Car Books – Fourth Gear

Continued from Car Books – Third Gear

After reading what a scandal Volkswagen perpetrated on the unsuspecting public throughout the world, I was ready for a more upbeat car book to read.

I thought this might be a good read as I recalled from previous car books how divisive the relationship had been between car guys and financial people within Ford. Bob Lutz is unique in that he held executive positions in all three of the Detroit car companies, Chrysler, Ford and GM (twice) and this book covered his second stint at GM. But it turned out not to be the book that I thought it was and having been written by Lutz himself, only portrayed the story from his perspective, which to me, based on his opinions of the job he could have done had he been CEO, seemed a bit haughty (although I did appreciate Lutz’s disdain for GM’s PMP process, a Performance Management Program I too despise).

So I next tried this book, Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America’s Big Three Automakers – GM, Ford, and Chrysler by Bill Vlasic. Vlasic, being a business reporter, gave a much more balanced accounting among the Big Three as well as the UAW and turned out to be a really good book.

This book covered the fall and rise of the Big Three as a result of the Financial Meltdown of 2008. But the book actually picked up the history starting in 2005, which provided helpful background information about the financial health of each company prior to the sub-prime mortgage collapse that took place in 2008. Prior to the events of 2008, I was not aware of the huge issues the car companies were facing. These details made for a very interesting read.

The storyline in the book alternated between each of the Big Three, which gave a complete perspective of what was happening in each. At the time, all three of the Detroit car companies were heavily dependent upon gas-guzzling trucks and large SUVs, vehicles that each company made enormous profits from. And with these three US manufacturers holding over 90% of the US truck market and with trucks outselling cars by a factor of nearly 2 to 1, their sales made for tidy profits. In this period, cars were just not that profitable and were viewed by most as boring offerings.

But then Hurricane Katrina hit in the summer of 2005 and suddenly gas prices shot up a dollar a gallon and sales of gas guzzling vehicles plummeted. With no attractive fuel-efficient cars to offer, sales shifted dramatically from large US makes to small economical cars from Japanese manufacturers.

The Big Three quickly found themselves with parking lots full of unsold vehicles and excess manufacturing capacity. Each of them, in their own way, made plans to shutter plants to reduce their excessive manufacturing capacity. But the prior contract agreements with the UAW and the legacy “Job Banks”, a union guarantee that even laid off workers would still get paid by the manufacturer, minimized the potential savings of simply closing plants. Therefore, costly worker buyouts, in some cases exceeding $100,000 per worker had to be offered as well. Added to this the high cost of healthcare coverage for both active workers and retirees limited the savings the car manufacturers could realize. These “legacy costs” added thousands of dollars to the cost of a US car that foreign competitors, with their national healthcare systems, just did not have thus giving foreign car companies a financial competitive advantage.

Negotiations with the UAW began to occur and with the losses mounting, progress over reducing these legacy costs began to be made as the Union realized bankrupt car companies would be bad for all parties concerned. At one point during this period, GM was losing a billion dollars a month and Ford and Chrysler were each having record losses.

Chrysler, the one company in better financial shape, thanks to their relationship with Daimler (Daimler-Chrysler at the time), struggled with making progress with the union. That is until Daimler decided to unload Chrysler selling them to Cerberus Investments.

Meanwhile, Kirk Kerkorian was trying to wrestle control of GM from its management team by purchasing up to 10% of its stock and placing his right hand man on the GM board. His efforts ultimately failed which left GM in a precarious position having had the added distraction of fending off Kerkorian. To try to sell its backlog of vehicles, GM launched the idea to offer, “employee pricing” to everyone. While it helped them unload many more unsold vehicles, the pricing meant little to no profit and in some cases even a loss on the transaction.

