I’m 63, married and I have a son in grad school pursuing his MBA. For a few decades I was a broadcast journalist, a career that ended amidst marginalization, on the job ageism and eventually a buy out (or an unacceptable opt out). Frankly I’m luckier than most folks but still struggling with the day-to-day acceptance of “retirement,” and the “what’s next?
At times I feel amazingly lucky yet guilty that I’m not working, despite a few years out now and fresh memories of a lousy grinding workplace.
I’ve read a lot of literature on retiring “wild and free,” yet I pine daily for camaraderie and age appropriate ‘soft’ adventure. I sometimes feel like I’m the only guy in New York City who isn’t sure where to go each day. So, I guess it’s a work in progress to seek the next rung of satisfaction and collegiality. I think.
I discovered your site in my endless quest to “understand” my not so new situation. Frankly your research is interesting.
I’m enrolled in an Osher like class at the New School called the Institute of Retired Professionals. I refer to it as “alta cocker college.” The demos skew a lot older than moi which was a shock for me but it gives me a place to go.
What’s interesting, I find, is the disconnect between older retirees and us newbies. There is definitely a generational gap, in that they are reflective of a different economy, and by and large, seem to represent folks who had a kinder, gentler glide slope into this position. Namely the ability to HAVE a planned retirement, versus others like me who where downsized, forced out, pushed out, etc.…Many folks seem to have “retired,” in a classic sense as if it were a normal right of passage versus others in the post-2008 shakeout who were forced to figure it out. More and more this is the new normal, psychologically and financially, I think.
Does that make sense?
Do you see the same thing?
Fighting for Every Yard
In the 70s and early 80s I drove a cab in New York City. It would be nice to romanticize about the “experience,” but this was about survival. The garage at 508 West 55 Street was iconic and apart from its cage and grittiness was a filthier version of the set of the hit sitcom, “Taxi.” Every day New York’s bedraggled, boozed, wandering and accepting lined up for available cabs, that were doled out based on the previous night’s receipts. While life may imitate art, there was nothing existentially thrilling about this longshoreman like “shape up,” as we huddled around flaming oil drums burning with scraps and ripped cartons as we slurped our coffee hoping the dispatcher would echo our names on his loudspeaker.
Yeah it was crazy in the city and yeah passengers would screw, throw up, ignore and engage amidst your 4PM to 4 AM shift, even at times offering joints and other drugs as payment. The city was dangerous and cabbies were being slaughtered for cash, prompting the garages to weld locked pillbox vaults into the floor where they expected us to stuff our cash. Yeah, right…no one in his right mind would put his crumpled bills down that bunk hole when a .45 could be staring you in the face.
My last day on the job followed a stalled cab on 117th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem at 1:45 AM or so, on a chilly February night. The gas gauge was broke always showing full, I later learned, and in those days before cell phones, one wandered to a phone booth and a call to the garage urging us to wait with the cab until the repair guy appeared. Sitting in a dark dead yellow cab in the middle of Harlem with a hundred or so in cash was akin to chumming with baitfish in shark-infested waters. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and a potential target in a part of town where the cops, at that time, didn’t get out of their cars or stop to bother with anything unless they had to. So I curled up in the back and tried to nap in the cold dark.
It’s the sound I’ll never forget. The clear tap of metal on glass that awakened me, to yes, a polished metal .45 tapping on the back seat window. Luckily it was another cabbie, who seeing my vehicle dead in the street got out and then upon seeing me thought I’d been shot and killed in the back. In a moment of rare camaraderie, I soon discovered he was also working on the side as a street arms dealer. His surprise that I was indeed alive led to a pitch for a “piece,” at what he claimed were reasonable prices from his trunk filled ammo-laden bazaar.
That proved to be my last night behind the wheel as I promised myself that living was better than dying in a story that would be buried on page 18 of the Daily News next to ads for bra and underwear sales at Alexander’s. If you’re going to get plugged, at least do it so the copy sits next to an ad somewhat upscale, like from Bloomingdales.
I open with that tale because from there I scratched and clawed my way into a journalism career that took me through NPR stations in the South and Midwest, then to a little known place in Atlanta called CNN, and then on to the networks as a writer-producer. Risk wasn’t an issue. Freedom was literally another word for nothing left to lose.
With TV expanding and news seen as a “revenue enhancer,” I had climbed aboard a train that was filled with the rich and privileged fleeing their backgrounds, print guys and gals looking for gold and glamor on the tube, and runts like me who somehow passed the test of writers and thinkers.
Still that rutted road, like many businesses, underwent massive change. From “family” like feelings to corporate bean counters, the “biz” was in perpetual shakeout and turmoil and despite my best efforts at surviving regime and ownership change, the day came when the target was, well, me.
Since then, retirement, or a reluctant retirement, has in my mind, followed me like a hungry dog. More difficult has been the adjustment to reconfigure, re-understand or somehow turn off the motor of challenge and competitiveness that led to an exciting career and life.
One should not be ageist or deny those, who like me, fought their way into the new digital corridors of information and entertainment. Yet the door on experienced and traveled wisdom has been slammed as the digital denizens self proclaim their own worth amidst their own blinders and jaunt around journalism’s compromised new track.
Acceptance at times can be a motherfucker. Some are aghast at this proclamation of sixties profanity, but indeed that is my daily “rub.” It’s not about employment and money that way, but more about community, voice and the daily challenges for self-reflection and self-respect. Maybe it’s different out in California, but in New York most peers are either adios or masters of their own universe in the work hustle. To be out of “that,” is to be out of “it, ” or so it seems.
Yeah the literature talks about identity and self as the moniker to leave behind as work slips away. Mostly it’s weak copy, pious self-improvement sophistry and advice for necessary self-management and sustenance.
There’s talk of volunteerism although most of my experiences have been lousy. Perhaps it’s New York or me, but to date the “work” has been anything but. Like interns at NBC and elsewhere who, unless they were well connected, paid big tuition bucks, got credit and did little, I’m hoping a new contract can be written that gives volunteers a fair shake at office self respect and task rather than an old guy wink and nod in the corner and intellectual marginalization.
The point of this exercise is not hopeful self pity but a wonder if others are struggling to find their own rock and roll “retirement.”
I’m still searching to find a new sweet spot that has the same passion and rebellion that helped my generation poke at broken glass ceilings, redefine human rights and a future as bright as an October sun.