John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2016

Unexpected Consequences

This is not a political piece. Rather, it is a lesson meant to give pause to arbitrary decisions made by those in power whose aim is to articulate their own agenda without understanding unintended consequences.


President Barack Obama seems to have set a course for the remainder of his time in office to right as many social injustices that he perceives by executive order.  Injustices like transgender rights, minimum wages and workers access to overtime. Last week he increased the salary threshold when overtime for workers should kick in. Maximum salary to collect overtime was $23,000. After that, employees were considered “exempt” meaning they had no rights for overtime. To correct this situation, the president and his economic team have boosted the cut-off threshold to $47,000.


Uncle being Uncle, our bureaucracy never sees the forest for the trees so they tend to treat all workers alike. Be the worker a welder in Bath Iron Works, a person who stacks the shelves in Costco, pumps gas at a Marathon station, or a cashier at Stop and Shop; the same rules apply to everyone.


This one size fits all goes off the rails when applied to “white collar” jobs. According to a recent survey, 64% of 2015 college graduates expected to make less than $45,000 in their first year after finishing school. College graduates who accept starting positions in the fields of insurance, banking, real estate, etc. are not taking jobs, they are accepting entry points for possible careers. President Obama and co. simply don’t get it. The concept of doing business, especially big business is completely alien to their life vision. I can’t imagine a junior non-lawyer trainee at a prestigious law firm like Willkie, Farr & Gallagher seeking payment for overtime. The same holds true for a new hire at Exxon-Mobil’s HQ in Las Calinas, TX, or Boeing’s in Chicago, Met Life or my old firm, Marsh & McLennan.


Allow me to share what I experienced back in the mid-1980s when I was a manager of a unit in our marine department. This may have been Federal or NYS mandated but a decree came down from our personnel people that effective immediately, any employee making less than $15,000 (more or less) must be put on a time sheet so they could sign in and sign out to be able to collect time and a half for any hours worked over 40 hours. (The time concept is consistent with Obama’s new executive order.)


My boss, H, had just retired from his other job; he was a Sergeant Major in the army reserve. If that doesn’t tell you anything else, it should explain why he did everything by the book. When he addressed me and my fellow managers, I told him that I expected that all hell was about to break loose with our younger brokers who worked their asses off doing the difficult tasks that included staying into the night to assist in completing proposals for the renewal of existing clients’ programs and bids on new programs. These clients and prospects were the essence of big business, firms like DuPont, Chevron, Chiquita Brands, US Steel and National Bulk Carriers. To work on such prestigious accounts or even more exciting, go after new business was sort after, an honor and a privilege and what our firm was known for. We solved big insurance problems for big business.


I admit the world was different then and part of the privilege was the opportunity to be invited to join in lavish client entertainment in the New York scene and, more precious, to accompany the senior people on out-of-town trips.


H stood by the letter of the law. It was my task to inform two brilliant and dedicated junior young women that their salaries were below exempt (the legal term for not being eligible for overtime) and explain that they must use a sign-in, sign-out sheet for their own protection.


I spoke to DV first and it did not go well. She burst into tears and walked out. VB was next; in the middle of my explanation, she rose from the chair, slapped both hands, palms down onto my desk, looked me straight in the eye and said, “This sucks, you suck, Marsh sucks and what the f*** are you going to do about it!”


“Got it,” I replied.


Apparently, H’s other managers received like reactions for he retreated from it over time but I knew I had already lost the spirit of these talented women who both resigned in short order.


Good luck to businesses out there…and: ”Be careful.”





Restoring the Giants Mojo

This story happened at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia a world class golfing resort and spa set in the Allegheny Mountains. After a rough spell in the early 80s, my company’s fortunes took off with senior managers being invited to attend annual conferences at this resort. I recall one colleague’s reaction to this news: “It has always been one of my goals in life to stay at the Greenbrier on someone else’s dime!”


From 1987 until 1995 we attended nine conferences at this swell facility. Most years, the event began on Monday morning and ended on Friday. Our firm was enlightened enough to make Thursday afternoons free time allowing the great majority to golf on one of The Greenbrier’s three exquisite 18-hole courses.


Being an absolutely miserable duffer, I didn’t need to suffer the embarrassment that would surely accompany any attempt to challenge these links so I tried tennis the first few years unenthusiastically but I always made an appointment for the spa even if that meant cutting tennis short. Without question my favorite part of the treatment was the massage that concluded the spa experience. The sulphur baths were the low point as they were just plain smelly and did nothing to enhance my mood or physical well-being.


Naturally, different masseuses brought their own talents and approaches to their craft and over the years I received superb treatment by both men and women that left me loose, relaxed and at as much peace as was humanly possible.