At Ford, a different approach was being taken. Their plan was named the “Way Forward” which included plant closings, improvements in quality and new car offerings to spur sales. To finance this effort, Ford planned to borrow 20 billion dollars by mortgaging everything, even the Ford name. But Bill Ford didn’t think all this would be enough and so was trying to bring in a new executive to replace himself. After several highly qualified candidates declined, Bill brought in Alan Mulally from Boeing (a story that is told very well in American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman). Ford’s borrowing in 2006 when credit was available was quite fortuitous given the collapse of the credit market in 2008.

In 2008 when GM and a Cerberus owned Chrysler went in search of credit to help fund their cost reduction plans, none was available. Knowing that the only way forward for GM and Chrysler was to continue to reduce their size and work force, these buyout and closure costs along with a plummeting of the US auto market from a high of 16 million vehicles to around 10 million units, resulted in their largest losses ever. The catastrophic decline in the auto market even left Ford with their largest loss in their 100-year existence.

Secretly GM approached Ford about merging (a fact I did not know) but Ford flatly declined. Jilted, GM next approached Chrysler about combining their two companies but was again turned down once it became apparent to Chrysler that it was just an attempt to save GM.

That Fall, just as Obama was about to be elected president, GM approached President Bush about the possibility of garnering government loans—a request for 10 billion of the TARP money that had been allocated to rescue the banking industry. The answer was no.

After Obama won the election and promised he would not let the US auto industry die, GM, Ford, and Chrysler went together to Congress to ask for help. Congress’s initial rebuff following a grueling two days of questioning was made only worse by the highly publicized debacle of the CEOs winging it from Detroit to Washington on their corporate jets to beg for billions in relief. Their only hope was a more successful second trip to Washington, this time each CEO having been driven in a hybrid vehicle made by their own company.

By this time Ford, given their previous borrowing, decided to forgo any loans from the US government. So it was just GM and Chrysler that requested loans. These loans came with very strict requirements which GM and Chrysler were ultimately not able to meet. This failure led to them both declaring bankruptcy with even the CEO of GM becoming a casualty, one of the few private company executives ever to be “fired” by the federal government.

With active US government participation, a new, but much smaller GM emerged from bankruptcy with the government becoming a 60% owner (this prompted the phrase “Government Motors”, technically a true moniker at least until the new GM issued stock and the US government sold off their shares to recoup their investment cost). For Chrysler, the government forced them to merge with Fiat, the Italian maker of these cute little cars.

Within two years, all three companies returned to profitable operations and today, are much stronger and much more able to compete in the US market. Looking back to these disastrous events that took place almost 10 years ago, it’s frightening to think how close the US auto industry came to becoming extinct. Since hindsight always provides a 20-20 perspective, it is easy now to say that had not the hard decisions been made and the hard work expended, our only choices today when purchasing a car would be a foreign-made or foreign-owned model!

And thanks to this book, I now had the story behind how it all came to fruition.

Car Books – Third Gear

Continued from Car Books – Second Gear

This is a car book I wanted to read even before I knew it was a car book. Ever since the story began to unfold of the Volkswagen Diesel Emission Scandal in 2015, I knew this would be an intriguing story to read. As I learned new details almost daily from my online Autoweek news magazine at the time, the fraud became even more incredible and I hoped someone would write a book. Thanks to Jack Ewing writing Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal, that book is now published and thanks to my wife’s unprompted gift of it to me for Father’s Day, I now know so much more.

I was already familiar with how Volkswagen got its start, essentially as a propaganda car company by Hitler prior to World War II so I was a little puzzled when the book traced the beginning that far back. But through an abbreviated history of the company, along with its founding of Audi in 1969 and its close relationship with Porsche, important details were provided about the automotive environment at Volkswagen. And learning about the senior management of the company and their business philosophies—their attitude of make it work or you’re fired—helped me understand how such a scandal could actually transpire.

As I read, there were several learning’s that surprised me.

