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Three Week Odyssey

12:33, 12:34, 12:35pm and I punch the SWA check in button on my phone and get my boarding pass line number for the last leg of a three week odyssey of travel: Phoenix, Los Angeles and finally Pueblo, CO.  My trips punctuated with pockets of a day or two of home time to wash my laundry and fill my vitamin packs.

I am tired.

Usually this is a happy moment for me.  I have just 24 hours before heading toward home.  Today, while sneaking this little task below the table in a work related class, tears start coming.  Thank God, I have on a long sleeve jacket and can wipe my eyes before my neighbor sees me.

I have worked with this group of folks for 16 years as of a couple of weeks ago.  They are my work family and I am leaving the Federal fold.  All of us are scattered around the nation, however, as with all good friends, we just need to see each other and we pick up where we left off months and sometimes a year ago.  We laugh, discuss, complain, commiserate and simply enjoy our limited time together until work and individual responsibilities make us fly apart again.  We always look forward to our next adventure of being together.

This is my last person-to-person goodbye and I am surprised at how emotional I am at the thought of it.  I am good friends…even Facebook friends with a few, but I am closer to one person than I thought I could be with a work friend.

Jerry is from Texas.  Upon meeting, we hit it off right away.  He is a wonderful gentleman who loves to laugh and tell stories.  He is the voice of reason at work and has a wonderful outlook on life and work.  He has so many funny quotes and anecdotes, I can’t remember cause I am usually doubled over laughing.   Each one uttered under his breath or across a crowded bar was the perfect fit for the conversation leaving everyone in earshot rolling with laughter.  We are buds…classmates and that means…we always…always sit together.

Brian, Howard, Tammy, Carolyn, Beth and the list goes on.  We are all joined by a common bond of helping keep the public safe around the railroad crossings.  We all have a passion for our jobs and share it with each other.  We have each others backs in all types of situations.

My favorite part of this group, they are always willing for fun.  They are adventurous as me and willing to get out of the hotel and looking to explore anything we can.  Our after work haunts have involved visiting historical sites, having delicious and/or very bad meals, wandering around a town on long walks enjoying the view and each others company, having a drink at a bar Teddy Roosevelt used to hang at or eating local sketchy foods.  Texas is one of our favorite destinations because Jerry is such a history buff and can fill you in on all the back story.  He also knows the best BBQ joints in the state.  One time he packed 9 of us into his little work sedan just to go to lunch.

I have made the incredibly hard and excruciating painful decision to leave my group and my life’s work and start another chapter of LeeAnn.  I am retiring at the end of the year.  There I said it out loud and in public.

I have planned this for a few months and have been confiding in a few folks who rely on my work, but as the time draws close, it is time to shout it out to everyone.

I have worked since I was in high school.  My first job was making popcorn at Sears at the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo. Yep, they had a candy counter too.   I left that smelly and greasy job to wrap presents at Macy’s.  Then after I finished secretarial school, I started with the Southern Pacific Railroad on January 28, 1974.  I was 19 years old.

I worked for SP at San Francisco’s Bayshore Yard mostly afternoons, so I took a baking job at a local café during the morning.  I have a lifetime love of baking. After turning out scones, bagels and loaves, I would then headed off to the railroad for my 3:59pm shift. I worked at a series of bakeries while working at SP in Watsonville near Santa Cruz.  I spent a few years away from the industry and then headed to Amtrak until I landed my job at FRA.

So, I will be a few weeks short of 43 years of working full time when I walk away.

I am scared.

You Don’t Look Like…

Flying SWA to PHX yesterday morning. Let’s just say I LOVE being an A-List flyer. I usually get a TSA-PRE designation on my boarding pass…which means, nothing comes out of bags and shoes and jackets stay on!  Wow.  Sweet.

Anyway, my roller bag is heavy today.  I have three days of work in AZ and had to bring my work boots.  Along with my carry-on with my work computer, my purse…which fits nicely into my computer bag…only two carry-ons you know.  I am laden down with stuff.

They call boarding and just as cattle are lead into a shoot of a stockyard pen (minus the cattle prod and pending death to become ground beef), my fellow flyers and I funnel down the jet way and into the plane.

With my purse/computer bag hefted onto my nearly sixty-year old left shoulder, I am double fisting my roller bag carrying it down the slim walkway between the rows trying to avoid the typical aisle seat sitter’s tripping hazards:  feet, elbows and heads.  All of this is heavy. And this is always the time I rethink what is in my bag…and why did I bring it. But, as usually never leave any of it at home.

