I was within one exit of my home when I saw the flashing blue lights. I pulled over immediately. I hoped that if I moved as far to the right as possible, the State Patrol car would zip past and go on to apprehend some real criminal who certainly couldn’t be me. But no, the car, lights still flashing, followed me to the far edge of shoulder.
“Oh, *#$% . . . Darn it all,” I said.
I opened the window and the passing drivers looked back with that delighted, “Oh, good. They caught someone and it wasn’t me” look common in these circumstances.
Presently there was a tap on the passenger door. Reluctantly I lowered the window. The young officer standing safely out of traffic looked in at me with a polite, professional smile.
“I just wondered,” he said, “if you realized you were driving on the shoulder.”
No. No I didn’t. In fact, I hadn’t even heard the warning from the rumble strips as I crossed them.
That was probably because I had fallen asleep at the wheel, something which accounts for one in every five fatal driving accidents.
“Well,” he amended, “Half of the time your tires were partly in the lane and then the rest of the time they were off.”
I began a frantic search for my registration and proof of insurance, throwing papers and soiled socks to the floor with abandon. This would surely ruin my safe-driving record. I’ve only gotten two tickets in my entire life. That averages out to 0.02469 tickets a year, a statistic I treasure.
I alternated my searching and tossing with details of my day.
“It’s just that I’m so tired,” I explained. “I was trying to get home to rest.”
The long day had started at 5 a.m. as most days do here in Pleasantville. That’s when the Weimaraner puppy who lives upstairs hits the floor from someplace high enough to make the building shake and begins active sentry duty in the hall. I think he has dance taps on his little Weimaraner feet.
My method when awakened so early is to turn on a favorite recorded book and listen to something soothing and restful — like Stephen King’s latest novel. This distraction removes my attention from the puppy and I can usually go back to sleep.
Not this day. I lay in bed tensely counting puppy claw strikes on the bare floor above until 6, when it was time to force myself up to go to my tai chi class. I hated to get up, but after all, tai chi is good for you and has lots of benefits.
After class came the drive to Seattle to celebrate my younger daughter’s birthday. We attended a performance of “Grease.” By the time dinner was over and I climbed back into the car, I was exhausted but counted on the double strong birthday cake-flavored coffee I’d swallowed to get me home.
”I can do it,” I said. “After all, I’ve been managing for years.”
The National Sleep Foundation says most people can’t tell they’re about to fall asleep as they drive. They say to themselves, “I can handle this.” That’s what I did. That’s a common and often fatal mistake.
People who get less than six hours sleep at night are most likely to fall asleep behind the wheel, I learned. Five hours is my average. You often hear it said that older people didn’t need as much sleep as when they were younger. This isn’t true. We need it. We just don’t get it. Sleep is hard to come by in the golden years.
The officer handed back my papers, tactfully wiping off the yogurt.
“It’s OK,” he said, “I think that anybody your age who gets up at 6 to go to tai chi is going to be fine. Go home and get some sleep.” No ticket!
So, just as I’ve been telling you, tai chi is good for you and has many benefits. But this was pretty scary.
My friend Patt has offered me a room at her house next time I’m in Seattle overnight. I may accept because she’s good company and because, it turns out, that I might not be Super Woman after all.
Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.