I was an old man for a week, and I loved it. That's "old," not "middle-aged." I'm talking 65 to 75 years, not 45 to 55. I'm talking geezer, curmudgeon, grouch, don't-have-to-listen-to-you because-I've-heard-it-all-before.

I had a good time.

It happened in a 2002 Ford Crown Victoria LX sedan. It's a big, conservative American car favored by police, government agents and senior citizens. It gets respect.

People move out of the way of a Crown Vic. If they're speeding, they slow down. Nobody cuts you off.

Another thing: At a Giant Food store in Northern Virginia, one motorist allowed me to take a regular parking spot closest to the store. She was very nice about it. Maybe she thought I was a detective, or maybe an Internal Revenue Service agent. Maybe she thought I as an old guy in a Crown Vic who needed a break.

No matter. It felt good. I once wrote a column about being treated like royalty in a Rolls-Royce Corniche. But that was deference stemming from envy and, perhaps, a mixture of lust and greed.

The Crown Vic engenders something else. If you're sitting behind its wheel in coat and tie, people assume that you're on a mission. Why else would you be driving an "Arizona Beige clearcoat metallic" govmobile that stretches 17.7 feet front to rear? Why else would you be in a car that could seat six large adults in perfect comfort?

If you're in casual wear, as I was on the day the nice woman helped me at the Giant, younger people treat you as their father, village elder, someone in need of and deserving of assistance.

There is something so establishment about the Crown Vic, other motorists assume that you're going to do the right thing behind the wheel. I'm often nervous when slowing down for yellow lights. I fear that drivers speeding behind me will smash my rear. But in the Crown Vic, I checked the rearview mirror and noticed that traffic was slowing in anticipation of my stopping at yellow.

It's easy to make fun of this car. Its dashboard is long and wide enough to host a soccer game. Despite a variety of cosmetic fixes, the rest of the interior is old-school -- big cloth-covered or leather seats, depending on your preference; lots of woodgrain inserts, plush-pile carpeting.

The car also is traditional mechanically -- rear-wheel drive; a 4.6-liter, 220-horsepower, two-valves-per-cylinder pushrod V-8 engine; and, of course, a four-speed automatic transmission.

Rival automobiles, such as the Toyota Avalon sedan, have more pizazz and prestige. But the Crown Vic trumps most of them in terms of value for dollar and overall safety.

I'm going to miss this car. It carried me well on my tours of Northern Virginia. It was as great at rest stops as it was on the highway. I'd pull over at patrolled rest stops, turn off the engine, crack the windows, check the door locks, and quite literally stretch out and nap on its sp acious rear seat.

And it didn't matter when I got up a bit rumpled and ambled to the men's room to clean up before hitting the road, again. I was just an old guy, probably a nice old guy, traveling around Virginia.