A couple of weeks ago, on a JetBlue flight to Boston, I asked a flight attendant how he liked his job.

After a moment or two, he said, “It’s O.K.”

I asked more questions, and he opened up a little. He sometimes made only one flight a week. Like most flight attendants, he got paid only for time he was actually airborne. He was paid $25 an hour.

“Any benefits?”

He grinned wryly. “Free trips.”

Before I asked my next question, I knew what the answer was going to be.  I asked anyway. “Do you have a union?”

“We’re working on it.”

For 2017 the CEO of JetBlue received total compensation of $3,341,024.  Plus benefits.

* * *

A few days later, Ann and I went to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Tigers. It was too early in the season for us to know much about how either team was doing. We usually don’t start paying attention to MLB until it’s almost time for the World Series. But the Sox lineup had changed little since the 2018 Series, so we weren’t completely in the dark. Anyway, even if we’d never heard of David Price or Mookie Betts, an evening at Fenway is a joyous experience.

John Updike called Fenway “a lyric little bandbox of a park.”  That’s a bit florid for my taste, but the place is impressive. It’s relatively small (capacity 37,731), green all over, 107 years old, sort of in the center of town, has many fans who speak a dialect of English that is nearly unintelligible to most Americans, offers delicious, heart-attack sausage on buns, and is overflowing with history. It was, to take perhaps the greatest piece of its history, home field to Ted Williams, the last player to hit over .400 (.406) in a season.

To baseball fans it is no mere sports venue; it’s a shrine. It glows with a feeling that it’s a special place. Some years back, an attempt was made to tear it down and build something up to date. The people would not have it. I went to a game at historic Ebbits Field in Brooklyn in 1955, the last year of its existence. There is a good chance that Fenway will never have a last year of existence.

The annual salary of the lowest paid paid Red Sox player is $555,000 a year. The highest, $31,000,000. That JetBlue flight attendant would have to be in the air for eight hours or more to go to a game and have a beer and a sausage.

*  * *

On another day we drove to Newport, Rhode Island to see the big houses built on the edge of the Atlantic during the Gilded Age.  The Breakers, the Vanderbilt family “cottage,” now a museum, has 125,509 square feet and employed a year-round staff of forty. Presumably, during the two months or so of summer when the family was in residence and entertaining, more staff was required. The Breakers is the grandest of such houses from that period, but the other ten or so cottages are similarly palatial.

* * *

At a grocery store in Boston, a man at a table near the cheese counter solicited support for the Greater Boston Food Bank. He said that one in nine people living in the area received assistance at its facility. Substantially more had asked for help during the last government shutdown. The store was donating five per cent of the day’s take (I don’t know whether five per cent of gross or net) to the organization. The man at the table was not accepting donations directly.

* * *

Back home in Austin state legislators were wrangling over whether to raise sales tax rates so they could limit property tax increases. They were also considering a constitutional amendment to prohibit an income tax.

* * *

Ann searched diligently for an acceptable dermatologist who would accept her insurance. She failed. (She’s too young for Medicare, and only HMOs are available to her on the open market.)  She pays $1248.81 per month for it.






4 thoughts on “DOLLLAR SIGNS

  1. Carol Brent Haley

    welcome to the govt getting involved in our health care. I had given birth to 3 babies while Dan worked at Dupont, and Lockheed. Then he got his masters in finance and went to work for the bank. They didn’t have maternity benefits. No problem, I had one of the most respected OBGYNs in Houston and Kyle was born at St. Joseph, the cost was very doable. A year or so later, Teddy Kennedy decided we needed HMOs or PPOs. Holy Moly, the prices skyrocketed. We could not have had a child at those prices. It has been the same every year prices increase, doctors won’t take more Medicare patients. Single payer will have long lines and a huge doctor storage. And by the way, that Jet Blue attendant…..what sort of economic credit does he generate? Good ballplayers bring more fans to the park, gives more jobs to the vendors there, and lots of enjoyment. I am going to the Boston Red Sox/Astros game on the 26th. Go Stros.

  2. Mary Jane Wilkie

    I too am devastated and astounded at the inequities, at the disparities. We are back to the Middle Ages, when a small layer (clergy and nobility) controlled most of the wealth, and the wellbeing of the rest of us depended on their largesse. The only difference today is that we have mediating layer: the fund-development professional. Many of these people do good work, but the decision-makers are still those who have amassed the wealth.

  3. Linda Oliver

    Hello Paul,

    I really enjoy reading your articles. I have been waiting for Medicare to “total” me like an automobile for about a year now. Somehow they keep on paying. I really fear it will not be available when my son is old enough for those benefits.

    From 2004 until 2012 I lived in Austin. It would have been fun to connect then. Keep sending your articles. They are very much appreciated.


    Linda Oliver

  4. Nancy Garniez

    My own life experience identifies the issue as the commodification of everything (and, in the process, everyone)! Why didn’t they teach us THAT in elementary school as they were teaching us how to write a check. Why didn’t we learn then that our “earning power” would determine the amount of Social Security we would receive, or what our survivors would receive when we fell victim to some disaster?
    I would have learned then that Classical music was Nowhere Nowhere Land and that my life had absolutely no value whatsoever.
    My rage knows no bounds.
    Always good to have company.


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