John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2014

Confessions of a Subway Geek

Sometime last year I heard about a new book called: “The Routes Not Taken – A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System.” Fascinated by the title, I asked my son to give it to me for my 70th Birthday. Try as hard as he could, Michael discovered, contrary to the information I had, it was yet to be published. In April, two of my buddies, Geoff Jones and Bill Christman, sent reviews from the Wall Street Journal. I quickly went to Amazon and bought a copy.


I’ve read about half of this history of the transit system in the 20th Century; I will be shocked if the author, Joseph B. Raskin, sells more than 500 copies. It’s not an awful book. Quality is not an issue. The problem is the subject matter is exactly as advertised; a definitive narrative of the reasons that many proposed and planned subway lines were never built. The short answer; lack of money, conflicting interests and / or lack of political will.


You now know the primary cause and effect of Mr. Raskin’s narrative. Beyond that, do you really want to know that the Brooklyn – Queens Crosstown Line, today known as the “G” Line was originally conceived as a steam-powered elevated line in the late Nineteenth Century or that the Winfield Spur in Queens only appeared on the 1929 Board of Transportation Planning Map even though an underground subway terminal was built along the IND Queens Line to accommodate it? That terminal remains today, abandoned, unfinished and connected to nothing.


If you answered anything other than, “Hell, no!” you are a liar, psychotic, a fool or a subway geek. As for me, I jumped on such information like a dog on a bone but, I admit, this book is a test. A test of endurance, knowledge and patience. Witness this simple paragraph describing a proposed extension to the Flushing Line:


“The extended route would run past Flushing and along Warburton Avenue (now 38th Avenue) to Bayside Boulevard (now 221st Street) near Little Neck Bay. For most of this distance, the Flushing line would closely parallel the LIRR’s Port Washington’s line.”


Did you find your eyes glazing over, were you distracted or did you even finish reading the passage? Even if that paragraph made any sense to you at all, admit it; everything being equal, you’d rather be forced to watch snooker on the tele than read any more of this drivel.


But I am hooked as I knew I would be. You see I hold what would be the equivalent of a Masters Degree of Subway having honed by education and knowledge for more than 50 years from publications like the Electric Railroader Association (ERA) and the National Historic Railroad Association’s (NHRA) bulletins. I began collecting material while in college making visits to the nearby Transit Authority’s headquarters on Jay Street where I met two employees who I learned were legendary subway historians; a.k.a. geeks, Don Harold and Frank Goldsmith who introduced me to material I did not know existed about the subways.


My collection of written material expanded over the years. As technology improved first with VHS tapes and, later, DVDs, I grew my video library of the old films featuring trolleys and old els shot in the 1930s and 1940s. Previously they could only be viewed on 8mm and 16mm projectors at club meetings.


It was the internet that made research simple and provided a plethora of information about the subways past, present and the routes not taken. It was about the same time that I secured copies of the official Board of Transportation maps of 1929 and 1939 that laid out plans for the so-called, “Second System” the next phase of extending the IND system.


Please, do not be under whelmed, to a subway geek these maps are the equivalent of Biblical scholars finding the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oh, all right granted I am engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but they were a major find. But the maps had to be taken on face value and details were poor. Oh sure, I could see where the Utica Avenue Line and the Smith Street – Staten Island Line would go or where the two-level South 4th Street Station would be located in Brooklyn, but there weren’t any details.


But Mr. Raskin opened the vault and has provided intense and specific details not only of locations, but of the how, why, when and who were responsible.


He make life good for subway geeks everywhere.


But before I sign off I will confirm one thought you are considering: It’s true; I have never met a subway geek whose all there including when I look in the mirror.




Once There Were Bar Cars

When the 7:07 PM Metro North / Connecticut Transit train to New Haven left the Grand Central Terminal on time on Friday evening, May 9, 2014, it’s consist of cars included the last bar / lounge coach operating on any American commuter railroad. Officially dubbed, Café Cars, this forty- something years old unit was removed from service at the end of that run together with three other like lounge coaches.


They were rolling dinosaurs and only lasted this long because Connecticut deferred replacing their M-2 commuter car fleet well beyond other railroads had like Metro North and the Long Island railroads. Their very existence was odd as the Nutmeg State still chose to include Café Cars when they ordered new train sets in the early 1970s at a time  almost all other systems were eliminating these coaches as they modernized their equipment.


Like Chicago; Jim Hagelow recalled “We lost ours years ago and with them, many fond memories. Birthday parties, Cubs outings, ‘Oh Shit’ card games and singing Christmas carols. Every year for years, a fellow from Peat Marwick and I led the car singing carols during our rolling party.” Jim also admitted a universal truth: “I think my wife was happy when it went away.”


Geoff Jones remembered that the older pre-MTA equipment included lounge cars with upholstered chairs and couches that could be move around. “Some had service bars at one end, but there were others with long bars along one side of windows. The railroad had a bartender who rode south from Poughkeepsie in the morning running a continental breakfast service. At night he became the bartender for the northbound run to Poughkeepsie where they put him up in a small apartment. On weekends, he continued further north where his family lived.”


