MIDDLE-AGED PLAGUE - Dubious silver lining in burnt orange car

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For the first time in our lives, we own a car that is not silver.

Now I'm not complaining about a line of used, drab, yawningly prosaic vehicles, because I am grateful for the ability to drive 30 miles on an errand as opposed to walking it.

But I bounce in raptures looking out the window and seeing a jolly cheerful orange creature waving back.

Orange.

Effervescent, bubbly, vibrant, outrageous, easy-to-spot, sizzling and scintillating orange.

I would say one-of-a-kind orange except that, on the second day that we drove our proud, saved-up-for-years purchase down the only business district street of our one stoplight town, I spotted the identical car -- in the identical color -- next to the dentist's office.

To be sure I wasn't hallucinating, I drove around the block and double checked, as did Tired of Being Youngest at my side.

Confirmed. Somebody else in Columbia County, among the least populated of Washington's counties, owns my car.

To put this in perspective, we just returned from a 3,000 mile business trip to Arizona, and not once did we spot a barbecued orange model twin. Until, that is, we hit hometown, at which point, somebody had the bald-faced audacity to pass us in our car.

Who are these people?

More importantly, are they good people, or bad people? And what kind of reputation are they making for drivers of orange cars?

"Oh, so you're the person driving around in the little orange car," the woman at the feed store commented as she heaved chicken scratch into the back of the vehicle (Easy on the surface there, lady. Don't mar it).

At that point, we had owned the car for two days, so we weren't the people driving around in the little orange car.

Those of you who do not understand our dilemma have never lived in a town so small that one sneeze on the porch translates into stories of potential tubercular infections suffered by your family, or where retrieving the newspaper in your bathrobe sparks rumors about what it is you really do at night to cause you to wake up so late (8 a.m.) on a Saturday.

In a small town, you don't have to do anything outrageous to hit the top of the news chain; you just have to breathe.

For years I achieved a minor level of anonymity while driving, since an informal study done by my family reveals that four out of 10 drivers are in some sort of compact, silver car. The remaining six, at least in our section of the world, swagger around in shiny red or white pick-up trucks, none of which you would dare toss a dirty old piece of wood into.

I became accustomed to buzzing around without drawing too much attention to myself. If I did something stupid, well, I could have been any one of 400 people or so.

Not so anymore. And I need to get this through my head.

The other day, I was stuck behind one of those drivers whose mission in life is to increase the gas mileage potential and blood pressure of the rest of us by driving 15 mph below the speed limit, regardless of what the speed limit is.

"People are in such a hurry these days," they say to the air in general. "And they seem so angry."

Not really. Just at you.

When the opportunity to pass came I did so, and to express my irritation I gave them the index finger because, really, I'm not going to wave around that other digit. I don't know who they were but they're probably related to the lady I bank with or the guy who sells me bananas, and I have irretrievably but justifiably offended them. But it doesn't matter because nobody knows who I am because I drive a little silver car like everybody else ...

Oops.

I drive an orange car.

An easily identifiable orange car.

One of two in the county.

When I realized that latter fact, I relaxed.

The driver I just offended will think that it's the other people.

Whoever they are.

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