Then there was 1993. Fortune introduced me to a short fellow with powerful arms and hands who introduced himself as Chet. We made small talk as Chet went to work. I learned he was a Mountaineer, a native-born West Virginian and true to his size and rough appearance, had once been a coal miner. I mentioned that I was from New York; the conversation went on – then from out of nowhere – he noted, “I worked on the Giants’ coach last year. That’s right, he was at the hotel and I worked on him.”


“Really,” I replied. “Do you remember his name? Was it Ray Hanley? – The Giants previous the head coach.


“No, I don’t think so.” He paused, thought about it then floored me as he continued. “No, he just said he was the coach but that’s not his name. I remember him though because he stiffed me. I paid him back though. I’m part Cherokee and I put a curse on him and the team. They will not have success as long as the curse is on them.”


My head spun with what I just heard. Chet couldn’t know how long I had been a season ticket holder, that the Giants had finished with a 6-10 record in 1992 and that Hanley and his staff had all been fired.


Instinctively, I wanted to ask him how much he’d want to lift the curse but I sensed that this would only make the situation worse. I had to be more nimble.


The massage ended and after I dressed, Chet returned with his personal log hand-written in a copy book. He pointed to a name revealing the culprit to be Rod Rust. Rod Rust, I thought to myself, not only did his “read and react” defense suck, he screwed all of us by being a cheapskate.


I put a good tip on the spa bill, standard practice at The Greenbrier, hustled to an ATM and withdrew a like amount in cash. I sealed it in an envelope and returned to the spa, asked for Chet and waited for him.


When he reached reception, I walked over, gave him the envelope, looked him in the eye and said, “Chet, this is to make up for the shabby treatment you received.” I shook his hand and walked away.


It took awhile but the Giants went on to three more Super Bowls winning two.

Musings from the 611 Trip

After our dinner on Friday night in Greensboro, we stopped at the bar in the Marriott for a night cap before making an early retreat in deference to our 4:30 AM wake-up calls. Lights out for me was shortly past 10. I began drifting off as I entertained thoughts about tomorrow when the sound of what I took to be bongo drums invaded my room. “Bom, ba, ba, bom, ba, bomba, ba, ba; filled my head. For perhaps two or three seconds, they’d cease then start again. No pattern that I could discern; just bom, ba, ba, bom, etc.


Angrily, I threw off the bed sheets, stood up and faced the door only to realize the sound was coming not from the direction of the hall or another room, but from outside my window. I turned, opened the curtains to discover I had a fantastic view from my 11th floor room of a decent fireworks show. The spectacle was being fired from just beyond the centerfield fence of  New Bridge Bank Park, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, a Class A minor league team of the Miami Marlins.


Friday night was obviously fireworks night. The curtains were closed when I arrived and I never noticed a ball park out side my window. Glad I hadn’t made myself a fool by complaining to the front desk, I watched the grand finale before again retiring.



Next morning, on board Coach WATX 539, our hostess, Trudy, introduced herself as a life-long citizen of Roanoke. Of good humor, Trudy told us both her father and brother worked for the Norfolk & Western and she grew up taking complimentary family trips behind the railroad’s J Class locomotives. She explained the rules and tips we needed to know to make our trip safe and enjoyable including what coaches we could visit and which were off limits, the location of commissary car where we could purchase non-alcohol drinks and souvenirs and the locations for the men’s and women’s rest rooms in each coach.


It just so happened that Trudy covered these subjects while she stood in the row directly in front of me. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist the temptation to have some fun so when she finished her spiel about the restrooms I ventured: “Now, Trudy, ordinarily, your information would be sufficient, but we no longer live in such a simple age. I have already explained to my two buddies here who are, shall we say, metrosexuals, that it is illegal for them to consider using the women’s room while we remain in North Carolina and to wait until the train reaches Danville, Virginia before exercising that option.”


“Perhaps you may wish to make a similar announcement to the rest of the passengers?”


Trudy looked back at me with a glint in her eye and said: “I think I’ll pass on that.”


On the way out, the staff distributed a boxed breakfast and on the return trip, a snack box at about 4:30 PM. That box contained two cookies, a bag of potato chips, a bag of mixed nuts, one of freeze dried blueberries and a sealed bag of Biltong USA: Safari Style Gourmet Beef Snacks. The bag was accompanied by a slick, multi-colored brochure extolling the superior qualities of this South African delicacy over plain old American beef jerky. It proclaimed biltong to be the first ever (jerky) to be USDA-approved and that it too is made right here in the USA.


“Bil” means buttocks or ass in Dutch and “ting” means strip. The national headquarters for Biltong USA appears to be Biltong Super Store, Stallings, NC. It can also be acquired at a Shell Carwash, San Diego, CA, Greenville Jerky and Vine in NC, The Jerky Store, Helen, SC, Midtown Gourmet, Owensboro, KY and Newport Jerky Co. Newport, RI.


Excitedly, I turned to Mike Cruise and said, “Mike, if we act right now we will become the biltong kings of the tri-state area. Why we will be selling biltong from Cape May, NJ to Groton, CT – from New York City to Buffalo! Our ship has come in.