“When the new equipment arrived, booze carts on the platforms at GCT replaced the lounges. But drinks bought there didn’t last to Peekskill where a funny thing often happened on Fridays. The platform is located on a pretty sharp bend of the Hudson. The train emptied on the right so it took the conductor a long time to check it all to see if passengers were safely off. Just across the street was a pizzeria and thirsty commuters who still had a way to go pre-ordered pizzas and six-packs of beer from pay phones in GCT (no cell phones) to meet the train. A designated runner left with the first wave of exiting passengers to secure the order and re-board the train. Usually, the run went smoothly, but I do believe the conductor held the train when it didn’t. The pizza always smelled great but it was only ten minutes to my stop in Garrison so I didn’t join in.”


After the LIRR introduced their new M-1 coaches without bar cars in 1969, for a while they turned trains that went long distances into bar cars by putting a cart and bartender on one of the units. He maneuvered the cart taking over one of the two vestibules in that car. He disabled the doors behind him and the conductor would announce his location. Pity the passengers, especially non-drinkers in that car. A line would snake down the narrow aisle with thirsty patrons competing for space with others carrying their drinks back to their friends. If that didn’t create sufficient discomfort for regular riders, once the bartender came on board, that coach officially became a smoking car!


My own make-shift bar experience came on my son’s last commute to Port Washington before he was to be married and move to Fairfield, CT. I bought four cans of beer to share on our express run home, but while the train was still in Queens, we stopped at a station for what the crew described as a medical emergency. “EMS is on the way and will be here soon.”


The doors were open and I spied a bodega at the end of the platform across Northern Boulevard. “Watch my briefcase,” I said to Mike and made my way as quickly as I could. Dodging traffic, I replenished our diminished rations and made it back as the EMS fellows were removing the distressed commuter from the train. “Hey, is that for us?” one of them called out as I re-boarded.


“Afraid not fellas, but if you had let me know, I would have picked up four more.”

Durham Bulls


This is an excerpt from my 2014 Baseball Journal: “Tickets: $6.00 – Hot Dogs $18.75”


Our 2014 annual baseball trip takes place in late April and culminates in Durham for a late afternoon contest between the Bulls and the visiting Scranton / Wilkes-Barre Railriders, the Yankees AAA affiliate. The Bulls represent the Tampa Bay Rays. We are an audience of six, part of the 10,011 sell-out crowd. I am joined by my baseball buddies, Bill, Don, Geoff, Mike and Geoff’s son-in-law, Paul whose family lives in Durham. We sit along the third base line out toward left field.


The ballpark is modern and Geoff explains that they undertook an $18 million renovation after the 2013 season ended. New four and five-story office buildings loom over the left and center field walkways with balcony’s overlooking the field. Paul explains that during weekday early starts, office workers come out to watch the games.


Just inside the left-field foul pole is a large painting of a bull. When a Bulls’ player hits a home run, steam comes out of the bull’s nostrils and its eyes turn red. Written on the bull is a sign: “HIT BULL WIN STEAK.” Below the bull on painted grass it reads: “HIT GRASS WIN SALAD.”


A Sign in Center field proclaims that this is Goodmon Field. Paul explains that Jim Goodmon is a local media mogul and current owner, but it seems his choice to name the place after himself is not catching on. Newspaper reports of the game call it Durham Bulls Athletic Park or by its initials, DBAP, pronounced D-bap.


I take a solo walk around the ballpark during the early innings to observe the view from all fields. Covered stands stretch from just past first base around home to just past third base. This main seating area is a big single deck, that tapers down beyond first and third. Luxury boxes line the wall along the rear of this grandstand. Open stands continue to the right field and left field foul poles. Bleachers line right-center with a grass seating area in center field. The scoreboard covers the left field wall with a an outdoors restaurant above it.


Before the game begins, I ask a fellow two rows behind us to take our photo using my phone. He does, but the chap with him asks, “When did you boys play for the Bulls.”


“I’m not sure of the year,” I reply, “But they were still flying the Confederate Flag.” After a group of youngsters finish performing the National Anthem, I turn and ask, “When did they change the tune?”


At first he looks puzzled then he explodes in laughter.


It’s an easy game for the Bulls who take a 5-0 lead into the Ninth on the strength of two home runs. It is only then that I wake-up to the fact that the starting pitcher, Mike Montgomery, has pitched eight innings of no-hit baseball! But he is also at or about the 100 pitch count. Somehow, he avoids his manager, Charles Montoyo, and returns to the mound for the top of the Ninth. But Montgomery throws two straight balls before getting the batter to ground out to first. Without hesitating, Montoyo goes out to the mound and takes the ball from Montgomery. There are some boos, but then, mostly cheers. Montgomery gives his manager the ball without hesitation which leads us to believe wrongly that Montoyo told him he was going to take him out after the first batter. Instead, like a kid being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Motgomery meekly returns to the dugout. At least he receives the accolades from the fans that he deserves on his way.


