John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: September, 2019

The Ubiquitous Bar Code

My first moment of truth with the new reality that bar codes would determine my fate took place in Chicago outside U.S. Cellular Field, a.k.a. new Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox in July of 2004. Bill Christman, Mike Cruise, Don Markey and I found ourselves on the southside of the city on our way to the first game of that year’s annual baseball trip.

The White Sox were playing the Philadelphia Phillies in inter-league play that night. Usually, when planning our trip, I purchased our tickets in advance, but neither the Sox nor the Phillies fielded good teams that season, so I decide to buy our tickets at the gate.

As we left the CTA subway station we were engulfed by “Brothers” who ringed the subway exit scalping tickets. One fellow grabbed my attention by holding out four traditional tickets with the White Sox logo (as opposed to non-descript computer generated tickets). As I stopped, he said, “They’re on the club level behind the first base dugout.”

“What’s the face value?” I asked. I looked down to see $31.00 each.

“I’ll sell you them for $100.”

My initial reaction was that he wanted a premium on top of the $31face value only to realize that he only wanted $100 for all four. Quickly, I extracted two $50-dollar bills from my wallet and handed it to him in exchange for the tickets. Of course, I now worried that we had counterfeit tickets. As we approached the gate, I saw that each ticket had a bar code and the ticket-takers were scanning the code on each ticket. I had a sinking feeling, “This is a hell of a way to begin our trip.” I turned to my friends and said, “I got us into this, so I’ll go first.”

I looked down as the ticket agent scanner displayed, a green light as in: “GO!”

“Hot dog, we’re in.” giddy with laughter we headed for our seats happy to have secured discounted tickets. When we reached our seats, we realized how small the crowd was, less than 15,000 making the seller only too glad to cut his losses. Regardless, as it turned out, he sold us great seats at a discounted price. It was a hot humid night and the tickets gave us access to an air-conditioned dining area where we could eat in comfort while watching the game.

Today, bar codes and bar codes readers are everywhere. I can easily think of three encounters where they demonstrate their worth to us. Shopping for everyday items is our most prolific encounter. Every time we shop in a supermarket, pharmacy or any other store where we buy multiple items, either a clerk scans each item or we self-scan it at automatic check-out kiosks.

At the post office. When you mail a package, or buy something online, you receive a code that identifies your package from a tracking code. Earlier this spring, I bought a golf shirt featuring Miami of Ohio online from the college store. The store sent me a tracking number. After three weeks when my shirt didn’t show up, I took the code to my local Post Office. A clerk checked it out and said, it went to the wrong location but it’s on its way to you.” Sure enough, it arrived less than a week later.

Lastly, airlines. The bar code is a god-send for tracking checked luggage. Many a bag that was lost forever is quickly located and delivered. A far cry from the pre-bar code days.

I suspect at this point in my piece I’m on the verge of losing many of you. I understand so a warning; what follows is a short history of the origin of the bar code. To my departing readers I offer a hearty fair-well and no hard feelings.

Until the advent of containerization, the most important shipping container in the USA was the boxcar. In 1960, there were about 50 Class IA railroads in operation each having their own fleet of boxcars. Keeping track of them was a nightmare. A Northern Pacific boxcar could be loaded in Portland, Oregon make its way via four or five railroads to Mobile, Alabama where it could lose its identity.

The Southern Railway could requisition it to carry cargo to Rutland, Vermont. From there Canadian Pacific might send it to Quebec City where it could be loaded with goods destined for Erie, Pennsylvania.

The Association of American Railroads helped to develop the precursor of the bar code, called, KarTrak, a system of thirteen color labels that would be affixed to several metal plates mounted on several locations on every boxcar. Track-side readers would identify the car and send the information to the car’s parent railroad. Automatic Car Identification (ACI) was introduced in 1967.

Unfortunately, railroads were still in a struggle for survival in that era and many did not buy in. ACI was also crippled by bad weather and vandalism that prevented readers from picking up the code. Bottom line it was a failure and ACI was abandoned in 1977. By then, radio signals identified rolling stock and, today, electronically.

KarTrak was a failure but, like the ancient walkie-talkie sized cell phones day it was the granddaddy of today’s bar code just like those walkie-talkie phones were the granddaddy of today’s Android and iPhone    

If I Won a Mega-Lottery

One Monday morning late this August, I awakened earlier than usual and decided to take our Golden Retriever, Max, on a long walk in the cool of the morning. We headed toward the Mill Pond a local tidal body of water filled and drained by streams, springs and the tidal rush from Manhasset Bay. It was just after seven am when I began to hear light aircraft approaching behind my back coming from the east.

