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As Long as We Remember...

July 22, 2003

Retiring The Old Fashioned Way

Joe Volz

When I retired, I planned out a structured agenda.I was going to travel relentlessly around the world for months on end with my wife while learning Spanish and taking up clarinet lessons in my spare time.

And I'd make some big bucks grinding out travel stories from every location.

Well, now, three years later, I have done none of that.

I am well on my way to a successful retirement.

At least that's what my friend, Jim Griffin, of Rockville, tells me and he has been at the retirement game for years.

"You were approaching retirement just like you did your working life," he said. "You were planning everything. Giving yourself assignments. Setting a demanding schedule, which included making lots of money. That's not what retirement is all about."

At first, I didn't understand what Jim was trying to tell me. What was wrong with scurrying about, working hard, scheduling things - making money in these times of severe recession?

"Joe, the idea is to slow down, forget about the goals and just relax. Cut the stress," Jim insisted.

Now, I realize he was right - at least in my case.

So, I was taken aback the other day when I read an article in the Bulletin, the newspaper of AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons). It turns out that at least a quarter of the 35 million AARP members aren't retired at all. The Bulletin informed me that "across the nation, millions of older active Americans are retiring old notions of what it means to be retired."

There is a growing army of people - the Bulletin calls them "New Retirees'' - who are "reinventing retirement, trying new careers, launching new businesses."

It's a "retirement revolution," says Helen Dennis, who watches such matters at the University of Southern California.

Well, I don't know if I want to be a New Retiree. He, or she, sounds just like the kind of frenetic person my friend, Jim, was warning me about. A person who is still working hard and often stressed out while striving for more bucks - only in a different business.

Now, granted the experts say that we retirees are concerned about financial issues. Some of us need to continue working because of the declining stock market. So, I am not offering a blanket condemnation of New Retirees.

But I like Jim's approach. He just cut back on his expenses. Jim drives an old car, doesn't dine out much, lives in a modest apartment and seems perfectly content writing poetry. (Unsalable, of course.).

My wife and I have Social Security and pensions and stock investments. We really don't need any more money.

We realized, too, that we could pare our expenses substantially by changing our lifestyle a bit.

So, we moved out of a pricey neighborhood in Washington and relocated to a modest hamlet 40 miles to the north - this one, Frederick. Everything is cheaper, starting with gasoline which is 30 cents a gallon less. We rented an apartment at the renovated Francis Scott Key Hotel at half the rent we would have paid in Washington.

And in Frederick, the YMCA, which has all of the facilities of our trendy health club in Washington (just a little less wood paneling), costs about a quarter as much.

People have time to talk to me in Frederick, too, I've noticed. Now you Fredericktonians, who have lived here for generations, may have a different take on the city than I have as a newcomer of eight months. But if you do, don't disillusion me.

All I know is that there seems to be a lot of friendly people here like Betty, the waitress at the Village Restaurant, who also acts as historian and den mother for the regular coffee clubbers meeting every morning at 9:45 (sharp). Betty even bakes birthday cakes for this crowd - a bunch of friendly retired bankers, businessmen, a former mayor, minister, school principal and a woman construction magnate.

I thought I'd love to join this group but the prevailing folk lore (there seems to be a lot of mythology in town) was that these long-entrenched city grandfathers would not allow an upstart, a youngster of 68, from 40 miles away, to invade their group.

Well, the prevailing wisdom was wrong. They welcomed me warmly. Bob McCardell, who was celebrating his 90th birthday, and Bud Radcliffe, 87, led the way.

What a town.

And then there is the local newspaper. I have worked on newspapers up and down the East Coast since I was 14 but the News-Post is unique. It devotes a daily editorial page column to old news - what was happening in town a century ago. What Washington newspaper would try something like that?

Some days the reports of a turn-of-the century gossip columnist named Mary Jane are the most fascinating items in the paper.

This is my kind of town. Not stuck in the future.

So what am I doing in Frederick in my retirement?

Vegetating? Oh, no.

When I finish my bike riding and weight lifting at the gym, I work on some writing projects, such as this column.

However, one thing I have noticed up here is that the pay scale is a little bit different than when I pounded out stories for the New York Daily News. John Ashbury, the tenacious Tentacle editor, said he was going to double my salary right away and revealed that I would not have to pay a dime of income tax on it. There is no tax problem when you are writing for free.

I had come full circle. My first newspaper job, writing the Boy Scout news in Maplewood, N.J., a half a century ago, was for nothing and now, here in Frederick, I am writing for nothing again. It is a humbling experience.

I don't have to worry about becoming a New Retiree, working my heart out for big bucks. Mr. Ashbury will make sure of that.

Just call me an Old Retiree. A guy who doesn't want to work too hard and enjoys having a cup of coffee with the guys - and doesn't have to worry about his stock portfolio because he is not making any money to put into it.

My friend, Jim, tells me, "Joe, if you keep slowing down, you might have a happy retirement yet."

All of have to do is talk to Bob and Bud and Jack and Fred and Ron and Dave and the rest of the coffee clubbers to realize the wisdom of that remark.

So, if you see me sitting in the window of the Village some morning, it's not that I am hatching some big financial deal or trying to land a lucrative contract. Like everyone else, I am just having a cup of coffee.

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