I begin writing this on Friday the Thirteenth of October 2017, my eleventh vacation day of this year in a park a few blocks away from my son’s college. He does not drive and, even if he did, neither he nor we could afford an additional car for him. Thus, because he comes home most weekends, either my wife or I pick him up most Fridays and return him to the pretty little campus on Sundays.
It’s not so bad considering that his college is only about a half hour to forty minute drive from our home. The exception to that is when I pick him up after work on Fridays, in which case it takes me nearly an hour to get there from my office and nearly another hour in suburban rush hour gridlock to get him home.
Today that is not the case, as I am outside on a picture-perfect day with an hour or so to go before his school week concludes around 3:00.
Enough about where and when I am writing this. The subject matter is about the quarter century that has passed since I received my undergraduate degree from Good Old UW-Madison.
I was not really thinking about such things until I received an invitation to attend the twenty-five year reunion of the class of 1992 next weekend, which is homecoming at that fairly esteemed institution of higher learning.
In the spring of 1992, there was no way that I could have guessed the profession that I would spend decades in or the fact that I was going to feel far more pressure and anxiety in fall of 2017 than in 1992. I certainly could not have fathomed that a seven-year-old in a far-away suburb from the City who was not nearly the brightest bulb in the package would be my boss twenty-five years later. Not when I had the general plans to become independently wealthy by now, despite the fact that I certainly did not have an inkling of how I would accomplish that.
The one thing that I may have correctly anticipated would be being married to my wonderful wife of twenty-one years and that we would have two fantastic children. Since we met in the spring of 1990 and had been growing closer month by month for over two-and-a-half years by October of 1992, that would not have surprised me one bit. I was not thinking about marriage then, but she was. My lovely wife claimed that she told her mother that she met the man she was going to marry a day or two after we met. I had to buy into the fact of getting married to my first serious girlfriend that lasted more than a few dates and hook-ups, although we did not call it hooking up back then.
I probably would have cursed exclaimed “What the Fuck?!” had someone told me that I would be an economic development professional for two to three decades. I even had to admit to being an economic developer to a bank teller today, but more on that later. Not that there is anything shameful about being an economic developer; quite the opposite. Some people consider it a prestigious occupation, although I can assure you that it is far from that.
Why would I have reacted that way?
Three reasons come to mind. First off, I had never really heard the term “economic development” until I was about thirty years old and put in an application for a planning position in the Crook County Department of Planning and Development. Having already served as a probation officer for nearly eight years, I was simply submitting applications for anything and everything after obtaining my master’s degree.
Upon being hired and then informed that my title was “Economic Development Planner” since I had no actually urban planning experience or degree (not that that fact would preclude one from a planning job with Crook County), I was to administer, enhance and promote the country’s second most populous county’s economic development programs. Anybody with some decent analytical skills could do that job, and I consider it my de facto internship in the field, although I was entrusted to represent the county as if I had done it for two decades already.
Second of all, I had no interest in working for the Man, becoming an office worker employed by government bureaucracies that stifled my creativity and where I spend my days being ordered about by people with a lower level of education and intellect than my own. As a Communications major, I could more envision myself being pressured to come up with a new hit television show or advertising campaign than being directed to cold call a grocery store that does not want to come to our community for the twentieth time in the off-chance that they changed their mind in the past month. Again, not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a seven-year-old who was one of the duller pencils in the package in a non-descript suburb of Chicago at that time would be the one directing me to call that grocer a quarter century later.
Third of all, I wanted and believed that I would make it rich. Like I said, I was not sure how, but I had many friends from wealthy families at the time and, lo and behold, most of them have since become wealthy, themselves, a quarter century later. Quite a few of the guys that I went to high school and college with went into trading of various sorts including equities, commodities, currencies, options and, of course, stocks. One of my college roommates has moved fairly high up the ranks with Cisco, one is a radiologist and owns three medical clinics in Arizona, and my best friend is successful in the IT industry.
As you know, through a long series of choices that I made, I have become a Middle Class Guy and sometimes feel like a slug, having to ask someone else much younger than myself for a much-needed day off, being chained to my desk for about forty hours per week, suffering from chronic ankle pain, and I am becoming almost as stylishly (inept) as my late father was. There are only so many times that you can wear the same shirts and slacks from Kohl’s.