Single-engine floatplanes and amphibians began to pass over Max and me at about 3,000 feet heading toward Manhattan taking so-called “One-percenters” to work allowing them to avoid the hassle of traffic and /or a long bus or train ride. I may have mouthed, “Flaunt it” as the flock continued to fly west over Manhasset Bay and disappear behind Great Neck.

As this flock disappeared, it was soon replaced by the shriller sound of helicopters making the same journey. To quote Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be the king.”          

I do admit to my jealousy as I have a slogan that some of you know: “I don’t know what I would do if I won a mega-lottery but I know what I will never do; if I won a mega-lottery I’d never fly commercial again.”

I would like to add a second never: “I’d never go to another Giants game by auto again.”

The Giants 2019 home football season began last Sunday, my 57th year as a season ticket holder. At my age wins and losses are less important than home game scheduling. This year promises to be favorable with only one scheduled night game and no late afternoon starts so far.

Still, the horror show that post-game traffic has become to reach Long Island from New Jersey gives me pause to continue attending games in person. If I were a rich man, I’d helicopter to the games.        

That dream would be a bit difficult to fulfill. During my working career in the golden age of air travel, both Pan Am and TWA, our fallen flag trans-Atlantic US carriers, offered helicopter service from Manhattan to their JFK Terminals. I flew both; Pan Am out of the 63rd Street Heliport on the East River and TWA’s at the river on 34TH Street. They were fast and convenient but confirmed my belief that helicopters suck and are fundamentally unsafe.

To pursue my concept of using choppers to commute to and from Giants home games after winning a mega lottery, I first must eradicate my fear of traveling in them, a feat easier said than done. Rather than face reality and terminate this blog, let’s pretend this problem disappears and I move on to the remaining obstacles.

Takeoffs and landings present the biggest obstacles. I do remember that for several years in the 1980s and 1990s, a corporate helicopter used to take-off and land on a designated space in a parking lot at an industrial section of Port Washington. Located off Channel Drive less than a mile from my home, it would solve half my problem if the use of that space was still feasible.

As for Met Life Stadium, a helipad already exists beyond the complex’s eastern most parking lot. Alas, to the best of my knowledge, the only civilian chopper authorized to land there belongs to Jonathon Tisch, co-owner of the New York Football Giants. (I do not know how John Mara, Tisch’s co-owner gets to the stadium from his home in Westchester County, NY But his father, Wellington, drove himself in his Ford Crown Victoria.)

My chance of becoming the second exception are slim and none. But I do believe my chopper could drop me off at nearby Teterboro Airport where a waiting, well-stocked and chauffeured limousine would whisk me to our tailgate in the parking lot five-minutes away. Going home would be just as painless allowing me and my guests to quickly fly over the horrible congestion at the George Washington Bridge, on the roads in the Bronx particularly the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Long Island Expressway in Queens.

“Why not take the train,” you ask? “Afterall, there is a station right outside Met Life Stadium.” The train has its own failings. Except for those departing early before the game ends an excessive number of fans seeking to commute by rail will overwhelm the waiting post-game trains ready-to-depart forcing the majority to wait on the ramps and the platform for following trains. Secondly, I’d have to exit at the first stop and catch a regular New Jersey Transit train with its own passengers bound for New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Lastly, I would have to change there for a local Long Island Railroad train to Port Washington, 13 stations and 40 minutes away.

Joining the One Percenters is the only way to go. I wish I could end this with a simple: “Sign me up.”

Damn, now that I think it through that dream is beyond possibility.

You see a few years ago, I happened to be in New Hampshire when Mega Millions hit for $475 million. It turned out I purchased my ticket two towns from the winner, close enough to think about how winning such an insane amount of money would truly f**k up my life. So I swore off the mega lotteries.

You must be in it to win it and I’m not. Those helicopter rides would have been nice and so it goes.     

The World Trade Center Club

October 2001, Revised September 2019

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the dreadful day that terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and changed our lives forever. I wrote this a month after the towers fell.

