Monthly Archives: December 2013

Half the fun (okay a little less than half)

An Atlas Page

An Atlas Page

I love maps and atlases.

When I was a kid, I could get lost in the Rand McNally Atlas’ pages.  What was it like in the middle of Kansas or Nebraska?  Where did state route 11 go?

I would imagine the people who lived in these (to me) exotic locales.  Were they having a type of simple fun like catching fireflies in jars and picking blackberries in the woods, or were they living lives of domestic drudgery, clothespinning sheets on the line and handwashing dishes?  Did they enjoy math and hate p.e.?  Did they spend their summers working on the farm?  Did they wonder about a person like me?

I suppose, growing up in the suburbs, that I spent more time imagining the life of those living in small towns somewhere in the south or midwest.  Somewhere that was leafy and green during the summer and probably cold and even snowy in the winter.  Definitely something different than my Southern California life!

So planning a trip allows me to indulge my map and atlas obsession (I wrote “fetish” but that’s just way creepier than I think it is).  I take a day-glo highlighter and trace over I-10 from Los Angeles all the way to I-75 in Florida and then south to Ocala, which is somewhat north of The Villages.

Just to be clear, there is no specific place on my Florida atlas that says “The Villages”.  It makes you think it is more of a state of mind than place, but that’s not true.  My dad has a postal address of The Villages, Florida.  What The Villages really is, though, is a huge amount of developed land that crosses three counties and encompasses many different communities of senior citizens.  I think he said it’s the largest senior citizen community in the Untied States.  Which I believe.  You keep driving and run into varied village squares, state of the art medical facilities, and golf carts.

Ahh.  The golf carts.  Most garages have special places to park them (they are garages and a half); there are golf cart pathways snaking around and through the various villages; and you can decide to have a “mercedes” or “woody” golf cart to impress your friends and fellow carters.  They are much more than just a way to get from the first to the 19th hole.

You would be excused if you begin to think they have the right of way over cars – because let’s face it, they do.

So this is where we are headed to.  This state of mind and place where golf carts rule and you probably have to travel a ways to find a decent Starbucks.  Where Dr. Pepper rules over Pepsi or Coca Cola and grits are a substitute for hashbrowns – always.

And where the early bird special is just called supper.

Categories: Travel Plans | Tags: | 2 Comments

RV Shopping Part 1

Somewhere along the line, Laura and I became interested in RVs.

I’m not sure exactly how this happened, and I remember being surprised that Laura was interested. Laura was no stranger to camping, having done quite a bit of back packing as a young adult. I grew up camping. My family did a lot of it –  car/tent camping, RV rentals a couple of times, and lots of boat camping. Neither Laura or I had much exposure to the “RV Lifestyle” as adults. We had seen some TV shows about RVs which probably got our interest up a little bit, but I can’t remember a single moment where we both decided we wanted to seriously look into this.

We heard about an “RV Show” being held out in Pomona, and decided to go check it out. At the time I thought this was the big manufacturer’s show that is held there each fall. It wasn’t – it was a dealer show, but they had a lot of units to show. We went to check out lower end travel trailers, which seemed to be a pretty affordable type of RV to start with. We looked at all of the trailers they had in our price range, and were on our way out of there when a salesman invited us to look at a motor home. It was a 26 ft Winnebago Vista Class A.

We were reluctant to look at the Winnebago, believing that Class A motor homes were way beyond our price range. This one wasn’t – it was under $70K, bringing it pretty close to the nicer travel trailers we looked at, when you add in the cost of a tow vehicle – something we didn’t already have. We were very impressed by this small Class A, and while there was no way were were going to purchase one of these right away, it did the gears in our heads turning. That led to a lot of internet research, and expanding interest.

There is a lot of information about RVing on the Internet……both advertisement – driven content and open forums where anybody can participate. Laura and I learned a lot in a couple of months, and were ready to start looking a little more seriously.

We decided to look at a couple of the largest dealers in Southern California. We looked at travel trailers, as well as Class C and Class A motor homes. We were concentrating on new lower end units.

The first place we visited is the second biggest dealership in our area. The sales person there was a woman, and she was pretty laid back. She just let us look at coaches at our own pace, and answered questions. It was a good experience. Our favorite coach there was the Coachmen Mirada 29DS, but there were others that we liked as well, including the 29 foot Thor Hurricane and the 26 foot Winnebago Vista.

