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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.

A Year Already?*

So, it has been one year…from the faithful photo of him leaving the building. Let’s reflect on the last 12 months. First it has been busy for me and I admit I have not kept my internal commitment to contributing to my blog twice a month. Bummer…but after a work and life altering event a few months ago…I have learned to let it go. Next, normalization. Yes, while keeping on a strict and often really hard eating regiment…I got down…

Lonnie Retired Photo*

Lonnie's Last Day

Lonnie’s Last Day

Our First Year of His Retirement Let me catch you up to the first week of June 2012. Lonnie left his job for the last time on March 28 at noon. His first official day of retirement was April 1. No fool’in. March 28 was a Thursday. We always knew he was going to retire on that Friday and we were going to take our dogs to a Bed and Biscuit resort on the Central Coast. He came home a…

Retirement Isn’t for Everybody*

wlp-sp-1956This isn’t about retirement really. Lonnie is off to his brother’s house in Weed for a couple of days. I have the house to myself and this day, after Father’s Day, it is quiet and lonely.  Father’s Day is the early beginning of a trifecta of grieving for me. Some years it is not so bad, some years it is.  This year it is bad. My dad, as well as Lonnie’s dad, never got to retire. They both died young…

Lonnie Retired Photo*

Lonnie's Last Day

Lonnie’s Last Day

Our First Year of His Retirement Let me catch you up to the first week of June 2012. Lonnie left his job for the last time on March 28 at noon. His first official day of retirement was April 1. No fool’in. March 28 was a Thursday. We always knew he was going to retire on that Friday and we were going to take our dogs to a Bed and Biscuit resort on the Central Coast. He came home a…