Austin Tobin was the driving force behind the construction of the World Trade Center. As Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he envisioned these twin towers to be the centerpiece of international trade. He wanted these towers to be the tallest buildings in the world, but he also wanted a crown jewel to enhance their glory. To fulfill this desire, he commissioned architects to design the World Trade Center Club, his personal gift to power. Located on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower, The Club became a magnificent drinking and dining facility with private rooms, fine wine and cigars, with a staff that exuded the proper snobbery of an elite country club. It was home for the three-martini lunch and its men’s room, adorned in pink and white Italian Marble, was so magnificent it could be an appropriate setting for a rock star, if not a national leader, to lie in state. The Club kept its own accounts and neither cash nor credit cards were accepted.

When the press became aware of the privacy and opulence of The Club, all hell broke loose. How could a public agency promote a subsidized private club? Tobin had to pacify the press and politicos and so, at night it became “Windows on the World” the unique public restaurant 107 floors in the air. The NY Times first review read in part: “…as to the quality of the food, you cannot beat the view.”

At lunchtime, The Club remained members only. Senior officers in my industry, marine insurance, frequented several private luncheon clubs belonging to one or more. They were swell places to entertain clients, prospects and underwriters while their cost was buried in generous expense accounts. A mentor, Charlie Robbins, introduced me to The WTC Club. Charlie drank Bombay Gin Martinis and loved to entertain there. He especially liked to show it off to visiting British brokers and their wives. This was during an era when British firms sent their senior and most promising junior brokers to the United States for two or three weeks at a time in the company of their wives. The Labour Governments tax rate was 90% and these trips provided an alternate method of compensation. They came to New York mainly in May and October when the weather is best. 

Charlie’s greatest coup came during a dinner in one of the private dining rooms. He disappeared and, on his return announced: “May I have your attention. I have arranged a special event for the ladies, a tour of the most magnificent men’s room in the world.” Charlie had bribed the staff to temporarily close the men’s room as he proceeded to escort the ladies, including my wife, on a private tour to the delight of all.

Charlie encouraged me to become a member. We worked in midtown and the cost was discounted if you were north of Canal Street. I took his advice and joined. During my 20 years as a member, I hosted many a lunch and dinner there. I utilized their private rooms to set agendas, deal with crises, welcome visitors, congratulate success, say goodbye to retirees, good luck to transferees and accomplish other matters of commerce.

The view was paramount and at times dramatic. On crystal clear winter nights, the brightness of the city overwhelmed us while the surrounding areas stretched to the horizon in strands of light. Manhattan buildings, seen from above, stood out silhouetted by spotlights and ground lights. If the moon was strong, or full, its reflected light made rivers, bays and the ocean glow. Helicopters flew by at altitudes lower than The Club. The only view above us were the lights from airplanes, satellites and the stars. One night during dinner low clouds swept in from the west obscuring streets and buildings as they grew fainter and fainter until they disappeared. Remarkably, we could still see the stars.

Such was life in the fast lane, 1970s and 1980s style. However, as the 1990s arrived, the Club became an anachronism. The era of the private luncheon clubs was over. The Harbor View Club, Drug and Chemical Club, The Wall Street Club and the infamous Whitehall Club, with its deadly bartender, Spiro, had all closed. The business of doing business had changed in focus, diversity and geography with a reduced tolerance for lunchtime drinking. This cultural shift, loss of tax deductibility, the cost of space and the desirability of their locations conspired to hasten their demise.

The terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 had forced The Club to close, I thought permanently. So, it was with surprise that I opened an announcement in 1995 advising The Club would re-open. I re-joined at a discounted fee, but seldom used it as I too had changed. I hosted my last dinner in the fall of 1999 for a group of French underwriters from AXA Insurance Company. The summer before, they had entertained us and our client at their chateau in Bordeaux, a once in a lifetime event. My colleagues and I decided to present the Club to them in return. The weather cooperated fully. The view was superb, the food good and the wine, far too expensive for my taste but suitable for them all were a success. Our guests were as impressed as the French would ever admit. 

I resigned from The Club in 2000 when I retired and never returned. On September 11, 2001, the Club died when the North Tower fell.

To relieve my post-destruction gloom, I searched for and found my old photographs taken as a young man that illustrated the promise of the the twin towers during their construction. I also found my last membership card. I embraced this as evidence of my memories of the club.

Curiously, a final chapter, an epitaph of sorts had to play out. A letter arrived with the return address for Mr. Jules Roinnel in Baldwin, Long Island. Jules was the Club’s Manager. Dated October 12th, Mr. Roinnel spoke about the 72 staff members who died that day. He also advised that two surviving luncheon clubs would offer guest privileges until the end of the year. Even though it read in part: “…the future of The World Trade Center Club is unclear.” it had an upbeat tone about it.

