On my last day of work, I got up as I usually do a little after 5 am. Got dressed, packed my exercise bag and headed to the gym, anticipating a sweaty workout on the elliptical.
The door was closed. I’d forgotten they wouldn’t be opening until 8 am today on New Year’s Eve.
No problem. That left me time to come back home, fix breakfast and ruminate a little about what lies ahead.
As I write this, a noon appointment looms with Mandy in the Human Resources Department, at which time I will receive my final paycheck, turn in my company-issued laptop, ID badge and power cords — the symbols of today’s digital journalism.
This afternoon, after 30 years at this place, I’ll walk out of The Oregonian/OregonLive newsroom for the last time as a staffer. If this were a news story written in the print era, I’d be signing off with the numeral “30.” Newspaper reporters used to type those two digits to signal the end of their story.
Nowadays, not so much.
Picking up where I left off this morning…
What once seemed surreal — the end of my career as a working journalist — is now real. I’m writing the rest of this post as an ex-staffer.
People ask me: How does it feel? What do you plan to do?
Honestly, it feels great. Liberating, in fact. No resentments or regrets that I’m retiring a couple years ahead of schedule.
What gives me perspective is this. I went out this morning to Southwest Portland to visit with Susie Reimer for one more news story. She’s the hard-working owner of the Humdinger Drive-In, a restaurant she’s been running for 35 years.
As a high school dropout, she’s done remarkably well to keep her modest little restaurant going all these years. But as I wrote in a profile of her this summer, all those long hours haven’t paid off in the way she hoped. At 63, the same age as me, she has no retirement savings, just like half of all retired Baby Boomers.
How ironic that my own retirement comes just as I’ve finished writing the third of three major articles on the U.S. retirement. In addition to Susie, I wrote about the plight of older workers — people who for financial reasons must keep working beyond traditional retirement age. Some do so because they’ve been laid off late in life or hammered by major medical expenses. Others because they need to help support parents, children or grandchildren.
Another piece is due to be published next week exploring the racial gap in retirement. That is, the enormous inequality in net median household wealth between whites, African Americans and Latinos.
As I write the stories of fellow Oregonians who face steep challenges in retirement, I know I am damn lucky to have enough resources — not to mention a loving, reliable life partner — to quit working now.
So what do I plan to do?
Nothing immediate, other than to chill for at least 30, maybe 60 days. I want to adjust to whatever new rhythms present themselves, think about what might engage me, and entertain possibilities that might drop in my lap. I’ll do all that while doing a little more hiking, biking, blogging and exploring in general.
I’m grateful for the 30 years I spent at The Oregonian in various reporting and editing roles, as well as the 10 years before that in Salem, Bend and Milwaukie.
I’ll reflect on my career, on newspaper economics and more in the coming year.
For now, it’s time to say “30.”
VW, Reimer photographs: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, The Oregonian