John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Fate is the Hunter*

*With apologies to Ernest Gann, the author of the real “Fate Is the Hunter,” the greatest book ever about commercial aviation. I can think of no better title for this story.

In February of 2019, I published two pieces about Pan American’s early flying boat operations. At that time, flights originated from and returned to their transatlantic base located in Port Washington, Long Island. The first paying passenger flight ever to Europe originated from this base in late June of 1939 flown by the crew aboard the Dixie Clipper.

I noted that: Pan American’s “Port Washington operations ended the following March when the brand-new Marine Air Terminal opened at LaGuardia Field. The first flight to Lisbon left LaGuardia on March 31, 1940.”

Recently, I found a piece about that flight on the Pan American Historical Foundation’s ( PAHF) website that gives a shout out to my town, Port Washington. The piece explains that unexpectedly, the old base on Manhasset Bay participated in both the outgoing and return legs of these inaugural flights. In fact, because of curious circumstances, both transatlantic legs were flown between Port Washington and Horta in the Azores.

On that celebratory day, Captain Charles Lorber, Pan American’s veteran flying boat skipper, taxied Yankee Clipper, the Boeing B-314 Flying Boat under his command, out from the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Field into the waters of Bowery Bay as the 10,000 spectators who had gathered for this historical event looked on from the shore cheering their departure.  .

Captain Lorber lifted his charge into the sky, but little did the spectators know or the press report, that his first destination was not the Azores. Instead, it was Manhasset Bay, the old Pan American’s base where he was scheduled to have an additional 1,000 gallons of aviation gasoline pumped into the tanks of the Yankee Clipper before making the, now compromised first  passenger flight over the Atlantic from LaGuardia to the Azores.

Back in the day, operating flying boats was risky business requiring extraordinary sailing, navigating and flying skills. The pilot and flight crew had to solve all problems on the fly with a minimum of instruments. The cockpit devices provided the status of speed, altitude, direction, stability and  the status of the four engines. Other than that, they flew without any concept of electronic assistance.

The navigator used a sextant during the day to shoot the sun, and at night, to shoot the stars using a clear dome above his compartment where he could take his readings. If the sky was socked in, the pilot and the navigator had to depend on dead reckoning, an educated guess of their location and direction based on their previous experiences and their navigation training and skills..

The health and well-being of the four engines was the responsibility of the flight engineer and the radio operator was their only voice to speak to the outside world when he could.

The captain and his first officer flew the airplane, made the takeoffs and landings, kept it in the air and, also safely navigated their vessel when it became a boat on the water.

Without radar, modern means of communication or transponders, the pilot and crew had to depend on their own skills and experience to estimate where they were, who was around them. Predicting changes in weather during their 15-hour outbound flights over water was impossible and they could only react and deal with these changes.

The 2,375-mile return flight from Horta to LaGuardia Field was scheduled to take 17 hours with an ETA of 7:00 AM. The Atlantic headwinds must have been light that day as Captain Lorber arrived over LaGuardia Field at 4:30 AM, three hours early, an hour before sunrise.

Unfortunately, Lorber’s early arrival was trumped by a fog that blanketed Long Island Sound. Both of his alternative landing terminals, LaGuardia’s  Marine Air Terminal and Pan American base at Port Washington were both socked in.

Lorber’s radio operator checked the conditions at their Baltimore base, but visibility was just as bad there.

 Lorber still had enough fuel remaining for three more hours of flying time, so he decided to circle the sound. Conditions didn’t change once the sun came up over the horizon, but about an hour later, the visibility at Port Washington improved marginally,

Far from ideal, but close enough for a skilled pilot like Lorber, this Pan Am captain was able to make a successful landing on to Manhasset Bay. Once safely floating on the bay, conditions deteriorated to the extent that the normal five-minute taxi to the dock took half-an-hour.

It was almost 8 AM before the crew of 11 and their seven passengers emerged from the flying boat.

The irony of this round-trip Atlantic crossing was that they began and ended at Pan American’s old Port Washington terminal, perhaps its last hurrah?

