Archive for May, 2010

Katherine’s Walk: Day 17, May 5

May 21, 2010

Today I am 60. Here’s my cake, to prove it. Some people say 60 is the new 40. What’s inside that idea? First, what’s wrong with being 60, and second, they must think the extra decades we have gained have been added to the middle of life. They haven’t They’ve been added to the end, and we are just beginning to discover what that means.

At 60, I’m now old enough to qualify for programs through the Older Americans Act, and old enough to use the ITN. Yayyyyy. I think this also means I am officially old enough to be an older driver.

I can remember the first day I realized that I am an older driver. It was about 20 years ago, when I was first studying senior transportation as a public policy graduate student at the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service. Back then, there was no school where you could study senior transportation as ITNAmerica does it today. Now, I speak at schools all over the country, but then, I pretty much had to talk to myself.

That’s what I was doing the day I realized I am an older driver: talking to myself. I was dust mopping the front hallway and stairs. It was a sunny morning, and the dust motes floated in the sunshine slanting through the front door windows. The sun was so clear, it seemed as if I could run my hand long the edge of the light beam like a piece of furniture. Ryan and Alison were still little guys in elementary school, so it must have been a Saturday, the day I cleaned house. I was dusting and thinking. Sometimes, asking and answering questions, even in your own head, is a good way to solve problems.

“Who is an older driver,” I asked myself. The house was quiet. Mop, mop. “Who is an older driver?”

I sat down on the landing of the stairs and looked at the golden oak floors I had been mopping. That’s when I saw the dust moats in the sunbeams.


The realization came suddenly, but the understanding that lead up to it took years. For awhile, I had been looking into the faces of older people and trying to imagine their face when they were younger. I’d look into the face of an 80 year old man and try to imagine him at five years old. Then I’d look at young woman, and try to see her at 85, like time-lapse photography in my imagination. Now I do this all the time, with practically everyone I meet. But I was pretty new at this imaginary time travel into aging back then, so I had to sit myself down on the stair landing to absorb my idea, which was actually so simple.

The older person we will all be is just us, in the future we will become, and the child we were is inside us, in our memories, experiences and hearts.

Older people and older drivers are just younger people who have aged. We will want the same things when we are older that we want now. Everyone is an older driver someday—we might as well try to plan for it now. That way, we won’t be forced into denying we have problems driving because we have made no plans for how we will get around when we are older. Pretty simple, when you get down to it.

On my 60th birthday, I walked a mile. (1 mile, 30.5 miles total)

Katherine’s Walk: Day 16, May 1

May 18, 2010

From Alberta, I flew straight to Michigan for my daughter Alison’s graduation from the Ford School at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. If ever I saw a walkable community, Ann Arbor is it. Alison and Ben, her fiancé, live about one mile from campus, and even though they have a car, they easily walk everywhere, using the car about once a week for grocery shopping and picking up mothers at the airport. We even walked to the graduation ceremony in the football stadium. As we sat in the bleachers, Alison pointed to the graduates in the black robes and turquoise collars on the field, below.

“Look, Mom,” she said, “those are the students from the Ford School.”
I swiveled my head to face her. “Those are your classmates?” I asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be down there with them?”

Without pausing Alison answered, “I’d rather be here with you.”

This is why mothers are willing to throw themselves in front of trains for their children. Not because they get university degrees, but because they sit in the bleachers to share the experience.

I do need to add that the commencement speaker was the President of the United States, Barak Obama. (2 miles, 29.5 miles total)

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My daughter Alison’s graduation from the Ford School at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Katherine’s Walk: Day 15, April 28

May 12, 2010

Another amazing week on the road. The conference in Edmonton was excellent. Small by conference standards – a few hundred people – and an interesting mix of law enforcement and public health professionals. A lot of folks in Canada, especially Edmonton, are pretty excited about ITN and think it would work really well there. So do I. I stayed with Bonnie and Al Dobbs for a few days when the conference was over. Bonnie is the director of The Medically at-Risk Drivers Centre at the University of Alberta, and Al is the Principal at DriveABLE™, a company that specializes in helping healthcare professionals with assessing older drivers with dementia. Bonnie and Al had already left for their offices by the time I took my walk around their neighborhood, so I grabbed this shot of Sydney, their cat. (1 mile, 27.5 miles total)

Katherine’s Walk: Day 14, April 24

May 11, 2010

Another light, soft spring day, and I spent it in the garden, trying to make my flower beds halfway presentable. But after only an hour of weeding and leaf/twig/dead stuff from last year patrol, I called my friend Toby Rosenberg to say hi. I asked her to walk with me and she drove right over so we could walk my neighborhood. To this day, my neighborhood is a delightful place to walk, and I see dog walkers and strollers promenading at all hours and in all weather, admiring gardens, nodding hello, stopping to chat. Very civilized.

