Tag Archives: retirement

Happy Trails, Part 34

A word to the wise: Read road signs very carefully when traveling far from home. If you fail to do so, you might find yourself tooling down some road to nowhere … but it will cost you!

My wife and I returned home this past weekend from our latest sojourn across the United States of America; we opened our mail and found a notice from the Interstate 495/95 Express Lanes toll authority in northern Virginia.

We had been assessed a “toll violation” because in June we found ourselves driving in the “express lane” with no way on God’s Earth to get off.

The violation won’t cost us an arm and both legs, so we’ll pay it. I called the toll authority this morning to “protest” the notice. I was told after explaining to the robotic-sounding “customer service representative” that the “invoice is still valid.”

I applaud the toll authority for being so efficient in its handling of my call. Believe me, I actually doubted I was conversing with a living, breathing human being even though she gave me her name when she picked up the phone on the other end of the line.¬†That’s the good news.

The bad news, if you don’t mind my calling it that, is that the toll authority representative didn’t quite grasp the nature of the “protest” I was filing. It’s not that my wife and I don’t think we broke any rules; we did when we ended up on that express lane. It’s just that the highway was under construction, rendering the GPS on our truck virtually useless, the signage was imprecise, traffic was heavy and we found ourselves — quite by accident — on a toll road without the proper “express pass” tag attached to our vehicle.

Furthermore, we had to travel several miles southbound from suburban Washington, D.C., toward our RV campsite before we could exit the express lane.

This all happened while we were visiting our niece and her husband, who live in Washington. We drove to a metro train station, and rode the train into the district each day of our visit. We would return to the Franconia-Springfield Station, drive our truck out of the parking garage and then head back to our RV site.

Somehow, on this particular evening, we got a bit befuddled by the road construction. On June 12, zigged when we should have zagged and got caught in that seemingly endless journey along an express lane.

Hey, that kind of thing happens to out-of-towners, am I right?

I told Robot Lady we’d pay the fine. She offered nothing in the way of a word of sympathy for our anxiety or frustration over the signage, heavy traffic and road construction. She merely instructed us to “stay away from the left lane when you see those white signs.”

Gee. Thanks. Will do.

Happy Trails, Part 33

This ongoing series of blog posts is supposed to chronicle the joys of retirement that my wife and I are enjoying.

We are enjoying many of them. We just returned home today after traveling 3,175 miles from Amarillo, to East Texas, to Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. We spent some glorious family time with our sons, our daughter-in-law and her sons, our precious granddaughter, our daughter-in-law’s parents, my cousin and her husband.

My wife and I saw a lot of beautiful country along our sojourn and spent plenty of great “quality time” with our family members.

We had a serious blast, folks.

But …

Our trip had a couple of serious hiccups, which I’ll explain.

On our return home from St. Paul, Minn., we pulled into a truck stop/travel center in Springdale, Ark., where we discovered one of our RV’s wheels was seriously out of alignment. We looked closely and discovered it had burned through some bearings. The wheel was shot.

We summoned a service guy, who told us the axle was damaged. We needed a new one. He brought it the next afternoon — after my wife and I, along with Toby the Puppy, spent a sleepless night in the truck stop parking lot. The noise of semi-trailers coming and going all night — along with the oppressive heat — kept us up all night. We ran our fifth wheel off the battery, which didn’t run our air conditioner.

The service guy replaced the axle the next day and we proceeded onward.

Then came the trip home from Allen, Texas, where we spent a couple of days and nights with granddaughter Emma and her parents.

We journeyed home with our shiny new rear axle holding up just fine. We pulled up to our Amarillo house, got out, then tried to open the slide on our fifth wheel so we could empty our pantry.

The slide doesn’t work. No response to the switch. It’s deader than dead, man.

We’ll get that problem fixed quickly.

So, the upshot of this story? Not every excursion is trouble-free. We have to learn to cope with stumbles and hiccups along the way. I believe we did all right in that regard.

We don’t need more opportunities to present themselves.

Happy Trails, Part 32

WOODBURY, Minn. — This blog isn’t about my being a mechanical dunderhead, although that will become evident as you peruse this brief post.

It’s about the recreational vehicle community and the overarching friendliness that pervades it.

My wife and I found ourselves without hot water at the start of the day. We pulled out the user manual for our fifth wheel. I pored through it looking for ways to troubleshoot the problem. I flipped switches, checked breaker fuses, tested the propane levels. I came up empty.

Then we spent the day visiting my cousin and her husband before all of us returned to our RV park; my cousin wanted to see this “mansion” in which we travel. Her husband is a general contractor, but admitted to having limited knowledge about RV propane fuel systems.

We fiddled around outside in the dark, flashlight in hand, flipping more switches and getting a bit more frustrated with each passing minute.

Then up walked a young man named Andrew. “Hello. Are you fellows having trouble with your water heater?” he asked. “Uhh, yeah!” I said.

“I’m an RV tech,” Andrew responded. Quite suddenly, when I heard the words “RV tech” I’m quite sure I saw a light shine on Andrew as if the darkness was lifting all around him.