Turns out, this was not the first time a car company or engine manufacturer had implemented a “defeat device” to disengage emission equipment to improve performance. In the 1990s, there were three separate cases, Cadillac, Ford, and Cummins Diesel that had programmed Engine Control Units (ECUs, the onboard computers) to disengage in certain situations. In each case, the ECU was programmed to recognize when it was undergoing testing—when the engine was driving the wheels but the steering wheel was not being turned—and employ all emission equipment to function properly during the testing. Once deceit was proven, the Cummins case alone resulted in a 1 billion dollar fine by EPA.

The introduction of the Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) Diesel by Volkswagen in 2009 supported Volkswagen’s professed goal of becoming the world dominant automaker outpacing all other car companies in numbers of sales. Diesel-power, while less common among passenger cars in the US, offered advantages of reduced carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel efficiency (relative to gasoline) and afforded Volkswagen an opportunity to compete against Toyota’s highly fuel-efficient Prius. But due to the higher operating temperature inside the cylinder, diesel engines produce much more nitrogen oxides, the gases that cause smog and have a direct link to asthma and other deleterious health issues. The challenge presented to the Volkswagen engineers in 2006 was to create a clean diesel engine for this planned 2009 launch.

Since Audi had marketed a diesel engine since 1999, the engineers looked there first to see how they had addressed emissions difficulties. When they began to examine the ECU programming, they found an unusual section of code that had been included to reduce the loud clacking noise diesel engines make when they are first started. They realized, this was a defeat device as it turned off emission equipment to reduce the noise.

When the engineers kept encountering issues achieving the clean diesel goal, it was suggested that Volkswagen use a similar defeat device to address the poor car performance that resulted when the emission equipment was fully operational. It was reluctantly pursued and since Volkswagen did not write their own ECU code, they had to instruct Bosch, the ECU manufacturer to include it, which broadened the scandal even further. As with the previous devices, these were programmed to recognize when they were being emission tested in the laboratory so that emissions would be within acceptable levels.

By mid-2015, thanks in no small part to their TDI diesel cars, Volkswagen overtook Toyota as the largest global carmaker in terms of sale volume. But interestingly, it was events in Europe that began to unravel the fraud.

Diesel cars are much more common in Europe because of diesel’s price advantage over gasoline and diesel’s superior fuel efficiency. But in spite of still meeting less stringent European emission standards, actual pollution within cites was found not to be decreasing as it should (based on calculations) but rather was increasing. The European organization similar to EPA contracted with West Virginia University (WVU) to test several diesel cars both in laboratory settings and on the road. The WVU staff just happened to test two Volkswagens and a BMW in California where the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had even more stringent requirements than EPA. The results were eye opening. While all three cars easily passed the laboratory test, only the BMW met emission requirements under actual road conditions. On the road, the two Volkswagens exceeded the nitrogen oxide limit by as much as 20 to 30 times.

Still not understanding that fraud was at play, future testing was conducted by CARB. Conflicting data continued to pile up between laboratory and on road testing. Then CARB decided to extend the standardized lab test sequence and discovered a remarkable result. One minute after the test was scheduled to end, emissions jumped dramatically on the car still rolling on the tester.

CARB first asked Volkswagen kindly for explanations but since none were forth coming, began to demand answers. No reasonable answers were provided and so in July 2015, CARB chose to use their nuclear option threatening not to certify the 2016 diesel cars that were already sitting in US ports, an act that would actually preclude their sale not just in California, but anywhere in the US.

From the time of the original WVU study in 2014 through all of the testing by CARB in 2015, Volkswagen continued to obfuscate the truth about the scandal by providing misleading and confusing answers to CARB. Volkswagen eventually admitted to a technical issue with the emission systems in early 2015 and agreed to recall and fix affected diesel cars. But following CARB’s retesting of the repaired diesel cars which still gave failing results, Volkswagen finally admitted that a defeat device had in fact been included in all 11 million diesel cars sold worldwide, a fraud on par with Enron.

The legal process that ensued was complex since it involved government regulators, states, VW dealers, and car owners. Partly due to Volkswagen’s covering up of the fraud, the legal settlement between Volkswagen, US authorities and car owners amounted to 15 billion dollars, well above the previous 1 billion defeat device fine, only to be increased by another 5 billion the following year related to another type of Volkswagen diesel sold.

