don't drive when you're old


Café Maude is Kellee's Friday lunch spot.Everyone knows her there. They laugh when she pulls in at 10:58 a.m. and waits for them to open two minutes later, orders her first glass of wine and sets up shop for the afternoon. They take good care of her.

It was only Thursday, but Kellee wanted me to experience Café Maude.

So, after a short, lazy morning spent working on a lush leather sofa — side by side, feet on the ottoman with blankets draped over our laps — in front of a crackling fire with CNN on mute, filling up on freshly brewed coffee and rye toast with organic butter, we pulled ourselves together and piled into a MINI Cooper named Moxie, bound for Café Maude. It was nice to be the passenger after my seven-hour drive into the Twin Cities the day before, which included me careening through downtown St. Paul after dark in a blind rage, unable to find my destination or a decent parking spot. (That I can't afford the payments is only the tip of the iceberg of why there's no absolutely reason for me to have a car.)

Minnehaha Parkway — I dare you to say it and not feel a twinge of glee — becomes 50th Street after a certain point, connecting bike trails and a few of those 10,000 lakes and winding through residential areas dotted with sweet little bungalows and beautiful vintage stucco homes.

Minneapolis is pretty glorious, actually.

Moxie handled Minnehaha's curves like a racer, and Kellee knew those roads like the back of her hand. We whipped over the rivers and through the woods, the previous weekend's foot of snow melting into mere inches, mostly grey slush, but still enough to delight me. My tummy rumbled as we approached Nicollet Avenue.

Then an old woman in a red sedan with not a care in the world — including what color her light was — blew through the intersection, straight toward us. Kellee saw the other car first; I didn't even get the customary string of curse words out before we'd made impact. She braked hard, swerved and hit the back end of the sedan with the front corner of the MINI, sending the sedan careening, spinning, across the intersection until it came to a stop, 180 degrees later, facing the right way in the wrong lane. Kellee and I were both strangely calm; she flipped on the emergency flashers and got out immediately to assess the situation. The other woman, who must have been at least 80, stayed in her car, barely rolling down the driver's side window when Kellee approached to ask if she was all right.

No one was hurt.

But the other woman didn't even know she'd been speeding toward a red. Thought we were in the wrong; thought we'd hit her. The police came a few minutes later and set her straight; they decided not to ticket her for the signal violation, but they found her at fault for the accident and ordered a physical to determine whether she's still fit to drive at all.

Talk about a wake-up call.

Another woman, an innocent bystander who almost became less so when the sedan nearly spun into her, had stayed nearby to write out an account for Kellee to use in court if it came to that. Lord help us if it had; she was less of a help than she might have been. In her version of the story, she was waiting for a green arrow that didn't actually exist, and the woman who ran the light came from the opposite direction. It may also have been a different day in her version. I think she was more shaken up than both of Moxie's passengers combined.

All told, things that day could have been much worse. Moxie got towed to a body shop later that day, after we picked up my rental car and took to the mean streets once again. We finally made it to Maude and drank much-needed glasses of wine, and ate warm soup and fries with creamy truffle sauce.

But in the course of conversation, I realized that if we'd hit that intersection half a second later, that old woman would have plowed straight into the passenger-side door, and I'd have ended up in the hospital with broken bones, a concussion or worse.

Or worse.

A fact that didn't shake me up as much as it did shake a little sense into me. They say near-death experiences will do that to you. But they also say these things happen in slow motion. In my case, they — whoever they are — would be wrong.

I'm not sure slow motion even exists for me, though. In large part, life runs helter-skelter at me and I rush right back at it. Two linebackers at the line of scrimmage. If anything it's elastic, accelerated to dizzying Hadron Collider rates then stretched like Silly Putty until I'm dangling precariously, spread too thin, barely holding together.

But I'll happily accept that over being crushed inside a car on the way to lunch. (Is it better to burn out than to fade away?) I'm not sure where this leaves me but grateful that I did live to drink celebratory wine at Café Maude, help cobble together information for insurance agents and body-shop employees, bask in the lovely pre-winter glow of a charming new city and rush headlong into another ordinary day.