The second dealer that we went to is the largest in the area. We started out looking at new coaches there – Class A only. They had the FR3, which we liked a lot, and the Thor Windsport, which was very similar to the Thor Hurricane. We were also shown a few used Class A Motorhomes, but they were too old and run down to be of interest to us. The sales person at this dealership was a young man, who seemed to be pretty new on the job. He was very pushy. There was a lot of pressure to buy something right away, which neither Laura or I liked. When we were about ready to leave, this salesman rushed us into an older Class A that was sitting in the parking lot, still running after the prior owner gave it to them in trade for a new coach. He told us how “lucky” we were to be able to look at it first. It was a beat up, dirty mess, and it smelled bad. This dealership has probably lost our business by rushing us into that old nasty coach and then pressuring us to buy it right away. The final straw was the shifty-eyed sales manager, who, after we turned down that old coach, tried to back us into a corner, and grilled us about when we would be ready to buy, how much we could spend, where the down payment was coming from, and so on. This idiot talked to us like we were suspects in a police station. Very bad vibe. We left their lot quickly after that, but these guys continued calling us over and over again, trying to get us to come back.

The good news is that the experience at that second dealership slowed us down. We went back to the Internet research for another couple of months, and only visited one other dealer during that time – a very small Newmar dealer in the northern part of LA County. The Newmar units were very nice, but they were beyond our price range.

Now fast forward a few months. I decided to retire from my job of 35 years. Preparing for that consumed most of our time for a month or so. We were still very much interested in RVs, but decided to go slow. We planned to attend the big manufacturer’s RV Show in Pomona. After that, we would rent an RV to see if we enjoyed it enough to proceed.

The next post will be about the California RV Show in Pomona.

Categories: The Hunt for the Wild RV | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Road Trip? Yes, Please.

Around_Btown_Sept_2011_087

I mentioned my father in the last post about our elderly parents. He’s 83 and not in great health.

He started smoking when he was 11, rolling his own. He quit awhile back when he was told if he didn’t, he’d die and pretty soon.

Not that the threat of death stops smokers.  I have a close girlfriend who was told the same thing and she decided to continue smoking – she died in April of this year from severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (yes, the elephant on the chest – COPD). And she was only 57.

But in my dad’s case, the threat worked.   The damage to his cardiovascular system was done but stopping  smoking staved off additional damage that would have hastened his death.

So two big problems – a dissection in the descending aorta (a rare condition, and the one that killed the actor John Ritter), and then as that stabilized and the doctors decided not to repair it surgically, he was told his ejection fraction rate is lowering over time.  A normal ejection fraction (a measure of blood flow through the ventricles) is 50-65 and my dad’s is like 17.

My understanding is that eventually as his EF goes even lower, he will probably die from I guess a heart attack.  I’m not clear on exactly what might kill him.  I’m also not clear on why they say there is no further treatment available, whether that is a medical decision or one based on his age.

What I know is that he sounds very labored on the phone, like he’s trying to catch his breath and he reports that he has to stop and sit or lie down frequently.  He just doesn’t have all that much energy and gets winded quickly.  That’s not good.

He says he’s ready to die.   He’s more religious than he was, so I guess he’s comforted by his belief in heaven and of meeting those who have gone before him, including his parents and his beloved third wife (he’s currently remarried – a surprise for everybody).

So when we got a note on a birthday card that said “Come visit – we’re getting old” we took notice.  I don’t know if this will be the last time I see him before he passes away, or just a nice trip.

Which is why this retirement stuff becomes important.  It’s like, “Wait a minute, we’re retired, so we could take our time going cross country, visiting and then returning.”  Well . . . yeah.  We could do that.

So next week, we’ll hit the road and begin to post about our adventures.  Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get a motorhome yet, so this trip will be in the car and stopping at motels.  The nice part is that Izzy will be part of our trip.

Oddly, or maybe not, with both of my parents smoking (and my nearly 80-year-old mother still smoking), I never started.  I had other vices of course (cheesecake, anyone?), but cigarettes were never one of them.  I’m thankful for that, but when it came to my son, he started smoking at 19 and although he’s tried quitting with variable results, he’s smoked on and off for the past ten years.  I had no idea it skipped generations.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Retired!

Well, it’s done. I pulled the trigger. I’m outta there.

How do I feel about my retirement? I’m not really sure I can answer that yet.

A little about my career.

