A lovely couple from Hampton Roads moved to Maryland and like to return to Williamsburg on vacation. In all those years, they hadn’t sailed the York River until now. As part of the adventure, we saw a fleeting glimpse of two or three dolphins swimming toward us. They disappeared under the hull as quickly as they surfaced. Then they were gone, as if to entertain the next boat.
The couple spent three hours touring the new American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown, and she’s finishing up Ron Chernow’s book on Hamilton. Since there was no need to rehash the Siege at Yorktown, I focused instead on the Battle of the Capes.
Jeff Klein served in the US Navy on active duty and in the Reserves retiring with the rank of commander. He now does computer security for the Defense Department at Ft. Meade, Maryland. His dream was to become an XO on a ship, and judging by his skill on the helm he would have made a good one. Steady winds of 15 mph gusted to 18 and 20, requiring a half reef in the mainsail and genoa.
Kathy said, “Someone told me Jeff must have had it okay compared to the other services. Well, he served in the first Gulf War where it wasn’t easy. As for the family, there was no email or cell phones, so we had to talk by ham radio.
“Jeff was enlisted Navy at the time, and an incentive ruling came down that exempted those in war from paying federal taxes that year. One time when he called it was funny because he said, ‘Did my paycheck look bigger? Over.’ I replied, ‘Yes, it did. Over.’ Then he said, ‘Don’t spend it! Over.’ I said, ‘I know. Over.’ Let me tell you: You don’t realize how much money is withdrawn from your paycheck until suddenly it’s all there.”
Kathy is one of a growing cohort of Americans who lost their jobs in corporate restructuring. She worked for Pitney-Bowes, which I thought had a monopoly on postage machines.
“They did have a monopoly except for a few small companies. We had the Social Security Administration and other big clients. I spent 15 years with Pitney-Bowes in Chesapeake, but they leased the building instead of owning it. That was the writing on the wall. One day the suits came in and took us to little rooms to explain the severance package. Over the years I saw the office go from 450 people in its heyday down to 15.”
If Pitney-Bowes had a corner on postage machines, why downsize – and so drastically? “The jobs went to Spokane, Washington, because they owned a building there. They wanted me to go out there and train my replacement, but I said we could do it by computer screen instead. So we did.”
We talked about children and it turned out they have a daughter who works for Penguin Random House Publishing in Westminster, Maryland. Meanwhile, the boat listed to 20 degrees as Jeff manged to spill wind when the gusts rose to 20 mph. He was unfazed.
“She works in finance. The editors and other literary types work in Manhattan, but Maryland is where the books are printed, stored and shipped. Sometimes an author will come in for a big book signing. You’ve heard of the best seller, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’? Elizabeth Gilbert came to the plant and spent three days signing thousands of books. She walked around the building and met with many of us.
“They have a room in the building called the Hurt Locker. That’s where damaged books wind up, for example with a little tear on the cover. Every month the employees get to pick 15 books to take home for free. Our daughter has given many of them to me, and I have more books than I can possibly read. So I donate them to the library and to schools.”
We talked about history, politics, government, football, Alaska, retirement, travel and more. Some people lead fascinating lives, and I get to meet them.
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