While this was not the type of car story that would typically pique a car lover’s interest of cars, it was nonetheless, a very interesting tale of just how bad and how potentially unscrupulous a car company could be.

Car Books – Second Gear

Continued from Car Books – First Gear

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry. I have to admit that I had an almost love-hate relationship with this book while reading it as some of the details it went into in its massive 760 page length I was just not that interested in. On more than one occasion I considered not finishing the book. But I kept on plugging and I am glad I did. In fact, after finishing the book and reflecting on the different interwoven stories, I now see that they were all critical parts leading to ultimately what happened to the US auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

This book mainly focuses on Nissan, Ford, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, the Japanese auto unions and several influential individuals inside and outside the auto industry, going back and forth between all of them on the same chronological timeline as they each enjoyed different successes over their history. The story traces its beginning all the way back to just after World War II when Douglass McArthur was in Japan helping the Japanese to resurrect their manufacturing industries. It was interesting to get more details of the story I was only aware of at a high level of how it was Americans, in particular Edwards Deming that taught the Japanese how to develop quality driven manufacturing processes that led to high quality vehicles (think of products made in Japan in the 1960s vs. the 1980s).

I enjoyed learning of the history of Nissan (Datsun in the US), which was thoroughly covered in the book, all new knowledge to me. But once the book began to describe the development of the Ford Mustang, my interest was particularly piqued. I can still recall as an adolescent in 1964 when the Mustang was launched. The details included helped clarify the controversy over who was ultimately responsible for bringing the Mustang out. While Lee Iacocca has been credited with its development, it was actually others who came up with the design. But it was no doubt Iacocca who shepherded the car through the Ford political morass and into production and his prescient foresight that ensured adequate manufacturing capability to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

It was also incredible to read how close the Mustang came to not being produced at all, for at the time, Ford was controlled by very conservative finance people who had Henry Ford II’s ear and who constantly impeded the product people, the “car guys” whose passion it was to design and build exciting cars. In fact over much of its history, Ford has been controlled not by car guys but rather finance guys who were always looking out for maintaining the wealth of the Ford descendants instead of bringing innovative automobiles to the market.

By 1970, all three US automakers were producing really big, highly profitable cars because they claimed they couldn’t make a decent profit on small cars. And US consumers kept buying these big cars in spite of their poor quality. But all of that was soon to change.

Superimposed on these automotive stories were the events surrounding the oil producing nations and how for so many years, oil was cheap (I can still remember from my childhood seeing gas selling for 29.9 cents per gallon). This storyline reached a climax in 1973 when the Yom Kippur War (Six Day War) led to the Oil Embargo against countries supporting Israel and resulted in the escalation of the price of gasoline and the end of cheap energy. It was at this time when the Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler) had no small fuel efficient cars but only large poor quality cars that on average got a mere 13 miles to the gallon. It was the turning point for the Japanese to gain a real foothold in the US auto industry with small fuel-efficient cars that had better quality. Interestingly it was at this time that I bought my first car, a 1973 American Motors (AMC) Gremlin.

As Ford, GM, and Chrysler scrambled to come out with small cars, it was this portion of the book that was of most interest to me as these were events I could readily recall from my teenage and early 20s, the times when GM came out with the ill-fated Chevy Vega and Ford, the maligned Pinto. Having previously read Iacocca’s book, I was quite familiar with his ouster from Ford and his very successfully saving of Chrysler. I can even vividly picture the commercials he starred in for Chrysler and the return of the convertible and the launch of the now ubiquitous mini-van.

The book also covered the development of the highly successful Ford Taurus, the riskiest product launch ever undertaken by Ford and the development of the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN.