My first serious job was at a very small company called Testo that manufactured coin operated games. It was a great place to start, because I was involved in the manufacturing process from raw materials to end product. I learned how to run the big machine shop tools – lathe and vertical mill, along with sheet metal tools, DC Arc welding on aluminum, deburring, painting, assembly, and a really rigorous and complex setup and testing process. That was all good stuff to know, but there was a more important thing. Much of what I learned there formed my political opinions – opinions that still stick with me today. I won’t go into those much on this blog, but lets just say it’s the philosophy that extremely independent small scale entrepreneurs would follow. I began to look at this job as a launching point into my own company. One thing that my supervisor and the owner of the company hammered into me – be independent, and don’t trust big companies. Big companies lure you in with the promise of higher wages and a nice benefit package. The problem – people tend to get locked into these companies due to the benefits, and they never reach the same potential that they would have on their own. My friends almost had me convinced that this was true.

Fast forward about three years. I’m a newlywed, have my first house, and thoughts are turning to family. The small company I’m working for is not really growing, and there are dark clouds on the horizon. Mechanical coin operated games have new competition – electronic video games. My supervisor, who was really sharp with electronics, built a Pong game, mostly from scratch. He left the company shortly after that. Enter my father in law – he had been pushing me to try to get hired into one of the local aerospace companies. His company, Hughes Aircraft Company (HAC), was growing like mad, so he told me to apply. I did…..it took about six months, but I finally got a call. I went in for an interview, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My first couple of weeks at HAC were a shock. Coming from a small, tightly run company as I did, I felt like I was suddenly back in High School. I was an hourly employee at first, part of a crew of about 30 people. About half of the people were there to work hard. The other half did as little work as possible. The Union appeared to exist mainly to protect the folks who wanted to screw around….but the Union wasn’t all bad. I was hired to replace an older person who was about to retire, who’s name was Chris. He was a former watch maker, and a really nice guy (sadly he’s been gone for years). His job was a tough one – building ruby rod laser transmitters. The assembly part of this was easy, but the alignment part was very difficult. Luckily, this was right up my alley – it was very similar to what I had to do on the coin operated games. Soon I had that position locked down. My career went on from there with a lot of twists and turns….the company promoted me to a production supervisor, paid for my bachelor’s degree, and gave me more opportunities than I ever could have dreamed of. I worked in Manufacturing, Business Operations, Finance, and IT. The company went through many changes over the years too – HAC was bought by GM in the mid 1980s, and later my division was bought by Boeing. I survived through all of the turmoil that these changes caused, and thrived.

So, did I get locked in by the benefits, as my old friends at Testo warned me about? Yes, I did, but gladly. I never felt like I was being held back. I was encouraged to rise in the company and expand my knowledge and responsibility. If you start your own business and are successful, you could become rich – but of course most people aren’t that successful. You will never become rich at a company like HAC. You will earn a good solid living, with good benefits. So here I am, at 59 years old, with a pension that will provide enough income to help Laura and I survive into old age. Thank you HAC!

Leaving work was difficult in some ways. I had many friends there who I miss. My job was enjoyable most of the time. There were bad things, though. My job carried a lot of stress with it. I was a project manager and had to make difficult things happen. As any project manager knows, this can be rewarding when it goes well, and gut wrenching when it doesn’t.

So much for work.

Getting back to question about how I feel about my retirement – I feel a mixture of relief and anticipation and nervousness and restlessness.  I feel like I am in the starting gate, and I feel like I’ve been there too long. I feel like I’m on a time schedule to get things done that have been festering for a few years. Home improvement and maintenance. Car maintenance. Financial and estate setup and paperwork. Other things. I feel like if I don’t get all of this stuff done, the “company” will come down on me. When I sit around just watching TV for a while, I feel like I’m cheating somebody. Bottom line, I need to break myself out of this mindset, and move along on the next phase of life. Yes, I do need to do the work that I list above, but on my own schedule. I’m somebody who has always fit into the structures that a career tends to force you into. I need to break that structure, and live in the now for a while – but I need to do this without just drifting. For me, this blog is going to be about finding my way out of the starting gate, and about what is on the other side of that gate.

I’m blessed with having the love of my life at my side – her name is Laura. We’ve been together for about 10 years now. Laura is retired now as well, so we are both ready to start on this new stage of our life. I think we are both ready for adventure. More to come.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments

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