vacation

The Right Type of Working Vacation

The average American gets only 10 days of vacation per year. Even worse, a recent study found that 24% didn’t use any of their vacation days, and more than half didn’t use all of their days off.

Larry Simmons is bucking that trend. After 40 years of working an 8 to 5 job this consulting engineer decided to “slack off.”

He and his wife, Carol, travel around the country in their RV when and where they want to. Thanks to the Internet, Larry is able to take his work on the road.

We discuss how to set up a “mobile office,” as well as…

  • The unique community you find in RV parks

  • How to get into national parks for free

  • Ways to try out the RV lifestyle without a huge commitment

  • The best-kept secret in the American West

  • And more

Listen now…


Episode Transcript:

John Curry: Hi, this is John Curry. Welcome to another episode of John Curry's Secure Retirement Podcast. I'm sitting here today with my friend, Larry Simmons. Welcome, Larry.

Larry Simmons: Welcome, John.

John Curry: I've been wanting to interview you for a long time, Larry. Because every time we get together, I'd hear you tell the stories between you and Carol talking about your travels with your motor home. So, I want to get into some of that, because as you know, we focus on retirement planning. And it's not just about the numbers, it's not just about money. It's what the heck will you do with your time when you retire? And sadly, too many people wait until some magic age to retire to do things, then they're sick, they're hurt, they can't do it, or worse, either the husband or wife dies.

And I've been fascinated by the fact that you and Carol didn't do it that way. You planned along the way, and you really engineered your work life to where you could do things and travel, and not have to wait until some magic retirement age. So, would you take a moment, Larry, and just share with our listeners a little bit about your background, Carol's background, and how you were able to make all this work, from the standpoint of doing the work you do, and doing the travel you do?

Larry Simmons: Well, John, I worked full-time for I guess, almost 40 years. Going to work every morning, 8-5. Then I began slacking off. I'm a consulting engineer, so when I decided that we were going to travel, I just did not take on as much work as I normally would. I now work with another company and I have the ability to do that when our workload gets kind of low. And then the most important thing that enabled me to do that, ironically, was the Internet.

John Curry: Yes.

Larry Simmons: The company I work for now, all my clients could email job information, auto cad drawings, and I would do the design in the RV, sitting there sometimes all day long on weekends, or at night, and crank out their drawings, and then email them back to them. 

John Curry: So, you had a mobile office?

Larry Simmons: That's what I had, yeah. And we have friends that we travel a lot, kind of caravan, they call it. He is a specialty advertiser salesman, so he can do all his work over the phone, similar to the way I do over the Internet.

John Curry: Nice. 

Larry Simmons: And he works at night. Sometimes we stop and stay a whole weekend at a campsite so we can do this work, you know. So, it worked out pretty good that way. I'm not fully retired. I still work. And we still have a home. A lot of people decide they're going to travel in an RV, they sell their home. But we maintain ours here in Tallahassee, and we go travel. Just recently, we had our longest trip, which was five weeks, going up north to Michigan and over to the west. We didn't get out too far west, because of the fires out there. So, we went down, visited Colorado, and then came back around, and came home. So anyway, we do enjoy our trips, weekend trips, are two or three nights. 

We go up into Georgia, we go down to go south. During the wintertime, there's still plenty of camps available because they're not full-time RV places. You pay 30 or 40 bucks a night. But they have them for people that are there for all during the winter. So, we're going to do some of that here, probably in January, just go South, maybe all the way down to Key West.

John Curry: Wow. Let's break this up in little pieces. You just covered a whole lot.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: You jumped from going on a five-week trip, I could just imagine people sitting there listening to this going five weeks? Are you kidding me? You're on the road for five weeks? And then you made a comment about weekend trips.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: So, let's back up just a little bit. Tell us how you and Carol got interested in even taking trips in a motor home. How did that come about?

Larry Simmons: Well, we had friends that bought one, and had it quite a few years before we decided to get one. They encouraged us to do it. And we traveled with them on a trip, and we saw the things that you can do, rather than go stay in motels everywhere. It's just the, stay in the parks, which are very nice. And it just kind of caught on, you might say. We just started enjoying the outdoors. And it's very good exercise.

John Curry: Yes.

