You can take your senior discount and…
Senior privilege is all around us. Dedicated seating on buses and subways. Discounts at the movies. Youngsters who offer to walk us across the street — well, sometimes, anyway.
This old guy has always been ambivalent about such tilts. On the one hand, we oldies have earned them. On the other hand, we should be the ones who say “no, thanks,” because younger people often need the help more than we do.
I’m so conflicted about this issue that I sometimes produce amazement.
At a restaurant recently, where I was eating by myself, the server brought the check. I had been charged the “senior rate” for the buffet. My tab was three dollars less than it might have been.
I called the manager over and objected.
“See that family over there?” I asked him, as I gestured toward a foursome, including two unruly kids, who were smearing ketchup all over their food and each other’s faces. “They’re the ones who should be getting the break.”
The manager was incredulous. “You don’t want the discount?” he asked.
I said I’d like to transfer it to my ketchup-smeared neighbors. He arranged that, while shaking his head over some old guy who, amazingly, had just looked a gift horse in the mouth.
Yet there’s one slab of senior privilege that I have come to adore. If you’re over 75 — which I am — you no longer have to remove your footwear when passing through airport security.
Shoe removal used to be such a struggle. You’d get to that place in the screening process where you unload your earthly possessions into a plastic tray. Wallet, bags, keys, phone — no problem. But now shoes must go into the bin, too.
Of course, the geniuses who run things never provide a place to sit. Balancing on one leg while you pry a shoe off the other isn’t my idea of a good time.
But nowadays? All you have to do is tell the TSA representative that you’re north of 75.
You are shepherded into a separate line. They ask if you have any implants — A pacemaker? Artificial joints? If the answer is no — and in my case, that’s the answer — zip-boom-bop, you’re through.
Clearly, the 75-and-over rule is based on history. In the annals of terrorism, I don’t believe any perpetrator has been anywhere near a 75th birthday.
So, the policy isn’t just a gumdrop for the old. It’s based on fact. It also speeds traffic.
But for this inveterate reporter, it slows traffic. Because he can’t help asking the dark-blue-shirted TSA employees a few questions.
Do you ever get people who claim to be 75 so they can dodge a long line? Once in a while, yes, I’ve been told.
Do you ever get people who can’t remember if they’re 75? Believe it or not, the answer is yes.
Do you ever get people who roll up a pantleg and offer to show you their replaced knee? More often than you’d suspect.
And do you ever get people who want to argue — hey, terrorists are so clever that one of them might actually be over 75?
Happily, the system takes this possibility into account. Over-75s do not escape security. They submit to metal detectors just like younger people. They get a separate line, not a pass.
Yet, ambivalent as always about senior privilege, I tried something recently in the Charlotte airport.
The intake TSA agent asked if I was over 75. I said I was. He motioned me toward the separate oldies-only line.
I told him I didn’t want special treatment. I said I’d go through normal screening, despite my age.
He looked at me as if I had just arrived from the moon. “You know you’ll have to take your shoes off if you go through the normal line?” he said.
“Yes, I know,” I said. “I think I can handle it.”
I managed to remove two sandals without falling on my face. I was through the regular line about as quickly as the senior line would have taken.
Even though no one in authority will ever know what I did, I feel that I struck a blow.
One TSA agent now knows this: Not every senior citizen needs to be treated as if he’s a delicate, wilting flower.
We seniors haven’t gotten this far in life by expecting, or accepting, special treatment. It’s nice to be offered it. It’s nicer to decline it.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.