‘Retiring in 2020: A whisper of what might have been if Covid hadn’t come calling’

Aug 20, 2020
This community writer's retirement plans were scuppered by Covid-19. Source: Getty (stock image)

In November 2019, The Plan was to work until the middle of May 2020.

At noon on my last day, I would attend a ‘surprise’ congratulatory luncheon in the briefing room at the office, receive a giant “Farewell, Happy Retirement, Sad To See You Go, Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Ass” card with a ton of illegible signatures and well wishes on it. I would then make the customary farewell speech with the appropriate amount of emotion, receive my Parking Enforcement retirement badge with my officer number on it and eat some cake. More importantly, I’d get a chance to say goodbye to many of my City of Vancouver past and present workmates.

After that last shift, the crew, as well as anybody who could make it, would meet up at the local pub for a few pints, basket after basket of chicken wings, nachos and hamburgers. And shots! Good grief, don’t forget the shots!

We senior officers would swap stories reminiscing about the “good old days” when we used to write paper tickets, sometimes 100 or more a day. No technology to mess up the process, just look at the meter and see if it was expired. Literally write the ticket, simple and easy. The worst you could do was run out of ticket books or have your pen dry up.

And then we’d move on to complaining about the so-called “new” technology we’re now using. Funny how the “older” technology wasn’t that useful or easy to operate when it first replaced the ticket books. In many cases, this newer technology seems to make things a lot easier but at the same time, more difficult. I know we’d sure as hell complain about all the people who purposely jam our meters that mess with our ticket counts, our lives and those of our citizens. And of course, we’d bitch about the unrealistic demands management seems to continually put on us. It seems they will never understand what our job is like on the street.

And I’m sure some of us would embellish our old war stories about dealing with the public with a few white lies, get called out on them, slap each other on the back while laughing our fool heads off, spilling a few drinks in the process. The junior and auxiliary officers would all stand around, drinks in hand, listening to the sage advice of these senior cohorts of mine wishing they’d been part of the “old” days.

And then as the guys and gals from Parking Enforcement inevitably began to leave the bar under various states of intoxication, we’d all give each other hugs and handshakes and promise to stay in touch. I’d be left there with a few die-hard friends and we’d talk about future plans, when they were eligible for retirement and hell, they might even say they were going to miss me!

I’d probably drive a few of them home because I’m usually the designated driver, anyway, even at my own retirement party. The next day, I’d be on vacation for the next 10 weeks. I’d be getting ready to write and publish articles on my trip to Alaska in June via the beautiful Cassiar and Alaska Highways in Northern British Columbia. A kick-start, as it were, to a whole new career as a Travel Writer and Photographer.

I’d officially retire on August 1st, my birthday. At least, that WAS the plan.

In December, my vehicle gets hit from behind while I’m waiting at a red traffic light. Although a relatively minor accident, it severely wrenches my hips, lower back, shoulders and neck. My doctor recommends chiropractic and physiotherapy sessions. I also begin getting massage and kinesiology sessions. I optimistically make plans to return to work by the beginning of February.

However, my doctor puts the brakes on that, saying it would be too aggressive. After all, I’m 67 and I apparently don’t heal as quickly as I used to. So for the time being, we’ll play it by ear. Okay, I can live with that.

By mid-March my treatments are going well. Doctor is happy with my excellent progress as my rehabilitation continues. So, I’ll officially be back to work for April 1st.

In 1785, the Scotsman, Robert (Rabbie, to his friends) Burns, in his poem, “To A Mouse”, noted that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I honestly believe, Burns and that damned Irishman; Murphy, got absolutely plastered one night and came up with a way to mess things up when least expected.

Enter COVID-19 and it’s no laughing matter. Overnight, a viral pandemic destroys ‘normal’ as we know it.

Suddenly the world is on a daily diet of overflowing hospitals, lockdown and/or self-isolation, closed borders and sky rocketing death tolls as states of emergency are declared. Many businesses, universities, colleges, schools, swimming pools, gyms, restaurants and bars, as well as non-essential municipal venues close. High school graduates and post-secondary students will never receive their diplomas and degrees during the coveted graduation ceremonies. All cancelled by an event out of their control. Their working future; in jeopardy.

No job means no paycheque. So many people won’t be able to make their rent payments.

