Our Tax Dollars at Work

My husband and I decided to take a leisurely route on our drive home from Sacramento a few weeks ago. On our trip north, we took Highway 5, which runs up the middle of the state – it’s the best choice for getting from here to there in a single day, but there’s not much to see along the way. For our return trip, we opted to take Highway 1, which has to be one of the most beautiful highways in the country, if not the world.

I’ve traveled on this road many times; on family vacations, riding along with my parents and older brother when they delivered him to the University of California, Santa Cruz where he went to college, and then again when I attended UCSC, and a handful other trips over the years. Each time, I have been transfixed by the breathtaking beauty along California’s rugged coastline. As I got older and became more aware of these things, I marveled at the level of planning, engineering, and construction expertise that must have gone into creating this ribbon of asphalt that hugs the coastline.

This time, because we began our journey in Sacramento, we had to negotiate a number of freeways before we were able to connect up with Highway 1 in the city of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, our journey took us south through Capitola, Castroville (the “artichoke capital of the world”!), Monterey, and Carmel, before we began the approximately 90 miles of highway that winds along the coastal area known as Big Sur.

It is difficult to capture in words how stunning the scenery is along this route. To the north, the highway passes through a lush pine forest, then, as it winds south, the road turns toward the coast, offering views of the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean meeting a rocky shore that rises abruptly to become the Santa Lucia mountain range. Because we were traveling south, our lane was on the outside, close to the edge of the cliffs. Great for taking in the views, but a bit harrowing as we wended our way along the curvy road. Fortunately, there are many turnouts provided along the way so travelers can stop for a closer look and to take pictures.

Up until the 1930s, this part of California’s coastline was relatively inaccessible. In 1921, state and federal funds were appropriated for the ambitious project of constructing a road from Carmel to San Simeon. San Quentin Prison provided much of the unskilled labor, paying the prisoners a whopping 35 cents a day, and the promise of reduced sentences. Because of the area’s topography, 33 bridges had to be constructed, including the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge.

Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge

After 18 years of construction, aided by New Deal funds during the Great Depression, the paved two-lane road was completed and opened in June of 1937. The road was initially called the Carmel-San Simeon Highway, but was better known as the Roosevelt Highway, honoring the current President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939, it was redesignated as Highway 1, and, in 1965, became the first State Scenic Highway.

Several areas along the route are prone to landslides and the road has to be shut down from time-to-time to clear the path. Fortunately, I have never experienced one of these slides in progress – I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to have rocks and boulders suddenly rain down on my car and the road in front of me.

One of many landslides at Pitkin's Curve
One of many landslides at Pitkins Curve

In one area where a large number of landslides have occurred, the California Department of Transportation is completing an ambitious project designed to protect both travelers and the fragile coastline. At Pitkins Curve, they have realigned the road by constructing a bridge that juts out from the side of the cliffs, thereby allowing future landslides to pass under the bridge and not fall onto the road. They are also building a “rock shed,” which is I can only describe as an exterior tunnel. The theory is that rocks and boulders will fall onto the roof of the shed, rather than on the cars and cyclists on the road.

Construction of the rock shed. Image by the California Department of Transportation.
Construction of the rock shed. Image by the California Department of Transportation.
Entering the amazing rock shed
Entering the amazing rock shed

The original construction of the highway (even with the poorly paid convict laborers) was extremely expensive and could have only been done with tax dollars. I am so grateful that, back in the early part of last century, the federal government and the citizens of California wisely saw the value of such an ambitious project.

I can’t say that I enjoy paying taxes, and I certainly disagree with a lot of things my tax dollars fund. I also understand that there is a lot of waste and a certain amount of fraud in the system. It’s not perfect, but I do know that it takes a lot of money to keep all of the moving parts of this great country operating smoothly. When I travel on roads built long ago because the government and voters at that time thought it was important to dream big and create a legacy for future generations, I realize that the decisions we make today will reflect the values we hold.

In our current climate of tax resistance and reduction in government spending regardless of the societal cost, I wonder if we would have the vision and commitment to the common good to fund a project like Highway 1 today.

More than a paycheck

When my husband retired a little over a year ago, he quickly realized that many of the things he took for granted over the 40+ years he was in the corporate world were no longer easily available to him. You might think this realization could probably be placed in the “No Duh” file, but I can imagine, until one actually makes the jump from working full-time one day to not working at all the next, it’s impossible to anticipate all of the changes to come.

