BROOKSVILLE — Bernice Alexander's blue 1996 Mercury Marquis would be quite a used car find. Though it's 13 years old, the interior is perfect, the paint still shines and there are less than 30,000 miles on the odometer.
But Alexander has no intention of selling the car. To her, it's a freedom machine that carries her on short jaunts from her Brookridge home to places like Wal-Mart and to favorite restaurants such as Beef O'Bradys and the Texas Roadhouse.
"It allows me to be independent," said the affable woman, known to her friends as Bee. "I like being independent."
That independent streak has kept her going for 100 years as of today.
Over eight decades of driving, Alexander said proudly that she's never had an accident or even a ticket. In fact, Florida renewed her driver's license for six years in 2007. Does she expect to be driving in 2013, at age 104?
"We'll see,'' she said.
Driving at 100 years old is no big deal if you're physically and mentally capable, said Alexander, who boasts of having excellent vision and hearing.
But most of all, Alexander says she plays it safe. If she isn't feeling well, she'll leave the driving to someone else.
Widowed for more than 15 years, Alexander has gotten used to doing for herself. She still lives in the same home that she and her husband, Preston, bought in 1982 when he retired from his job as a toolmaker in New Jersey.
While he spent his days golfing, she was a woman on the go.
Upon its opening in 1984, Alexander, then age 75, became one of Oak Hill Hospital's first volunteers. She served as an in-house courier, delivering documents and supplies until last March when her doctor advised her to stop.
These days, Alexander spends her time in quiet pursuits such as reading and solving daily newspaper puzzles. She slso enjoys going out to lunch with her friends. A group of them have planned a birthday lunch outing for her today at Kallie K's Restaurant in Weeki Wachee.
Though she has enjoyed all the well wishes and cards from family and friends, Alexander says she will be glad when the hubbub is over. "I'm not used to this kind of attention," she said.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.