Elective surgery schedules are cancelled in order to allow for the expected onslaught of the COVID afflicted to our emergency rooms and Intensive Care Units. Dairy farmers are forced to dump their milk and poultry farmers are destroying eggs. Migrant farmworkers hired to pick the orchard fruits and vegetables are nearly non-existent, held at the border. The markets crash harder and faster than they did in 1929 with oil prices dropping into the negative. Locked down cities turn into ghost towns.

Fear, anxiety, depression and absolute stupidity reign supreme. It seems people have lost their minds. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, paper towels, surgical masks, and N95 respirator masks become the world’s newest currency. All this while conspiracy theories, racism, finger pointing, a failure in leadership and social distancing become the new normal.

Over night, the very people we seemingly took for granted prior to the pandemic, some of them the lowest paid workers in the country’s entire work force, become ‘essential workers’. Janitors, cleaning staff, grocery store clerks, shelf stockers and cashiers, food delivery drivers, many convenience store workers as well as couriers and postal workers, garbage collectors, truck drivers, baristas, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, food banks, daycare employees, many city workers, pharmacists and liquor store employees immediately become heroes.

Nurses, ER doctors, respiratory specialists, lung specialists, cardiologists and epidemiologists became our universal super heroes. Provincial chief medical officers, many of them women, reach rock star status by becoming the voice of reason throughout the country as they provide daily updates on the crisis and instructions.

The City of Vancouver deemed Parking Enforcement, a branch of the Engineering department, essential services and immediately implemented a voluntary layoff program. Four fulltime Parking Enforcement officers took that option. Wherever possible, office personnel began working from home. The financial axe began to swing and devastated numerous departments throughout the City eventually laying off 1800+ employees.

Parking Enforcement had all of its Auxiliary Officers laid off and shortly thereafter, a large section of junior full-time officers were laid off as well. The remaining senior full-time officers were stretched so thin they had to be reassigned to different shifts in order to cover the department’s enforcement requirements. The coveted Monday to Friday dayshift (that I was assigned to) was eliminated. The remaining officers now work a staggered workweek with weekend shifts on their schedule.

I’m immune-compromised so my doctor would not allow me to go back to work for my own safety. I’ve been hunkered down in self-isolation since mid-March. Except for the odd time I go to the store for groceries, the only time I get out is to go for a walk. I try to do that five to six times a week. Working on getting it to be a daily thing.

I’m really looking forward to my final vacation as a senior officer with the City of Vancouver Parking Enforcement Branch. Belay that, ‘staycation’, since travel at the moment is not recommended.

In the end, there was no ‘final’ day at work, at least not as I’d imagined it.

No ‘surprise’ congratulatory luncheon in the briefing room at the office. No giant “Farewell, Happy Retirement, Sad To See You Go, Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Ass” card with a ton of illegible signatures and well wishes on it. I didn’t get to make the customary farewell speech with the appropriate amount of emotion, eat some cake or get a chance to say goodbye to many of my City of Vancouver past and present workmates.

No. My ‘final’ day involved a 70-kilometer round trip into the office to empty out my locker, putting my personal stuff in a dusty cardboard box to take home with me. I did, however, receive my Parking Enforcement retirement badge with my officer number on it. My good-natured Superintendent tossed it to me while I stood six feet away on an ‘X’ marked in tape on the floor just outside his office door. Accompanied by an apologetic, seemingly embarrassed smile and a “good luck and congratulations” comment, he promised to have a proper party once all this COVID stuff was over and done with. I won’t hold him to his word.

On my way out the door (almost hitting me on the ass), I waved goodbye to a couple of the on-duty supervisors who I’d worked with for years.

It was like a dream, walking through the last ghostly chapter of a weird, mystical book that had such a promising and exciting climax within reach, but never materialized. I instinctively knew the last page was there but it shimmered like heat waves on the overheated tarmac of a lonely highway through an empty desert. Always moving ahead of me without me being able to touch it.

With each step away from that so familiar workspace, the building around me silently shuddered and faded away behind me like it had been a dream. It left me with the faint affects of vertigo.

In my head, I could vaguely hear sad, muted, unclear yet seemingly recognisable voices. They were like disappointed spirits I could almost put individual faces to, whispering barely audible goodbyes, almost telepathic in nature.

I, like the millions of high school, post-secondary graduates and now unemployed workers throughout the world, left the building for the last time – with a whisper of what might have been.

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