctor.” I quickly took them off.

    I don’t have any birthday traditions worth mentioning. At our age, my wife and I try to not keep track of the years, agree to not buy each other gifts, and just share a quiet meal and a movie together. Oh, how boring we’ve become.

    Have a good and safe trip to New Orleans. Tell us about your wild adventures in a future post. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    • Thanks you so much Steve! I’m totally with you on the boring stuff. Boring is good. That is perhaps the ultimate conclusion of wisdom (and doesn’t necessarily contradict my comment to Sheryl, above). As far as glasses go…don’t hate me, please, but my vision is actually improving, for some reason. I have worn glasses from the time that I was eight years old but discovered in the last five or so years that I can read, etc. without them. And now, I can even drive better without glasses than with them. We’ll have to see what BMV says, however.

      As far as that patient goes, if they wondered if they would need to be looking for another doctor, it is obvious to me that THEY needed glasses!

      Thanks again and have a great day!

  10. When I was 39, I had never flown on a commercial airline, I’d never travelled on my own, and I’d never been to New York City. I decided that if I had to turn 40, it would be in NYC. I booked my first flight ever and went to visit a dear friend who lives in the East Village. I attended the Greenwich Village Hallowe’en Parade and took a ride around Central Park in a horsedrawn-carriage with a horse named Colin and a driver named Eric, if my memory is correct. It was the perfect birthday holiday.

    Now, I try to get to NYC every couple of years, and I made sure I was there for my 50th birthday (I didn’t get to watch the parade that year, though, as I sprained my ankle and fell down a flight of stairs). I’ll probably be there for my 60th birthday, too.

  11. Thank you for the kind wishes, BJ and particularly for sharing your story, which is extremely interesting. Have a safe and terrific visit to New York on your 60th!

  12. Happy Birthday, dear Joe! Can’t wait to give you a birthday hug in NOLA!

    Fourteen years ago, I celebrated my 40th birthday for a month, with a (very tame) celebration in Las Vegas with my sisters, and a later trip to San Francisco where I spent $400 on fancy nightgowns and lingerie at the Nordstrom’s there. I was glad I celebrated in a big way, bc I haven’t much been in the mood to celebrate lately. Mostly I’m just happy to wake up each new birthday and see my dear, old bedroom ceiling. xx

    • Thank you Laura; you have given me something to look forward to! New Orleans is a great town in which to celebrate living, 24 – 7, birthdays and otherwise. Looking forward to seeing you there. There’s a new story waiting on every street corner…safe journeys.

  13. Have a very happy birthday. I think my biggest milestone was turning 40. Saying I was 39 always made it sound as if I were lying or pulling a Jack Benny. 40 was real. My next birthday, in just under 6 months, will be 70, and I imagine it will be a quiet celebration, as we’re up in a remote area and I’ve come to enjoy the reclusive life.

    My annual physicals now include lots of questions about aging — Dr: “Have you experienced any unusual falls?” Me: “No, just the usual kind.” And I get the memory questions: “I’m going to tell you three words.” And then he asks what they were, and I feed back the 3 words we’d been drilling my Alzheimer afflicted father on in prep for his own exam. And “Draw a clock with all the numbers and the hands pointing to ten minutes after 11.”

    My parents turned 90 in the last 2 years, and I sometimes I thing about what I might be doing for the next 20 years — with mixed feelings.

    • Thank you very much, Terry. I am familiar with that clock test, which will no longer be valid in twenty years or so because they don’t teach the kids how to tell time via analog; it’s all digital.

      Happy 70 to you! I totally get the reclusive life. I have a home office and I sometimes don’t leave the immediate neighborhood for three or four days. It doesn’t really bother me, and I don’t have a problem with leaving, but I was never one of those people who went stir-crazy, as they say. Enjoy each day and thanks again.

