Thoughts Upon Retiring To Florida

Yeah, I'm going to be that stereotype.

I'm going to retire to Florida.

Only I'm already retired, sort of - “semi-retired” I call it, in order to confuse people when we have conversations on the topic but mainly to stick it to the IRS, Medicare, Medicaid and AARP.

I never envisioned myself as being the “retiring” type – I'm self-employed for one thing, and when you are your own boss you not only don't get sick days or vacations, but the retirement plan stinks. I long ago knew that I would be working until the day I die, and you know what?

I'm fine with that.

I've know too many people – my father-in-law among them – that seemed to just wither away and literally die if their routine was broken. You spend a lifetime getting up and going to a job and that job begins to define you – it becomes you and you become it. There appears to be no reason to exist outside of that job. It's a sad but true commentary on the value we place upon our work, and the lack of value we place upon ourselves.

Why Florida?

Why Florida? Why the stereotype? I was born and raised in New York and have lived the past 25 years in Pennsylvania, the last 12 as a divorced guy. You might think that the Northeast is in my blood, but it isn't. Way back when I was 18 and broke up with my girlfriend I decided to let off some steam, hopefully in a legal, non-harmful way, so I jumped in my car and drove from New York to Key West. That one trip did more to soothe my soul than a dozen psychiatrists ever could have.

I discovered that the ocean heals me.

But not just ANY ocean – I spent a bit of time in California, in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the Pacific just didn't do it for me. It has to be the Atlantic. And it has to be warm, not like the Atlantic up in Maine – I really believe that part of the ocean should be named separately, maybe “Lobster Bay” or “Cold-Water Flats”.

No, it has to be Florida. I spent one semester at the Florida Institute of Technology way back in 1976 and left due to some chicanery the administration was performing upon freshmen. I ended up not knowing what I was going to do, and I didn't want to just return to New York with my head bowed in shame. So I used what I had – at the time, my martial arts teaching ability – and ended up with a beautiful school across the street from the ocean. Our sunrise Taijiquan classes were truly inspirational and led me to fall in love with Florida.

Drawbacks of Florida

Now, of course I know Florida has drawbacks just like any other state (or Commonwealth, if you want to get technical), but at least if the worst happens and you end up homeless you still have a warm place to live and a beautiful sunrise and sunset to watch.

You can still have hope.

What do you have in Pennsylvania? Ice. Snow. Freezing rain and wind. Constant cloud cover. No thanks – I'll take my chances in Florida.

What are the drawbacks in Florida? Heh, heh … where should I start? Love bugs – those ubiquitous flying, mating little monsters that ram into your face while you're walking down the street … alligators, of course, sometimes, as in my friend's situation, walking around a canal in your backyard eyeing up Fido. Snakes. Roaches. Black mold. Sink holes.

Okay, so it isn't exactly Cheeseburgers in Paradise, but I can still be a pirate, much more authentically than in Pennsylvania, a land filled with abandoned coal mines. Pirates don't crawl under the land – they sail above the water. At least until a cannonball with their name on it comes along …

The Research Phase

And that's basically what I'm looking for right now in making my retirement plans – I want to avoid those cannonballs that will sink me and my ship without warning. I'm too old to start over, too set in my ways, to do anything other than what I want to do, namely to write. So for perhaps the first time in my life I'm planning – starting to check out neighborhoods where I think I'd like to live, neighborhoods that offer a bit of stimulation and inspiration. I'm checking the crime stats and the median incomes and the number of feral cats – everything that might have even the smallest effect upon my happiness and well-being. I'm cruising through neighborhoods thanks to Google Maps (even though their street views are often a year or two out of date, they still give a good idea of what a specific area is like); I'm checking out rentals, everything from condos and townhouses to mobile home parks; I'm gauging how far away the closest pizza place is, and if they deliver.

I don't have to worry about schools, but I DO have to concern myself somewhat with bus routes. Although I plan to use a bicycle to get around for most of my everyday needs, it would be nice to have a back-up. And who knows? Maybe I'll have an unfortunate run in with one of those 'gators. So I'm also trying to set up redundant systems – another thing I've never done before. I'm playing “What If?” - what if a hurricane comes through and I'm living in a 1975 single-wide trailer? What if that 'gator chomps on my hands and I can't write anymore?