Some say that if we only had more neighborhoods like this, older people would be able to stop driving when the time comes, and ride public transportation once again. I think you can tell that I love my neighborhood, but I am going to have to disagree with this popularly held belief about traditional mass transportation. The reason is these older systems were never built for people who live well into their 80’s and 90’s as we do today. In his book, The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life, Dr. Robert Butler, the father of gerontology in America, explains that we have added 30 years to the human life span in the last 100 years. We are so deeply involved in the effects of aging it is hard to gain enough distance to really see what is happening. But when it comes to transportation, if you ask any 80 or 90 year old person how they would prefer to travel, they will tell you either a car, or walking, and they will tell you that whether they live in the country, the suburbs or the streetcar suburbs. Whether it is icy sidewalks, carrying packages, waiting in the hot sun, or even managing when you are just not feeling so well, people in their 80’s and 90’s need a different transportation system than traditional mass transit.

A new member of the Transit family, the Independent Transportation Network® is specifically designed for the needs of today’s older generation. That is why it has all of the characteristics they have told us they prefer—an unmarked automobile that comes to the curb and a friendly driver who calls at the door, offering an arm for balance (if it is needed,) opening the car door, helping with the seat belt (if it is needed,) carrying packages, folding a walker or wheelchair, and generally providing a feeling of safety and security. The truth is, we know very little about the psychology of people who live to such extended ages because we have never been here before. I just think we can learn more if we listen than if we just tell older people what they should be doing.

This is the last of three days home before I leave again, this time for Edmonton, Alberta, where I am speaking at Edmonton’s 2nd International Conference on Urban Traffic Safety: Improving Urban Traffic Safety: Championing Collaboration for Success in our Communities.
I have to confess, Toby and I only walked half a mile. But it was fun. More from Canada, soon. (.5 mile, 26.5 miles total)

Katherine’s Walk: Day 13, April 20

May 6, 2010

Linda invited me to join a group of Portlanders for dinner. I felt like a northern expatriate in an exotic land of palm trees, Spanish moss, and tropical birds. I saw Sandhill cranes, an alligator, and this bald eagle, on top of a street light. (1 mile, 26 miles total)

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Sarasota, Florida

Katherine’s Walk: Day 12, April 19

May 4, 2010

We’ve developed our own special vocabulary of terms for affiliate milestones, and one of them is First Rides. It refers to the day when an ITN affiliate is ready for business, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That day has come for ITNSarasota, so I traveled to Florida for the special event. Executive Director Donna Dunio and her First Rides Chair Sophia La Russo did a superb job of bringing the community together. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, without whose support ITNSarasota would never have happened and Jewish Family and Children’s Services which incubated the young non-profit, were there to thank and be thanked. But the community highlight for me, I have to confess, was seeing Linda Abromson.

Linda lives part of the year in Portland, Maine where I first met her as a member of the Portland City Council and as former Mayor. Many years ago, when ITN was first starting here in Portland, Linda was one of our famous drivers, in an ITN program called Look Who’s Driving Now. She loved driving, so when ITN started in Sarasota, she joined the Board. Because ITN is a national system, she can now volunteer in either city, and if she saves her volunteer credits, she can use the service when the time comes, in either city, or in any city where there is an ITN affiliate. ITN volunteers receive credits for miles they drive, and they can store those credits for their own future use, through a program we call Transportation Social Security™. Or, they can donate those credits to the Road Scholarship Program™ for people who cannot afford their share of the fare. Here’s a picture of Linda and me at the ITNSarasota First Rides reception.

Donna and Phil Dunio graciously hosted me, and I walked early in the morning, with a giant flashlight in my hand, before the sun was up. I saw my first armadillo, running along a wooden fence, and disappearing beneath it, flashing his pointy armored tale and haunches at me. (1 mile, 25 miles total)

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Sophia LaRusso, ITNSarasota First Rides Chair; Stewart Stearns, President of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County; Donna K. Dunio, Executive Director ITNSarasota
Katherine Freund, founder and CEO of ITNAmerica speaking at the ITNSarasota First Rides Event
Great group shot of event

David Shukovsky, Linda Abromson, Phil Gorelick
Donna Dunnio, Sophia LaRusso and three members-riders
Guest, County Commissioner Nora Patterson and Sophia LaRusso
Sophia LaRusso and Judi Gallagher ABC 7 Culinary Director and local Celebrity Chef