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Book Club featuring Steve Lopez

George Grombacher August 26, 2022

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Book Club featuring Steve Lopez

On this edition of the Book Club, Steve Lopez talks about his newest book Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement from Some Who’ve Done It and Some Who Never Will

Steve is a long time columnist with the LA Times and award-winning author.

For a copy of his book Independence Day, click HERE

You can learn more about Steve at LATimes.com, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

steve lopez

Steve Lopez

Episode Transcript

Unknown Speaker 0:00
Come on

Unknown Speaker 0:12
this is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful. Steve Lopez. Steve, are you ready to do this? I think I’m ready. All right, we will give it a shot. Steve is a longtime columnist for The Los Angeles Times. He’s the recipient of more than a dozen national journalism awards. He’s a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Best Selling Author of the soloist, his newest book is Independence Day, what I learned about retirement from some have done it, some who never will. Steve, tell us a little about your personal life’s more about your work. And what motivated you to put pen to paper for the new book.

Unknown Speaker 0:47
Well, my personal life, I’m a California native grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and

Unknown Speaker 0:54
didn’t really know what to do with my life. And I remember a community college counselor saying, Okay, you’re done here. What are you going to do now? And I said, I don’t know. And she said, Do you have any interest? And I said, I go to a lot of ballgames, and I kind of liked to write and she said, Well, you should be a sports writer. That’s what they do. So I got a journalism degree at San Jose State University about 150 years ago. And I was a sports writer briefly for like two years. And a job opportunity came up at the Oakland Tribune, it was, it was night rewrite, it was sitting there waiting for a horrific story of murder, you know, a deadly accident or go to a school board meeting or a protest. And it was a great education, I decided I want to stick to news. So since that job at the Oakland Tribune, I’ve worked for six newspapers and also for TIME and TIME Magazine and Sports Illustrated. I landed in LA about 20 years ago, to write a column and I’m still doing it. And I live in Pasadena with my wife. We just dropped her daughter off at college. And that’s my story. Look, congratulations on a daughter in college. Yeah. I’m a little too old. I have a daughter in college, but it’s, it’s okay. But life is a funny thing. Right? Yeah. All right. And so as for the new book?

Unknown Speaker 2:20
Yeah. Okay. So, a couple of years ago,

Unknown Speaker 2:24
I was giving some thought to retirement.

Unknown Speaker 2:27
At the moment, at the moment, right now, I’m almost 69.

Unknown Speaker 2:33
And so a couple of years ago, I was thinking, Okay, do How long do I want to do this? And

Unknown Speaker 2:41
should I step away now to do some of the things that I always thought I’d want to do, and never got around to it. So I’ve been in this business of journalism for 50 years. And I’m really, really lucky, because I love the work. But I’m having some of the same health considerations that my parents had at the same age. And my big fear was and continues to be, what if I wait too long to retire? And when I finally pulled the cord,

Unknown Speaker 3:11
I don’t remember my wife’s name, or I don’t, you know, I’m not in good enough shape to hike, you know, the Himalayas or whatever it might be. And I thought maybe now is the time to think about what to do, how much longer to hang on. And my book Agent David Black said, Well, that’s, that’s so that’s probably a book and I said, Why is that a book? Why would any he said you take a year, you interviewed people to figure out what you’re gonna do, and then write a book about it. I said, Why would anybody care?

Unknown Speaker 3:43
Why, when or whether I would retire outside of a few loyal readers, and he said, because everybody is talking about this. The sandwich generation is talking about how to help their parents through this right now. And people my age, are thinking about, well, if I do it, am I going to be financially secure enough to enjoy the things I always thought I wanted to do? And how do you how do you handle the identity part of it? My job for most of my half century career has been quasi public. You know, as a general interest columnist, I’m supposed to weigh in on the issues of the day. It’s kind of like a running conversation with with LA, the way I had it in Oakland, and the way I had it in Philadelphia, and you’re kind of required to be engaged and you’re inspired by the people who do engage and give you their ideas and their hopes, their dreams, their fears, lately, a lot of complaints. And I’m just wondering, and the book really explores, who am I when I walk away and have I have I, you know, maybe idealized that those long walks on the beach or taking up on