But the underlying theme of the book came to a climax in the chapter with the same name as the title of the book, The Reckoning. For while it was with great interest in the US automotive industry with which I read this book, the fact was that for the forty-year period from 1945 to 1985, that it was the Japanese that became the major producers of automobiles sold in the US. What started, as a very diminutive importing of Japanese cars became the major manufacturers that we know them as today. With the huge market share garnered by the Japanese, the “Big Three” became simply the “Detroit Three” since no longer were they the manufacturing behemoths they had once been. And I guess this reality is reflected in my own selection of cars as with the four cars I currently own, none of them are domestic but rather all are Japanese.

Reading this book has reignited a desire in me to read more books about the automotive industry. Until I read this book, I had not run across one in over four years. But now searching I will go on Amazon for more good car books to test drive.

Car Books – First Gear

I have posted numerous times of one type of book I enjoy reading which I refer to as my Building Books—books about building things. But until recently, I realized I had never written about another genre I especially enjoy reading, books about cars. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized it was long over due.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I have been a lifelong car lover, a Miata owner for over 20 years, and now that I have more time to do so, an avid reader.

I can still remember from when I was a toddler that my favorite picture book with all of its colorful cars and dog drivers was Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. And when I was in grade school, I can recall with delight when I discovered my first book about cars at the Scholastic Book Fair, a book about buying and taking care of your first car. In high school, my mother suggested I read Wheels by Arthur Hailey, a fictional novel that explored the auto industry from the perspective of the dealer, the manufacturer, the line worker, and the consumer. This was my first exposure to the complexity and politics of manufacturing cars and probably dampened my naïve desire up to that point to work in the automobile manufacturing industry.

As an adult, I read with fascination a number of different books about the development of specific cars, in particular Corvettes, Mustangs, Muscle Cars and Miatas.

I absolutely fell in love with the Mazda Miata when first seeing this car ad in 1989 since convertibles had all but disappeared from our US roads, especially small sports cars. After purchasing a Miata, I bought this book by Jay Lamm. It was with fascination that I read how three different development teams within Mazda vied for creating the car and then once the winner was declared, how the final car was brought to market and all the changes that occurred over its first seven years of production. This could have been a thick 1,000-page book rather than the slim 140 pages it was and I still would have read and poured over every page. The entire development story was an enjoyable read with a most happy outcome.

However, not until I read The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts did I got an inside look into how unpleasant it could be to live in that world. This book covered the history of Ford as it spanned over its founder’s lifetime. I found absolutely shocking some of the things that occurred within the Ford Motor Company that confirmed my wise choice to enter the field of science rather than automobiles as my career.

Knowing that Lee Iacocca was a part of that troubled history under Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, I wanted to get Iacocca’s side of the Ford story so I purchased his autobiography and gained further insight into those difficult years at Ford. In addition, this book covered Iacocca’s successful turnaround of Chrysler after he was fired from Ford.

A much more upbeat story about Ford that I read was American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman. I was already familiar with Alan Mulally having seen the PBS documentary many years ago on the building of the Boeing 777 jet airplane, a development program spear-headed by then Boeing executive Mulally. And I recalled from 2008/2009 when the other big automakers were getting bailout loans from the federal government as they were entering bankruptcy; Ford had gone it alone and survived without government loans and without enduring bankruptcy. While he seemed to be quite a likeable person in the PBS series, it was only through reading this book that I gained tremendous respect for his executive office prowess.

This book covers the period from when Alan became CEO of Ford when the great grandson to Henry Ford, CEO Bill Ford stepped aside. It tells the story of the struggle between the changes Alan wanted to make and the wishes of the Ford family, which to this day as a block, owns a controlling interest in Ford. To Bill Ford’s credit, he recognized that dramatic change was necessary to save Ford and so mediated with the family to help Alan make the changes. This story is so intriguing and came so close to failing that it might well become a case study for others to learn from in business school. Particularly since Ford still enjoys today the successes that Mulally forged under his leadership.

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry.