Mike hesitated, “Let’s taste it.”


We opened the pouch and each took a strip. “So what do you think?” I asked.


Mike replied, “I believe it’s an acquired taste similar to eating dog poop.”


Mike was right and my dream died there on the train. But I brought my bag of biltong home and, Max, our Golden Retriever loves it. Does the dog snack market beckon?

Riding Behind N&W 611

As I relate my experience from the weekend of April 22 to April 24, 2016, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point you, dear reader, may think to yourself: You know that’s an awfully quick trip for such a long ride! You’d be right to think so.


In lieu of our usual spring baseball odyssey, Bill Christman, Mike Cruise and I, (rail fans all) decided to travel to Greensboro, NC to ride a train behind the vintage, newly re-built Norfolk & Western (N&W) J-Class steam engine, No. 611. The 611 is argumentatively the most beautiful passenger locomotive ever built. (Space does not permit me to post photographs of 611 so may I suggest that you explore:


Designed and built by the engineers and fabricators at N&W’s Roanoke East End Shops in 1950, 611 was one of the last of 14 Js built to haul the railroad’s named passenger trains like Powhatan Arrow, Cavalier and Pocahontas. The engine was rebuilt in 1956 after suffering a major wreck that fortuitously made this engine the best in class when the Js were retired two years later. Saved from the scrap heap, 611 became a static museum piece until Robert Clayton, then president of the Norfolk Southern (NS) – N&W’s successor, created a heritage steam program in 1981. The 611 wrecked a second time with Clayton at the controls in May, 1986 in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp; fortunately with no loss of life and Clayton shaken but blameless.


Repaired, the engine re-entered service making excursions until 1994 when NS canceled the heritage program. Returned to the Virginia Transportation Museum, 611 remained in non-operational condition until “fireup611” gained the funds needed to return the engine to life in 2015.


The 611’s excursions sold out in the blink of an eye. But, as soon as the 2016 schedule was announced, Bill, Mike and I jumped on it like a dog on a bone recognizing that age-wise, all of us were in the top of the 9th in a nine inning game so we could not pass up this golden opportunity to ride behind this beautifully restored locomotive.


We arrived at the Greensboro Airport late Friday afternoon, Mike and I from LGA and Bill from DFW. We stayed at a pleasant Marriott in town and dined that evening at Liberty Oak, a local family eatery. Bill and I enjoyed southern fried chicken while Mike feasted on grilled shrimp over grits.


The organizers expected us to be present by 6AM so the train could depart promptly at 7. Their concern was understandable as the train would carry over 700 passengers in 19 coaches ranging from private cars, business cars and domes to day coaches and basic coaches. This made us arrange wake-up calls of 4:30 AM to 5 AM depending on our own morning needs prompting the young lady behind the front desk to believe we were insane.


By the time we arrived at the appointed hour we found close to 400 passengers already standing in orderly lines in the station’s waiting room. With rare exceptions, the bulk of our fellow riders were sixty and above, male and white. Several were unembarrassed to appear in costume like scarves, hats and even bib overalls usually associated with engine crews. Many others wore 611 hats and tee shirts. We soon joined the latter buying hats in the commissary car. Several women of a certain age accompanied their husbands most good naturedly but some noticeably demonstrating reluctance.


The schedule called for a five-hour run to Roanoke, a three-hour lay over and a five-hour return. We booked seats in one of the day coaches. These units, so called “heritage cars” dated from the late 1940s through to the mid-50s but didn’t exhibit too much wear and tear having received a good bit of TLC from their private owners. Ours bore the un-sexy designation, WATX 539, instead of an identity like New York or Saint Augustine. Even so, WATX 539 was handsomely appointed with four-across business class reclining seats. Most vital, the a/c and toilets worked without fail.


Alcohol was verboten but lunch in Roanoke provided the occasion to quaff a couple of lagers in Flanary’s Pub and we still had time to visit a museum dedicated to the amazing railroad photography of O. Winston Link.


On both the out and return trip, it seemed every crossing was lined with spectators waving and photographing our procession. The museum had issued an email message alerting folks of the estimated time our train would pass a particular mile-marker and railroad fans responded enthusiastically.


The train made its 8 PM Greensboro ETA letting us enjoy dinner at the hotel about nine.


Another early rise on Sunday, cabs to the airport and flights home. We accomplished our mission, to ride behind a Class 1 authentic passenger steam locomotive: A quick trip for a long ride, but we did check off this must to do from our bucket lists.


…and yet, as I write this, Union Pacific is refurbishing a Big Boy locomotive Number 4014 in their Cheyenne, Wyoming shops. Bill, Mike and I insist that the Big Boys are the biggest and grandest steam engines of all time. Can you imagine riding behind one of those western railroad’s monsters?


Who knows, but everything being equal…?