I have 12 working days until retirement. 12 working days. 12-12’s as they say. 4 on, 4 off, 4 on, 4 off, 4 on, and then 4 off... Off. Finally off from work since I started at the ripe age of 14, sacking groceries in Woodstock, Georgia. 14 and sacking groceries for five dollars a day and .40 cents total tips for the day. Often less.
Sunday morning, I will sit up on the side of my bed about 0315 - before my alarm clock sounds the dreaded “cherry picker backing up sound”. I detest it, but faithfully set it each night and to be honest, rarely does it actually get to blast its obnoxious siren. You see, I have the curious affliction my fellow process operators suffer from, the one where the fear of oversleeping causes us to wake up before the alarm sounds and begin the “look at the clock routine 5 times and finally shut it off before it alarms” syndrome. Daylights get a bad rap for 99% of shift workers for this reason. We just don’t get enough sleep.
If you are one of the hundreds – maybe thousands of workers who work a rotating shift schedule in this old oil town listen to me on this. The secret to getting up in the dead of the night… is to go to bed early. Get out your pad of paper and pencil and write this down. Go to bed. Don’t cheat yourself. You will lose my friend. Trust me on this.
37 plus years of this rotating vortex of shift work is now almost in my wake. Add in 200 to 500 hours overtime each year and I’ve somehow crammed anywhere from 13 and a half months to almost 16 months of labor inside of 365 days. Wait! Am I saying what I’ve done is unique amongst shift workers? Not at all. My experience is typical in so many ways of the wear and tear shift workers routinely endure. God bless their sleep-deprived souls.
I feel so alive, but at the same time a bit of trepidation perched on the bow of my boat as I row for the final work berth. Will I be a castaway at journeys end? Some, like many of my peers, will be thrown or fall off the boat for whatever reason. I choose to be the one who dives off and swims with strong strokes and my fellow travelers watch and say, “Now that’s how its done”!
I hope so and to be honest, that’s pretty much how it’s going.
Lord, what a compliment from my peers! To think I could actually spend all those long shifts and walk out of there feeling good about myself and the many coworkers I know endorse me and the work I’ve done and retain a feeling of accomplishment to boot? Wow. Simply wow and that is how I choose to believe it, see it and accomplish it.
Once ashore though, will I be a castaway, a person who has been shipwrecked and stranded in an isolated place because I now have no work detail or purpose? I know guys who won’t retire for this very reason. They won’t come out and say it, but in the secret locker of their heart, they feel they will no longer be needed. I guess the answer to this is up to me, right?
Well, over the years I’ve watched my peers retire and all too often, it’s been ugly and I have to be honest and say I am going out kicking and on my own terms. In the manner of my USMC buds, I am going to do a beach landing on retirement, semper fidelis. In other words, I’m going out, like Chuck Norris would ready to kick butt and take names later. I’m jumping overboard and swishing my arms through the warm Gulf waters, Forrest Gump style. “That’s my boat”.
Most go out totally rung out, or hospital out of the job. They limp to the gate looking like their head wore out 3 bodies. It’s true; why say otherwise? They look old and tired and are most likely mad about something or someone. Shoot; I can still run 5 miles if need be and dang it, I might just do it on my last day to stuff it down the throat of the man to prove it. I came in kicking and I’ll go out the same way and on my own terms. By the, the man is this mysterious entity that can be blamed for most anything we dislike about a job.
“Mighty big talk for a one-eyed fat man.” Yea, maybe. Maybe. However, there’s still a lot of the crusty salt left in this old Nomex uniform. I like to think there is anyway and that’s good for something. Maybe a blueberry cake donut at the Doughnut Wheel at the corner of Garth and Rollingbrook. I’ll ask my friend there and find out if it is.
I have a co-worker who is about 30 who has been studying Jujitsu for about 5 years. He told me he would like to spar me – he calls it rolling. I told him he would lose either way. “What? How is that,” he asked. He is 30 years my junior and full of vinegar.
“If you beat me, you can tell everyone you beat up a 62 year old man. If you lose….”
Come July 1st, I’ll begin my first full month of retirement. I’ll be hiking, biking, geocaching, or at the gym. Look me up. I’ll be the one with a look on my face that my life is just now beginning.