Larry Simmons: You're always active.

John Curry: When you go to the parks, you and Carol do a lot of getting out walking, exploring the nature trails and things?

Larry Simmons: Yes, we do.

John Curry: That's what Pat and I did. When we first got a motor home, we bought what I call an old clunker. Very, very old one. But it satisfied our need to find out number one, would we like doing it, and then later we upgraded. But I was fascinated, matter of fact, every time I go to an RV park, if you had the hood open or it looked like you are working on something, you would have three or four people come over and offer to help. Is it still like that?

Larry Simmons: Oh, yeah. We just had a recent experience. We were in Monument Valley, and one side of our Coach was facing towards the southern sky, which we had the sun directly. Well, I let out the awning, and it malfunctioned, it wouldn't come back in. So, they were very nice there at the camp. We were there for only one night, and it was full the next night. So, they sent a crew over there, and they got a ladder, and they got up there and screwed it back together for me, and off I went.

John Curry: Nice. You mentioned Monument Valley. While we were having lunch you mentioned that. Tell the folks a little bit about Monument Valley. It's a pretty well-kept secret, from what you were saying. So, share a little bit about that.

Larry Simmons: Well, it's an area, and part of it is in the northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah. Most of it is in Utah. And it's just an area of the country that's not a lot of hotels, and not a lot of shops. It's just small-town areas there. And we traveled through there. And they've shot a lot of movies out there. It's a beautiful place to go. And they do have ... there at one of the towns, they do have a hotel. You have to make reservations in advance. I see a lot of tour buses out there. So, it's just a place that is just not on the way to go anywhere. If you were going to the Grand Canyon, you normally wouldn't go by Monument Valley, because you've got to go across a lot of back roads, you might say. So, it's really nice. We've been there three times.

John Curry: And you were telling us earlier, it's not a national park.

Larry Simmons: No, it's not. It's all private owned. But it's just south of all of the national parks in southern Utah. There's five of them, I think, and we've been all five of them. 

John Curry: That's good. Talk a little bit about, you were talking earlier something about a golden pass, or something that's available-

Larry Simmons: Yeah, if you're 62 and above, you can get what's called a Golden Age pass from the National Park Service. I got mine at the gate of Yosemite National Park. We were driving up the gate and-

John Curry: Memorable.

Larry Simmons: Yep. And I just told guy I wanted to pass, and you fill out a little slip or form and hand it to them. And I think they mail it to you. You have to show them a driver’s license. But anyway, the National Park's free, most of them. Some of them are not, and I don't know why. But, and all the national monuments.

John Curry: And let's be clear, this is not because of having a motor home, this is anybody can do it?

Larry Simmons: No, that had nothing to do with it. No, you can drive in the car. You have to go through them in a car, anyway-

John Curry: Right.

Larry Simmons: ... most of the time.

John Curry: Right.

Larry Simmons: But it also gives you access to the Corps of Engineers Parks. And they built quite a few of them around the country. There are four of them, I think, up the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, you can go up to. And there's one in, north of Atlanta, and there's ... I don't think Florida has but one. But most of these parks were built by the CCCs in the 30s. But with that pass, you can get into them and stay a couple of nights for like, $15.

John Curry: Pretty cheap trip.

Larry Simmons: Yeah, it is.

John Curry: Pretty cheap. I asked you earlier to think back and be prepared to talk about one of your most memorable trips. You started to cover it, and I wanted you to hold it a little bit, but you said something about possibly, the first trip you took out West in an RV, because it reminded you of when you were a little boy. Tell us about that.

Larry Simmons: Yeah, I had an uncle that lived in Washington State, and my grandmother lived in Bellflower, California, outside of Los Angeles. So, we took a trip out there, and went across the northern United States in a car. And then we went through Yellowstone, we went out to, by Grand Coulee Dam, and Rocky Mountain National Park, and went to Washington State, and then went down the West Coast, Los Angeles. And then kind of made a circle and came back around through Arizona, through Texas, and back home.

John Curry: You were how old, then?

Larry Simmons: I was seven.

John Curry: Seven?

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: That's a big trip for a seven-year-old.

