Tag Archives: retirement

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.

Another scenic highway to cherish

U.S. HIGHWAY 64, Tenn. — We’ve seen a lot of scenic highways in our travels through these United States.

One of them courses through southern Tennessee. We took it from just north of Chattanooga and followed it to just south of Memphis.

I looked for run-down communities along the way. I didn’t spot one. Not anywhere for more than 200 miles. Every single community through which we passed had its charm. Every town was clean. They were well-groomed, manicured, neatly trimmed.

Is this the most scenic highway in America? Oh, probably not. We’ve cast our eyes on plenty of splendor over our years together. I still would rank Beartooth Pass along the Montana-Wyoming border as my gold standard for breathtaking roadside grandeur. Beartooth tops out at 10,900 feet above sea level. You look in one direction at year-round snowfields and ice-cold lakes; the other direction aims your eyes into the Yellowstone region.

We haven’t yet seen every single mile of highway in the United States and Canada. My wife and I have made a sort of unofficial pact to do that very thing.

We’ve enjoyed plenty of pleasant drives through some of wondrous landscape. The stretch along U.S. 64 — which looks much like the picture attached to this post — so far ranks right near the top of them.

The most relaxing part of this drive? The virtual absence of any heavy-vehicle traffic.

Happy Trails, Part 26

Retirement has changed many of my habits. I don’t roll out of the sack early every single morning; I am no longer obsessed with the time of the day; indeed, there are times when I forget what day it is.

I also have changed one of my major travel habits.

No longer do I look for newspapers to purchase when I travel around the country. My wife has kidded me at times over the years about how much more stuff we are carrying home than when we leave.

My journalism career seemed to compel me to look at local newspapers. We would stop somewhere, I’d ask for a local newspaper stand and then I would purchase the paper.

Why? Well, I was always looking for new ideas on how to present, say, opinion pages. Since I edited opinion pages in Beaumont and Amarillo, Texas, for nearly three decades, I thought it helpful to see how other newspapers presented their opinions — and the opinions of contributors — to their readers.

These days, my newspaper-purchasing habit has virtually vanished. I no longer work for a living. I no longer have a need to see how other editors do their job. I no longer feel virtually obligated to fill my vehicle with newspapers, to bring them home, cart them into the house and pore over them to search for better ideas.

On our latest adventure, I did purchase one newspaper: the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial-Appeal. It’s still a pretty good read. So, I read it — and then tossed it.

Life continues to be so very good.

Happy Trails, Part 25

The trail along this retirement journey isn’t entirely, um, happy.

I won’t throw up my hands, I won’t surrender, I won’t cease exploring new adventures across our vast continent. I’ll have to learn some patience as we continue to battle individual communities’ unique methods of controlling and directing traffic flow.

We recently found ourselves guided — mistakenly, I believe — onto an express lane of Interstate 95 between Washington, D.C., and our RV campsite in suburban Virginia. How in this world we got into that lane is a mystery to both of us.

Traffic was stalling terribly in the “regular lanes” of southbound traffic; meanwhile, we sailed along in the express lane with virtually no one else in our lanes.

We were able to exit at Woodbridge. I might get some form letter from the Virginia Department of Transportation. It might contain a traffic ticket for all I know.

I’m not sure how to handle a ticket. Do I pay the fine? Do I challenge it? I’m tempted to challenge a fine if it comes. I think it’s an easy case to win. I’ll await something to come in the mail.

We are learning that states have different methods of striping their highways. Some of them advise motorists in plenty of time about lane changes, or closure; others of them aren’t as careful.

My task now is to get ready for sudden changes in traffic flow.

It also is incumbent on me to stop whining about getting diverted by mistake along a route that takes us out of the way. Hey, we’re retired these days! Why worry if an unintended detour keeps us on the road a little longer?

Happy Trails, Part 24

Retirement has allowed us to become reacquainted with elements of our individual and collective upbringing.

That’s not as strange as it might sound.

We travel in a 28-foot fifth wheel. We hook up at RV campgrounds usually looking at least for water and electric hookups; if we get sewer connections, that’s all the better.

Television reception depends on a couple of variables: Do we have cable or do we rely on our antenna? Most of the time, it’s antenna use.

Here is where the past meets the present.

We extend our antenna, program our “auto channel tuner” setting. Bingo! We get a plethora of channels. Many of them feature old-time TV.