Unknown Speaker 5:00
You know,

Unknown Speaker 5:02
you know, flamenco or whatever it is, I think I’ve wanted to do. And, you know, some of the people that I interviewed said

Unknown Speaker 5:10
they had good advice, like,

Unknown Speaker 5:13
most of the people in the book are ordinary people. But I also interviewed two guys in their 90s, who are still hard at work. One is Mel Brooks. And one is Norman Lear, who I think most people know has produced, you know, some of the greatest, most successful television comedies, and also a lot of movies, they’re in their 90s. And they’re still working. And, you know, they asked me well, as a writer, how long do you think it is that you’re going to be in Barcelona, studying, you know, language and cooking, and music before you want to write about before you want to call your old boss and say, Hey, I could do a travel piece or before you think it’s a book. So their argument was, given what I do, it’s kind of a curse. And I’m always going to want to do it in some form. So maybe what I needed to think about rather than just jump out of that plane, and you know, never looked back, what kind of hybrid models are there. And I think we’re in a time right now, where there are a lot of hybrid models and a lot of opportunities for people to try new things to consider flex time to maybe decide they don’t like retirement and go back to work in some form. So the book explores all of those things.

Unknown Speaker 6:26
How long did it take you to write? Well, it was it was set up so that I began on July 4.

Unknown Speaker 6:35
And I as I began writing, the idea was completed on the next July 4, and it was a one year kind of a deadline to give the book a tick tock element. I got to figure this out. And when I started writing on the first July 4, I emailed my book agent, and I said, What about if we called Independence Day?

Unknown Speaker 6:56
Here I am, the fireworks are exploding all around me in my backyard in LA. And I’m writing about, you know, that day when, when you’re free. But what does freedom even so it took one year to write. And then you know, a couple months with the edits, and here we are

Unknown Speaker 7:13
ready to roll? Love it.

Unknown Speaker 7:17
Did it work out the way you expected?

Unknown Speaker 7:20
Well, you know what, throughout the course of the year, I took a couple of terms. I would say that I began not really knowing how it would end. And not sure that I knew how I wanted it to end.

Unknown Speaker 7:38
I was just open to listening to people and really sorting out the advice I got. You know, I met with a rabbi, I met with a priest. I talked to people who were happily retired, miserably retired, never going to retire, couldn’t wait to retire. And

Unknown Speaker 7:56
halfway through, which would have been January, I really wasn’t sure. And then something happened that began to turn me.

Unknown Speaker 8:05
And it turned me in more than one direction. I got an email as I was going to bed one night from somebody telling me that a friend had died, a friend of mine. He had been a longtime city official in Los Angeles and email said

Unknown Speaker 8:23
cardiac arrest. Paramedics went to his house, it was too late. And he’s gone. And Tom is his name and Tom is was just about exactly my age. And Tom had stopped working four or five years earlier.

Unknown Speaker 8:40
And I thought, Geez, he retired. That’s what I fear is retiring and not getting enough time to do all of these things I want to do, which I would like to think will take longer than four years if I’m in good enough shape. So when I got that news, my first thought was, I gotta quit today. I gotta call in tomorrow, and say I’m done and go and do these things, rather than wait too long and never be able to. And the more I thought about it, Tom was somebody who even more than myself, his identity was wrapped up in his work. He was an elected official. He was a problem solver. He had done it for, you know, nearly half a century. And he didn’t really find another way forward. After leaving. So I went from thinking I’ve got to quit to

Unknown Speaker 9:34
Who am I going to be? And am I going to have those same problems reinventing myself feeling engaged, irrelevant, feeling like I matter. One of my muses in this book is Nancy Schlossberg in her 90s in Florida, somebody who has studied transition and you know, she said you got to have a plan. You can’t just walk away, thinking you’re going to handle it and

Unknown Speaker 10:00
I’m, so I went from thinking within a matter of a month or two, that I was definitely going to retire to.

Unknown Speaker 10:09
I couldn’t imagine myself completely retired. So then I started thinking in the next six months about what kind of model is there for some kind of a hybrid, you know, notion of work.

Unknown Speaker 10:23
I appreciate that. Those are, these are big things to be grappling with.

