Bill, my assistant conductor and I are standing at the block in Grand Central loading our train and answering questions of the passing hoards of commuters. In the distance I spot a familiar face. He's hunched over, cane in hand, and hobbling down the platform. He's dressed in a wide lapelled business suit, and wearing a wide red tie. I point the gentleman out to Bill and tell him how I've consistently seen this guy commuting over the past 24 years...and he'd seemed old 24 years ago.
"How old do you think he is?" Bill asks.
"Hmmm....I'm guessing 82."
"Maybe," Bill says. "At any rate...It's time for him to give it up."
"Yeah" I agree. "I guess some guys just don't know when to retire."
The old man is getting closer now, and a woman who appears to be in her early 60's comes trotting up behind him. She grabs his arm and leads him to the open door of our train. The old man looks perturbed by this and he jerks his arm away.
"Dad," she says. "Let me help you on the train."
"I don't need your help!" He shouts.
The daughter seems a little embarrassed by her father's public admonishment, but she ignores him and gently grabs his sleeve and leads him onto the train. A few seconds later, she returns shaking her head. She explains that her father is stubborn, but she'll forgive his acerbity since it's his birthday...his 99th birthday.
"99?" Bill and I both say in unison.
"Yep," the daughter laughs. "He refuses to retire, and even worse, he drives himself home from the train station every night."
I begin daydreaming, picturing the old man peering over his steering wheel while driving down the highway at 15 miles an hour. He's blissfully unaware that his right turn signal has been blinking all the way home.
"What does he do for a living?" I ask.
"He owns a bus company that he started when he was in college. He still wants be involved in the day to day operation and he refuses to retire."
In my daydream, the car turns into a bus. I do some quick calculations in my brain, and realize that he must have founded his company circa 1930. A crank now appears on the grill of my daydream bus.
When I collect the old man's ticket, I wish him a happy birthday, and tell him he doesn't look a day over 80. He smiles, chuckles and says "thanks."
"How long have you been commuting?" I ask.
"Sixty years." He answers.
"How much did a ticket cost 60 years ago?" I ask.
"I don't remember!" He answers sternly... as if to say, "I don't remember much of anything these days."
Later, I imagine myself collecting tickets when I'm 99. Again I do calculations in my brain. I add up the balance on my mortgage. My second mortgage. My daughter's college tuition loans, and I suddenly break out into a cold sweat. The scenario is all too real.