I can’t even remember what the Massachusetts drinking age was when I “came of age.” I didn’t drink, so I never went through the crazy night of initiation in some bar with friends, or the queasy ritual in the family kitchen, reluctantly gulping the strange, unpalatable-because-unfamiliar can of Schlitz. Research reveals that the age was 18 years way back in my youth, in a simpler and perhaps saner age when the argument that if you’re old enough to die for your country you’re old enough to kill a few of your own brain cells with a ‘Gansett had some legs.
Not that alcohol never passed my lips in college days. I still didn’t drink, but I remember clearly that when I was a new pledge some of the senior brothers of my fraternity (including Dick Cole, as I recall) tried to get me drunk on Scotch a couple of times. I astounded them with my ability to hold my liquor, and so some pretty good whisky trickled down my gullet now and then. I’m still pretty good at holding my liquor, it seems, but having those first drinks was not a coming-of-age ritual, just a gradual transition to adulthood sidetracked briefly by the red herring of teetotaling fundamentalist social ethics (the Bible is full of wine, perhaps most notably the wedding at Cana, when Jesus finally broke out the really good stuff).
But last Saturday it was different. The official Transportation Security Administration website reports the policy that travelers age 75 and older can “leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints.” Now if there’s one thing I hate, somewhat irrationally, about airport security it is the modified striptease they require of all those who won’t pay the government $150 for special security screening and preferred treatment in the TSA line. One must remove not only shoes, but the upper outer garment layer (Sweater over shirt—remove the sweater. Jacket over sweater over shirt—remove the jacket, not the sweater. How dumb is that?), the belt, and all pocket contents.
But the shoes are the worst. They’re the most clumsy, the most awkward, and the hardest to get back on. The shoe regulation came about after some dope unsuccessfully tried to blow up a plane with an explosive device in his shoe, thereby reviving the old observation that we’d be in a lot more trouble if most criminals were a lot smarter than they are. At the time, I observed that it’s lucky nobody ever tried to hide a bomb in their undies, or the TSA would be asking us to take those off too. Then somebody did, but the TSA didn’t.
But now I just don’t care any more, because on Saturday, August 23, I turned 75. Suddenly, some seven hours west of the Greenwich Meridian, a mere flip of a calendar page rendered me incapable, in the eyes of the TSA, of committing a terrorist attack by means of a device concealed, in whole or part, in my footwear. I’m now just a helpless, slightly disoriented, old guy who can dodder through the checkpoint fully shod. And I love it! I got to traipse, Rockports and all, into the gate area at SeaTac Airport. Meanwhile all those younger wretches were wrestling with laces and Velcro, but not me, boy! Sheer elation and release. Everything I missed as a lad of 18 in the Bay State.
Meanwhile last Friday, a day before my birthday, my lively granddaughter Winnie turned 8. I was at her party, along with most of her loving family, and we all had a great time honoring her and celebrating her continuing transmogrification from preschooler into full-fledged childhood. Next morning at her Dad’s house we were getting ready to run a couple of errands, and I was pulling the car seat out of the closet. Her Dad, though, remembered something and checked a website. And guess what? At the age of 8, children in Oregon don’t have to ride in car seats any more. So in the back seat of a Budget Rent-a-car Chevy Impala, Winnie took her very first ride as an adult. She was proud and happy. Another step toward maturity!
Of course, Winnie’s series of “firsts” are all upgrades. A new level in school, shiny shoes with heels, sliding into a car seat like grownups do. Mine are mostly downgrades, recognizing that I am less capable, less strong, less dangerous. Becoming old and irrelevant; in a way I miss being a potential terrorist in the TSA’s eyes. But Winnie and I have in common that every change is somehow liberating, lifting a burden, ridding a nuisance. She and I can join in the hallowed chorus: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”
© Arnold J. Bradford, 2014