Larry Simmons: Well, it is. I think that whole trip took about three weeks. But anyway, we did that. And of course, since then, I did not have the opportunity to go back and do it again. But we did take, before the RV, we would take vacation trips flying. We flew to Colorado and then went to Steamboat Springs, and places like that. But I would be flying in a plane, looking out the window, thinking of all these things we can see between here and there. 

John Curry: And you were missing it, because you're in the air.

Larry Simmons: Yeah. And there it is. Even though some people say no, I don't want to go in an RV because I can go in the car just as easy. Well, you wouldn't normally go there if you were flying and renting a car. You would have a certain radius that you'd go. And I know people that have flown into Denver and gone all the way up into Wyoming to Yellowstone and back, and around. But you travel all the way across the United States, you see things that you don't normally know that, you don't even know they're there until you come upon them. 

John Curry: I haven't traveled near as much as you have by motor home, but the trips I have taken, what I love the best about it was the spontaneity. You're driving down the road, all of a sudden you see something, you say, "Wow, let's stop and explore that. Let's do this, let's do that." So sometimes, the things that just happened were more fun for us than the things we had planned.

Larry Simmons: Yeah, that's true. You have to ... First of all, if you're travelling in RV, you have to know where you're going. Because you can't get on a road that won't support 15 tons.

John Curry: You got any stories you can tell us about that, about taking the wrong turn or something?

Larry Simmons: Oh, yeah. It happens quite frequently, especially when you're using a GPS.

John Curry: Yes. Tell us about that.

Larry Simmons: Well, the second trip we ever went on in an RV, we went down to Crystal River. And they had a park that was not on US 19, it was back off of that, I'd say a mile or so. And the GPS took us back in there, and went around, and we wound up in the very rear of the shopping center. It says, "You are here now."

John Curry: Shopping center.

Larry Simmons: Yeah. So, we figured it out fast, that wasn't where we were going to stay. So anyway, it also finds roads that have been closed. We went into a private residential country club type place, and pulled through the gate. And the guy said, "You can't go through here." Well, I was pulling a car, which I couldn't back up. So, I had to get out and cut the car loose, and my wife had to drive it. And I had to turn it around in there. That took, with a 35-foot RV, it took some room to do that, and some time. So, you'll have those kinds of experiences.

John Curry: Let's pause here for a second and ask this question. For someone who's listening to this, and they're like, "Wow, that's fascinating. I've considered it," what are some of the things that you would advise them to consider before they just make a big leap and go buy an expensive motor home? Should they rent one first, go with some friends like you did? What thoughts do you have?

Larry Simmons: Yeah, there are rental places. Most of them that I have seen in the RV camps are this Cruise America rents them. But they rent what's called a Class C, which looks like a truck. It's actually a truck frame, which has an RV section on the back of it. And they're not very big. And so, sometimes people will go in these, and they're not comfortable, so they don't want to go back. But I guess you'd have to go to a dealership or something, and go in and look at one, and see all the features they have and that, to see just what size you think you want. Because you're going to have basically, the same problems with all of them. If you get anything over 25 feet, you're going to have, you can't just park anywhere.

John Curry: Right.

Larry Simmons: You got to have a place to pull over if you want to stop and get out. And mainly for me, we stop in a rest area. We stay, in towns we go into shopping centers. And we can't park on the street, but if we want to go around a particular town, we have to stop at a shopping center, cut the car loose, and drive around. So, that's kind of how you'd work that. And then, of course, we have gone into town, cut the car loose, and went out and stayed all day, down at a national park or something. Driving through it. And so, we try to plan the trip to where we spend the night as close as we can, and then drive the rest of the way.

John Curry: Walk us through a little bit on how you and Carol determine when to take trips, and where to go. I know you have children, you go visit them. So, tell us a bit about that. But then, go beyond that and, do you just, you see something on television, say, "Let's go there"? Or do you read about some of them?

Larry Simmons: Well, I have to look at my schedule, because I still have work to do. And we kind of plan it in advance now that ... For instance, if you're going to Glacier Park, we've scheduled to go up there twice and we haven't made it yet. Of course, you have to get your reservations ahead of time, because it's way out in the middle of nowhere. And they have several RV camps there, so you kind of had to find out the time of year that you could go, and not be overrun by crowds of people. We always thought in traveling, we'd go after school starts so there's not as many people traveling. But September and October are two of the busiest times of year for all these RVs.

