All Aboard! The Happy Retirement Train at the Santa Barbara Zoo


All Aboard! The Happy Retirement Train at the Santa Barbara Zoo



Drive about 90 miles north of Los Angeles along U.S. Route 101, and you’ll find yourself in the stunning coastal city of Santa Barbara, California. With a Mediterranean climate and scenic maritime vistas, it’s not too far from Point Conception, the natural dividing line between Southern and Central California. Visitors marvel at the Spanish architecture, overspend at the upscale boutiques, and imbibe the local wines.

Wedged between the freeway and East Beach are thirty acres of “lush botanic gardens overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Santa Ynez Mountains” that comprise the Santa Barbara Zoo. My wife and I took our one-year-old son this past summer and had a blast.

Leopards, lions, gorillas, flamingos, capybaras, meerkats, a red panda, and so much more; the zoo offers a wide variety of elegant animals for visitors to meet and admire. Perhaps its most famous resident of all time was Gemina, a twelve-foot-tall Baringo giraffe with a crooked neck.

The featured attraction is a miniature train that locomotes the perimeter, allowing visitors to see the exotic animals in their habitats. The train conductors act as tour guides, animal advocates, and stand-up comedians. A connoisseur of corny dad humor, I spent much of the tour laughing. Always searching for future guests, my Happiest Retirees podcast radar detected our guide’s age and joke preferences and beeped like crazy. Further investigation revealed that not only was Pete a happy retiree, but so, too, was his coworker, Andy. I responded to this fortunate turn of events in the only appropriate way possible—returning on a later date with my recording equipment instead of my family. I wanted to know the inside story of these train conductors. What did they do before becoming the purveyors of zoological delight? What did this new role mean for their happy retirement journey?

Pete Georgi served two years of active duty Army service, a year in Korea and a year at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He spent another eleven years in the Army Reserve and National Guard. In his primary working years, he co-owned the Santa Barbara Insurance Agency and was President of the Board of the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara.

Having lived in Santa Barbara almost his entire life, some might call Pete a local celebrity. Even Katy Perry, one of the world’s most well-known pop stars, recognized him. They first became acquainted when Katy threw a 2023 New Year’s Eve party at the Carriage and Western Art Museum. She later rode his train when visiting the Santa Barbara Zoo with her fiancé Orlando Bloom. As the story goes, she was pleasantly surprised to see that the carriage museum guy was also the train guy. After the ride, they took a selfie together while onlookers snapped their cameras behind them. A photo later surfaced in a well-known tabloid. Pete may not know who provided the picture, but according to the Santa Barbara Independent, he does seem confident of one thing: “Orlando Bloom said he liked my jokes.”

Andy Liepman spent thirty years at the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and ended up as the Principal Deputy Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center. This trajectory is quite impressive, especially for someone who graduated from UC Berkeley as a self-proclaimed “very bad student.” He told me, “I actually didn’t know for sure I would graduate until I saw my diploma.” After getting married, he moved back to Washington, D.C., with his wife. “She got a job with the Department of Defense, and I applied for CIA, got the job.” From there, he seemed to find his rhythm. Let it never be said that someone who majored in “Forestry” can’t eventually be trusted to keep our nation’s secrets and protect us from terrorist attacks.

I don’t know the profit margin for the owner of an insurance agency or the salary range for the Principal Deputy Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center. Still, it’s safe to say both are more lucrative than driving the train at the Santa Barbara Zoo. And that is absolutely okay with Pete and Andy.

“After leading an organization of two thousand people, it was actually great fun to be the lowest person on the totem pole,” Andy admitted. “I didn’t have to write personnel evaluations, I didn’t have to decide who got bonuses and who didn’t get a bonus. My biggest decision was which otter got this piece of fish.”

Staying active is often a key ingredient to retirement happiness, more so than the paycheck that may or may not come with it. “Volunteering” frequently tops the list of core pursuits for the happy retirees we interact with on the Retire Sooner Team. When I asked Pete about this, he agreed. “I would say so, and I’m sure Andy feels the same way. We’re not making much money here, even though we’re employed. We’re doing it from the goodness of our hearts and because we’re happy to be here.”

Andy had a thought for folks who might be retired or in the planning stages. “The biggest lesson I learned about the retirement issue is to figure out how much you actually need and then stop making money,” Andy said. “Life is a whole lot better when you stop going to work every single day for eight, ten, twelve hours a day.” To be clear, Andy doesn’t waste much time sitting on the couch. He’s a very busy man. But since retirement, he’s been able to choose his activities rather than his job choosing for him.

If you’re currently retired or looking ahead toward what that life might look like, think of Pete and Andy. They both ascended to the top of their respective fields. But now, they’re just two guys who wear overalls and drive a miniature train. And they’re happier than ever.

Learn more about happiness in retirement by subscribing to the Happiest Retirees podcast.

This information is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and is not to be viewed as investment advice or recommendations.  This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal, tax, or investment advisor before making any investment/tax/estate/financial planning considerations or decisions.  The views and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only as of the date of production/writing and may change without notice at any time based on numerous factors, such as market or other conditions.


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