To be continued…

Puzzling Anticipation

Now that the autumnal equinox has past, I have really been looking forward to getting back to puzzling—assembling puzzles that is. Earlier this year, I wrote about how I had taken this up as a wintertime hobby and had thoroughly enjoyed it. What I didn’t write about was that no sooner had I finished my last puzzle in January that I already wanted to purchase my puzzles for next winter. I even wondered if maybe was there was such a thing as a puzzle club or a puzzle exchange where avid puzzlers shared puzzles with each other.

Within days of completing my last puzzle last winter, I was perusing my favorite online retailer, Amazon looking for puzzles I would want. I focused predominately on my favorite topics—cars and beer. But then I ran across a puzzle of  Keukenhof gardens, a beautiful park just outside of Amsterdam.

I had visited this large, beautiful garden numerous times on my teaching trips to Amsterdam whenever the scheduling of my course coincided with the brief two-month period of it being open. If you are a fan of tulips, hyacinths or flowers in general, this is an incredible place to explore with an estimated 7 million bulbs in bloom over their season.

When I saw this puzzle online, I knew it had to be one of mine to work. What better way to end the cold winter break than assembling a beautiful prelude to spring?

For my second puzzle, I explored more car and beer puzzles and selected this one of beer labels.

I thought this was would be a fun one to work on while actually enjoying a delicous beer on a cold winter night.

I finalized my purchase and waited for the package to arrive.

As Amazon does so well after making a purchase by suggesting additional items of potential interest, I was “notified” of this puzzle.

It was a Christmas version of a Midcentury Modern puzzle that I also enjoyed assembling last winter.

For this puzzle I had not only enjoyed the scenes depicted, but it was like assembling multiple puzzles within a puzzle with the many individual frames, giving me a sense of accomplishment each time I completed one section.

Colorfully bedecked with Christmas décor, I thought this would be a festive one to kick off my puzzling season in December, not long before Christmas.

Then for my birthday, my sister surprised me with a puzzle gift, one that I had actually debated getting myself when I was exploring potential puzzles in January.

She knows me well; naturally it was of cars.

I stashed my “war chest” of puzzles in our upstairs playroom closet to await cold weather. Never before have I wished for winter since I do not like cold weather but every time I went in that closet for something, there the puzzles sat as if taunting me to break down and open one up. But each time, I suppressed the urge and left them for another time.

Then as if calling for reinforcements to let them out of their caged boxes, my wife bought a used puzzle for me.

Amazingly, this was a puzzle design similar to another puzzle I almost bought. My only concern about working a used puzzle is what if one of the pieces is missing? I hate investing all the time into a puzzle if I can never see it completed. So before I work this one, I will likely take on the tedious task of counting to make sure it has all 1,000 pieces.

These five puzzles are still tucked away in that closet awaiting the day when they can come out and play. Since I will be retired at the time of the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter, I know I will have more time available to work on them. I suspect with the extra time, I may not have enough puzzles with these five to keep me puzzling throughout January, the national puzzle month. In that case due to the “puzzle addiction” I am willing to admit I am afflicted, I will just have to go in search for another “fix.”

Retirement – Week 1

Me on my last workday

The last weekend in October, following my last workday on Friday 27 October, I thought a lot about what my first week of retirement would be like. Even knowing that I would not be working this week impacted my weekend schedule—in a positive way. Normally, I would feel rushed and pressured to try to get all the things done over the limited time I had on the weekend. But the weekend before my first full day of retirement felt much more relaxed.

Usually by Sunday afternoon, I am feeling a bit frustrated that I am running out of time and will have to postpone until the following weekend the things I didn’t get done.

This feeling has roots dating back to early in our marriage when on Saturday morning, I would make a long list of things I needed to do over the weekend and then by Sunday night, feel a sense of depression that I only got 28 of the 31 items done on the list. This used to drive my wife crazy. Fortunately I got over that phase of my life and while I am still a perpetual list maker, I got out of the habit of making weekend lists long ago.

