Don Rogers: Retirement’s dusty tracks
One of my colleagues dropped by last week and told me he was retiring.
Yes, a little early, he acknowledged. But he was ready. They could pull it off, thanks to an inheritance, and they had kept their needs modest.
What will you do? I asked.
He laid out my fantasy, basically. A pickup with a shell, head for the quieter corners of the country. As he spoke I imagined taking a right on one of those endless dirt roads in Nevada, following the track forever. Four-wheel drive to the loneliest trailhead, then weeks under a backpack on an even lonelier path.
Ah, solitude. Return home when the heart calls, no sooner. Silence like I’ve never heard. Stars thick to the horizon. Dreams come true.
He was looking forward to seeing America, he was saying. So much right here. No schedule to keep, no boss to answer, no stepping lively, taking on dull projects for the paycheck. Nor exciting ones, for that matter. None could match up to the truck, the road, seeing what he hadn’t yet seen.
Regular employment came early for him, and he never stopped working. It was different for me, with long winters off for whatever: surfing, backpacking, trail runs and bike rides, travel, school if I felt like a winter semester, day labor here and there for extra cash, all day with a book if that suited, even some writing.
By 30, I honestly wasn’t sure I could work the same job all year round, and then, good God, the next year, too?
Today, I wonder if I could go a day without pecking away at something to do with work. The to-do list runs at least as long as one of those Nevada dirt roads, everything urgent.
Another friend has worked a cool variation of careers: broadcast journalist, including a stint embedded during wartime; elective office; high school teacher.
I had to ask, What was your favorite? My guess was teacher. I’d watched her greet former students who plainly still connected with her.
She looked at me like I was maybe more than a little nuts.
What I’m doing now, she said. She didn’t add, Duh. She didn’t have to. The inflection was plain.
So what does she do now? You guessed it. She’s retired.
Similar story. Freedom, schedules tossed unless she sets ’em. No one tells her where to go, what to do — not that anyone ever did, I suspect. She has friends everywhere, and that’s where she goes when she feels like it. Well, pre-pandemic anyway. She had a special thing for going on cruises then, and soon enough — knock on wood — will again.
My sense is she prepared well, made smart moves, good investments, and is well positioned as a result.
Such a contrast to my father, a full life of madness to his method, a Hunter S. Thompson ideal: Skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, Wow! What a ride!
My dad died one morning over his daily paper in Honolulu at 86 with about $3,000 and change in a bank account to his name. And bills to pay, just as promised.
I believe he was very happy. Friends, Sunday brunches at the Waikiki Yacht Club where he had a life membership, his roommate of three decades, Rhonda. He had several girlfriends about my age after divorcing my mom, was kind of a legendary sailboat racer, well loved despite his intolerably high IQ, which he mostly kept under wraps. I learned from him that the smartest person in the room is never among the peacocks flashing their brilliance.
His advice: When you get old enough to think about retiring, don’t.
I met a local stonemason a year or so ago in line at the Brunswick Safeway during the first of the PG&E power shut-offs for fire danger. In his mid-70s, I believe, built like one of stone edifices he builds. Retirement? Hah! No way. In his neighborhood, he sees early retirees who made it big somewhere else walking toy poodles in their PJs and bathrobes, very clearly having lost a step, maybe a lobe.
But I have other friends and acquaintances, mostly in Vail, who killed it young in one of those lucrative careers and retired in their 40s and 50s. You can find them on the slopes, on the links, the mountain trails, the bars, the fund-raising galas, the non-profit boards. Some stay just fine playing and traveling their years away. Others tire of all that play, need something more substantial to chew on, and get involved with community affairs.
Locally, a banker friend keeps retiring and unretiring. I tease him occasionally over calamari and Chardonnay for him, IPA for me. Either way, he stays connected, the light in his eyes always bright.
To some extent, the dice have been cast for me. I chose occupations I loved, bones I couldn’t keep from gnawing, none lucrative. My brain never went that way.
So I work. Good thing I like it. That endless Nevada road, washboard and all, well, it’ll keep awhile longer.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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