We get to watch some of the programs we grew up watching. These old-timer networks broadcast programs such as “The Lone Ranger,” “Lassie,” “My Three Sons,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Perry Mason,” well … you get the idea. Then we get the cheesy game shows with those whopping $500 payouts to the winners.

The most entertaining aspect of watching this television programming is its innocence. The Lone Ranger, for instance, knows how to solve every situation that he and Tonto encounter. I find myself feeling a bit sorry for Tonto, who is portrayed as a know-nothing who has to ask Kemo Sabe for advice on how to solve every single crisis they encounter.

There’s a certain irony, if you think about it, in watching this flashback television. The older we have become, more exposure we get to the experiences of our youth.

Happy Trails, Part 22

INTERSTATE 64, W. Va. — This might be one of the most beautiful stretches of interstate highway in the United States of America.

It reminds me of driving through Bavaria in southern Germany, which my wife and I were able to do this past September. Lush mountains tower over the roadway, which crosses many substantial rivers.

But I noticed something while blazing along the highway through West Virginia and neighboring Virginia that I want to mention here.

Many miles of interstate highway in both states — as well as in Tennessee and Kentucky — are named in memory of individuals. All of the signs we noticed identified the honorees as males. Many of the signs contained ranks next to the names: sergeant, deputy, sergeant major, trooper, officer, lieutenant, captain, Medal of Honor recipient, etc. You get the idea, right?

I was struck also by the belief that each of those names has a story. The “memorial bridge” or “memorial highway” is named in honor of someone who likely died in the line of duty or in service to the country.

The question I posed to my wife was this: Why not erect plaques near the sign identifying the right-of-way that tells us the story behind the name?

I’m not necessarily interested in knowing the details of how the individual died. But they have a story of their public service that might be interested in telling.

Who would stop and read such signage? I might.

Indeed, I once wrote a story for NewsChannel 10.com about the vast array of historical markers scattered throughout Texas and I interviewed a fellow named Michael Grauer, who is an official with the Panhandle/Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. Grauer identified himself as an avid “historical marker reader.” He said whenever it’s remotely possible he’ll stop while traveling and read about a marker that commemorates a historical event that happened near where it’s posted along a Texas highway.

I doubt anyone in authority in these states that honor the individuals will take this suggestion seriously. There might not be money in states’ budgets to pay for plaques telling the honorees’ stories. Location might be an issue.

As we continue to wind our way across the country, though, ideas like this seem worth the effort to pass along.

Happy Trails, Part 21

GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. — Our retirement journey has taken us to the Country Music Capital of the Known Universe.

That would be Nashville, home of the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Ryman Auditorium, The Hermitage and hordes of people having a good time.

Our campsite was in a ‘burb about 10 miles or so north of the big city. It’s crowded, but the folks on all sides of us are wonderfully nice, accommodating and, in some cases, willing to accept our help when they pull in. We’ve had to move our big ol’ pickup a couple of times to make room.

One of the RV campsite owners ventured by to ask if there’s anything she could do. I said no. We were fine. But I asked: “Do the folks over there, right next to the railroad tracks, get a break because of the train noise?” Her answer: “What train?” which was her way of saying, “Nope, they don’t get a break on the price.”

That’s really all right. We were camped about 200 feet from the tracks and to be candid, by the second night we managed to tune out the roar of the locomotives barreling through on the high-speed tracks.

I’m glad to be shoving off on our way to Washington, D.C., where more adventures await as we visit a couple of family members. Why? This weekend figures to be utter bedlam in Music City, where Nashville is playing host to two huge events: the Country Music Awards festival downtown and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoff between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We ventured down there with friends we met here on a weekday afternoon, with people still at work. I’m trying to fathom the chaos that will ensue on Friday night — and then the next night when they play that hockey game at the arena downtown.

I’m going to pray for them all.

Meanwhile, our adventure continues — elsewhere.

Happy Trails, Part 20

SAYRE, Okla. — We have discovered a feature of RV travel that we didn’t expect to find.

It’s called “Public RV” camping.

We discovered it in this community that sits precisely midway between Amarillo and Oklahoma City. We camped at a city-run park that just happens to have about 60 RV campsites. Some of them are pull-through sites, which is our strongly preferred type; they have water and electricity; we get decent antenna TV reception.

And we paid all of $12 for our overnight stay. Twelve whole American dollars! 