Sunday morning is normally a running day for me followed by a trip to the grocery store to get a week’s worth of groceries. Both of these activities I skipped knowing that I no longer had to do those on Sunday. My Sunday instead felt quite relaxed and my wife and I even went to an art festival downtown in the afternoon, something we normally might not find time to do.

When I went to bed on Sunday night, I consciously did not set an alarm knowing I could sleep as late as I felt on Monday.

Maybe it was due to an excited anticipation of this significant life change but I woke up in the middle of the night and started thinking about what I would do first. After lying awake for quite some time thinking about all these things, I realized the first thing I really needed to do was just make a list so I wouldn’t forget them all.

In spite of remaining awake for probably an hour, I woke up refreshed and glancing at the clock, saw that I had slept in until 6:30! (Normally on a Monday I would be awakened with an alarm at 4:45.) I did my usual stretching and then went to the gym to run indoors since it was too cold outside. By the time I left the gym around 8:30, I was feeling a bit lazy and thinking my day was getting away from me. But then I remembered, it was OK, as I was not going to work.

When I got home, I had my delicious Peet’s coffee and typical breakfast—“concrete”—a concoction I create of dry oats, Grapenuts cereal, sliced almonds, and fruit Greek yogurt that I have been eating for years.

However, rather than gobbling this down while I would normally be getting ready for work, I sat down and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. It was after 9:00 AM before I was shaving and showering, something unheard of even on the weekends.

After getting cleaned up, I went grocery shopping. As I wandered the aisles, I realized that if I continued to shop on Monday morning rather than Sunday, I would see a whole different crowd than whom I normally saw, shoppers like me now who could shop during the week. Driving home, it felt like I was on a holiday since all of these things were so foreign to me during the week.

Returning home, I could even participate in my daughter’s and grandson’s daily FaceTime with my wife, a treat I normally only get to join in on weekend mornings.

After lunch, I decided it was time to make my lists. I decided to make a short-term list and a long-term list. In my mind, my short-term items would be anything I wanted to be sure and get done within three months or less. I reflected back to my many thoughts in the middle of the night and quickly jotted down 18 items on the short-term list and four items on the long-term list.

When I shared these lists with my wife later in the day, she commented that these were all things that I needed to do but none of them were necessarily things that I might want to do. I realized that I had gone back and done the same thing I used to do many years ago when I made those weekend lists. My list was filled with chores not fun activities, which usually meant I didn’t have much fun on weekends in those days. This was not a way to start off retirement.

So on Tuesday, I made a third list, a list of things I wanted to do.

It was actually a year ago that I wrote a post of the fun things I would do after retiring. I remembered seven of them before deciding to reread that post to make sure I didn’t forget any. I only missed two.

Over the week, several people asked me how it felt to be retired and I typically responded either weird or different. Reflecting back, it seemed that both Monday and Tuesday felt quite different, at times like it was a holiday or vacation day since I was not at work. Wednesday and Friday did not seem that different, as I have been working from home ½ day on Wednesday and all day on Friday for quite some time. The difference was I did what I wanted to. Thursday was very different as I worked out at the gym in the morning and then got to go to Kinder Music with my wife and granddaughter, something I have not gotten to ever do since Thursday was typically a busy day at work.

Someone who retired two years ago recently told me one of the things he had gotten to do was catch up on his sleep. I guess I must have done that sleeping in on Monday and Tuesday as on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I slipped back into my work habit of waking up around 5:00 AM. Each morning I lay there a while thinking I should go back to sleep but since I was not tired, decided I could get up not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

After just one week, I can’t say that I fell into a new routine but I did definitely identify some additional things I might want to consider making a part of a new routine. Over the week, in my old list making fashion, I did manage to strike several items off that short-term list and only occasionally did I feel I needed to be more productive thinking my “vacation time” was almost over. But then I remembered that next week I would again be free and the week after that, and so on for many weeks ahead as I am no longer working full time. Having achieved one of life’s major milestones and only being one week into it, I think I am really going to like this retirement thing!

Retired!