The train of people slam to a complete abrupt halt; some lady is rearranging her carry-on in an overhead bin and is so intent on retreating her newest People Magazine she is obviously oblivious to the queue of passengers pining for the unclaimed seats her butt is blocking.

I usually don’t make eye contact while waiting and mindless stare straight between the shoulders of the person in front of me. However, this youngish guy sitting in the aisle seat says. “That bag looks pretty heavy.”  I acknowledge it is and explain it is holding a pair of steel toe boots (Why did I go there???). The denim draped derriere is still dangling ahead and is deterring our quest for passage…so the moment of conversation continues.

“Why do you have those?” he asks with a very quizzical perplexed way. A bit too interested in my lipstick red TravelPro 21inch for my taste. The easiest and quickest explanation I can think of is “I work on the railroad and need them for my job.”  Without missing a beat, he shoots back, “You don’t look like you work on the railroad.” I blankly stare back at him.  Seriously, what do you say back to a remark like that?

Now, I am internally seething at butt lady. She is still working her magazines…there must be a new edition of the Enquirer to peruse. Her bulbous backside continues to block the remaining A list and now pouring in B list passenger’s way. And by now my arms are getting tired and I still have to lift my suitcase way above my head and thread it into the compartment reserved for such bags.

You have to  realize this whole scene is played out in about 90 seconds. Although it appears in writing to have taken months.

Finally, she tucks in her tremendous tush and we can pass.  I get two steps past Mr. Aisle Seat and start hefting my bag into the overhead.  He leans around, peers over this shoulder and sees me…no he did not get up to help me… and says, “I meant it as a complement.”  I just grin and find my window seat two rows away. Again, what do you say back to something like that?

This exchange got me thinking, what does someone who works in the railroad industry look like?  Are we to wear striped bib overalls, red neckerchief, and matching striped hat?

Foamer alert:  Just as information, the striped hat was fashioned from some scrap fabric.  In the olden days, yes…when I was born…railroad wives sewed their husband’s overalls to wear to work.  These garments were essential for keeping soot, grease, smoke and dirt away from and protected their good clothes underneath. I kid you not, take a look at some old-time photos and you will see guys with a suit and tie with bibs on top.

Some smart wife decided there was enough left over ticking (the material first used for overalls…hardy enough for mattress and pillow covers) and made her beau a chapeau.  The rest is as they say is history. Another interesting fact…oh I know it is not interesting at all…but if an engineer wore a poke-a-dot hat…that meant he was a passenger man.  Stripes were strictly freight. I still have my dad’s poke-dot-hat…for a photo; see my post “Retirement isn’t for Everybody.”

Back to my trip: There is no point here. Except that all my railroad friends look normal to me.  No cow-catcher noses, smoke stacks sticking out of craniums or additional limbs or heads. We are just normal folks that talk funny. Between ourselves we use a lot of jargon and words that are usually not acceptable in polite company.

As of January 24, I celebrated my 40th year working around trains and railroad people. And a lifetime of living within the industry since I am 4th generation. It has been and continues to be a fun and interesting journey.

Lonnie now two years retired!! And loving it…relaxed, golfing, putzting around the house. All of our family, friends, and neighbors are enjoying Mr. Fix-It fixing it.

And with me quickly approaching 60, friends are asking if I am ready to “pull the pin.” (RR jargon for leaving)

The simple and direct answer is: No. I enjoy my job…except for a few folks…and I am good at it.  I don’t see any reason to leave.

My job allows me creative freedom, some travel, excitement, diversity in duties, great benefits, good vacation and sick time. But most importantly to me I am in a position to make a difference in other people’s lives in a good way.

So, right now retirement is not for me.  But, thank goodness not for the same reason it was for my dad.


Back to Work!!

Finally, the government is back open.

Now…I have really found out more about politics that I ever wanted to know.  And I didn’t like what I saw.

It is upsetting to know that we (gov furloughed employees and the public) have been held hostage by folks that didn’t want anyone running against them in their next election cycle.

While at home…went to a lot of yoga, finished the mosaic project on my shed step, cleaned, worried, fretted, read, meditated, did more yoga, played with the dogs and Chessie, took naps,  got a head cold, took more naps and just hung around.

Yeah is all I can say!!

Furlough: Week THREE!

To quote Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham of Downton Abbey, “What’s a weekend?” You see, she is so privileged and moneyed that she never worked or had close contact with anyone with a job. She has no concept of work days and rest days.

So, here I am heading into week three of the government shutdown and I am starting to forget my days.

