Last week found me among the audience at a nephew’s high school graduation. Plenty of optimism for things still ahead for the graduating class of 2015. Just as it should be…
In my own case, I am sure that I was not alone in thinking back to that June afternoon when I made a similar trek from the chairs on the football field to be handed my high school diploma. Almost the summer of 1977…
Back then I had a solid future ahead of me. Planned my career in railroading and was all set to take on what lay in store. Summer ahead with a family trip to Disneyland, a few odd jobs here and there, an even a girlfriend. What more could an 18 year-old boy look forward to?
I had not planned ahead for college. Call it simpler times if you will, but I wanted to take some time off before heading down that path. I didn’t take the SAT or even discuss the whole thing seriously with a guidance counselor in my senior year. Funny, but I can’t recall why now. But I certainly wasn’t as grade focused as some of my classmates.
Eventually, those odd summer jobs gave way to a full time job. Pumping gas at a Shell station where a friend worked. And it was close to where my girlfriend lived, too! But it didn’t take too long before I decided this was not my future and enrolled for the spring semester at the local junior college.
I pushed my way through that first semester and more. One job led to another and finally one last gas station job came my way. But as the fall semester in 1979 came along, I was determined to have seen the last of pumping gas. I traded outside for inside as an Emergency Road Service Dispatcher with AAA. A good job while I finished up my AA degree. That railroad career? Oh, it was still out there somewhere, waiting.
But along the way, AAA became a full time job. With benefits such as retirement and vacation. Before I knew it, that girlfriend became my wife. Okay, so it took 9 years to happen. A comfortable job that paid better than most. She had one too, with the phone company, as an operator. We fell into our comfort zones. Things were good. We took some nice vacations and weathered the occasional bump in the road. The railroad career? It got lost in the economic downturn of the 1980’s. While we weathered the dot com boom and bust, we thought we were doing okay.
Things changed with some corporate decisions and what once was safe and comfy was no longer. We both found ourselves “exploring other opportunities”. Something that really should have taken place long before it actually did. In my case, 26 years had passed since I started out as a dispatcher. Things were not what they were back in 1979. We had transitioned, not without head aches, from paper to computers. And we saw technology take steps toward maturity. Yet, the company didn’t always learn things the easy way. And the management wasn’t always eager to admit this.
Fast forward to today. It’s been almost 10 years since I left AAA. Today, my business is traffic and transit information in the SF Bay Area. With every kind of challenge you can think of, we are still learning as we go. People move about every day for business or pleasure. Knowing what to expect along the way has become something they demand. And when things (much too often) don’t go as planned, we are telling them about it and how to get around those delays.
And the railroading? It’s become a side light. Was once was a full time hobby has become an occasional opportunity. Still enjoyable but not the focus I once thought it might be.
Someone once said, life is what happens to you along the way to other plans. In my own case, indeed it is. If I could, I might do a few things differently, but which of us hasn’t said that at some time in their lives.
Looking ahead? Oh, I imagine a few surprises still lurking about. And bumps in the road, too. But worry about them? Not too much.
No, just enjoy the ride. No matter how strange or unusual it gets. You only get to do it once.