He checked a few switches, asked about whether my wife and I were running our water heater on electricity or propane. We turned off the electricity, turned on the propane switch and then — presto! — the pilot light lit.

We now have hot water. Andrew offered us a helpful hint on how to operate our water heater. I’m still uncertain what caused the system to fail on us a few hours earlier, but I have an idea on what to look for when we take it in for service.

We thanked Andrew profusely. He said he was parked two spaces over and saw us lurking about in the dark. So he thought he’d come over and lend a hand.

Therein lies the spirit of the greater RV community as I have long heard it described. We all pull together, lend a hand when appropriate and seek to smooth the rough patches for our neighbors who we believe might be in some distress.

Andrew came to the rescue. I appreciate him more than I expressed in the dark of night.

Happy Trails, Part 31

STRAFFORD, Mo. —¬†As we travel around the country in our pickup truck and fifth wheel, we meet the nicest people, most of whom are chock full of helpful information.

So, we pulled into an RV park just outside of Strafford, which is a bit east of Springfield, Mo. We checked in. The nice woman, the co-owner of the park, walked us through the usual stuff: directions to the public shower, the Dumpster, TV listings, Wi-Fi connection, directions and approximate distances to the nearest retail outlets.

Then she pointed out something that kind of caught me by surprise. “Here is the county where we’re located, Webster County. The other counties around us are this, this and this. You need to know where you are if you’re watching the weather and we have some serious storm alerts.”

Gulp!

I said nothing to the RV park co-owner. However, of all the RV parks where we’ve stayed, I believe this is the first time we’ve been told about the potential for — how should I put it? — potentially deadly weather.

As I noted, the vast majority of RV park hosts are gracious in the extreme. I appreciate greatly this lady’s willingness to share some emergency information.

I guess my question is: What happens if we have to bug out — in a hurry? I guess I’d better develop a quick-exist strategy … pronto!

Puppy Tales, Part 36

LAKE ARROWHEAD STATE PARK, Texas — Never let it be said that we don’t cater — even in a perverse sort of way — to Toby the Puppy.

We arrived at this state park about a dozen miles south of Wichita Falls. It’s hot as hell out there … about 100 degrees.

The state park ranger in the office greeted me while my wife took Toby for a walk in the heat.

“We have a reservation,” I told her. She looked it up, found it and asked, “Do you want a pull through?” for your fifth wheel RV. I said yes.

“OK, I have two options. I can give you one site that has no shade but it quite lengthy or I can put you in another one. There’s a problem: It’s got a lot of prairie dogs.”

I thought about that one. I consulted then with my wife. We agreed. We wanted the site with no shade. Why? Because the prairie dogs would drive Toby nuts. He’d want to play with all of them.

We went to the unshaded RV site.

Should we have encamped among the prairie dogs? Some might say “yes.” We chose to save Toby the headache of being refused permission to scamper off to chase the little critters.

Therefore, we had the puppy’s best interest at heart. Meanwhile, we are baking in the hot sun.

Oh, the things we do for our little baby.

Happy Trails, Part 30

We had hoped it would be the Mother of All Garage Sales.

It turned out to be a first cousin once removed, or some such thing. Still, I rate it a success, but not the wing-dinging rousing success my wife and I had sought.

We had hoped to sell a big and beautiful entertainment center. We purchased it about 30 years ago in Beaumont, Texas. Then we hauled it way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle in January 1995. A neighbor came by this afternoon and said, “I wish I could find a place for that,” to which I replied, “I do, too” wish he could find a place for it.

Then he talked himself into snapping a picture of it and sending it to his wife. He left and said he’d call later after taking care of some errands. We chatted a couple of hours later and it turned out that his TV is too big to fit in the centerpiece of the entertainment center.

No deal. Damn!

But no sweat. The furniture piece is now ensconced in a charitable organization warehouse and it will be peddled to someone who can use it.

Our garage sale is over. It’s likely our final such event before we pull up our stakes and head southeast toward the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area.

First things first.

We’ve got to find a place to store the worldly goods we have left in our possession. We have to do a couple of things to the house we’ve called home for 21 years. We have to contact a Realtor. Then we put our crib on the market … and hit the road in our RV.

Our retired life is unfolding in increments. We take one step at a time. Still, our retired life today cleared a big hurdle.

Now, for the next one.

Happy Trails, Part 29

We have spent the past two days peddling some of our worldly possessions.

Retirement has given us time to do these things.

It’s also allowed us to catch up with friends and former colleagues who have stopped by to say “hey” while we’ve been sitting under the hot sun on our driveway.

Three of them came by today and my wife and I took time to visit and to learn about their lives and to tell them about ours.

One particular exchange is worth retelling here.

It went something like this …

We were talking about blogging. I told my friend that blogging occupies a good bit of my retirement time these days. “It’s what I do,” I told him, repeating a mantra I often give to friends who inquire about the things that occupy my time.

I told him the name of the blog likely will change once my wife and I pull up stakes and relocate down yonder, somewhere in the greater Metroplex region.

Then I mentioned how, since 9/11, I was able to live the editorialist’s dream. When I was working for a living at the Amarillo Globe-News, I faced the prospect of having to fill a large bit of empty space on the Opinion page. The editorialist’s dream that came true on 9/11 was that the pace of events became so frantic and so relevant that I never had to worry about how I was going to fill that space.