John Curry: Why do you think that is?

Larry Simmons: People got more time.

John Curry: Interesting.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: So, you'd think that kids are back in school, so there back with the kids. But they're not, taking time off.

Larry Simmons: I don't know.

John Curry: Interesting.

Larry Simmons: We went several years ago to Grand Canyon, and we couldn't even park. We drove up there from Flagstaff, little town to the east of Flagstaff where we were staying in an RV park, and we drove up there. And there wasn't a place in the parking lot. I found a place and pulled up off the curb on some rocks. We had to walk down. 

John Curry: You just made me think of something that you mentioned while we were having lunch, and that is, and I'm going to throw it out and then I want you to explain what you meant by it. You said, "You have to learn what your Coach is capable of doing." Expand on that.

Larry Simmons: Well, you have to know first of all, weight. I have to be concerned about the weight. There are weight restrictions on, especially when you get off the interstate highways or off the US highways. And then, my Coach is 12' 6". And my rule of thumb is, don't go under, try to go under anything less than 13'. 

John Curry: So, 12' 6", meaning the height of it?

Larry Simmons: The height of it, yeah. And in several cases, the width, if they have an obstruction in the road or working on the road, you got to be ... But I always look at it like, you got kind of three-dimensional. You got to look both ways, and then you have to be aware of what's overhead. And so, that's one restriction. The other thing is that, you go into someplace and you don't have turnaround space. And some places do have signs, that says there's no turnaround for RVs. And I have been down a road and had to cut loose and back up the road. 

John Curry: Because you weren't paying attention to the sign?

Larry Simmons: No, because they just didn't tell you.

John Curry: Didn't tell you?

Larry Simmons: No, they didn't tell you anything about it. And so, you don't want to travel off the road to go see some site. The road may be okay, but you get up there and there's just absolutely no way you can get it off the road into the parking lot.

John Curry: You have to back up 30 miles.

Larry Simmons: Yeah. So, things of that nature. Just know what it can, if you purchase one, you'll find that out fairly quickly.

John Curry: Yes.

Larry Simmons: You say, "Well, I want to stop at this restaurant in a little town, but all they have is street parking." Well, I parked and took up three or four parking spaces.

John Curry: I remember the first time I did that. I forget the little town I was in, now. It was in Texas, because I bought a motor home so I could take my mother and my son. My son was about eight years old at the time. We were going to take her back to Texas. I almost had the name of the town. Granville, I think it was. There was no place to park, so I ended up parking on the street, and I took up two parking spots. And a local police officer came over, and he said, "Sir, I'm going to give you 10 minutes to move that. I know it's hard to find a place, but that is your problem, not mine." And I said, "Well, what's the price of the ticket?" 

And he looked at me and he goes, "Oh, so we're going to negotiate now?" I said, "No, sir, I'm just curious as to what it's going to cost me for the ticket." He said, "Well, we're a small town. It's only going to be $20." And I said, "Well, once you give me the ticket, is there any limit on how long it sits there?" He looked at me, he goes, "You know what, sir, just leave the damn thing where it is." So, no ticket. He walked off. And my mom started laughing. She goes, "Son, I can't believe you did that." I said, "Well, think about it, Mom, where am I going to park at?"

Larry Simmons: Yeah, where are you going to park, yeah.

John Curry: So, my mindset was, "Okay, if it's up to 50 bucks and he's not going to tow it, hey, I'll pay the ticket." But he didn't, he ended up not giving me a ticket. And he walked away and left it be. And we saw the little town, got back in the motor home, and drove off. That just popped in my head, remembering that. My son thought that was hilarious. "My daddy almost got arrested over parking a motor home." But that's the fun stuff, too, the stuff that you get to do. You meet people that you would not have met otherwise.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: And most of my RV experience was buying a motor home to go to the FSU football games and tailgate. Then I would travel some, but not much.

Larry Simmons: Well, you know, I was asked that question 10 years ago, "Bring your RV out here." I said, "All right. That sounds real good. One question. Where are you going to park it?" All those RV places they have off of Jackson Bluff Road, and they're all taken up. There are people that rent those, and has probably got a reservation for a long time.