In addition to the easy social network that is left behind (several post topics in itself), problem-solving help, IT assistance, data, and other useful information that used to be a stroll to another cubicle or simple phone call away, are no longer as accessible. Because he was employed by a pretty large corporation (where I continue to work), he probably had more resources than many who work in smaller companies – surely more than those who are self-employed. But, I imagine that many new retirees from companies of just about any size not only miss their work friends but also the perks of shared resources.

One of the largest gaps in our knowledge base involves things technological. We own three computers, two smart phones, and one tablet, and, as long as things are working smoothly, we are fine. As soon as we experience a glitch, we are lost (for instance, just recently, the “back” button on my desktop mysteriously stopped working for the most part and I have no idea how to fix it). I am savvy enough to know that I can often find the answer to my latest puzzlement by Googling my problem in the form of a question. Unfortunately, just as often, rather than the simple answer I was hoping for, I find that my limited technological knowledge doesn’t include what is necessary to understand the solution.

As long as I continue to work, I’ll have fairly easy access to people who can help solve whatever IT problem we throw at them. When I join my husband in retirement, we will either need to put the Geek Squad on permanent retainer, or find a bright 15-year-old in the neighborhood that we can bribe with treats in exchange for help.

So, what are you doing?

Reunion Pic1_PS

Last night I attended my 40th high school reunion. It was a little overwhelming to be surrounded by so many classmates that I’ve lost touch with over the years. I can count on two hands (and have a few fingers left over) the number of friends from back then that I still see even on a semi-regular basis. Of course Facebook “friends” add more to that number, but those contacts consist of periodic updates, not what I’d classify as actual relationships.

Although it was tempting – and would have been easier for me, an introvert in intense social situations – to spend most of the evening among friends I am still in contact with, I found myself drawn to those that I didn’t know very well in school. By venturing out of my comfort zone, I discovered quite a few classmates that weren’t in my circle of friends back then, but who I now wish I had known better over the years.

When we were in high school, I’ll wager that most of us wouldn’t have been able to predict what we would be doing 40 years later. Not only were we not fully-formed human beings capable of picking our adult careers, many of the jobs we hold now didn’t even exist then. Hopefully, our definition of a desirable mate has advanced past the low bar many of us set back then. What we did for “fun” back then probably would bore, or in some cases horrify, our adult selves.

I loved hearing about what my former classmates are currently doing. Many of them are working at interesting jobs; several were retired or, like me, close to retirement; some had avocations that were much more interesting and fulfilling than their vocations.

When invariably I was asked “so, what are you doing?” I found myself at a bit of a loss. I have a great job, but it’s hard to describe well in a few sentences. Besides, I won’t be doing it anymore in a few months. I wish I had been able to talk about an exotic trip I had taken recently, a cause I was lending my time to, or maybe an artistic journey I was in the middle of.

So, what am I doing? I’m focused on creating a new life in retirement; a life that is active, interesting, fulfilling, and one that will give me a lot to draw from when someone asks me what I’m doing.

Picking a Date

Unlike many people, I don’t have what I’d call a precipitating event that will set my retirement date in stone; I’m not reaching a magical age, my health is great (thank goodness), my job is as secure as any these days. I am lucky enough to be in the position of choosing to retire, and to retire relatively young. The only problem with this flexibility is that the date is fungible. Setting a timeline that is so far in the future doesn’t feel real. Earlier this year, I identified September as the month. September and October are often two of the nicest months weather-wise where I live. Not too hot, not yet cold and most of the tourists are gone. Yes, September is it!

So now, it’s the second week of September and I’m not only still working, I plan on working through December. I don’t remember actually changing my mind about leaving in September, but, as someone once said, “sometimes not to decide is to decide.” I just let enough time slip by so I could no longer give my work the several months notice I want to, and I didn’t do what I needed to do to mentally prepare for such a big change.

I have now identified the end of January as “the date.” Why? Several reasons come to mind. 1) January is my birth month and I can’t think of a better present to give myself; 2) My husband is making noises about wanting to travel (yay!) and I want to go with him; 3) I just found out that a co-worker is pregnant and due in March. When she went out on maternity leave with her first child, my “dream” job became more like a nightmare. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both of our jobs so I started to stress out and to dread coming in every day. This had never happened to me before in this position and I vowed at the time never to experience it again.

