Most of us would be content to just survive into our 80s, and still be able to remember where we left our dentures.
Not Grandma Tessie, though. For her, age is just a number, much like those on a speedometer and tachometer.
Tessie Garcia Gutierrez, at 83, has been driving for nearly half that time. In fact, up until her retirement three years ago from Andres Soriano Corp, Tessie was driving herself to work every day. And it was quite a long drive—between the morning and evening rush hours of her house in Las Pinas and her workplace in Makati City. She had been an accountant for the company’s executive department for 10 years. Before that, she was employed at Soriano Aviation. She began her professional career with the Herald newspaper, where she was a comptroller, and a chief accountant.
“When Herald closed, I was brought to Soriano Aviation as a comptroller with a position of assistant vice president,” disclosed Tessie. As an accountant under the executive department, she handled the books for the company’s resorts, and various other businesses.
Tessie believes in the “work-drive balance”: “If you’re working and driving continuously, your brain retains its sharpness. It will not stagger,” she quipped.
Unlike other companies that require its senior employees to retire at 65, A Soriano Corp allowed employees like Tessie to work well beyond the conventional retirement age. For this, Tessie expressed her gratefulness.
“It’s hard to stop working. In other countries, seniors are still hired to work even above the age of 65. That’s because the belief is that seniors at the pink of health still have sharp minds, have the experience, are rich in knowledge, and can impart wisdom better than the younger ones,” Tessie explained.
In 2020, the pandemic issued a new challenge to the sharp and alert Tessie. The resulting (and ongoing) quarantines and lockdowns often kept her confined in her home. Boredom and “cabin fever” were threatening to stagnate her mind.
Her “vaccine” versus boredom: A quick but satisfying drive around the neighborhood and nearby areas using any of the cars available in the garage. And what a tempting selection of wheels there were at her disposal.
Although Tessie and husband Carlos Gutierrez Sr, 93, own their own house in Las Pinas, the couple moved in to the house of their youngest daughter Thet Sornet in Paranaque, so that they could be taken better care of during the pandemic. The Sornet garage, much to Tessie’s delight, offered an array of high-end vehicles for the bored grandma to maintain her mental well-being: A Nissan GT-R; a BMW 420d Cabrio; a Nissan Patrol Royale, a Mini Cooper, a Porsche Carrera, as well as Tessie’s own Chevrolet Orlando and Honda Civic.
And with a mischievous smile that radiated through her face mask, Tessie admitted to her one guilty pleasure: “I still drive during the lockdowns.”
Her son-in-law Tey Sornet, Thet’s husband and an accomplished automotive businessman who owns and manages multiple car dealerships in Greater Manila Area (hence the variety of cars in his garage), corroborated his mom-in-law’s claim: “Mommy sometimes does go missing,” he laughed.
Tessie’s first cars in the 1980s were the Toyota Corolla and the Mitsubishi Mirage. She also owned a Toyota RAV4 and a Nissan X-Trail.
She admits that her favorite car wasn’t any of those she owned, but Tey’s Nissan GT-R. She said she was “awed by its power and performance”, and found it difficult to even “just try to temper its power”.
“I feel like I could fly with the Nissan GT-R!” she exclaimed.
One could tell with the enthusiasm in Tessie’s voice as she described her exhilaration with the supercar that she has never lost the joy of driving. She said she would go behind the wheel as needed and as desired, as she said she is still fascinated with fast cars even at her age.
She credits big advancements in automotive technology for making mobility user-friendly for almost every age demographic.
“Before, I got stressed on an uphill in a traffic jam with a manual transmission. Now, no more, what with automatic transmission, one step on the accelerator, one step on the brake, and no more ‘pawis’ steering,” Tessie observed.
She can’t say the same about the worsening traffic situation, though. Tessie said that driving during her younger years used to be a bliss, but city congestion spoiled it in recent years. “When I was working I had to leave the house at 6 a.m. to avoid traffic jams in Makati.”
Loving mother and grandma
Outside the driver’s cabin, Tessie gets the most fulfillment from being a mother, especially to children whom she says have turned out “all very good, never giving us any headache or heartaches.”
Tessie and Carlos have three children, all successful professionals. The eldest is a US-based mechanical engineer, followed by another son who became an artist and, according to Tessie, could very well be “painting in heaven” now. Youngest and only daughter Thet is a certified public accountant, just like her dad Carlos. Tessie has three grandchildren.
Tessie wouldn’t have lasted driving for this long if she weren’t wise behind the wheel. She shares her own life experiences for newbie drivers. “When somebody wants to overtake me, I’d just say ‘go ahead’. Accidents caused by hot-headed drivers would only eat up my time, and that will be a lot of hassle.”
Tessie encourages elderly drivers who still have clear eyesight and quick reflexes to continue driving. “If they can still drive, continue. Don’t stop just because other people say they’re too old to drive. They should also continue to experience different cars so that they will remain updated with the new technologies. Like the GT-R,” she said.
Has she been apprehended for violating traffic rules? Tessie says she has, and she doesn’t throw a senior tantrum. “I stop, I show my driver’s license, and ask politely what my violation is. Then I receive my traffic ticket. I undergo whatever is required. I don’t bribe enforcers. Sometimes, though, with minor violations, they just let me go. I have never been apprehended for speeding or recklessness,” she said.
Autonomous tech okay, but…
Tessie is also well-versed with up-and-coming automotive technologies. About self-driving or autonomous cars, here’s her take:
“If that’s the trend, I welcome it. Let’s see. I just hope there’s also some form of human control. While I sit on the driver’s seat, I would prefer some form of override in case the self-driving car malfunctions,” she assessed.
“I don’t want the car to have full control of everything. People in the car should have control, too.”
Indeed, AI (artificial intelligence) shouldn’t be without their doting moms (and dads), too.