We have discovered this form of RV camping while scouring through our huge directory of campsites across the country.

My wife and I have made pact that we’re going to look for this kind of campsite as we continue our trek across North America.

We aren’t too big into those fancy-schmancy RV “resorts.” People are packed too tightly into some of them we’ve seen. We prefer a more “rustic” setting to park our fifth wheel.

We do use our Texas state park pass that gets into our state’s parks for free; sure, we pay for nightly use, but the pass waives our entry fee.

Sayre’s park is actually quite nice. It’s clean, well-manicured, well-lit, pet-friendly.

It’s also inexpensive. We fixed-income travelers appreciate that aspect of “public RV” camping most of all.

Happy Trails, Part 19

You might know already that I am a big fan of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

TP&W runs our state parks. The park system offers a nice perk to those of us who live in Texas. We are able to purchase a pass that enables us to enjoy the parks without paying an entrance fee, which isn’t steep by any means, but it adds up over time if you use the parks frequently.

My wife and I now are fully retired. We’ve been spending a lot more of our time sleeping in our recreational vehicle. Thus, we are pulling our RV to state parks around the state and are enjoying the parks without having to shell out entrance fees every time we arrive at park entrances.

As we ramp up our RV use, we intend to make ample use of our state parks.

I’ve griped long and loud over many years about Texas government. I am, though, a big fan of the state’s park system. We have a couple of first-class parks in the Panhandle: Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons. We haven’t yet hauled our RV onto the floor of PD Canyon, but we have stayed at Caprock Canyons and have enjoyed the park immensely.

Later this summer, we’re going to camp at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Lake Bob Sandlin State Park east of Dallas and Village Creek State Park in the Big Thicket in Deep East Texas. We’ve already discovered several other state parks: Goose Island in Rockport, Garner in Uvalde, Lake Casa Blanca in Laredo, San Angelo State Park, Stephen F. Austin near Houston, Balmorhea near the Davis Mountains.

Am I a cheerleader for the state’s public park system? You bet I am. I encourage everyone I can think of to use the parks. They’re a treasure that make me proud of my state.

We’ve only just begun to enjoy them.

This reunion thing can get maddening

I am blessed beyond measure with wisdom that comes from members of my immediate family.

My frame of reference is my wife and my two sons.

One of them offered me a bit of wisdom this weekend that is giving me serious pause about whether I should attend a reunion of my high school graduating class.

It’s the 50-year reunion that is coming up in October. I had leaned against attending. As of this moment, I’m back on the fence. Totally neutral. I have indicated to close friends that I could be “talked into” going.

My wife and I attended my 10-year reunion in 1977; I flew back for my 30-year reunion in 1997 — and I hated almost every minute of it. I vowed then I wouldn’t return for any subsequent reunions. The 40-year reunion occurred without me. I had no regrets about staying away.

But then my son and I had a conversation this weekend that went something like this:

Me: You know, of course, that I am thinking about whether I want to go to my 50-year high school reunion.

Son: Yes, I know. I also know that you aren’t too keen on going.

Me: That’s right.

Son: Let me offer this bit of advice. You said your 30-year reunion was a bummer, that you hated it. I think the reason was that you went alone. Mom wasn’t there. You also set the bar too high. Why not just go this next reunion with Mom, see your friends, have a good time — and then go do whatever you want to do with Mom?

Do you see what I mean about wisdom? I’ve never told my sons that I was the knower of all knowledge. I’ve always had an open mind to whatever advice either of them — along with my wife — were willing to give me.

My wife and I now are retired. We purchased a fifth wheel recreational vehicle, which we tow behind a big ol’ pickup. Were we to go, we likely would haul our RV to Portland, Ore., where we both graduated from high school.

As I understand it, our Parkrose High School class of 1967 is planning a dinner in October at a hotel near Portland International Airport. We could attend the dinner, have some laughs, get caught up; my wife knows a couple of my classmates — one quite well, the other not nearly so.

Then we could say goodbye. Go back to our RV, visit some family and a few of our many other friends we have in the city of my birth.

Then we would be on our way to, oh, destinations to be determined.

I won’t set the bar too high. I won’t seek to rekindle relationships that I learned at the 30-year reunion did not exist in the first place.

Hmm. I am now thinking carefully about the wisdom I received from my son. That reunion is beginning to beckon — and I am beginning to pay attention.

I’ll keep you posted.