John Curry: Yes.

Larry Simmons: You can't park on the street, and you can't park at these apartments. Where are you going to park it?

John Curry: One time, you could have. But you can't do it now. I know years ago, when I was going to the games regularly, I had a reserve spot. And you had to reserve it well in advance, for the season.

Larry Simmons: Oh, yeah.

John Curry: But I had a season pass, so I could just drive up there to the same spot each time. I don't know how it is now. I haven't done that in probably, eight years, so I don't even know. But I know they were in high demand. I do know that. 

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: So, let's go back to some of the trips. Talk a little bit about your children. I think you have some in Oklahoma, and some in Maryland?

Larry Simmons: Yeah, I have-

John Curry: So, talk a little bit about how you plan trips to go see the family.

Larry Simmons: Well, if I'm going west, I go out and see my son. He's in Tulsa. We schedule it ahead of time. And I'm fortunate, I can stay in his driveway.

John Curry: Your own private lot.

Larry Simmons: All I’ve got to do is plug it in. He doesn't have sewer connection, but I don't need it. But if I go north to Maryland, my daughter's in Westminster, Maryland. And the closest RV park is 15 miles south of her, so, right off of I-70. We have to park there, and go up there and plan a day and visit, and then go back. And then her daughter lives over there north of Baltimore, my granddaughter, on the north peak of the Chesapeake Bay. So, it's quite a trip. That's about an hour and-a-half trip up there, to see her. So anyway, we plan these trips, and go by there and see them. 

John Curry: Talk a little bit about some of these weekend trips coming up in the future. It sounds to me like you got some of those in mind. Tell us a little bit about that.

Larry Simmons: Yeah, we just go and relax. We walk, and we have kayaks. If we decide to take them, we can put them on the car. And we just have a relaxing weekend at the Corps of Engineers Park, or some other park. But if you're going to someplace like Orlando, my son and his family are going to be down there in January. We are going to go down and see them. But as close as we can get to them is about 20 miles. I don't know the exact name of the town. Carol made the reservation. But that's about as close as you can get to Orlando.

John Curry: That's still better than driving four and-a-half hours one way.

Larry Simmons: Oh, it is. Yeah, it is.

John Curry: That's good.

Larry Simmons: We can go down and visit a day, and come back and spend the night. 

John Curry: Larry, we'll wrap in just a few minutes, here. But talk a little bit about what advice you would offer anyone who, they're still working, they're looking for something to kind of do when they slow down some. Just go back and recap a little bit about what your advice would be for someone who wants to explore the idea of possibly becoming an RV'er.

Larry Simmons: Well, you're going to have to get in one, and go out and try it yourself. There's different options. You can get a used one. But it's just like buying a car, you've got a lot of different options on it, and you have to decide what you want and go look at them. I don't know what else to say. There's a lot of people buy them and get in that day, and they take off. They don't ask anybody anything.

John Curry: Right, I've seen that. And I also have some friends who bought one, and they realized, "Oh, my God, we made a mistake," and didn't like it. But because they were having difficulty selling it, they started using it and getting into it, and got comfortable with. And they took a lot and did some traveling and then later sold it. They said, "We've done all the traveling, and we sold it." And I've seen people who will buy one that's too small, or someone who'll buy one that's way too big for them and then they're stuck with it, over they're trying to find some happy medium. But I think you're totally correct, you just have to go look good at the lot, look at different ones.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: You can have friends who have one. Sit in it, check it out.

Larry Simmons: Well, I see ads on the Internet. I'm on there looking for maybe, some accessory or something about the RV. And they'll advertise it, and they may let you take it off for a few days and use it, see how you like it.

John Curry: Right.

Larry Simmons: But you have to realize, you're really driving a truck.

John Curry: That's right. Big truck. 

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: With a big box around it. That's right, that's right. Larry, anything else you'd like to share with our listeners today? Just anything that's popped into your mind since we started? Any thoughts at all?

Larry Simmons: No, it's just a different type of traveling than most people are used to. Even if you're traveling in the car, you're still limited by having to get reservations in places. And to me, it's less stressful, in a way. Carol can get up and walk around, go to the back if she wants to, and do what she wants to. So, it's handy that way. But other than that, somebody's just going to have to get it and try it.

