Solo on the road, anything but alone

By Katherine FreundKatherine Freund Storybook Tour

"Are you driving alone? Sixty days, and 12,000 miles?" This is the question every person is asking at each of my first few stops. It seems completely natural to me, but after my first week on the road, I am going to stop answering "yes" to this question. I could not feel less alone or unsupported. From my wonderful support staff in Maine at ITNAmerica, to my friends and family along the way who are sharing their homes and meals with me, I am anything but alone.

At the launch event at our AARP Maine State Office, I found myself, without premeditation, dedicating the Tour to my son, Ryan Walsh, whose childhood accident with an older driver inspired my work of the last 28 years, and eventually, this Tour. Ryan began supporting this effort several weeks ago, when he helped me select my new computer and taught me how to use it. Then he helped me determine what to pack (peanut butter, bread, lots of water, apples, sleeping bag and comfortable pillow), bought me several recorded books to listen to as I drove, then turned up at my house with his girlfriend the morning I left, June 16, to pack my car. 

I dedicate this Tour to two other families, as well; though without their permission, I cannot name them. Their sons died in accidents with impaired older drivers, and I realize everyday their perpetual loss. I dedicate this Tour to the memories of their sons. Those memories are also my companions on the road.

Their sons, and my son, are the tiniest part of this national problem, the worst-case scenario. They are among the few whose stories are of such dramatic and devastating proportions. Silently around us are millions of older people, in millions of families, with lives that are changed by this same transportation problem. The problem manifests itself in people who drive when they shouldn’t because they feel they have no option, or people who stop driving, to protect themselves or others, but are forced to live a diminished life without access to transportation. And some people find solutions to this problem in ways that are both innovative and inspiring.

The Storybook Tour is an effort to hear their stories, as many as I can possibly listen to in 60 days. So far, it has been amazing. People are waiting for me when I arrive. They come rushing forward to greet me and start talking right away. I am the driver, technician, interviewer, and transportation advisor, all in one. And perhaps my most loyal companion on this tour – my smart phone camera. I have to find a polite way to say, "Can we wait just a minute until I get my camera set up? I don’t want to miss a word!" I am honored by this opportunity to listen, and to share these stories for America.

Maybe the Storybook Tour was a crazy idea, but so far, people are ready to talk, and I want nothing more than to be a good listener.

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