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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.