The end is near — and perhaps a new beginning

I used to work at the Chemical Bank on Broadway in Manhattan, downtown in the Wall Street area, right by where the famous and iconic “Charging Bull” sculpture is now. Back then, there was a little parking area where those brave enough to commute by motorcycle in “the city” would park as well.

It was a vibrant area to be in, especially when you first got off the subway in the morning. I’d order a buttered hard roll every day in the deli on the ground floor. The guy in the back would make it, wrap it, and then throw it to the guy at the register, who would deftly catch it with one hand before handing it to me. Fun times.

One of my favorite co-workers at the bank was a fellow computer programmer named Ron. He was a little shorter than me and a bit older than me, with sandy gray hair and a big, wide smile. I liked Ron a lot because he was smart, friendly, and loved to ride dirt bikes and go skiing. Just an all-around great guy. I hope he’s doing well.

You know how people talk in offices. One day, a female co-worker, who’d noticed I was friends with Ron, approached me:

“You know about Ron, right?”

“Er, no, I don’t know about Ron. What about him?”

“He’s independent wealthy.”

“What?”

“He has loads of money. He just comes in here every day because he likes playing around with computers.”

“No kidding.”

“Yep. He comes here just for the fun of it.”

Mind you, anyone working on Wall Street, aside from the infamous “1 percent” who came in by limo or helicopter, is either commuting by subway or bus or some other difficult way each day. It’s an ordeal.

Yet Ron did it, even though he didn’t need the money, just to be allowed to do what he loved, which was computer programming. This was back in the days when personal computers were expensive, slow, and clunky. Real programmers, like Ron and I, worked on large mainframes. It sure was a totally different world back then.

I’m mentioning Ron because I’m at the point in my career where I seriously have to question how much longer I should work. One reason I moved to Albany 38 years ago was because of the excellent pension plan my job offered.

The more I keep working, the more it keeps growing. When I retire, there will be many payroll deductions and work-related expenses I’ll no longer have. Then I’ll add in my pension, savings, and Social Security.

These things won’t make me independently wealthy like Ron, but I won’t have to work for financial reasons anymore. Isn’t it amazing — working hard and saving your money throughout your life actually pays off at the end. What a surprise, haha.

Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers in this country — those of us born between 1946 and 1964 — retire. So it’s not unusual for someone my age to be thinking about retirement.

Still, like Ron, I enjoy working with computers and technology very much. With computers, unlike with humans, there is no ambiguity. The code is either correct and it works or it’s incorrect and it doesn’t.

If you like puzzles, games, and riddles as I do, you’d probably like playing around with computers as well. It’s just very satisfying to work with things where emotions are not involved and it’s all straightforward and logical. Too bad more of the world is not like that.

My job, though I like the technical side of it, is of course not perfect. There is a mind-numbing bureaucracy, office politics, and just a bland, organizational feel to the physical infrastructure.

It’s not a place you look forward to traveling to. Working from home at times is better but, let me tell you, having access to the fridge and the pantry all day is a discipline challenge.

Despite all of that, it’s just good to be on a team with other motivated individuals to achieve goals and get work done. It’s still very satisfying, even after all these years. Plus I’ve been there so long now I even have a great parking spot. Hate to give that up, haha.

If you count part-time jobs after school, I’ve been working for close to 50 years. The thought of not having someplace to go on Monday morning actually gives me the chills. It would be such a change for me.

I’m just so used to being in the working world that I’m having a hard time imagining not contributing anymore. I know I may be in the minority here. I’ve seen people stare at the retirement countdown clock on their computer every day for years, hoping and praying for the day when they could walk out of the office for the last time.

Go into any bar and you’ll hear people complaining about their jobs. How sad all these folks couldn’t figure out something they liked doing, even a little bit, before spending all their working life just grinding it out until retirement.

When I retire, I plan on running for the Guilderland Library Board of Trustees, so I can give back to an organization that has given me so much pleasure over the years. I’d also like to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, where you help to build housing for folks who need it.

I’m sure I’ll find other productive things to do. Maybe even part-time work of some sort.

Plus I can do as much programming as I want on my own home computer when I retire (personal computers are a lot better now than in Ron’s day). But “checking out” from full-time employment is so antithetical to me I’m going to have to work very hard to get mentally ready for it.

A lot of people look forward to traveling when they retire. I like to travel, but there are so many great places to go it’s hard to imagine choosing only a few.

Fortunately for me, I can take out a library book and then, if the writing is good, be magically transported to a different place or even time. That’s why reading has always been my favorite hobby.

“In my mind, I’m going to Carolina,” as James Taylor so beautifully sings, is a real thing. I do it every day.

Let me leave you with this: At another bank I worked at, we had a security guard named Ernie. Ernie was a roly-poly old Italian guy, always smiling and always laughing, a lot like Norm from “Cheers.”

Those of us working in the bank loved him, and so did the customers. He brightened up everyone’s day, every day. Then they cut him down to three days a week, then two, and then to only one day a week.

At that point, his whole demeanor and physical appearance changed, very much for the worse. He was no longer happy all the time, and he slumped when he walked. It was so sad to see.

It’s like the reduced hours — the reduction in contact with the people he loved — reduced his will to live. Finally one day, he was gone for good.

I don’t know what happened to him after that, but I can say for sure he wasn’t doing well at all when they let him go. Think about it — he went from being needed, loved, respected, and adored to being unceremoniously cast off like yesterday’s lunch. Ouch.

Now I’m not saying retiring from a lifetime of working is like what happened to Ernie. I know it’s possible to have a fulfilling and happy retirement with interesting activities, travel, volunteering, etc.

There’s also spending more time with family and finally getting to all those household projects that have been on the to-do list for so long. Those are all good things. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately.

The end is near. Or is it really just the beginning?

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