How Tom Matte Almost Changed NFL History

Tom Matte, a stubby halfback who played for the Baltimore Colts for 12 seasons passed away on November 2nd in his home in Towson, Maryland. Mr. Matte was 82.

A competent and reliable running back, Matte played 12 seasons with the Colts, from 1961 until 1972. Unspectacular, he was the kind of every man’s player that loyal Colt fans and many other non-Colt NFL fans liked and admired. He was the kind of guy you wanted to have on your team or have a beer with after the game.

In 1965, the Colts were one of three Western Division teams vying to make it to the NFL Championship Game together with the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. With three weeks left in the season, the Colts led the pack with a 9-1-1 record, (nine wins, one loss and one tie.)

The following Sunday, Johnny Unitas, the Colts star quarterback suffered a season ending injury in a 13 to 0 loss to the Bears. Don Shula, the Colts head coach promoted Gary Cuozzo, to starter, found his backup, Ed Brown, on the used quarter back stockpile and designated Matte as the team’s emergency backup. Brown had been cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier that season.

Bad went to worse the following Sunday when Cuozzo also suffered a season ending injury when the Packers rout routed the Colts, 43-27. Shula decided to rotate Matte and Brown with Matte doing most of the running and Brown the passing. Even though Matte had been a quarterback at Ohio State, he knew he was limited in his passing ability: “I have very small hands. I couldn’t even put my hand around the ball.”

Utilizing this unusual quarterback combination, the Colts eked out a 20-17 victory against the Los Angeles Rams in the last regular season game. Brown connected for an 81-yard throw and Matte led the team with 99 rushing yards. After the game Shula explained to the press: “We had scratched our complicated offense, but the Rams didn’t know that. Tom would fake a complicated play and then run the ball himself.”

The Colts and the Packers finished with identical 10-3-1 records forcing a one-game playoff to be played in Lambeau Field on December 26th. The teams met on a wintery, but sunny day for this 1 PM start. The temperature was 22 degrees with a wind chill of 12 degrees. The NFL ruled that Brown was ineligible to play in the game since the Colts had picked him up so late in the season. Tom Matte had to go it alone as the Colts QB

The Colts compacted their game plan reducing the number of plays  to a dozen or more. Matte wore a wrist band that he could open to review each play. The odds had it that the Packers would once again drub the Colts like they did two weeks ago.

But what the odds’ makers failed to consider was how the entire Colts organization would rally behind their intrepid halfback and fight like the devil to support him in every aspect of the game.

This became apparent on the very first play of the Packers first possession. Bart Starr, their future Hall of Fame quarterback passed 10 yards to Bill Anderson. Anderson fumbled allowing, Don Shinnick, the Colts 235-pound linebacker to scoop up the ball on the Packer 25 and take it in for a Colts touchdown: Colts 7 – Packers 0.

In the second quarter, Lou Michaels, of the Colts made it 10-0 when he kicked a 15-yard field goal.

The Packers had their chances in the first half. Don Chandler, their kicker, missed a 47-yard field goal and the Colts defensive rose up to make a goal line stand at the one-yard line stopping both Packer stars and future Hall of Fame running backs,  Paul Horning and Jim Taylor.

They knocked Bart Starr out of the game, but his understudy, Zeke Bratkowski, rallied the Packers despite two interceptions. In the third period, Horning scored closing the score to 10-7.

Late in the fourth quarter, Bratkowski drove the Pack to the Baltimore 15 allowing Chandler to kick a chip-shot field goal. In those days, the goal posts were on the goal line. Also, in 1965, only one official stood under the uprights, and he stood directly under the center of the goal posts,

Chandler’s kick rose like a mortar shell climbing way above the 20-foot uprights. The single official standing in the middle signaled the kick was good, but his position prevented him from properly judging the kick that far above the uprights. He called it good, but the angle we saw on TV showed the ball going wide-right.

Green Bay went on to win on a field goal in overtime.               .

For the record, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship Game played on January 2, 1966, at Lambeau Field by the score of 23 to 12.

The Packers would go on to win the next two NFL titles, a record. That also included winning the first two Super Bowls.

The Colts won the NFL Championship in 1968 but lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the Jets.

