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Routine is something that has eluded me in my retirement years. I felt badly about it until I realized that I had been rebelling against routine for at least two years before I retired from my Washington career.

For 38 years I had been a slave to the alarm clock. I needed to be up at a certain time, to eat breakfast at a certain time, to help Hayden get the kids ready at a certain time, to get on the road at a certain time, to make the train at a certain time, to arrive at my office in a predictable 15 minute window. Just writing that out makes me a little sick to my stomach. All of those connections and the awareness on a minute to minute basis whether I was ahead of or behind schedule was my life. Thank God I loved my job.

When the kids moved out and Hayden and I sold the dream house and moved to Old Town Alexandria, my commute became a wonderful 20-minute scenic drive up the George Washington Parkway to the Legal Services Corporation in Georgetown. For those not familiar with DC geography, as you drive north, the sun comes up over an iconic horizon of the US Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. On one of my first commutes, an American bald eagle literally glided across the road from a growing number of nests along the Potomac River. I took it as a sign that I had finally discovered the sweet spot of Washington commuting. What had been years of an hour and a half of pure hell, became 20 minutes of heavenly bliss.

With this shorter and more relaxing commute, my daily routine started to slip. No longer tied to morning routine with the kids or the afternoon slalom up Interstate 95 to make it to Garrison Forest School sports events, both my morning and late day schedules softened. The snooze button became my friend and the knowledge that my Capitol Hill clients rarely hit the office before 9:00am made the second cup of coffee more routine, dog walking along the Potomac a new morning joy, and life a wee bit better. Routine was drifting away. I was able to fire my pit crew, take the racing slicks off the car, read the entire Washington Post before leaving home, and be a happier camper all the way around.

So, when I finally pulled the trigger and retired from 40 years of Potomac Fever, I was already disposed to become a person with less routine, fewer schedules, and more "me time" every day of my life.

I recently met a delightful gentleman on a river cruise down the Danube River in Central Europe (blogs to come). You would have never guessed his age as 92, but you could not have mistaken him as anything other than a British gentleman of the old school. Cruises, air travel, and the theater used to command a certain level of formal dress. While it has gone the way of daily milk deliveries, some like Charles still put on a tie in the morning and vary the type of waistcoat or jacket depending on the angle of the sun. He never came to dinner without proper evening attire.

Charles was an attorney of long standing in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is an avid golfer, a bridge player of some renown, and a safe deposit box of countless stories and unique expressions. I have a good nose for characters, but Charles was as obvious as a firecracker in the punch bowl and knew everyone on the cruise within days of embarkation. Hayden and I and our friends were flattered that he sought us out at meal times and broke bread with us on many evenings.

The reason I add Charles to this tale is my amusement at hearing him recount his schedule in his Scottish habitat. At one sitting he outlined his typical week to me and described his golf, bridge, and lunch schedule. A member of his University of Edinburgh Club, he reeled off the menu for each day of the week and his choices thereof. "The club staff knows my love for a good piece of cod and put one aside for me each Tuesday." And then there is Thursday for beef, and Friday for an occasional shrimp dish. I smiled at the clear culinary routine and his love for the place and the mates that were his companions.

He was a happy man and routine fed that happiness with the certainty that Tuesday meant cod.

But here is my ultimate tale of routine.

Far and away my favorite pub in London (and maybe the world come to think of it) is the Churchill Arms. Built in 1750, this historic Kensington watering hole was the local of Winston Churchill's grandparents in the 1800's. It is chocked full of Churchill memorabilia and features worn dark woods, wonderful ales, comfortable stools, and a classic pub bouquet.

I had a magical conversation with a well-dressed old gentleman at the Arms bar late one afternoon. I’d guess his age as 90 years. He wore a double-breasted blazer and a club tie and was reading a copy of the Financial Times that he had meticulously folded for bar reading. When he left, he bid me adieu and said to the barman, “see you tomorrow”. After he was out of ear shot I quipped to the young fellow, “And I bet you will.” He laughed and pointed to a little piece of paper pinned next to the wall phone. It had a series of numbers written on it which I assumed to be a phone exchange. “If I don’t see him tomorrow at 16:00 hours, I’m to call his brother to alert him. It will mean that William is dead”.

THAT my friend is routine.


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