Thursday, July 1, 2010

After 50 years, time to stop and play

When I accepted an early retirement from the Flint Journal in December 2007 I knew in my heart I was not done working. My internal clock still yearned to work and produce. So I started a little business and contracted out some writing and communication services, which resulted in one main client, a local school district.

When I did my taxes last year, I realized I was working 25 minutes of every hour to pay Uncle Sam and decided that the fire to work had gone out. If you are curious about the tax math: 25 percent federal income taxes, 15 percent (the employee's 7.5 percent Social Security contribution and the employer's 7.5 percent Social Security contribution) and Michigan's 4.1 percent income tax.

In other words, it no longer made sense to continue getting up early, put on a tie and make my way to work. I loved the school work, but it was no longer worth it.

Also, a person wiser than me once said that "you'll know when it's time to retire." At some point this winter, while Joan and I were away on vacation, a clock went off in my head telling me it was time to stop. Not wanting to quit in the middle of a school year I decided that when the school year ended, so would my employment.

That was yesterday. June 30. For the first time in 50 years there is no paid work now or in the future. It feels great this morning.

As mentioned previously, my life has been blessed. Not once have I had to apply for unemployment. In the 1960s I was laid off from a sandblasting job in San Carlos, California on a Friday (my paycheck bounced by the way) and hit the bricks on Monday and found a similar unadvertised job with a competitor about three miles away. My pay at the time was $2.35 an hour. The work was hard.

In August of 1970, the Foster City Public Safety Department hired me and between then and July 1977 I worked for two Bay Area police departments. Most of that work was in communications and dispatching, but I was also a sworn officer and rode shifts alone and with other officers at the Atherton Police Department. It was great fun. During that time I also served as a paid on call firefighter at Foster City.

But I yearned to write and in the mid-1970s I went back to college to study journalism and eventually gave up the police work and moved to Michigan to attend Michigan State University to study journalism. I picked up a job as a bouncer at the Coral Gables bar on Grand River Avenue to make a little extra money. At that time we were living on the GI bill and money we had taken from my police retirement account.

Somehow I ended up as editor-in-chief of The State News, which at that time was the nation's largest daily college newspaper, leading a staff of 56 editorial employees. That experience left me with many lifelong friends and the knowledge that this was what I was born to do.

In the late 1970s, after leaving MSU, I was editor of a local weekly newspaper and a change in ownership forced me to quit when the new publisher demanded editorial changes that ethically I was not willing to make. For six weeks I hauled 80-pound bags of soft water salt to Lansing apartment complexes to make 35 cents a bag for each one I dumped. That kept me going through Christmas 1979 and then I took a job in January 1980 doing internal communications for a large Styrofoam cup manufacturer in Mason, Michigan.

A good friend who was working as a reporter at the Oakland Press in Pontiac let me know of a police reporter job opening in December 1983 and I started there the first week of January 1984.

My 23-year daily newspaper career was more fun than could be possibly described. Every day was a gift, most stories were a wonderful adventure and except for the occasional incompetent editor, it was a great ride. The bad editors are a source of constant amusement, even now.

There were days, like the one where my assignment was to fly on a World War II B-24, Liberator bomber, that I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. I was paid overtime to attend the clinching World Series game at Tiger Stadium in 1984. Life was good.

So I thank God for leading me to such a rewarding career.

My very first job I landed at 12. I did yard work at $1 an hour for my church and pastor in La Crescenta. Each Saturday, I rode my bike two miles to the church and rectory (which were next door to each other) and trimmed bushes, raked pine needles and mowed lawns.

Later when $8 a week was not enough to pay for my school lunches and Los Angeles Dodger baseball games (my brother and I had to buy our own school lunches if we didn't want bologna sandwiches every day and also pay for our own amusement) I located another yard work job at "The Brass Tree," a woman's clothing store on Foothill Boulevard within walk/bicycle riding distance of the church.

Between the yard work jobs, some babysitting work and other odd jobs I was making about $100 a month, which was plenty in the 1950s-60s. I could take my girlfriend out for a night on the town (dinner an a movie) for about $15. When I was old enough to drive I was expected to pay for my gas and insurance when I used the family car.

When I left Los Angeles after high school and moved in with my father and stepmother, I worked as a 'fly boy' for Pacific Lithograph, a printer in San Francisco. I loved commuting to work in the city and all that went with that.

When my first try at college failed I joined the Navy and spent some time growing up in the service. That included two tours of duty in Vietnam.

I have worked as a gas jockey, back in the days gas stations had "service." I was pretty much willing to do anything to make money, as long as it was legal. During my years on the police department I often worked special details and also worked an outside third job as a temp using my typing skills as a teletype operator at a Silicone Valley company to make extra money.

My police department pay when I started was about $500 a month and we were paid monthly. Without the extra work we would always fall short by the end of the month. Sometimes even with the extra work we still fell short of money.

I've probably had 40 different jobs in my life, each came with its own lessons and rewards. Each taught me something I could use for my next job. To me there is no dishonor in honest work. I respect folks who work hard and get their hands dirty.

My children and stepchildren have never been afraid to work either. I'm proud of them for that.

Retirement, at least to me, doesn't mean being idle. I have plenty of volunteer jobs that I am already involved in and, there's a big travel trailer in my driveway that wants to take me to the far reaches of America.

And I'll have the blog to keep me writing.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Connor Doran, a young man with a talent

A former colleague and his wife, Tim and Amy Doran, have raised a remarkable young man that some of us knew as an infant. Following is a that a friend posted on Facebook.

A great post for a Sunday.