Hanging it up

With two high-profile local retirements announced this week (District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle and Summit School District Superintendent Millie Hamner), I felt that green touch of envy as I contemplated the seemingly unlikely prospect of my own retirement one day. Were I to be able to retire at 57, as Millie will do, that would mean only 11 more years of toiling before the keyboard until I could do … well, whatever it is retired people do.

Most of my peers laugh when the subject of retirement comes up. Unlike earlier generations, where retirement was almost a guaranteed outcome after as little as 20 years with the same company or organization, the notion of such a luxury is an alien concept to much of today’s working class. The 401(k) plans that have replaced most pensions is a far cry from anything that may resemble a secure retirement fund, and as we’ve seen in the past few years, having your nest egg tied to the stock market is anything but a sure bet. I’ve spoken to people who say they’ve lost half or more of the value of their funds, and that doesn’t even address those who have been or will be screwed by Enron-like corporate shenanigans and, as we’re seeing now, state governments changing the payout rules as budget crises stare them in the face.

Even so, it’s fun to think about it, this retirement thing. One wonders if boredom would set in, or did Kurt Vonnegut have it right when he said simply “farting around” all day was enough for him? In Rotary, I know many retired people, almost all of whom stay active in the community and who seem to manage world travel on a regular basis. These are obviously not people relying on the kindness of some puny 401(k) account to fund their golden years, and I’m always tempted to ask one of them how they did it: How did you do this thing called “retirement?” Or, better yet: “How did you manage to make real money – and save a bunch of it along the way?” Like most people, I’ve found a few things I’m pretty good at in life; making money has never been one of them. And saving it? Forget about it.

Assuming the funds to retire could be found, I wouldn’t have any trouble filling my days with reading and writing. Even with a full-time job and a family, I’ve managed to write several novels over the past few years, and I imagined I’d continue to do that to an even greater extent if I didn’t have some pesky day job in the way. Perhaps I could use the extra time to exert more energy trying to get the damned things published. But while my scribbling pursuits cost nothing but time, my wife’s dream is to travel the world – a difficult thing to manage on the scraps of a 401(k) and the meager offerings from Social Security (assuming the fund even exists in 20 years). Even so, I’m determined to help her realize that goal, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Italy or Argentina or the Maldives myself some day. That means somehow extracting more blood from this turnip of an economy, somehow, and socking it away, somehow. Others have done it in tough times, I know, so surely my generation can figure it out, right?

As an aside, I would mention that Terry Ruckriegle was the first judge I ever met when, as a teenager, I had to go before him for a traffic ticket when he was the municipal judge for Breckenridge. I wasn’t necessarily thrilled to make his acquaintance, but he was fair and just then, and he remained so throughout his career dispensing justice here in the high country. We were lucky to have him, and I wish him the best in what is no doubt a well-deserved break from the parade of unhappiness a district court judge must deal with on a daily basis.

As for Millie, if she can just tidy up all this budget stuff before she hangs it up, that’d be great.

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