Day after tomorrow,  I will get my last partial paycheck until the government opens up again. I am not spending money…I have not purchased my annual Cost Plus/World Market Halloween rubber duckys yet. For those that know me…this is seriously not spending money.  Really the only things I am buying is food and of course wine! However cheap…or should I say inexpensive my vino may be. :)

The timing is pretty good for me to have some time.  My mom has taken a turn and she is needing more help than I am used to and usually able to give…so that is good. I now have to manage medications and coordinate home health care. Again, the government shutdown is hurting me…since she will need paid care soon…and I cannot claim the VA Aid and Attendance benefits until the government opens up.  And you know those folks along with all the other shuttered agencies will have a lot of catch up work to do.

I want to scream, yell and cuss.  However, just like being in a traffic jam…there is no one person or body to direct my frustration. Literally, no one to help with this stupid situation.  I can’t even use my vote to channel my madness…since all the idiots causing this mess are from other states.

Anyway, I am using this forced vacation to get things done around the house.  It is amazing how much dust and other stuff you see when you are not looking at work.

Furlough: Day Six

So, I just get it…I get it.  If you read my musings from the beginning…this all started with Lonnie semi-driving me crazy after he retired. However, I now get it.  Day Six into my furlough and I am right there with him.  Cleaning, washing, arranging,  gardening and seeing all those things that I thought I would never see, like dust bunnies under the bed.  I guess they have always hibernated there I just never took the time to notice.

I even have some of my Halloween decorations up…that usually doesn’t happen until Oct 25…if I am lucky. So, that is a good thing.  I love All Hallows Eve.  We went and bought pumpkins! I had coffee with Lonnie’s guys this morning!  Wow!

On Saturday when I was volunteering at the rail safety booth, I had a couple of extraordinary experiences.  One a guy came up wearing a filthy Tea Party Patriots orange ball cap. Not only was his hat a mess…but the rest of him was too and his kids.  The unwashed. He was laughing at something…which I took as political. (hyper sensitive)  He wanted all kinds of free stuff from the booth and I just had to walk away.  I was not going to engage him.

Another guy came up and asked me if I was furloughed.  He knows my husband and knows my situation. Anyway, he made some crack about a free vacation and hoped I was enjoying it on tax payer’s expense. Since I knew him, I was able to be more than firm with my answer…I would much rater be working and I was up there on my own time staffing the booth.  Anyway, he took off…guess he decided not to engage me.

I miss work, I miss my co-workers, and I miss serving the public.  I am missing promised to attend and present at meetings, which really bothers me a lot. I know I am letting folks down…and I am unable to do anything about it. They all understand I am sure…I just don’t.  Why can’t these yahoos in DC fix this?

I am going to get those things done around the house I have meant to do for years. I am taking a special class at my yoga studio.  Speaking of yoga, I have gone to practice everyday…except Saturday.  It seems to help with the stress of not working.

Here we go.

Furlough: Day Five

The great American writer and wit Mark Twain said: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”

I just thought I would put that out there.

Anyway, Day 5 and Congress just voted that “we the furloughed” would get paid. So, the pressure is somewhat off…since we are getting paid…we just don’t know when that might be.

I would much rather be working for my pay instead of taking this forced…vacation.  I just got back from vacation in France.  We visited the D-Day beaches Omaha and Utah and went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.  As I splashed in the waves and sank my feet into the wet sand at the beaches and stood and saluted when they took down the American flag at the cemetery…I thought how lucky and proud I am to be an American.  To have as an British airport customer service representative said…”you have the coveted US Passport.”  He was impressed.  Guess in our three day old clothes and I know what we smelled like…he probably thought we hailed from some third world country.  (that’s another story)

I did my best and encouraged my traveling companions to do same and present ourselves as thoughtful and glad to be in France  Americans.  We did fine.

Back to my thought of rather working my job than working around the house. I only had two days back and barely got though the 650 plus emails that were in my in-box. I personally feel I am letting people down…however they know it is out of my hands.

However, I am angry at our “leaders” in DC. I see photos of them laughing in elevators, hear them deflecting direct questions, and saw one video of a Texas Congressman berating a park ranger for doing her job. It was shameful and I hope to God they make him make a public apology to the park ranger and the furloughed gentleman that came to her defense.

I went and staffed an OL booth for a local railroad days celebration…I am an OL volunteer…so did not volunteer as an FRA employee…just to be clear.  Did my part by keeping the booth open when they could not find anyone else to take the afternoon shift.

So, day six…start those projects you never thought you would.  Closets watch out…you are about to get cleaned out!!