In 1966, the NFL increased the length of the goal post uprights to 30 feet. They also positioned an official under each goal post and eventually added mandatory replays for all scoring plays.

Any one of these changes would have resulted in a Colts win by Matte and changed NFL history…and so it goes. RIP Tom Matte.

JJD-1701 Redux

I published The Voyage of JJD-1701 on September 29, 2021. It told the story of the capsule containing a camera that the endocrinologist at St. Francis Hospital (SFH) had me swallow so he could examine my complete GI system including the places where the camera used for a regular endoscope could not go. When this doctor examined the results, he determined that the JJD-1701 remained somewhere in my lower intestines.

An X-Ray confirmed that it was near the end of its journey and would soon be ejected. I was released from the hospital based on that evidence. I ended my piece with the notation: “So far and perhaps forever, the fate of JJD-1701 is unknown.”

After the publication of my piece, I moved on without thinking about the camera capsule again. That blissful ignorance ended on October 28th, more than a month later, when I entered SFH’s  testing facility at 2200 Northern Blvd. for an MRI aimed at my lower back.

Recently, I had begun to suffer pain from my right Sciatic nerve. My orthopedist wanted confirmation that the source was my lower back and not another part of my body.

Ann, the friendly, professional and efficient MRI technician asked me a series of questions meant to identify any metal parts in my body that could cause problems with the MRI. I said no to all her questions including a pacemaker, an ear implant. or even metal debris in my eye.

It was at this point that Ann asked, “Have you had the recent experience to swallow a camera capsule to exam your GI tract?”

“Yes, about a month ago while I was in SFH.” I replied.

“Did you see it eject?”

“No.”

“Did the doctor see it eject?”

“No.”

“So, you don’t know if it’s still inside you?”

“Correct, but I would have thought that after all this time, my body would have let me know if  the damn thing was still inside me.”

Ann replied, “Not necessarily. I am going to take you over to X-Ray and show the pictures to our doctor here on call just to be sure.”

She walked me over to the X-Ray Department where Beth,  another professional tech took three pictures. Ann instructed Beth to bring me back to her station after Beth sent the pictures to her. When I returned, I sat in a chair  and waited as Ann walked out to meet with Doctor K, She returned in short order to tell me and her assistants that Doctor K had not been assigned to their operation long enough to be certified to read X-Rays. She would have to find a doc at SFH instead.

Fortunately, Ann found one, but he wasn’t satisfied that my X-rays included the end of the line. He ordered a fourth X-Ray. Again fortunately, the evidence he examined convinced him to sign off that we were good to go.

It was at this point that I really suffered doubt that having an MRI wasn’t a good idea after all.

Ann calmed me and proceeded with my MRI. As soon as I was lying down on my back on a moveable board, her assistant asked what kind of music I’d like while she placed tight fitting earphones onto my head. I requested country and western as the board moved me into the machine,

A persistent thought invaded my psyche as my MRI was about to start: “If  JJD-1701 remained inside me, I will be starring in a major shit show that may begin any minute now.”

Then the noise from the MRI blasted through me as I was simultaneously treated to Johnny Cash coming through my headphones singing Ghost Riders in the Sky at the same time my MRI ride began. I knew then that I was not in trouble.  Several classic western songs followed including El Paso, The Streets of Laredo and Don’t Bring Your Gun to Town, Son, before my MRI concluded

I thanked Ann for her service and wished her assistants well before happily leaving 2200 Northern Blvd., knowing I beat the odds on this one.

Thanks to that successful MRI, we can declare once and for all that the journey of JJD-1701 has ended. 

Morefar: My Perfect Round of Golf

Part Two

Morefar is a private golf club located in Westchester County owned by Starr Insurance Companies. It is a prestigious profit-making golf course available for outings open to insurance brokers. Morefar was the scene of my perfect round of golf.

Before I begin my story, permit me to provide an interesting background as to how this magnificent golf course came inro existence.

