On Monday I turned 60.

To mark the occasion, Casa Grande’s finest gave me a police escort to work.

OK, actually I got pulled over while driving to work.

Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like seeing flashing red and blue lights in your review mirror at 6:30 in the morning.

As it turned out, this wasn’t the only recognition of that eventful day in 1958 that I was to receive during the day.

In the age of data collection, almost every business and institution keeps track of birthdays of the individuals they interact with.

All my Facebook friends — both of them — wished me a happy birthday after receiving auto-notification through the social media platform. I made a deposit at the bank and the teller wished me a happy birthday. I heard from my insurance agent, old church and even my cellphone, which gave me a text greeting.

It’s enough to make George Orwell roll over in his grave.

Regardless of whether Big Brother is watching or not, technology has kind of taken the satisfaction out of marking memorable events such as birthdays. It is not enjoyable when you know the congratulations come from a computer bot, rather than a person, or even when that person is just responding to provided background data.

Facebook has even decided that just birthday reminders aren’t enough. They send you reminders of anniversary dates of when you became friends with one another, or even marking the date you posted a selfie of you and that strange street performer you met on vacation.

Anything to generate a conversation, which means business to Mark Zuckerberg.

I have no problem turning 60. It beats the alternative. When I turned 50, my wife gave me a big party, complete with a black cake and a houseful of friends who had yet to turn 50.

This year she gave me a card and a big bag of Cheetos. Our cat also attended the festivities. He left me a present in his cat box. He made it himself.

I consider both celebrations a success.

I guess your 50th birthday is seen as a major milestone, while turning 60 is ho-hum. On your 70th birthday you can look forward to your kids throwing you a party and asking if your will has been updated.

As for my traffic stop, the friendly officer told me he pulled me over for making a right-hand turn from Peart Road onto Florence Boulevard into the left-hand travel lane.

I explained this violation in a text to my adult daughter and she had no idea what I was talking about. She could not visualize what I meant. She thought I was trying to make a left-hand turn after turning right, or was using a metaphor for some political conversion.

I realized what I had done was a violation, but there was an explanation. I decided not to share it initially with the officer, for he might think I was making excuses.

This street corner is dark in the mornings. And many senior couples like to walk down Peart and cross Florence Boulevard to go to Starbucks. Me giving a wide berth on my turn was just a way of providing more space in case I missed seeing someone step off the curb to cross the street.

I handed the officer my driver’s license and registration and he went back to the patrol car to write up a citation. When he came back, he told me he was just giving me a warning, then said, “Happy birthday, Mr. Howell.”

I don’t know if he decided to only give me a warning because he didn’t want to give me a traffic ticket on my birthday, but I wasn’t going to argue with the results.

Sometimes, data collection does have its benefits.

Now that's worth celebrating. Cheese puffs all around.


Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at or 520-423-8614.