Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Old Age, Re-designed
A grumpy analysis of future trends from a member of the Grumpy Generation.


{Camden Auto Shop}
Camden Auto Shop

A young secretary who once worked for me asked to be excused early because she had to pick up her car in one of the more blighted districts of Camden. She was welcome to take the time off, but I was a little uneasy about what she was planning to do. "Oh," she said, " My husband taught me to take our old car to the Puerto Ricans. They can fix anything." As indeed they must; Puerto Rico and many other Latin American countries forbid the importation of new cars; they have to get good at fixing old clunkers. The service departments of our new-car dealers, on the other hand, have a noticeable tendency to tell you to replace something rather than repair it. Caveat emptor certainly comes into play at this point, but there's a balancing feature as well; some people should repair, others should replace, exactly the same defective appliance. The viewpoint of the serviceman is colored as much by knowing how the majority of his customers respond, as by knowing the profit margins which measure his own self-interest.

{top quote}
As far as issues for seniors go, transportation is far more important than greenhouse gases. {bottom quote}
{Soaring Gas Prices}
Soaring Gas Prices

The issue came up for re-examination recently, when I felt peer pressure to buy an environmentally friendly car. My car is big and heavy, accelerates with authority, is over ten years old. It gets thirteen miles to a (now) expensive gallon of gas. Otherwise, there is nothing the matter with it to make me doubt it will last another ten years. On the other hand, the new trendy thing will get more than forty miles to a gallon, accelerate like a jack-rabbit, and bring me admiring glances from young ladies. But just a doggone minute. I currently fill the tank once a month, for thirty dollars. Am I supposed to spend forty thousand dollars for a new car, just to save fifteen dollars a month in gasoline cost? It would take me considerably longer than my present life expectancy to come out even on that transaction, while someone in Puerto Rico or Mexico continues to drive around in my traded-in used car, polluting up a storm. Whether I can afford it is not the issue. I just don't like to be urged to do stupid things. I already do enough stupid things, without having other people invent them for me.

Since the matter has come up, maybe we should ask whether elderly people should own a personal car or not. Forget about telling me to take an eye exam or a repeat driver's examination administered by a state policeman; if I stop driving it will be my own decision, not that of the crooked legislature, or the ministers of Plato's Republic. But come to think of it, having my own driver could be very nice. Philadelphia's Mayor Dilworth was driven to work and around by a uniformed driver in what purported to be a Yellow Cab, but looked like a limo to me; his daughter has since confirmed my suspicions with a broad wink. So an idea does come up: there must be many semi-retired folks who own cars but would be happy to make other arrangements for minimal transportation needs. There are those little red cars spread around town for rental at $6 an hour, or even regular rental cars available for weekends and vacation. Come to think of it, there's a fellow who lives in one of Philadelphia's fancier apartment complexes who had a limo and driver of his own. People began to offer to rent his arrangement when he didn't need it, and eventually, he wound up with four limousines and drivers just for that big apartment. Anybody who could afford to live in that apartment, with or without a limousine, didn't need a new business venture. The episode, therefore, carries the discussion in a somewhat different direction.

{Retirement Complex}
Retirement Complex

Why didn't the owner of the apartment building install a livery service, without waiting for a retired resident to start it? A variety of answers to that question suggest themselves, chief among which would be that someone in the apartment business would buy a second apartment if he had spare capital, rather than get into a second business he knew nothing about. He would prefer two apartment buildings without limo service, rather than one apartment with a lot of unrelated businesses attached, some of which would probably lose money. We could stop this discussion along the way and reflect on union hostility, uncomprehending tax and license interference, unwillingness to set aside sufficient garage space, and many other man-made obstructions to the idea. But let's jump over all that to suppose what is needed is a multi-apartment corporation which supplies jitney bus service, charter bus service, car-shares, rental car service and livery to a large number of apartments and hotels -- and doesn't own any apartments. Why don't I start such a company myself? Because I'm retired, that's why. The logical place to begin such a venture in a retirement village or big condominium complex is with the concierge. The concierge is in a position to judge demand and build up a string of vendors, eventually forming a company with the successful vendors after the local market has been well explored. Let the business plan emerge from the market exploration.

There's a general observation which applies to all cooperative apartment boards, condominium committees, club memberships, and the like. All such organizations, without fail, divide into two groups: One group describes the present arrangement as a "dump" and demands that everyone pitch in and spend some money fixing up the place. The other group has already stretched its discretionary funds to the limit and beyond, just achieving entry into the place. The latter will resist bitterly any improvements which cost money, even small amounts. Furthermore, they will organize to outnumber and squelch potential members of the other group, because the threat and its underlying motivation, remains permanent. Such political difficulties are best addressed by collecting dues for an improvement fund, which reassures everyone about the limits of what might someday be demanded. All of that talk about licenses and unions and unneeded expense always boils down to the condominium disease, so progress depends on a realistic appraisal of the chances. First, get a concierge.

Originally published: Thursday, June 25, 2009; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019