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Southern Rail: Fountain of youth

By Robert Filla

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May 11, I rolled out of bed early, invigorated and anxious, ready for one fine day. By five o’clock the coffee was ready and I was out of the shower and dressed, headed out to the shop, a spring in my step and a song in my heart. It was May 11 and I was 62 years old.

In celebration of reaching such an advanced level of decrepitude, I figured I’d take an early-morning birthday ride, stop by my favorite country café and maybe scored a discounted breakfast and even stretch the ride out long enough to enjoy an adult beverage before returning to the shop. But on my way to open up the garage doors, I caught movement in the corner of the shop—movement where there shouldn’t be any movement. It was the dang Kit-Cat clock. You know the Kit-Cat, right? One of those black cat plastic timepieces that hung in grandma’s kitchen with a clock in its belly, eyes that scanned back and forth and a tail that swung like a pendulum. I bought one as a novelty Christmas present for the wife a few years back and it had hung in our kitchen until about two months ago when it quit working. I’d been meaning to take a look at it but, like many projects in the shop, it was waiting its turn at repair. And now, this morning, on my 62nd birthday it was working. That was an ominous black-cat-spooky way to begin the day.

Undeterred, I rolled the bike out the driveway and then checked the mail to see if any birthday wishes had been delivered from the day before. Instead I found a senior citizen discount from the local water park, a notice from Social Security and an invitation to join AARP. The spring in my step got a little less bouncy at that point.
Stopping to fuel up before beginning my birthday ride, I realized that my driver’s license was about to expire—at midnight. Crap. Fully aware of the agonizing effort it takes to get a license renewed in the Houston metroplex, I opted to ride 35 miles west to a small burg with a tiny DPS station that was generally quick about getting you through the process. And once again they were as speedy as before, and within an hour I was standing before my interrogator, Hazel. Name and address, please, place your thumbs on the glass, please, stand in front of the screen and look at the red dot on the camera, please. “That will be $33, please” she requested “and thank you for sharing your birthday with us. You almost forgot, didn’t you?”

Yes, I admitted. For some reason I thought I had until the end of the month to renew. Apparently my old age was showing.

“That’s OK; no problem. Now let’s check those pretty green eyes.” Hazel directed.

“But I’ve already paid you!” I questioned.

“Oh, we’re gonna get paid, honey, before you have a chance to fail your eye test. We may be in the country but we ain’t dumb.”

I passed the eye exam, barely, and still without the aid of spectacles. But by now it was too late for breakfast so I opted for a nearby burger joint and a cold beer before heading back to the shop. I mentioned to the waitress that it was my birthday but only received a “Well then, Happy Birthday,” in return. A free brewski would’ve been thoughtful but it was not to be.

I pulled back into the shop feeling a little disheartened. The day was only a shadow of what I had hoped for and that song in my heart wasn’t very vibrant at that point. About that time the postman came rolling up with the day’s mail and once again I had hopes of a birthday card or two. But in this electronic age, no one sends cards anymore, instead posting nonsensical comments on my Facebook page. All good hearted but still something seemed lacking. And then I saw it in the mail, a notice from someplace called the Neptune Society—finally some recognition for my elderly attainment. The Neptune Society… I envisioned explorers and sage travelers, monocles and pith helmets, highly-regarded gentlemen swirling snifters of brandy in a library of ancient texts. Turns out it was an invitation to win a prepaid cremation. Wow, happy birthday dude; now let’s get your ashes in a shoebox for free.

The final blow was a call from my local pharmacy. The prescription for my new blood pressure meds was ready. I pulled up on the bike at the pharmacy drive-through window feeling all hang dog. After the gal behind the window asked for my name and date of birth, she said, “Mr. Filla, it’s your birthday! And just what kind of trouble you been getting into so far?”

She was a cherubic thing, not a day over 25, bubbly and enthusiastic, sincere in her question. “Just doing some riding, shaking off some years,” I replied.

She grinned a big toothy smile and, as she handed me my prescription, ended with, “Well, sir, if you’re still out a little later, I get off at eight. But I will need a helmet.”

It was May 11. I was 62. I had a song in my heart… again.

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