It was the evening of this day, the 19th of December, 1999, that I walked out of a workplace for the last time. I was just 55. And it was Houston, Texas.
The idea to do it had only occurred to me a few months earlier.
Lots of people, almost exclusively men, don’t take well to retirement because they’re self-defined by their occupations. Often, they drop dead not long after freedom falls on their unimaginative heads.
Well, 14 years have passed, and I have not dropped dead, probably because I have lots of imagination, plus I’ve never defined myself by my occupation. Don’t think I’ve ever defined myself in any way, which can be both good and bad.
If you’ve never read the Felipe page in the sidebar to the left, you may not know that I was a copy editor on newspapers. I had a natural talent. I could do it with one eye closed and one hand tied behind my back. It was effortless.
I inherited that occupation from my father. He had been a copy editor too. I wish he had succeeded with his original desire, which was to be an archaeologist. I would have preferred to inherit archaeology.
My father’s dreams of being an archaeologist were dashed by the Great Depression. So he got into journalism, inadvertently taking me with him.
I woke up one morning in the late 1960s with a pregnant wife and no viable means of support. Dear old dad knew the managing editor of the now-defunct New Orleans States-Item, and that led to a job, which I sorely needed.
Getting into newspapering was easy back then. I’ve never taken a journalism course even though both my parents had journalism degrees.
I was hired as a reporter at $115 a week, but reporting involves dealing with people, and I’ve never been too good at that, so at the first opportunity I requested an editing job. I was a reporter less than six months, a copy editor nearly 30 years.
I’ve done other stuff, both before and during my newspaper “career.” On occasion I’d fly off the handle and quit a newspaper job. I’ve been a bartender, a taxi driver, an insurance broker, insurance salesman, electrician and repo man.
I was fired from the two bartending jobs and from the repo work too.
I would have liked to be an actor, another road not taken.
But newspapering was good to me. The pay went up substantially over the years due to unionizing elsewhere. I never joined a union, but union wages spread across most of the industry, at least in large papers, which is where I always worked.
* * * *
I remember well my final night. I worked a very late shift, and most of my coworkers had already gone home. I tossed what remained in my desk into a bag, took the elevator downstairs, crossed Milam street to the parking garage, fired up the Ford Ranger pickup and drove to the condo on Braes Bayou where I lived alone.
Precisely one month later, a jet landed at the Guadalajara airport near midnight.
I was on it.