After years and years of anticipation and months and months of planning, I retired last week. This is a self-photo I took of myself in my office on my last full workday. While my last official day was the 27th of October, I was actually on vacation for seven days before that so my last real work day, the day I took this photo was the 17th of October.

So what was it like on my last day? Well it was a day mixed with emotions of happiness but also sadness. After 35 years working in the same location and even in the same building, it should not come as a surprise.

The day before, I had sent out a mass e-mail saying goodbye to all of my work colleagues—those who were remaining behind as well as those who were moving on to other activities (some of which were also retiring). Part of my last day was spent reading the very touching responses I received from many reflecting on our productive and instructive work life together and wishing me well in retirement.

Another part of my day, I spent touring other floors of the building I had worked in all of these years. I decided to go by all my old offices that were on the four different floors I had worked on. Some still looked the same but others were no longer there having been torn down to make space for an expansion of our laboratory operations. Touring the labs was a bit sad as all of the equipment had been boxed up and relocated to other company sites. This was a part of the process of closing down our work site, the main reason I was retiring at this particular time.

But the most distressing sight I saw on my tour was when I came to our stability chamber area. When I rounded the corner of the second large room where many of these chambers were located, I was met with a gutted room. What previously had been our first chamber expansion area that housed four walk-in chambers and four large reach-in chambers were all gone. All that remained were the water, air handling, and electrical utility connections dangling from the ceiling, like bloody tendrils from savagely excised appendages. For 25 of my 35 years, I had responsibility for our stability program and these chambers had incubated the thousands upon thousands of samples at a multitude of environmental conditions. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

One bright spot though was an unexpected visit by my youngest son who lives in town. He stopped by to ask me some questions about a research project he was working on and after his questions were answered, I gave him a tour of the two remaining floors that were still occupied. It was his first visit to my place of work in many years and he was amazed at the changes that had occurred. As we ended our tour, he suggested we get a selfie, which thanks to his rather long arms, hardly even looks like one.

After calling into my last teleconference of the day, I began to box up my few remaining personal items. After more than 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I had accumulated a number of reference documents and texts that I planned to use in my “retirement.” Many of these I had taken home the previous day so that when I walked out for the last time, it would only be a single trip with the one box.

My Bose speaker that I continuously played jazz music and my two phone chairs, where my work and personal phones reclined while I was sitting at my desk, mostly took up the box. I know my daughter will recognize the thermal mug on the left; the one I drank ice water from all day long at work for at least 15 years. I got this mug one year in the early 2000s when I picked her up from college after the close of a semester.

Over my 35-year career at this location, I spent 32 years in management. My first three years, years that I absolutely had had a ball, were the years I worked in an analytical laboratory. When I was cleaning out my desk, I found this spatula that I had used many years ago to weigh out milligram quantities of samples and standards.

Knowing that I had used this tool on a daily basis whenever I was working in the lab, I decided to take it with me as a memento of those really fun days in the lab.

I carefully placed my box on the passenger seat and put down the top for one last fun workday commute. As I pulled out of the parking space, I realized this was the last time I would be driving out of this parking lot and the last time I would be waving my ID badge at the security gate to exit.

Tomorrow starts the first full day of my retirement, a period of my life I have been looking forward to for some time—a time of freedom, a time of relaxation, a time of adventure, and a time of unexpected pleasures. But none of this was I thinking of that last day. No, my thoughts as I drove away were about the three phases of my life. The first phase was the years of educational preparation for work; the second phase was my professional career; and the third phase being my retirement years. All of us spend a different number of years in each of these depending on our level of education, our career, and ultimately our life expectancy.

As I zoomed down the road on my way home, I thought this was indeed the end of an era. But at the same time, it was just the beginning of a whole new exciting phase of my life.

As a view of my office building receded in the passenger’s side mirror, in spite of the iconic phrase that “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”, I shifted my gaze forward through my windshield to the next phase of my life—retirement—which was now closer than anything in my rearview mirror.