Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Open Road

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I work with people half my age so my retirement plans seem academic to them, indeed they look wistful at the thought of retirement but they don't  quite see the thirty year gap that separates them from me. I was an adult before they were born. I've put in my time. 
My wife shocked me when she said she liked the idea of traveling in retirement and by traveling she meant not having a fixed abode. At first we figured we could go back to boating, and I suggested a slow economical trawler based on the West Coast of Mexico an area we liked very much when we sailed there, allowing excursions to inland Central America or US California as desired. But then we remembered the drawbacks of life afloat, dealing with dogs and the lack of land transportation which limited our ability to get to know inland areas, as well as hoping for the best for the boat when we rented a car for an inland drive. My wife suggested a home on wheels.
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Frankly the idea of traveling in comfort, of not having to navigate reefs and do slow cold overnight sails sounded pretty good. Of not having to take Rusty ashore twice a day in the dinghy come hell high water or horizontal rain...that was icing on the RV cake. Plus our desire to go small and unobtrusive will give us a chance to park in urban areas to see life as lived locally up close. Street parking in Key West would be complicated so I am glad we have friends we shall be able to stay with for visits.
So my wife has signed up for her retirement package which she cashes in from the school district in June 2021 and her retirement planner said I can retire from the city of Key West around the same time so I have figured my last day, tentatively as July 6th 2021, 17 years after I started in dispatch. After a life spent hopping around and working here and there with no real career to get this settled job at 45 I felt very lucky. Especially as it comes with a pension and now the end of this phase of my settled life is in sight. I am looking forward to the next chapter even as I enjoy the chapter I am living right now.
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I am starting to look at the end of my life in some detail so I can start to let go of many of those preoccupations that have held my attention till now. "By 2070 global warming..." I figure I will be lucky to see 2035 so the long term is quite nicely foreshortened as I start my 59th year of life. Rusty has been a boost to my exercise plan as he enjoys longer and longer walks when I get home from work. I am happy to indulge him but by the time we leave he will be ten so I have high hopes he might be slowing down by then. At least a little. 
I suppose if we wanted to we could afford to retire in Key West as we have no family obligations but I don't see myself being content to do nothing much for the last part of my life wandering from bar to bar and playing hail-fellow-well-met at local fundraisers and costume parties. That's not my style at all. I have enjoyed living here but I have a few corners of the world I still would like to see.  And when pensions bring mobility I wouldn't mind spending summers Up North and winters Down South, Mexico alternating with Key West.
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It's early yet to implement any plans for retirement even though five years will pass quickly. However we have started forming ideas around what we need and more importantly what we don't. We used a mailing service while sailing and St Brendan's Isle in North Florida would keep our residence in our home state. My wife has been thinking about pots and pans just as she did before we took off on our boat in 1998 in San Francisco. She ponders storage and cooking techniques in small spaces based on our sailing odyssey from San Francisco to Key West in 1998. The vehicle itself will we hope, be a Canadian built RV and they sell for reasonable prices when lightly used.
My wife and I have a lot of experience of getting ready to travel and we have packed bags and loaded cars all our life. This time we will be storing some stuff, much less than in years past, and with a post office box we will be cutting ties with settled living. I think it's safe to say we are both ready for a change. I cannot conceive of living in Old Town Key West and never leaving. To me the internal combustion engine has liberated us from the restrictions of travel that had prevented working class people from leaving home. A hundred years ago most people never left their home counties. In Key West we find the same situation prevails for people who pride themselves on not having cars or never buying airline tickets. I'm not one of them, I have a lot of curiosity about the world about me.
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My wife likes to tell the story of how hard it was for me to prepare to cut the ties as we set off to sail south to Mexico and traveling by boat was always for me, an exercise in faith. I had to hope nothing broke and if it did that I could figure out how to fix it. In the event we had a few minor problems but nothing I couldn't overcome and the few storms we sailed through were not powerful enough to overcome my sailing cunning. Doing the traveling by van seems like a piece of cake by comparison to me. No long night watches as we travelled at walking pace across the face of the ocean, no hidden reefs to avoid, no anchoring to rely on.
In the boat we preferred not to give in to risky impulses- traveling with your life packed into your vehicle will give you those second thoughts. On a day sail a mistake means the loss of a toy, on a journey it would have meant sinking our home. Similarly we don't see rock-hopping our retirement home like a weekend recreational driver might so four wheel drive seems excessive for us. Just as we tried to not run aground in our home afloat we will try to avoid hard core off road driving with our gypsy van. None of this: 
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I suppose inevitably "Key West Diary" will become something else, a travel diary I imagine with more variegated pictures. I want to walk Rusty on the Argentine Pampas, and I would like to see the place where Che Guevara was finally caught and killed. Puerto Montt has fascinated me from afar and the deserts of Northern Chile beckon. Calling those roads a "Key West Diary" would seem a little odd, but these pages will remain as long as I am alive and paying to keep them here.   I appreciate the irony of many readers of this page who ponder a retirement right here in the Keys while I ponder a road trip as retirement. But I have made the Keys my home for a long time and I need some variety. Unlike many people my wife and I had a good life in California before we settled here. We were not fleeing unhappy trapped lives by coming to Key West; we were simply ready for a new life experience. 
In the meantime I plan to make the most of these years remaining in Key West. Stuff happens so I am not counting on anything changing necessarily. Money evaporates, health deteriorates or as they say, "man proposes and God disposes" so all plans may come to nought. In many respects I feel very lucky to be able to plan a retirement at all. Yet I also feel lucky that I get to live and work here for the next five or six years, so the idea of retirement isn't just a release from tedium or unpleasantness, I don't regret living here or working at the police department. Quite the opposite I feel very lucky. However I still hunger to see more and experience more before the inevitable end comes.  I have always been the family member among my stay-at-home siblings that travels and at this stage I see no reason to cut back. My sisters  have never left the farms they live on, I would hate to have spent the past 45 years in the same spot. I want to be at peace if possible when I die and peace will come knowing I left no stone unturned in a  search for experience. 
I think change is coming for a lot of us in Key West as money tightens its grip on the warmest slice of the US mainland you can vacation in. At some level taking off in a van to see South America makes it feel less like an eviction and more like a choice. Yet my wife says if we won the lottery she'd think long and hard about actually buying a house. She is grasping the concept of freedom with both hands. It's not you can't be free if you own a home, far from it, it's just that homes need attention and for carefree travel worrying about stuff is not part of the plan. My various scooters and motorcycle will be stored- that's not stuff I am willing to be without ultimately when our travels end and we have to come home  and be sedentary. I hope I will still be able to ride.
Key West has been good to us and we trust it will continue that way. But I can see an end just over the horizon, partly because the city is changing partly because I am asserting my nomadic inner nature. While part of me always dreads the saying of good bye, part of me - most of me, looks forward to the open road with a steadier head but just as much anticipation as Toad of Toad Hall did in literature.
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I like the excitement of the unknown. I have set up a new domain for that future as a sign of my determination, perhaps it's a little too soon but four years and nine months will pass quickly. In the manner of John Steinbeck's story of a road trip with his camper and his dog (and in my case my long suffering wife) I plan to call this page Travels With Rusty (trusting we will still be alive and able to journey!) and travelswithrusty.com already redirects to this page. That's the easy part, now I have to wait and enjoy my time here as it passes and gets closer to the deadline for departure whenever that may be exactly.
It's not happening now or tomorrow but time is passing for all of us and we have to take seriously the injunction that life is for the living. And the photographic opportunities I trust will be awesome. I hope you will come along for that ride too wherever your retirement takes you.