If I'm going more than a block, I use a walker these days, and it's a good thing I do. It encourages me to leave my apartment with its rubber-tip handles to grip that go a long way toward preventing falls.
I've had what a friend calls "my Ferrari" for about a year. It seemed unfazed by last winter's snow as well as the broken sidewalks and curbs that New York provides in plenitude. Its brakes are easy to grab on an incline, a nifty front pocket holds packages and if you want a break, a comfortable seat flattens to use. Sleek red and black, it garners compliments from passersby: "Oh, that's nice! I've never seen one like that!"
The walker's two sides fold together so it glides into its narrow parking space in my living room. It rolls on and off of a New York City bus on the ramp that slides down from the bus's front door. More than you could say for a real Ferrari.
I'd watched people with walkers for years. They've always elicited sympathy. My mother and my uncle graduated reluctantly to using one as each aged. I'm the only one who sought one on my own. It's taken ownership for me to appreciate what a lifeline one can be.
I didn't rush into the purchase. Having tripped more than I liked on broken sidewalks -- and landing in the street -- I realized that the time had come for more than a cane. On a Saturday in May I strode down to the store that sells more things than you could imagine to do with health, walking, sitting and sundry activities in the bathroom.
"I think I need a walker," I told the salesman with a nice crew cut and identified as Danny by his name tag.
"Yes," Danny said, nodding at me.
"You have those?"
"Of course. Come, I'll show you."
Danny led me to the department of walkers, where stood ready an array of more such items than I knew existed, from what looked like the flimsiest to those that looked the sturdiest. Danny pointed me to one stationed in front.
"The newest model," he said proudly. "The best we have."
Price tags have seldom been necessary for me to gravitate to the costliest in any category. It seems in my genes. I liked what Danny brought out and I said, "It's likely the most expensive."
"Yes," Danny said. He repeated, "The best."
At his suggestion, I took the walker out the front door for a short test run outside. It seemed comfortable over bumps and curbs and sharp turns, clearly more solid than the cane I'd brought with me. Danny was waiting with a smile when I returned the vehicle inside. He knew he had a customer. I figured that I should go for an item I'd only buy once (I hoped).
The next day I went back with a friend to approve my choice, and we left together, me driving my new wagon.
Stores and restaurants and the barber shop in my neighborhood are now used to see me coming up with my red and black number (maybe after I've given it a needed bath). No need to feel sympathetic if you see me pushing it along the street. I've developed a rather paternal feeling about this item. It came with me on a trip to Europe last year, I hung a couple of tourist tags on i, and smiled when a few French folks stopped and gaped. I hope to go back there in June, and if if I'm clever I'll see if it will help me work up a date or two with some admiring Frenchman.
Stanley Ely writes about travel and transportation in his book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," in paperback and ebook.