101-year-old driver started on a Model T

LANGLEY – When Alden Couch took his driving test, he didn’t bother with his blinker.

After all, he was on Whidbey Island.

But he noticed the omission was costing him.

“Every time I didn’t do it, she would write it down,” Couch said of his state examiner. “So I got smart and started signaling.”

The rest of the test was a breeze – even the dreaded parallel parking.

“I haven’t parallel parked for 10 years, and I sailed through that like nothing,” Couch said.

His new license expires in 2012. It arrived in the mail little more than a week ago.

A closer look at the laminated card shows that he’s an organ donor, has blue eyes and was born on April 2.

Today is Alden Couch’s 101st birthday.

To celebrate, he’ll take a drive down to the local senior center in his Chevrolet Impala. They’ll have a party for him and then he’ll drive home and probably have a refreshing beverage.

And he’ll do it all safely, according to the state Department of Licensing, which just issued him the new license.

Couch’s son Bill Couch, 64, of Clinton, follows his father every once in a while to make sure he’s driving safely and hasn’t lost his edge.

“A lot of kids feel pressure to take their parents’ license away,” Bill Couch said. “They moan and groan, and say, ‘It’s not fair. My life’s over because I’m not driving.’ “

“Now at the senior center, they say, ‘You’re not taking my driver’s license. Look at Al. He’s 101 and he’s still driving,’ ” Bill Couch said.

The state’s decision to give his father a driver’s test actually took a lot of pressure off the son.

“I feel a lot better about that,” Bill Couch said. “I thought he was doing fine, but if anything would happen, there would probably be a lot of criticism of me.”

During his lifetime Couch has owned 10 to 15 cars, maybe more. He hasn’t kept track.

The former lineman for Puget Power is 95 years older than the Impala he now owns – his all-time favorite car.

“It isn’t the cheapest one in the whole deal, but it’s a good one,” he said.

It’s also got good power, which he uses to tootle around town, driving about the speed limit – not below it and not above it.

Couch was partial to Oldsmobiles until he outlived the make, which was discontinued in 2004.

The first car Couch drove was an oldie but goodie, Ford’s Model T.

“It was my parents’ car,” Couch said. “There were five of us boys. My parents didn’t like (the car). They were used to a horse and buggy. We drove.”

These days, Couch limits his driving to south Whidbey Island, cruising only as far as Oak Harbor.

“The mainland is too wild,” he said. “Mainly, I go down to Clinton for my teeth, Coupeville for other doctoring.”

He drives around Langley all the time, filling up at the gas station on the highway, heading to the grocery store or dropping by the senior center for lunch and a game of Dominos or bridge. He drives about 7,500 miles per year.

“So many people half my age give up driving,” Couch said. “Not me. I have reasonably good health. I have a halfway decent mental capacity.”

Couch was born in Bismarck, N.D. He moved to Zillah in the Yakima Valley at age 6. He went to Washington State University as a teen before settling into a career at Puget Power in the Seattle and Bellingham areas.

He moved to Langley at age 90 to be near his son, who owns Donna’s truck stop in Arlington. He has grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live in Snohomish County.

Staying young is simple, Couch explains.

“I shouldn’t tell you this secret,” he said. “At about 3 to 4 o’clock, I have a good shot of rum, then Coca-Cola. Every night.”

Just one a day.

Then he eats dinner and relaxes. He doesn’t drive again until the next day.

“If you do it right, rum and Coca-Cola and a wedge of lime, that’s the Cuba libre,” he said. “That’s my traditional drink.”

Enjoying life also helps, he said.

“I think the secret is I enjoy the old folks here on Whidbey Island,” he said. “I have a lot of nice friends that keep me on my toes, tell truth about it.”

He’s also a serious gardener.

“He has a showplace garden,” said Bill Couch. “His whole life he’s been into gardening. That’s his passion.”

Perhaps it’s the gardener in Couch that has kept him young. Or the dancing at the senior center.

“He always says he tries never to get mad,” the younger Couch explains. “He never tried to fight with anybody. He’s got a good sense of humor and everything.”

Doing everything in moderation, including eating, has helped, he added.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t run into trouble.

The younger Couch remembers his dad telling stories about picking apples on Yakima Valley days so hot that he and the other boys would spray DDT on each other to cool off.

“If he were that old, and losing his marbles, then you think, that’s not really good,” Bill Couch said.

But he’s aware of everything going on around him, he said.

“He’s pretty sharp,” he said. “He’s been pretty lucky. I’ve got a healthy father at 101 years old.”

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