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Expressway: The world changed while I was away

Man walking with a briefcase.

Man walking with a briefcase. Credit: iStock

I went into hibernation a few years back when I accepted a retirement offer, packed my bags and, perhaps like Superman, made off to my cave of silence and reflection.

After about 40 years of work, I swore I would never turn back. Salaried work, most recently as a public school assistant principal, was done. I would forge ahead and create my own life in the second half before the curtain closed.

I turned to new things: I took classes at Stony Brook University, learned to play guitar, rode my bicycle on mornings when others went off to work, read the newspaper in whole chunks rather than just the headlines and juicy bits, and gave myself time to contemplate where I've been and where I'm likely to go.

That was until one day, I received a call while I was with my wife at ShopRite in Selden. An old friend -- my ex-principal -- asked whether I wanted to come back to work.

Without hesitation -- not because I disliked the travel, learning and idle time that absorbed my days, but rather for the chance to do a friend a favor and to return to something that once was a passion -- I accepted his offer to take up the same role I had performed at the same middle school in Dix Hills I had left 31/2 years ago.

I returned as an interim assistant principal. We are, of course, all "interims" in one way or another, so I didn't see the harm.

I found myself again in wonderfully noisy hallways filled with the spirited youth, and with a sense of meeting challenges in a changing world.

Ten-hour days, my old norm, rushed back. I arrived at my desk a little after 6 a.m. each day and stayed until after 4 p.m., after most of the building emptied. I set about my task of developing a teacher and student schedule for the 2014-15 school year. I became absorbed in the process, which seemed more complex than when I left in 2010.

The return engagement seemed different somehow. During my hiatus, things had contracted. The school had about 200 fewer students, down from about 1,100. Their exuberant voices now echoed through the less-crowded hallways. Fewer class sections were available for placement in the larger schedule. We had fewer teachers for the core subjects and other required courses, like technology, family and consumer science, and physical education. Even bulky backpacks didn't bump into others in the hallways as students made their way from class to class.

In addition, I sensed that in some ways, Long Island also had contracted. There seemed to be less rush hour traffic on the Long Island Expressway. The morass of cars each evening used to give me an hour or more to review the day's news before I hit the garage-door opener. Now it seems that I barely get through the evening news on my XM radio before I enter my driveway.

The Island is still a vital place to live and to grow. Happily, my little corner is a little less crowded. My whole world has contracted. There is more time to think about bigger and lesser things, and to complain about a few of them. So many thoughts rattle around when you have retired from the hustle and bustle. For now, I am back in the thick of it and quite pleased with having been given the opportunity for a return engagement.

Reader Sy Roth lives in Mount Sinai.