      • My 9 year old grandson spent Labor Day weekend with us and said they were learning to tell time on analog clocks in his 3rd grade class. It’s not lost yet! (And when I see a digital clock, if it’s past the 30-minute mark, I have to visualize the hands on an analog clock to internalize what time it really is.)

        • Thanks, Terry, that’s great news about the analog clocks. I hope they start teaching sundials again as well!

  14. Happy Birthday Joe! I’m interested in the comments about invisibility. When I was young I kept myself invisible by being overweight and nonverbal. I’ve become less invisible (and louder) as the years progress. It’s all good, that thing called life!

    • Thank you, Kathryn! I’ve been reading the sub-string regarding invisibility with interest but have, I think, wisely kept my mouth shut, though I’ve erased several prospective comments I was ready to make. Simply put: I don’t find women of any particular age invisible at all. And I have a number of male friends who feel the same way, for what it’s worth.

      I’ll second that all good comment as well! Thanks again.

      • And okay, regarding your Q about fave B-days: I’m a bit of a Material Girl, I’m (not really) ashamed to admit. My Most Fave B-Day EVER was age 6, when my birthday party featured a house made out of sugar cubes (home-made by my Mom), complete with Peppermint Patty rooftop shingles, and a flock of sugary bluebirds. My next most favorite birthday took place at age 50, when I got an (only slightly used) Z4 BMW to tool around town in. Call me shallow, but I own it!!

        • You’re a material girl, Kathryn?! Never would have thought that. The things you learn at TKZ! That sounds like a really cool sixth birthday party. You should try to replicate it next year. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Elaine! I’m looking forward to it. A week of work in New Orleans is worth a month of vacation anywhere else. See you soon!

  15. Happy Birthday, Joe! It sounds like you are up for a fine celebration. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but I’ve always wanted to visit. Hopefully, someday. I experienced the red and white card earlier. I have been on disability for a few years and I’m about 8 years behind you. It’s hard to not be able to do what we used to, but hopefully we make up to it with the experiences that come with maturity. I have come to realize my liabilities, but still push the envelope to do what I can do. Never quit trying. When we quit is when we give up and giving up is not an option. 🙂

    • Thanks, Rebecca! I’m totally with on one stretching limitations. It’s much harder to hit a moving target. And as John Gilstrap would say,
      “When failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.”

      Hope you get to New Orleans sooner than later. Fun awaits!

  16. I turned 46 this year and my partner agreed to open up his art studio for a party for me. 30 or more friends and family came. We put out canvases, paint and paint brushes for everybody, along with blank ceramic tiles to paint on and clay to sculpt. There was music, there was food and dessert, there was a huge yard for kids to play in, a patio to sit on. Drinks.

    It was a smashing good time all around.

    • Earnie, that sounds like a terrific time! Wow. The adult coloring book segment of the market is continuing to explode, so that sounds like a perfect idea for doing something like it on a much, much larger canvas. Actually, as I type this I remember us doing something like this in my kindergarten class, and I wonder…why do they stop. I’m glad you didn’t. Thanks for sharing.

  17. On my 42nd birthday for some reason I thought I was going to be 43, and when I finally realized I was only going to be 42, it was an extra birthday present. And next January I will turn 72. Wow…where did all the years go?

    Happy Birthday, Joe! Enjoy NOLA! Each year only gets better!

    • Thanks for the kind wishes, Patricia. Re: Being 43 or 42…your birthday number actually celebrates the conclusion of your birth year. I’ve actually been 65 all year; I bid it farewell today, and tomorrow start my 66th year, which I will (hopefully) complete a year from now. And so it goes. As far as where the years go…I don’t know. The sand certainly falls ever faster through the hourglass with each passing year. Thanks again.

  18. Joe, Congratulations on your 65th birthday. I look upon retirement as a new beginning. I read this “sage” quote recently…
    “It’s not how old you are but how you are old.” – Marie Dressler
    Best wishes, Frances

    • Thanks so much, Frances, for your kind wishes. They’re much appreciated. Love that Dressler quote…I’ll be using it!

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