Brad Boxberger in relief, gets the last two outs. The crowd explodes with cheers as he strikes out the second batter preserving the no-hitter.


We eat in a crowded pub in the tobacco warehouse district near the stadium. Paul points out the Lucky Strike smoke stack, now preserved. (I think to myself, few of these people here ever smoked a Lucky Strike or know what their advertizing slogan, L.S.M.F.T. meant*)


I make it to the end of the bar attempting to flag down one of the harried bartenders while we wait for a table. When I catch one’s eye, I decisively demand, “One Fat Tire, three Kettle One’s, rocks and two non-alcohol beers.” This command impressing a young couple watching me.


“You know what you want,” the boy notes.


“At 70 years-old, I should. Pretty soon, I won’t remember what I want.”


We have a second round at the bar so when we sit down, we only order food. That’s why, when we split the bill, we are shocked that each of our share is $15.65. “How could we have ever submitted that on an expense account when we were working?”

*(Lucky Strike Means Fine tobacco.)



Gaming the System

My dear senior citizens and fellow travelers, one of the passages we must make when the calendar verifies that we have reached the magical age of 65 is to enter into the brave, new and different world of Medicare. In many ways it is not overt or a shock to the system, but there is also no doubt that we will discover that things are different as we make appointments with doctors for the most mundane of visits. First, almost universally, our bright new red, white and blue Medicare Cards are accepted readily and little attention seems to be made to secondary providers. Despite all of the wringing of hands and doom and gloom articles that doctors are ready to opt out of Medicare, we experience a warm welcome, “Nice to see you.”


Then we discover that every time we see a provider, a CMS, Medical Summary Notice is produced detailing the costs of services rendered, the amount covered, less deductibles and coinsurance and the remainder that you may or may not be billed.


No longer is the bill for a visit a fixed amount. Now, when the nurse – practitioner takes a test, that’s a charge, takes your vitals, that’s a charge, uses a machine, that’s a charge and each charge has a different code; one visit, many codes.


When the doctor finally appears and asks, “How are you?” that’s a charge. “Say Ahhhh.” that’s a charge, “Let me see you walk?”: A charge. Test reflexes, that too is a charge. And, if during the course of your discussion you mention another non-related symptom, that will lead to additional tests and multiple new charges.


…And so it goes because that is the Medicare way. But you come to realize that there is something basically wrong with the system that encourages a menu of tests, treatments  and examinations to be undertaken without regard to their actually being necessary, appropriate or beneficial.


Then, finally a wake-up call. Take Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, a North Palm Beach, Florida ophthalmologist who received $21 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2012. All hail Dr. Melgen, king of Medicare payments.


Better yet, he is worthy of being Fighting Dr. Melgen, he is suing Uncle to claw back $9 million he over-billed in 2007 and 2008. He protests the activities the federal lawyers charge he undertook with patients where they state: “(He) seeks to game the system by seeking reimbursement of three to four times its actual costs.”


The New York Times explained this charge further on April 10, 2014:


Each vial of medication (Lucentis) comes with up to four times the amount that a patient requires. Investigators said the doctor was using one vial to treat three or four patients and billing as if he had purchased a new vial each time. The doctor would be reimbursed $6,000 to $8,000 for a vial that cost him $2,000.


Fighting Dr. Melgen isn’t alone. Thanks to the Wall Street Journal taking the Department of Health and Human Services to court, the DOH&HS has been forced to release the list of the top Medicare earners. Joining Melgen in the second spot is Dr. Assad Qamar of Ocala, Fla, an interventional cardiologist at $18 million in Medicare reimbursements. Dr. Michael C. McGinnis, a pathologist from Wrightstown, N.J., finished third at $12.6 million.


Like Melgen, Assad doesn’t mind throwing money at politicians including $100,000 to the DNC. Assad also hired “…a former Justice Department official and Capitol Hill aide from the firm named Gregory W. Kehoe – helped Mr. Oamar contact more than a dozen members of congress asking them to help him address why he was subject to such intense scrutiny from Medicare auditors.” (NY Times.)


And, just in case you are wondering, both Melgen and Assad, according to the Paper of Record…”are still certified to receive Medicare payments.”


But wait, there’s more. Witness the lead story in the April 28th edition of the NY Times that ran under this headline:


One Therapist, $4 Million

In 2012 Medicare Billing

8 of Program’s top 10 Earners in Physical

 Therapy Practice in New York


The four million dollar therapist is Wael Bakry. The Times notes that his practice treated 1,950 Medicare patients in 2012 and that Medicare paid him for 94 separate procedures for each patient. “That works out to 183,000 treatments a year, 500 a day, 21 an hour.”


Bakry’s rejoinder and rationale: His patients receive good care and return when they have other problems. “If the patients didn’t get good care, they wouldn’t come back to us again.”


Why is it I have this feeling this is still only the beginning with more to come down this Medicare pipeline? Good God Almighty, Only in America!