Unknown Speaker 10:30
You know, it’s, and I don’t and I don’t know that you’re ever done grappling with. I am as we speak, I have one year into this. And one year into my, what I decided was to go hybrid to cut back.

Unknown Speaker 10:43
And so that I could, as Mel Brooks had advised me. So you like work, right? And I said, Yeah, I like it, you said, but you liked the idea of going somewhere for six months at a time I said, yeah, these are then go to the editor of the LA Times and say, I liked this and want to keep doing it, but not so much. And so the deal I worked out was, you know, to have three months off with the possibility of after a year, maybe taking six months off, and then maybe taking even more time off. And kind of, you know, small steps into full retirement. But, you know, I’ve also liked writing books. And,

Unknown Speaker 11:22
you know, I might want to do what a lot of people do, which is to, I don’t know, pick a cause that you like, and volunteer or serve on the board.

Unknown Speaker 11:33
So there are so many options that I continued to consider, even a year after I made up my mind about what I wanted to do. And some ways I’m still making up my mind about what next. And I don’t have all the answers. But that was something that Nancy Schlossberg told me, she said you’ll you’ll never have it entirely figured out. It’s kind of an evolving, you know, idea of figuring out what to do now and what to do tomorrow. Norman Lear

Unknown Speaker 12:00
was quite the philosopher. And he’s, what is he he just turned 100 years old. And when I, when I talked to him, he was so busy. With work, it was hard to schedule the time with him. And what he his advice was, sounds maybe a little bit too obvious, or

Unknown Speaker 12:22
you know, I don’t want to use the word with Pete. But he said live in the moment. And I said, Well, yeah, but I’m trying to make a decision about what to do with all of the moments that are left. How do you live in the moment. And he said, he likes to think of it as these two words govern his daily activities over and next. And he said, what you did yesterday, last year, really is done. It doesn’t matter for much. And it’s all about what’s next and your life. Imagine yourself swinging in a hammock between what’s over. And what’s next. And if you wake up in the morning, as Norman Lear does, and are motivated to get to the computer to begin refining this idea you have about the story behind a sitcom that you’re pitching or a movie.

Unknown Speaker 13:11
Then you get up and you do it. So why Why worry yourself with trying to figure out the rest of your life, rather than just keep following motivation, inspiration, instinct, and just get through each day and then then start over. So I mean, in some ways, that was pretty good advice.

Unknown Speaker 13:30
A lot of wisdom

Unknown Speaker 13:33
in terms of, of your career, your 50 years of of being a journalist of being a writer, was that a did you write every day? And is that a muscle that you if you stop using it that you’re worried will atrophy

Unknown Speaker 13:54
I never wrote every day. But I would say that every day for 50 years, I’ve thought about what I’m going to write next. It’s like there’s no vacation from the pressure of coming up with something with trying to keep readers guessing with trying to deliver. And that was something that I examined in the book.

Unknown Speaker 14:15
You know, I might not have a column in the paper for three, four or five days. And people would get the idea that I’m not working those days. I’m working just as hard as on the days that I’m that I’m writing and getting something published in the paper. And I started to think that exactly what you just suggested that my mind was automatic and didn’t know what a break was. And early on in the book. We took our first pandemic vacation, my wife and daughter and I.

Unknown Speaker 14:46
We went a couple hours south to a little seaside community. And we weren’t there more than a few hours before I saw something and I thought, hey, that’s a column

Unknown Speaker 15:00

Unknown Speaker 15:01
I emailed my editor who said, You are allowed to take vacations. And I said, this, this could be really good. I mean, this is something I’ve been writing about. And I don’t know, I said, I’ll tell you what I’ll do I’ll, I’ll try to call this doctor who had a blog post about COVID. And about precautions. And if he’s available, then I’ll run over an interview. And you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation, and I said, but if he doesn’t answer, if he doesn’t return the call, then I’ll just enjoy the rest of the vacation. All I could think about was getting hold of the doctor. And I ended up interviewing the doctor, interviewing the mayor of this town, couldn’t wait to get back and begin working on that column. And when I was done,

Unknown Speaker 15:49
I thought this, this may be my fate, this may be

Unknown Speaker 15:55
my trap. That calls I’ll always see things that interests me, and always want to go and, you know, act on those ideas. And I wonder if I’m capable of ever retiring?

