'I would walk away and be free'

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I was tooling along this week when I realized that I'd forgotten the anniversary of a milestone in my life. In April 2010, I retired from AT&T after 33 years of service. For years, I had dreamed of the day that "I would walk away and be free." Preparing to leave that job was a strange and wonderful time in my life. 

I started with the phone company as a garageman gassing up trucks. As soon as I'd put in the required time, I joined the Communications Workers of America union. Later, I bid on an installer/repairman job, which I got. I installed phones all over central Alabama and in Mobile after Hurricane Fredrick.

The work outside lasted for six years. Not long after the phone company embraced plug-in telephones, it didn't take as many installers to do the job. The low men/women on the totem pole had to find other positions within the company or get laid off. 

Thankfully, I got a job in the BellSouth Data Center in Hoover. For 27 years, I commuted 48 miles (one way) each day to work. Even though I lived an hour away, I could have driven to work with my eyes closed. 

Through the years, I learned the names and birthdays of all the security guards and the custodians. I knew the names of most of their children – there were weddings and funerals. 

In the last few weeks in the office, I didn't do a great deal of work. I cleaned out my desk and said long goodbyes to my coworkers. I'd spent more time with many of these people than I had spent with my family. That's the nature of some careers.  

It was like those last few days were in slow motion. I know it's a tired expression, but it was a bittersweet time. After 33 years with MaBell, I was ready to do something else with my life. I was 59 years old.

Fortunately, because of my age and years of service, the company made me a buyout offer. I thought by taking early retirement that some of my younger coworker friends might get a chance to stay around longer. I later learned that some of them did get to stay on, but the bean counters put many of them on the streets. 

The day I walked out of that building for the last time, I remember the look in the security guard's eyes. When I slid my badge under the glass for the last time, it was a little after 8 a.m. 

The walk to the truck felt a little surreal. The morning sun had just peeped over the edge of the building. I heard a squawk from behind me. It took a moment for me to see that two geese had landed on the edge of the building. In all my years, I'd never seen them there. It was as if they had come to see me off. Opening the door to my truck, I rolled down the windows for the ride home. Driving out of the parking lot, I honked the horn and waved goodbye to the geese. I never looked back.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Goes On is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@rickwatson-writer.com.