The joy of a new baby has become a huge precipitating event that has pushed me into making a decision… just what I needed! I will be retired by January 31, 2014; well before the baby arrives so I can train my replacement and slip away without guilt.

There, it’s in writing and you are my witness.

What happened in your life to help transition you from the career world to retirement? If you aren’t retired yet, what is going to help you decide when to “pull the cord”?

Finding my Passion(ette)

I am lucky enough to have several women in my life who seem to live with passion. I’m not sure that they’d be able to pick just one thing as their “passion,” but, what they do; they do with an intensity, commitment and joy that is pure magic.

I’m not one of those women.

I have many interests but no real passion that I know of (I guess, by definition, I’d know if I had a passion). I enjoy art, but I’m not a natural artist. I love to get lost in a good book, but can reading really be a passion, or is it more of lovely pastime? I like to ride my bike, but not the way my husband does; I enjoy working up a sweat cruising around the bay… but it’s more the people-watching and scoping out the beautiful homes and scenery that I’m after. I’m happy with 20 – 25 miles; he isn’t satisfied with fewer than 60. We’ve talked about getting kayaks, and I think that would be a fun sport/hobby, but I’m not sure I’ll find my passion there.

I’m pretty sure that actively searching for a passion is a fool’s errand. I think a true passion is something that has been dreamed about and focused on since childhood, or at least well before the age of retirement, or a passion is something that suddenly grabs ahold of someone when they are busy doing something else (such as discovering and getting deeply involved in a cause that speaks to your soul).

So, while I’m waiting and hoping for my passion to grab ahold of my heart and shake up my world, there are many enjoyable “passionettes” out there to explore. Even if nothing ever comes along that I would call a true passion; I’ll still be having a great time and, I hope, finding ways to challenge myself mentally or physically, or both.

Do you have a true passion (or passions)? If so, how do you feel when you can devote all of your energy to it? If not, are you at least making the time to do the things that you love?

Here I go…

In about five months, I will join my husband in retirement. We live in coastal southern California, a place we are lucky to call home already – no need to downsize and move to warmer climes!

Although I’m very excited to enter this new phase of my life, I’d be lying if I said that I not just a little bit apprehensive. I have a really good job, working for a really great company. My one-way commute is less than 4 miles. My co-workers are very nice people and I am a significant part of a well-running team. Unfortunately, working part time at my current job is not an option.

So, why am I retiring? Well, I want to, and fortunately, I can. Over the past year, I have left the house each morning knowing that my husband had a day of unstructured bliss ahead of him. Now, he would argue that all is not bliss and that he does have a schedule (eat breakfast, exercise, projects, lunch, nap, outings on his road bike with his riding buddy, etc.), and I have to agree that he is no sloth. But, I am most envious of all the “me time” he has. And I want it too.

Two days over a weekend are just not enough for me. Some of it is taken up by errands, some with projects, some with house stuff, some with couple stuff. There is not a lot of time left over just for me.

I am starting this blog for several reasons. 1) I had originally declared (to myself, my husband, and my financial planner) that I would be leaving this year… in September… at the end of this month. I chickened out and I’m not sure why, other than it’s very different to say I’m going to do something in abstract versus actually doing it. Stepping off the cliff, even though I might see a lovely deep pool of water below – and I know that many have dived in before and have entered the water safely and happily (and I can see them swimming around contently), is still hard. I hope that putting my intent down on paper, albeit virtual paper will make it more real for me, and therefore more of a commitment. 2) I want to explore the idea of being retired and what that will mean to me. As much as spending my days reading, gardening, and relaxing sounds really great now, I’m pretty sure doing that every day will get old fast. I don’t have an obvious “passion” to pursue like golfing, grandchildren, music, etc., but I do have a lot of things I am interested in. Some of my interests could lead me to joining groups or clubs of like-minded people, some may lead me to taking classes, some to volunteering, some (like focusing on my health) to just getting off my butt and doing what needs to be done. 3) I want to consider what this big change in my life could – and will – affect my relationship with my husband. We approach many things differently. He is an engineer by training, and I have spent most of my working life in marketing. These two careers attract very different people. Now that we won’t be focused on our careers but focused on each other (or, at least existing in close quarters much of every day), will our different personalities meld well? I love him dearly, but his “interest” in what I am doing can feel a lot like supervising to me. My “relaxing” – reading a book, poking around on the computer – probably looks sloth-like and unproductive to him. Should I start saving up for couples counseling just in case?