Unknown Speaker 16:12
And even when I’m no longer writing a regular column? Am I going to be retired in my mind? Or am I going to be kind of tormented by

Unknown Speaker 16:22
all of these things I see and be tempted to run back to the nearest laptop and start start writing. And those are those are questions that I don’t yet have the answers to, I guess when I moved more into a leisure, leisurely kind of phase. I’ll find out who I am in that regard. But I don’t know that we’ve got to have it all figured out. And it’s nice to still have surprises and some variety. Right? Amen.

Unknown Speaker 16:52
So when somebody picks up the book, what are you hoping that they get out of it?

Unknown Speaker 16:57
I hope that they,

Unknown Speaker 17:00
first of all,

Unknown Speaker 17:03
I hope that they think about

Unknown Speaker 17:07
it, I hope that they make sure not to do this kind of willy nilly.

Unknown Speaker 17:13
I hope that they think about whether their

Unknown Speaker 17:19
their ideal retirement activities and routines align with their financial resources. Because there’s a chapter in the book, about a gentleman who was retired and prepared to travel the world.

Unknown Speaker 17:39
He lost some of his investments in a crash, he was diagnosed with cancer. And he ended up in his mid 70s, working as a checker at a big box discount store. So people this may be sounds pretty obvious, but you got to make sure that you have done the right financial planning.

Unknown Speaker 18:02
You have to I think, consider the possibility that all of your relationships will change that your relationship with your your children, what’s your meet with your colleagues, your former colleagues, your relationship to the world around you and to the issues that you care about will change, because you’re going to be in a new role. And you can’t imagine how all of that will work out. But it’s not a bad idea to start

Unknown Speaker 18:33
thinking about those things. And the rabbi Naomi Levy, gave me some really good advice. She said, if you think you’re gonna retire, and take cooking classes, and guitar lessons, and and get fluent in Spanish,

Unknown Speaker 18:50
you may find that you’re not built for any of that, that you’re built for structure. So you either need to have those things very structured and your retirement plans, or better yet, if you’re going to cut back to part time, begin to experience them now. So that you know, it’s really something that you need more time for to pursue. And so I’ve been doing that I’ve been playing the guitar for an hour every day, was some of my added leisure time to make sure that’s something I want to pursue. And I found out that I really, really loved that time and want more time to study music.

Unknown Speaker 19:27
So those are good. Those are good tips for people. And I hope that I hope that although I can’t tell anybody, when retirement time is right,

Unknown Speaker 19:37
that the book is a bit of a roadmap. It’s what kinds of decisions do you need to consider about? I think maybe the one the most important one is,

Unknown Speaker 19:48
how are you going to matter? We all want to matter. It could be to your cat, it could be to your grandchild. It could be to the board that needs your input because

Unknown Speaker 20:00
You’re bringing some expertise to the next meeting of the nonprofit administration. But I think you need to find ways to matter so that you don’t make the mistake of doing little more than sitting on the sofa, watching ads for geriatric medications.

Unknown Speaker 20:21
I think that that’s really well said right there. Love it. Well, Steve, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage? And where can they get a copy of Independence Day what I learned about retirement from some who’ve done it some who never will. I can be reached on Twitter at at La T. Steve Lopez, anybody with questions about retirement or stories about retirement? Please email me at Steve dot Lopez at La times.com. The book is now you can find it for preorder at Amazon. Or you can check your local bookstore because they always need to support and I am also getting going now with freshening up my Facebook and Instagram pages so that I’ve got a little more of a social media game here, which is a little more difficult maybe for people like me as they approach 70. But come on, I’ve got to pretend that I’m still one of the young ones and I can I can move with the rest of them. That’s right. Love it.

Unknown Speaker 21:29
Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, so Stevie appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas pick up a copy of Independence Day. Wherever you buy your books or you can go to Amazon and preorder it you can find Steve on Twitter, you could shoot him an email, Facebook and Instagram. I will list all of those in the notes of the show. Thanks again Steve. Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it. And until next time, fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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