Perhaps Jules was going through the motions? We all express our grief differently. What once reigned supreme was gone. The Club, like its era and the towers belonged to history.

Pardon the Interruption

Last Wednesday, August 27, the same day I last published, I also had an appointment with my gastro specialist, Dr. B, to evaluate my need for either or both an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. Dr. B, formerly a blazing redhead has turned gray protecting my insides for almost twenty years. This appointment was needed because a previous blood tests had indicated a hemoglobin level of 10 where 12 was considered normal. Dr. B, my wife and I all took this in our stride; Dr. B had tests taken and scheduled an endoscopy for September 11.

All hell broke lose that evening when her associate, Dr. P called me at home announcing my score that day was a six and it behooved me to get my ass into an ER for a transfusion ASAP!

On a gurney, less than an hour later at St. Francis Hospital, I was probed, evaluated, subjected to an X-Ray and EKG. Quickly admitted and benefitting from the first of two units of a blood, I arrived in Room 2537 about 12:45 am. Tests of all kinds continued during the early morning hours by competent and beautiful nightingales each lovelier than each other.

Memo to file: “Is this in heaven?” ….”No Iowa.”

About 3:30 am I began receiving the second unit of blood forcing me to remain on my back with the receiving arm straight out. At 6:15 an alarm signaled my transfusion was complete. The result, hemo count went from 6 to 8.6. A sweet nurse cooed, “By the way you are fasting for an endoscope, today so nothing by the mouth.”

Thursday was a longest day as nobody had scheduled me for procedures as they believed their challenge was to keep me alive through the night. Neither my family nor I could argue with that call so, thank God, I broke even.  

E, my roomie, ten years older than me was in bad shape. Suffering from cancer and diabetes, he’d become a victim too many different medications that had screwed him up. I overheard various docs who each explained why they were giving him “X” or “Y” Each diagnosis taken alone made sense, but together left him at mercy of the next big brain’s best bight idea.

 Memo to the good Lord: Take me before I ever become like E.   

All this time Mary Ann and Beth kept vigil taking turns to run home and tender to Max and Tessie. I was now on a semi-liquid clear diet of apple juice, broth, tea and Jell-O. When Beth called to see if I needed anything she was appalled when I explained to her that vodka was a clear liquid and a double was just what I knew the docs wanted me to add to my diet. With Mary Ann’s help, I prevailed but not before Beth dropped a dime on me within our family. They too were appalled, but Papa John got his drink.

The previous lousy night and my libation gave me my most sleep-full night for the rest of my stay.

Even so, I first had to endure the first of two cleansing procedures for my colonoscopy scheduled together with my endoscopy for Friday afternoon. A hospital room is a good place to become addicted to television and what could be better than watching the slow progress of a hurricane churning toward the Bahamas and Florida’s east Coast?

Mary Ann, Beth and I had to endure interruptions, like the hospital chaplain who anointed me in Sacred oils and Stanley and 80 plus volunteer who came in to say hello to Mary Ann who also volunteers in the hospital. Stanley, a retired doctor, dresses in outrageous clothing; different colored sneakers, one polka dot sock and one stripped sock, a large bow tie and that day, an angry bird shirt.

Stanley presented a small elephant with a raised trunk for luck to both Mary Ann and Beth. (Later, looking back from the other end of a successful endoscopy, I wondered which helped more, the Sacred Oil or Stanley’s elephants?)

My good doctor found the problem, bleeding nodules in my stomach and cauterized the damaged ones. Now my future depended on my hemoglobin levels. Lucky number seven was the minimum acceptable score and my evening count was 7.3, close to failing. My roomie had a bad night and consequently so did I. Close to 1 am, I decided to sit up watch Hurricane Dorian’s progress but soon grew bored. Instead I tuned in WFAN, our local sports talk station on my radio. An old friend, Steve Summers was filling a one-hour slot from 1 until 2 am. How do you fall so low that you accept an early morning one-hour time slot on the Saturday of a holiday weekend? But the old schmoozer was up to it. When one caller demanded that Steve predict how the Mets would finish and noted: “Steve, everybody is listening.” Steve replied: “Everybody? Joe, it’s just you and me.”

My numbers were a roller coater on Saturday but stabilized sufficiently on Sunday that I was discharged just after 4 pm. I had ceased being a happy camper until the good news came down releasing me. When they wheeled me out to the parking garage to meet Mary Ann I proclaimed:

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.