Once upon a time, an enterprising genius by the moniker, C.V. Starr, joined a less than dynamic insurance company, American  International Group, better known as AIG, in 1919. Domiciled in Shanghai, Starr started a new subsidiary, American International Underwriters, (AIU) to introduce coverages such as life insurance into many parts of the world where these insurances   were unknown. Starr, expanded operations world-wide in the 1930s including countries like the Philippines, Malaya, China and even Japan.

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, AIU moved its HQ to New York and Starr offered many of his Chinese employees the opportunity to move to America. A sizable number of both white-collar professionals and managers accepted his invitations. But so too did blue-collar service personnel. Many of his service workers went to work at his home in Westchester County or at his offices in New York City. After the war Starr’s business acumen remained strong and he re-claimed AIU’s operations and expanded the AIU empire until his death in 1968.

Starr was never  a golfer, he considered the game a waste of time, but he knew a private golf course would be attractive to clients and other VIPs. He commissioned the construction of a world-class course nestled in  rolling hills of his extensive property in northern Westchester County. .

Legend has it that when asked where exactly this course was located such as: “Is it near White Plains?” or “Mount Kisco,” or “Bedford Hills,” or “Brewster?”  his Chinese workers would reply: “More far, meaning further than that. This expression morphed into “Morefar.” And the name stuck.           

A couple of days before the  planned outing with Exxon, my father called me to let me know he’d be in town and would like to see me. My first reaction was to blow him off. Fortunately, I caught myself and instead asked him if he’d like to join me in a round of golf at Morefar.

Dad was a former aviator, a navigator to be precise. After his service in WW II, he was discharged like one of the many during the reduction in manpower in the transition to a much smaller peace-time force.

During the late 1940’s he picked up aviation gigs where he could find them. One was flying as C.V. Starr’s navigator for his post-war flights across Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines. My father once told me that Starr offered him a permanent position with AIG, but he didn’t accept it because General Curtiss LeMay offered Dad a promotion to major if he joined LeMay’s new outfit, the Strategic Air Command, better known as SAC.

Still, my old man knew about Morefar and had always wanted to play it. “I’ll pick you up at 8 AM and bring you a decent set of clubs. I’ll explain what this outing is all about on the ride north. Please remember to bring your golf shoes.”

“Dad, this is a strategic round of golf. We’ll be playing with Exxon’s top insurance professionals, Bill J. the president of their insurance operation and his Number One professional, Tom C. You will be playing with Tom . and my boss, Steve P, will be playing with Bill. The purpose of this outing is to set the boundaries for their annual renewal meeting that will be held in our office in London the week of September 5th.”

When we met for breakfast at the club’s dining room, I announced to all: “The role of John Delach in today’s outing will be played by John Delach, Sr. You all know the extent of my inadequacies on a golf course, and I guarantee you will be happy with this substitution.”

My father didn’t disappoint. A gregarious and knowledgeable man, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, and a WW II hero. I had nothing to lose by enlisting John, Sr. Sure, he can be a train wreck, but he is completely charming in small doses. Eighteen holes was close to that limit, yet I was confident that I could observe the ebb and flow of conversation, humor, war stories and gentle ribbing before any crisis developed.

This decision to include my old man turned out to be brilliant. He held his own on the course  and entertained my other guests while I negotiated the order of march for our meetings in London. By the end of the round, I had Bill’s agreement to a  draft outline that I would have typed up and sent to him the next day for comments and changes. I didn’t expect objections, nor did I receive any.

Dad couldn’t stop carrying on about the round of golf and the dialogue that he witnessed. “I  never understood what you did and what you brought to the table. OMG, what I observed today was a major summit, not of political ideas, but a summit between a major oil company and a skillful insurance operation. I am impressed.”

“Dad,” I replied, “I appreciate your being there and, believe me, you were an asset in my negotiations. But, do you know what was the best part of today’s round for me?

“Let me explain. Today was a perfect round of golf for me. I never touched a club, hit a ball, or suffered an embarrassment  Instead, you carried the irons and the woods, made the shots while I concentrated on conducting business. I will always remember this as my perfect round of golf.”  .

My Perfect Round of Golf (Part One)

Any pleasure I ever took from my prowess on a golf course was overwhelmed by failure, frustration and  embarrassment. There is nothing worse for any serious golfer than being forced to play with an incompetent partner. My only saving grace was that I did know most of the important rules of golf.