What if I die before I get there?

Actually GETTING There

Well, that brings up an entirely different dimension of planning – I want to get there before I'm too old to enjoy it. Take the trip from Pennsylvania to Florida, for example …

I no longer drive – I gave up my license a while back because I didn't like the costs, I didn't like dealing with traffic and I didn't like what it was doing to the environment. This might not be a major problem in a large urban area filled with buses and taxis and subways, but when you're talking interstate travel your choices begin to thin out a bit. I first checked to see if there were any express subways that went from Pennsylvania to Florida – no go. Not even a local!

Buses

So I then checked out buses. Yes, there are buses that go to Florida from here, or actually, from New York – New York City, to be precise, the Port Authority bus terminal. So, this means I have to figure out some way to get from Pennsylvania to New York City. There are buses that make daily runs into the city from my town, so that's doable. But in browsing the 'Net to find schedules and prices I found that there isn't much gray area – you either take the Greyhound for $350 dollars or the El Cheapo Special that leaves from Chinatown and costs only $98.

Now, part of my plan is to save up enough to afford semi-comfortable passage on what may very well prove to be my last major trip, and the little angel on my right shoulder tells me that the Chinatown Tours bus is going to have a few hidden problems, like no bathrooms or live chickens sitting next to me in the beat-up folding chairs that are on board. The Greyhound, on the other hand, has name recognition going for it but it seems a bit pricey considering it makes a few dozen stops of varying lengths and involves several transfers along the way. With my luck I'll lose everything but the clothes on my back while I'm stumbling half-asleep through a darkened North Carolina bus stop.

Planes

So then I considered – very briefly – airplanes. I haven't been on a plane since 1985, when I took a little puddle-jumper from Pennsylvania to Ohio to pick up my then-fiancee. We encountered a nasty lightning storm along the way, the plane was doing its best to imitate Superman The Ride and upon arrival in Ohio my fiancee thought I was wearing pancake make-up, so white was my face.

Not to mention that now we have the wonderful TSA protecting us all by offering free full-body cavity searches and mega-doses of X-rays. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hitch-hike? Nah, too many serial killers on the roads these days, and they all drive nice cars. Bike down? Tempting, but I'm not really in the mood for an endurance contest with a few duffel bags strapped to my back. Hire a private car? Yeah, I actually checked into that - $1,200 one-way.

Walking is beginning to look good.

Trains!

Oh, hey, wait a minute – trains! I've always liked trains, ever since I had an HO-scale layout in my basement as a kid. All those neat little plastic people waving at me as I rode through the plaster mountains … yeah, let's see if any trains go to Florida …

YES! Pay-dirt! AMTRAK goes to Florida every day! They leave from the Port Authority building as well and take roughly 23 hours to get to Orlando, which is at least somewhere around where I'm planning to go. They have the regular Sit-In-A-Chair rate of $160 – maybe not the best idea, as I know I'm going to fall asleep sometime during the ride and I snore like a banshee. Ah – Upgraded-Sit-In-A-Chair rates - $240 – for this you get a slightly bigger chair that tilts back and a free newspaper to read.

Oh, here we go – a Private Room! About the size of a small-walk-in closet, but it has its own toilet and sink, free coffee, newspaper, Internet access, the sofa turns into a bed – oh, yeah, this is for me! Only $360, too – just about the same as the Greyhound but far more roomy and private. I go to the AMTRAK website and try to figure out their schedules – good luck with that. They're printed in some Attic Greek-like language – I fear I'll need to hire a translator before I go much further.

But so far AMTRAK seems the way I want to go – comfortable, quick and it leaves me within a half-hour shuttle ride to where I'm going. This is my retirement plan so far – not exactly like one you would get from Jenner, Jenner, Pierce & Smith, Retirement Consultants, but it seems to work for me, and I think that that is the most important thing. Retirement is a very individual undertaking – we all have differently-sized piles of cash, we all have different dreams – so subject to further updating or new facts discovered I'll be taking the train.

Now if only those 'gators will behave themselves …


Humour | Lifestyle


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