But you certainly don’t want to hear the Woe is Me tale. When compared to other middle class guys of my ilk, I do not have it so bad. It all depends on your perspective.
I am collecting over $400 in pay today to hang out, eat, write in a lovely park and pick up my son. I already took my dog on an hour-long walk around a small lake in our community, and we will be attending the fifth and final home football game for our daughter’s high school tonight. She is a shining star at these games, more so than the players, as she is the tallest, most beautiful and talented girl on the poms squad (okay, I might be a little biased, but she is definitely the tallest) and then sprints over to gather her trombone and then joins the marching band for its halftime show.
Besides my wife and I both receiving our pay today for a combined $3,300 ($3,000+$300), I have deposited an additional $2,200 which included $1,000 in cash from my stash, which I had to provide ID to deposit, and a one-sixth portion of some dividends inherited from my late father. I earned an additional $90 for eBook sales. I transferred some additional funds from our son’s 529 account that should hit our account any day.
Had you told me a quarter century ago that over $6,000 would be deposited into our checking account at one time, I would have definitely thought that I would become rich. After all, if you had that amount deposited twenty-six times per year, it is a shitload of money.
But, alas, this week is most likely the largest influx of money that we will have this entire year, and we have an even larger amount than that leaving our checking account over the period of the same few weeks. Two quick notes about that: I transferred $600 to an online savings account, to be withdrawn two short months from now in December for spending money for myself ($100) and for my wife and son ($500) for the three days that they travel to Disney World this December. I will be giving our daughter, who will be traveling with her marching band, $250 to spend for the entire week. Also, I will be Paying Myself First with $400 per payday this month instead of the $300 that I usually invest.
Some may find these amounts generous and pretty decent for a Middle Class Guy. However, they are far, far below what I would have envisioned back when Donna Shalala handed me my bachelor’s degree in 1992. Despite my sending $800 to my Roth IRA account this month, I still have under $40,000 in my IRA, not enough to get us through one year of retirement.
For that nebulous fantasy called retirement, I am hoping and working hard to maintain my gainful employment in municipal economic development, so as to qualify for a pension through IMRF in the amount of about $6,700 per month, with annual increases of three percent. I am not counting on it, but that is one of the middle class goals that I am striving for. Not to save two million smackers, but to qualify for about an $80,000 pension in my mid-fifties.
At the end of 2025, I would be turning double nickels years old, and that would be a long thirty-three years after college graduation. Not exactly earth-shattering to be able to semi-but-not-really retire. More like concluding my years of municipal servitude, with the chains cut loose for me to be one of those older folks who strives to do something I actually like and care about rather than just doing what needs to be done to pay the bills.
Not to diminish having the skills, ambition and ability to remain gainfully employed in a position that should remain staffed by American humans the coming years. There are far worse and more tenuous professions that one could have than being an economic developer.
Businesses, brokers and developers are still human beings for the time being, and they must work with humans like me to develop their projects in whatever jurisdiction that they wish to operate in. And as long as there remain sites to be developed and spaces to be filled, there will continue to be humans doing it.
I think back to twenty-five years ago when I was handed my undergraduate diploma.
My great and loving father was there. Both of my grandfathers were present. Unfortunately, neither of my grandmothers lived to see it. My wife was with us, although she was my girlfriend at the time. Her mother and brother whom I was very close with were still living and celebrated my graduation with a small family shindig at their house.
Computers certainly existed at the time, but very few people owned one personally. Nobody that I knew had a mobile phone, let alone purchasing a new, expensive version of the latest iPhone every freakin’ year. We had never gone online. Yes, things were different.
Twenty-five years ago I saw the world as my oyster. Sometimes it seems more like a stale bread to me now, but I am working hard at recapturing some of those high hopes that I had for the future back then a quarter century ago.
I can only think about what the next quarter century will bring. As a forty-six year old who obtained my bachelor’s degree at the tender age of twenty-one, should I survive to receive the fifty year reunion invitation in 2042, I would be seventy-one years old and retired for over ten years by then.
Perhaps I will attend that one.