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TERRY WOSTER: 'Early' retirement wasn't so early

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
(605) 996-5020 customer support
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Today is an anniversary. Four years ago on this date, I started what you might call my second career when I became an employee of state government.

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I had worked 10 times that long as a news reporter in one job or another, but changes in the news business created the opportunity for a little budget cutting for the newspaper and an early retirement offer for me. About a week before Christmas that year, at the end of a Friday workday, I dropped the key on the desk next to the company laptop, digital recorder and camera, pulled shut behind me for the last time the locked door to the bureau I'd used for years and walked home in the lengthening shadows of an early-winter evening.

Early retirement, back in December of 2008, was a misnomer in the common meaning of the words. I was 64 years and 11 months old when I took that early retirement. Had I waited one more month to turn 65, would anyone have considered it early? Probably not. At the time, though, early retirement made me sound so much younger than I was. In truth, we were talking about a man who was little more than a year from being able to draw Social Security at the full-term rate and who had been receiving notices to sign up for Medicare. That isn't kids' stuff.

Although I opted for the retirement package, and although I was old enough to quit working without being criticized by people for being a slack dog, it didn't take me long to realize I wasn't ready to be out of a job. I discovered that, left to my own devices, I become bored pretty easily. I suppose that's a sign that I'm boring. When the information officer position opened in the Department of Public Safety, I applied, interviewed and received an offer. I took it, and I've not regretted it for a moment.

You know what I miss about the news business? The early days. I miss the days when the basement of the Argus Leader had huge rolls of newsprint and the whole place had a musty smell of printer's ink and hot lead. There was something romantic, weird as it may seem, about going into the back shop on a Saturday evening as the sports deadline approached and helping to fill the final holes on the last couple of pages of the Sunday edition. I learned to read, not proficiently but passably, the galleys of type upside down and backward.

I miss the days when The Associated Press used those obnoxious, clattering teletype machines that dispatched stories to the newspapers and broadcasters in the region at the amazing rate of 66 words a minute. I suppose part of my hearing loss dates to the years in a small bureau on the fourth floor of the Capitol building where the sound of the teletype echoed incessantly.

I miss crawling under a teletype that was spewing out garbled copy, a telephone receiver clamped against my ear, a pair of needle-nosed pliers in one hand and a flat-head screwdriver in the other and the voice of the technician in the Sioux Falls bureau asking, "Now, before you touch anything under there, are you one of those persons that electricity hits hard?''

I miss the road assignments when finding a bucket of gold coins in a road ditch would have been less important than finding a working pay telephone. Cell phones are great and all, but it was -- again the word -- romantic to huddle in a phone booth on the street in White Clay or outside a café in Gregory or Eureka and try to talk over the street noise to dictate a story to the home office while local folks paused to peer through the glass at the stranger.

I miss all that old stuff, probably because I was young once and that was the nature of the business that called me.

I'm older now, in my second career, and it's way too late for early retirement. I guess I'll go to work Monday and see how it goes, huh?

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