14 years of freedom

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.

typewriterLots 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.

28 thoughts on “14 years of freedom

    1. Thanks, Greg. There were a number of elements that led to my being able to retire that early, money-wise.

      1. I am very thrifty.
      2. I had “inherited” some money in the 1980s and early 1990s from my parents who decided not to wait until they died to share. It was not a fortune, but it added up to a nice chunk of change. I put it into mutual funds.
      3. The 1990s were great for investments. I was in the right place at the right time. Pure dumb luck.
      4. At 55, I was divorced and had absolutely no debt whatsoever. None. Zip. Zero.
      5. But even with the above, I would not have been able to live very well in the United States with no job. The cost of living in Mexico is considerably less, in spite of what one sees now and then to the contrary, that it’s not so economical anymore. It is. One biggie is health care. I have no medical insurance and do not need it.

      Even the big, fancy house my wife and I live in, which cost only $100,000 to build, a relative pittance, was 50 percent paid for by my mother. She was fond of sharing, and I was fond of accepting.

      I lived on savings plus a $540 monthly pension from the Hearst Corp. for the seven years till I hit 62 and Social Security started.

      So, everything has worked out splendidly. I am very fortunate.


      1. Unlike Felipe and Steve, I don’t think of myself as retired — because I’m not. I just think of myself as doing something different from what I’d been doing back in the Old Country. Having the fortune to pick good ancestors helped, too.


  1. Retiring was the best decision I made in my life. If I had stayed where I was, I am positive I would now be dead. No one in our family had ever retired. We love work. Not that it defines us; it merely was our joy. But I noticed that the bar bulletin was filled with obituaries — half of the fallen had a birth date earlier than mine.

    Once I made the decision, leaving was simple. It was merely time to start a different chapter in my life. And Mexico? Pure accident. But, like you, I have enjoyed the balance of my life here. Far more than I would have up north.


    1. Steve: We are a couple of wise dudes.

      My relatives normally have no difficulty retiring. Both my parents retired. My sister, almost 73 now, has not retired. But she’s nuts. Plus, she’s a therapist, and that’s not really work.


      1. I too used to think therapy wasn’t work, especially because I love to give advice, but now I live with a psychologist. it is clear that interacting with very unhappy people every day is no picnic. I asked him, “don’t you ever just want to say: “suck it up, man!”
        “Yes,” he said, “But of course that would only help me.”


        1. Christine: I’m sure the type of therapy he does is no picnic. Who would want to listen to miserable people for a living? Not me. But others are drawn to it and enjoy it.

          Other than the usually momentary success of couples counseling where there are techniques that improve communication, I have no faith in therapy. I have indulged in therapy a few times. Got absolutely nothing out of it.

          I have written hereabouts a time or two of a psychologist in Florida who helped me, mostly in 1997, by the use of entheogens, mind-altering materials. Mushrooms, LSD, etc. That is true digging into the psyche if used correctly (which most people do not), and it helped me immeasurably. Since those experiences, I have concluded that standard psychotherapy is only surface work, very superficial. I really do not think it does much good. Others, of course, will disagree.


    1. Gracias, Mark. Not a new pic, an old pic, but new here. My child bride took it right around the time we got married. It was in the yard of the compound where I lived and where you have visited.

      Come on back.


  2. Similar to my husband’s early retirement and that saving him from a sure early death. He’d have missed many years of fun, fun, fun if his employer had not “downsized” (read eliminated jobs) and kept him in its employ but in a job he’d have hated more and moved him away from San Antonio. So he’s now an experienced retired person.


    1. Carole: Sounds like he would not have done it on his own. Great that it was done to him, a gift.

      Simply being forced to leave San Antonio would have been a curse, one that I experienced in 1984. Still hurts a little bit.


  3. I constantly debate whether I should call myself “retired” or not. While it’s true I no longer have a job, I do still work for myself, pretty much every day. But my pace is much more relaxed, and much more flexible. Like now, I’m in San Francisco, hanging out with old friends, and doing only a little bit of work.

    And I’m happy as a clam. Or, better yet, feliz como una lombriz.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it’s fabulous to no longer have to work for “the man.”


    1. Kim: I don’t even like to refer to myself as retired. Sounds like an old coot squatting on a park bench. I simply resigned my last job one day, and don’t require another. There. That sounds far better.

      “Fabulous”? Kim, are you … gay?


    1. Andean: Yeah, I wonder where that thing is. Probably tucked away in a closet somewhere. After moving here, I swiftly learned that coats and jackets beat the dickens out of ponchos.


      1. I still have several alpaca ponchos I bought in Quito right at the equator. Some are “chal” like and I still wear them when I’m lounging around my house on cold days. They evoke warm memories as well.


  4. Lookin’ good Señor Felipe! 😉 I have a pic of me and my better half wearing sombreros at Mercado Juárez in CDJ in 2006. I guess you could say we were channeling our inner Mexican too! 🙂 Haha!


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