Indeed, the ideal situation for someone who writes editorials is to grapple with deciding which issues I could set aside for the next day — or beyond.

Since that terrible day on Sept. 11, 2001, I have had zero trouble finding issues to comment on.

That trend has continued every year since then. Now that I’m no longer employed, am retired and writing this blog, I find myself with an embarrassment of riches in topics to discuss. The cool part about it as well is that this blog has many wings to it: I call it a blog that comments on “politics, public policy and life experience.”

As I told my friend this morning, ever since the most recent presidential campaign, my list of discussion topics has grown seemingly exponentially.

It’s the “life experience” topics — such as this “Happy Trails” series of blog posts — that give me the most pleasure.

Retirement also has unshackled me. I’m now free to speak my own mind, lay my own bias on those who read this blog.

Much more to come. I promise.

Puppy Tales, Part 35

As we have made the decision to make much more use of our fifth wheel RV during our retirement years, we have learned something else about the puppy you see pictured here.

This is Toby, our 3-year-old Chihuahua mix mutt.

I hereby declare him to be a maximum road warrior. He has enormous stamina. He seems able to “hold it” forever. There’s little need to stop along the highway for him to, um, do his “business.”

We’re getting ready for another adventure. We’ll hook up with our granddaughter, Emma, and her parents in East Texas. Then we’ll head straight north to the Twin Cities, Minn., to see my cousin and her husband.

Toby is of zero concern to my wife and me. None. He poses no issues whatsoever.

We have heard about pet parents’ troubles with their dog. I’ve heard about dogs getting motion sickness riding in motor vehicles for any extended length of time. My wife and I are blessed that Toby suffers from none of that. Indeed, I came down with a bit of motion sickness while traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia this past month.

The highway is as winding as it gets. I got the sweats. Toby had a blast!

I really do not tire of boasting about how good this little guy is and how much of a home run we hit when he joined our family in September 2014.

He has his favorite spot in the cab of our truck when we hit the road. He’ll curl up and sleep most of the time we’re on the move. When we touch the brakes, he’s wide awake and ready to explore wherever we stop.

If only I had Toby the Puppy’s road stamina.

Happy Trails, Part 28

Even in retirement, I’ve learned that life is full of challenges.

Whereas my career presented opportunities, roadblocks and open doors all along the way, I have discovered that retirement’s challenges are no less daunting.

The next big step is going to occur in just a few days. My wife and I are planning to have our Final Garage Sale before we start making serious plans to vacate the structure we’ve called home for more than 21 years.

Our move is not yet imminent, but I’ll declare right here that once we get past this next week, that moment will be much more clearly in our sights.

One of the challenges I’ve met head on is deciding what to toss, what to keep and what to sell. We said so long today to a piece of furniture we had intended to sell, but when we started to move it toward the garage, we discovered it had some, um, structural flaws that made it not worthy of anyone’s attention. Out it went! Gone.

We’ve collected a lot of things over the course of nearly 46 years together. Some of it has a bit of sentimental value. Some it, well, are just items we’ve been lugging around. We’ve decided we’re done lugging things around just because we can’t say goodbye to it.

This garage sale is going to include some fairly big-ticket items. We hope to sell all of it. Reality, though, tells me it’s entirely possible we’ll have to find other ways to dispose of it.

I will do so with glee.

I’m too old to pack up big items. Both of us have committed emotionally to tackling this next big — and likely final — major challenge in life. It involves relocating down yonder.

We both understand the daunting challenges that await us as we prepare for this major leap of faith. What the heck. We faced many such challenges when we were working.

We met them then. We damn sure can meet these new ones.

Happy Trails, Part 27

My wife and I have discovered another of the many advantages of aging.

It involves — usually — an alert local resident in a place where one travels.

We have just returned from a two-plus-week journey Back East. Our most easterly destination was Washington, D.C., where we visited our niece and her husband.

We were holed up in an RV park in suburban Dumfries, Va., about 12 miles from a train station where we would board the Metro for a 20-minute ride into “the district.”

On our final full day in the D.C. area, we went to the Metro station realizing we had to put more money on our “Smart Cards” that enabled us to ride the train.

We approached the wall containing the automatic machines where we would replenish our cards. I guess we looked like two old folks who didn’t have a clue about what we were about to do — which was accurate.

Immediately upon arriving at the wall with the machines, a Metro employee swooped in. “Do you need help?” he asked in a heavily accented voice; he clearly was not an American. “Yes,” we both said in unison.

“OK, how much money do you want to put on the cards?” he asked. “Where are you going?” We told him our destination. He barked out rapid-fire orders. When we didn’t respond quickly enough, he started punching the keys himself.

“Does this amount cover a round trip fare?” I asked. “Oh, you want to come back?” he responded. “We have to add more money.” So he did.

Boom! Just like that. We were done.

“Have a great day ,” he said with a broad smile.

Then I asked: “Did we look like two old people who didn’t know what they were doing?”

“Um, yes,” he said without hesitation.

Hey, getting old ain’t so bad.