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Retirement: enjoying life in the fast lane.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, when I was about to retire, I asked a friend who just had taken the plunge how his day went in retirement. "Well," he responded, "I took out the garbage this morning and then my wife and I went shopping, and that pretty well blew the day."

Although he was joking, it was with a sense of trepidation that I bailed out of the working world of the university at age 62. Happily, I soon learned the life of retirement as that of a do-nothing existence was shared only by a few. The complaint of the vast majority of retirees is that they never can find enough time to do all the things they want to. There just isn't enough "down" time in the golden years, as most find it is life in the fast lane.

Long ago, I prepared a list of books I always had wanted to read and, even though I have gotten through some of them, that list is longer now than before. What takes up so much of retirees' time? The answer to this varies, depending on one's interests. Travel is the choice of most, whether regional, nationwide, or overseas. With this in mind, many retirees find the recreational vehicle (RV) subculture much to their liking and that of their pocketbooks. The saying has it that "Campers bring the Ten Commandments and a ten dollar bill and don't break either."

At age 62, seniors qualify for "Golden Ager I.D.s" that get them free National Parks entry and reduced camping rates. Some make the RV their permanent home, going north in the summer and south in winter. They pick a postal address near a friend's home for all mail and have it forwarded to various places they will visit. There are no real estate taxes to pay and no fixing up the old homestead. The chief expense is for gasoline. Repairs are few, as good RVs hold up well and easily rack up 100,000 miles and more.

Increasingly, Elderhostel programs have attracted seniors with a yen to combine travel with education. (Most libraries carry updated newspaper listings of them.) For a pittance, one can attend professors' talks and discussions on various topics ranging from geology or flora and fauna of a certain area to interpretations of constitutional law to life among the ancient Indians, such as the Anasazi in the Southwest. Generally, these are sponsored by colleges and one can take the non-credit courses there or in many foreign countries.

Retirees not interested in travel and who are more service-oriented have followed the national surge for volunteerism. They serve as guides for various museums and historical sites or teachers' helpers in the drive for improved literacy. Some are campground hosts in national parks and forests. They find these voluntary jobs rewarding and feel they are giving back to the country what it gave to them.

Although only about 15% of those who retire move from their hometown to a new location, my advice is to take the plunge. Don't use excuses such as wanting to stay near the kids or long-time neighbors. By now, your offspring can take pretty good care of themselves and, with the telephone, mail, and air transportation, there really isn't much separation. Most airlines (such as United's Silver Wings program) give large discounts to seniors.

After having lived over 30 years in Chicago, we were getting bored with it and moved to southwest Colorado. Our new home is a sheer delight, and housing costs run about one-third cheaper than the Windy City. There even is a sense of being on a second honeymoon. If we desire solitude, we take our four-wheel-drive auto into the wilderness of the mountainous back country.

It is no secret that seniors generally are better off financially than other strata of society, and towns welcome them with open arms and an eye on their purses. Nearly all communities offer various services, clubs, and discounts. The money seniors bring to these towns is no small potatoes. Their steady income through pensions, savings, and Social Security is another plus. Single-handedly, we lifted the economy of the Southwest!

Statistics show that, in general, those who attain the age of 62 probably will live at least until 80, so there are many great years ahead. The exhilaration of freedom is a daily experience and the most wondrous thing about retirement.

There are no tight schedules, unless one makes one's own; no getting up to an alarm clock's raucous and insistent buzz; no worry about what to wear, as casual clothes rule the day; and no agonizing over daily humdrum decisions. As one retiree put it, "The biggest decision I make now is whether to have bacon and eggs or a bowl of cereal for breakfast." With the shucking of most responsibilities, one has a chance to be a kid again. We have so many picnics, both by ourselves and with new-found friends, that my wife swears she will use as my epitaph "Life was a picnic," and it will be an accurate description.

Moving to another place for retirement gives one a chance for a second life, in many ways more delightful than the first. Instead of losing old friends, there is the opportunity to make new ones--and still keep the old ones who will be on your doorstep for a visit before you know it. We have drawn up a long list of things to do and places to visit when friends and relatives come and only are at a loss for more time to accomplish these goals.

Opportunities never have been better, as many companies are restructuring and offering early retirement. If the option is offered, take it and run. There are only two questions one must ask: If not you, who? If not now, when? Always remember to tell yourself, "You deserve it!" Seize the moment. Don't even call yourself a retiree, but rather a "busy bee." With that in mind, keep buzzing. Life in the fast lane is pretty darn good. Just don't run out of gas!
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Author:Kreyche, Gerald F.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1993
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