These, I learned from my father, especially the unwritten rules pertaining to golf etiquette. A no nonsense taskmaster, he decided that my understanding the nuances of golf etiquette outweighed  how I played the game. I realized early on that regardless how horrible I was as a golfer; I didn’t compound my sins with violations of golf etiquette.

Despite my obvious incompetence, I struggled with golf’s frustration for many years beginning when I started playing while in high school until I finally walked away from the game when I  turned sixty.

No matter how many lessons I took, or how many different golf clubs I tried, one overwhelming truth willed out for as long as I swung a golf club. “On any given swing, with any given club, I was capable of striking the ball in a manner that it would react as it damn well pleased and 90% of those results were horrible.”

I could miss it completely, hit it backwards, hit a grounder, a ball that skimmed along, a pop up like a mortar shell or a line drive that could go left, right or right down the middle. If you counted correctly, this menu contains eight alternates and only one, a line drive right down the middle, would lead to a satisfactory result. One chance in in eight produces lousy odds.

Fortunately, I played many a golf game with fellow hackers out to play as best we could without embarrassment. Our solution, agree on a maximum number of strokes we would take on each  hole before we picked up our ball. Usually, that number was eight. If our ball disappeared into the woods or submerged after landing in a water hazard, we’d declare an eight and walk the rest of the hole. Free and clear of failure, we’d  walk with our buddies to the tee to try again on the next hole with the understanding that everything was six, two and even.

Customer golf was an essential part of the social-business experience in the world of insurance. Many of our clients prided in their golfing prowess and looked forward to playing prestigious courses otherwise unavailable to them. Of course, we gladly accommodated them using our members’ clout, the prestige of our firm, or as a last resort financial incentives so they could fulfill their golfing dream. This was neither unseemly nor unethical. Rather, we considered it as client entertainment, or business as usual.

To guarantee that clients had a great round, it was common for the senior broker to tell his client that his last shot was so remarkable that the broker conceded the hole, and the client should pick up his ball.

Legend has it that one of our over-eager Client Executives became overly generous during a round of golf with his client. Let’s call him George. George,  seeking to ingratiate himself with a difficult client declared that, lets call him Charles, had earned multiple “gimmes” each one further and further from the hole. Finally, George became so generous that after Charles had teed off on the next hole, a Par 5, one of George’s mates declared: “That’s a gimme, Charles, pick up the ball.”  As ludicrous as it sounds, Charles gladly picked up the ball and took a one on that Par 5!

I avoided participating in these client outings as much as I could. Fortunately, we had a great stable of excellent golfers in our Marine and Energy Department, golfers all who could hold their own on the course, carry on conversationally with the client and trade triumphs and frustrations at the bar on the 19th hole at the end of the round.

Sooner or later, my luck and guile had to run out. My Waterloo  caught up to me in Finlay, Ohio at the Hillcrest Golf Club. We had achieved an amazing success with Marathon Oil, our newly acquired client. To celebrate this victory, their risk manager, Bill N, invited us to Finlay for a dinner and a found of golf at his club.

I had no place to run and no place to hide. Damn, Bill N even stepped up to supply me with clubs. How bad was it? Let me give you the low lights:

Everybody knows the traditional American ballad: Down by The Old Mill Stream. But did you know the Old Mill Stream meanders through Finlay?

In fact, it crosses through four different holes on the Hillcrest Golf Club. Four chances to put a golf ball into the Old Mill Stream. Correct answer, I went four for four drowning four different innocent and terrified golf balls into this watery grave.

If that wasn’t bad enough, stupidly, I left one of Bill’s pitching wedges on the apron of one of the greens. The golfer who found it turned it in to Bill who sarcastically returned it to me so I could return a full set to him.\

Thankfully, he had his wife with him at that night’s dinner providing the atmosphere for a pleasant affair.

Subsequent events eliminated any negative repercussions, Marathon was merged out of existence and Bill took early retirement.

Life went on. I avoided playing customer golf as much as I could until circumstances offered me the opportunity to experience a perfect round of golf.

