03/20/2012 08:51 am ET

The New Age Of Retirement: Working 9 To 5

After Ailika Thomas woke up from a snooze, her husband brought her coffee in bed. It was 7 p.m., and the 73-year-old was facing a long, moonlit drive from her rural Indiana home to Chicago; Dean wanted to make the journey as easy as possible for his wife. As she dressed, he warmed the car (a red Buick named Carmen) and stocked it with snacks -- containers of sugar peas, blueberries and her favorite, raw turnips. When Ailika emerged from the back door in a pink-and-white pants combo accompanied by her two Yorkshire terriers, Dean gave her a warm goodbye kiss and made her promise to call at journey's end.

It was a touching scene, but a familiar routine: Thomas's destination was her job. Five nights a week, she drives 90 minutes each way to work the midnight shift as a research supervisor for a big company downtown.

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