The Norman Transcript

March 8, 2013

Learning lessons from a street-wise guy

By Don McNay
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A well-connected friend in New Orleans took me to the critically acclaimed Galatoires restaurant — a fine dining experience at one of the top restaurants in the United States.

My friend has a business relationship with the restaurant and knew everyone there. He asked for John, an entertaining, 40-year-old veteran waiter, to serve us. My host insisted on paying for lunch, but I insisted on leaving the tip.

After handing John a large tip, as I reminded him of my name and my Kentucky roots, John and I parted as friends.

I am also in the process of opening an office for McNay Settlement Group in New Orleans. Both of us will have reason to entertain people at Galatoires.

When that happens, I know John will be my server. And my clients and friends will get the same VIP treatment that I got.

Building a relationship with a star professional at a world-famous restaurant in a city where I am just getting established seems like a no brainer, but I see a lot of business people with no brains. Servers are anonymous and faceless to them.

When those people go to dine, you will see them waiting in line for three hours to get a table.

My street-wise father, Joe McNay, taught me that servers, nurses, plumbers and other support people can be the most important individuals in your life. Dad died 20 years ago this week at age 59.

Dad only made it to the 10th grade but was smarter than any Ph.D. in understanding human relationships. I always thought he should have been in politics. Instead, he was a bookie and a professional gambler.

Dad was not a millionaire, but he lived like one. His personality and connections gave him a tremendous amount of clout.

Dad fought bravely against prostate cancer and as the end drew near, I had one deathbed question: Did Pete Rose bet on baseball?

I did not mention dad’s friendship with Pete Rose in my 2008 book, “Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery.”

At that time, Pete had not admitted he bet on baseball. I wrote the book like my dad was looking over my shoulder. I was not going to hurt or embarrass one of his friends.

I’m releasing an updated version of the book on my dad’s 80th birthday, July 30. Several people have died since the first release, so the book will be more revealing.

Dad’s friends and clients were a who’s who of the Cincinnati region, but in most circumstances, I never knew who was a client and who was just a friend.

I guessed that Pete was a client but never knew for sure.

I knew Dad and Pete were good friends. During college, Dad gave me Pete’s tickets and seated me next to a stunning young blond named Carol. At the time, Pete was married to a woman named Karolyn. When Pete came to bat, Carol would jump up and down and go crazy. I got the impression Carol and Pete were more than casual friends.

A couple of years later, Carol became Mrs. Pete Rose.

Although he broke the law every day of his adult life, Dad was closed-mouthed about his client list. Thus, asking him about Pete was something I only would do on his deathbed.

He told me that Pete never bet on baseball with him and only bet football for a short time. Dad thought that having a sports figure client like Pete was not a good business decision.

The bookie who took Pete’s baseball bets should have made the same decision.

I still wasn’t sure about writing about Pete until famed Knoxville trial attorney Donna Davis and her husband, Ivan Buzz Beltz, ran into Pete, who was signing his book, “A Prison Without Bars,” in Las Vegas.

They told Pete of their friendship with me, and Pete sent back a book with the following inscription: “Don. Bingo Joe was the best. He owes me $100. Pete Rose, #4256.”

I figured the cat was out of the bag at that point.

Last year, I met Dad’s close friend, the legendary music professor Jim LaBarbara at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse in Cincinnati. Pete was there, too. Pete immediately said the same $100 line he wrote in the book.

Then he stopped for a second and said, “You know, it is probably the other way around.”

If there was any debt owed, it would have to be on Pete’s side. Dad never missed paying off a bet. If Dad had to borrow money from everyone in town, he did. Paying promptly is what keeps a bookie in business.

There are a lot of ways I thought about paying tribute to Dad on the 20th anniversary of his death, but I suspect giving the tip to John at Galatoires might have been the most fitting.

The lessons from a street-wise man had been passed down through the generations.

I can’t imagine a better tribute than that.

Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at don@mcnay.com.

For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.