John Curry: You know, you just reminded me of something. I have a little motor home, now. It's a small one, that we just use for hunting. But I remember, I would get in the motor home, and just before we would go out the back gate, the minute I turned that key on, I would just feel relaxed.

Larry Simmons: Yes.

John Curry: And even now, just moving the motor home from the house out to the hunting property, I find that getting on the interstate, just driving that motor home just from here over in Leon County to park it what, 20-something miles away, 30 miles. But I had forgotten about that, because I haven't driven that thing since February. My son drives it occasionally.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: But just the fact that you're behind the wheel, you're driving, it's almost like there's no care in the world. Until something breaks, of course. Then you're like, "Why did I buy this thing?" Before we go, share with us, because we can't have it all be a pipe dream.

Larry Simmons: Yes.

John Curry: So, tell us about maybe, one or two challenges you had, either a breakdown or something along the way, that was a little frustrating. Give us a little tidbit.

Larry Simmons: Well, I haven't had a lot of that.

John Curry: Good.

Larry Simmons: Most people have road insurance similar to AAA, only it's through an outfit called Good Sam's. And if you have a problem with it, which I did one time with a tire north of Atlanta, you just have to, you had to get off the road and you called the company, and they supposed to send somebody out. But it's just not quite that easy for them. They shop it around. So, we stood out there all day long while they shopped it around to find the best price for them, not us, which is kind of irritating.

John Curry: Right.

Larry Simmons: So, they have to pull it off the highway if you're going to change a tire, because there's just no room to get to it safely on the shoulder of the road. So, things like that, that you got to be aware of. But I've only had two, in 10 years, I've only had two problems, two problems with tires. One of them was the last trip. I was up to 66,000 miles on the rear tires and I blew one of them. And I was within a mile of the RV park, and I was able to pull on in there.

John Curry: Nice.

Larry Simmons: And they came out there and changed it in the park. 

John Curry: You were lucky on that one.

Larry Simmons: Yeah, I was. Because I could've been in the middle of a busy interstate, and then something like that, and it was very dangerous.

John Curry: That's a lot of miles, too, for the tires.

Larry Simmons: You don't ever want to try to change one yourself. Well, the one I've got, you don't even carry a tire with you. You got to tell them what you've got, and they've got to bring it out there to you.

John Curry: Makes sense.

Larry Simmons: Yeah. So then, I've had some problems with ... Well, I had a belt go, and they had to come pull it into the dealer. You'll have maintenance problems. Maintenance ... It's a house on wheels, so, you've got maintenance-

John Curry: That's funny.

Larry Simmons: ... just about everything. 

John Curry: That's funny. I appreciate your taking the time we've shared today.

Larry Simmons: Yeah.

John Curry: And folks, I hope you enjoy these type of broadcasts. Because we enjoy doing them, because we love hearing stories of people that are planning ahead. They're not just work, work, work, and then what do I do when I retire, sit in front of the television. They're taking action. They're driving, seeing things, seeing our country. And I hope that some of the things that Larry Simmons has shared today will inspire you to do the same thing. Larry, thank you so much.

Larry Simmons: All right, thank you, John.

John Curry: Thank you, thank you.

Announcer: If you would like to know more about John Curry's services, you can request a complementary information package by visiting johnhcurry.com/podcast. Again, that is johnhcurry.com/podcast. Or, you can call his office at (850) 562-3000. Again, that is (850) 562-3000. 

John H. Curry, Chartered Life Underwriter, Charter Financial Consultant, Accredited Estate Planner, Master's in Science and Financial Services, Certified in Long-term Care, Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities, LLC. Securities, products, and services and advisory services are offered through Park Avenue Securities, a registered broker-dealer and investment advisor. Financial representative of the Guardian Life insurance Company of America, New York, New York. 

Park Avenue Securities is an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. North Florida Financial Corporation is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Park Avenue Securities. Park Avenue Securities is a member of FINRA and SIPC. This material is intended for general public use. By providing this material, we are not undertaking to provide investment advice for any specific individual or situation, or to otherwise act in a fiduciary capacity. Please contact one of our financial professionals for guidance and information specific to your individual situation.

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