(To be continued.)    .

Irony

One of the definitions of irony is: A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

The Thirty-Second President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died both dramatically and suddenly on the morning of April 12, 1945, in his cabin at “The Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. FDR had long ago deemed Warm Springs to be his sanctuary for peace and renewal. As far back as 1928, FDR he confided in his doctors, “When I am worn out, I’ll come back to Warm Springs. In a few days I’ll be like new again.”

That March 29, FDR had boarded his personal Pullman sleeper, the Ferdinand Magellan, at a secret loading platform belonging to the Treasury Department beneath Union Station for a two-week respite in Warm Springs. Already seriously ill, the previous weeks journey to and from Yalta to meet with Stalin and Churchill had left him exhausted with little strength and reserves  remaining; FDR was a very sick man.

The hope was that a respite at Warm Springs would serve to afford the old man, at least, a partial renewal. His presidential train set consisted of six coffee-green Pullmans that accommodated the president and his official entourage. FDR had just turned sixty-three and his personal physician, Admiral Ross McIntire, had approved the trip. But McIntire had become too close to Roosevelt to be objective in accessing the President’s condition and acting accordingly.

Just one month earlier, an examination of the President by Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, a cardiologist at Bethesda Naval Hospital had revealed the Chief of State’s blood pressure to be 260/150…widow maker city!

Dr. McIntire was unable to make the trip so Dr. Bruenn substituted for him.

Roosevelt slept late on the morning of April 12. He complained of a headache but looked good. Dr. Bruenn decided to go for a swim. The President picked a spot with good outside natural light to work at his desk while his portrait artist, Elizabeth Shoumatoff worked on his latest portrait. Ms Shoumatoff later reported that about an hour later: “A glorious redness had spread over the President’s face chasing away the pallor that had hollowed his cheeks.”

“The President seemed to be fumbling for something, his hands flitting above his head, as if waving away a moth that was not there. An aide asked, ‘ Have you dropped your cigarette?”

“He replied,‘ I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.”

FDR slumped over. He would remain alive another two-and one-half hours, but his last conscience moment ended when he collapsed from his chair.

While the tragic news slowly made its way to the nation and across the globe, preparations began to embalm his’ corpse and bring the deceased president back to Washington and then on to Hyde Park fpr  burial.

The best funeral director in Atlanta was dispatched to Warm Springs. The consist of Pullman Cars that had carried FDR to Warm Springs, now designated the President’s Funeral Train, was ordered south from its layup track in Atlanta as preparations were made to begin the northern journey  the next morning.

Eleanor Roosevelt flew in that night on a military aircraft to accompany her late husband on his journey. Three thousand soldiers arrived overnight to line the route from Warm Springs to the station as a color guard made up of Second Lieutenants newly graduated from the Fort Benning’s Officer Training School in full ceremonial dress would highlight the army’s dedication to their lost Commander-in-Chief.

“ALL RIGHT, ALL READY!

STOP THE PRESSES!

STOP THE MUSIC AND STOP THE NOISE!

INTERESTING STORY, BUT WHERE IS THE IRONY?”

Oh dear. Admittedly, I apologize for stringing this out, but you must admit I grabbed your attention by re-visiting FDR’s last visit to Warm Springs and the circumstances of his death.

The irony happened during the procession from Warm Springs to the railroad station.

One of those sharp, handsome and decked out  newly minted Second Lieutenants ordered to be on duty to honor the deceased president was none other than William F. Buckley, the foremost American conservative statesman in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

That my friend is irony.

And yet, loyalty to his Commander-in-Chief, his uniform and his country came first for Second Lieutenant William F. Buckley that morning of April 13, 1945.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Kicking the can down the road is the expression we usually give to our local, state and, yes, even national executives and legislators who use gimmicky accounting tricks to project financial problems into the future where they become somebody else’s concerns allowing them to side-step no-win issues rather than do their duty and try to fix them to the best of their ability.

This chicanery goes on every day with the biggest ones being our national debt and the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Out government regardless of party affiliations has allowed these issues to  morph into “legal” Ponzi schemes. Hell, If Bernie Madoff had worked for Uncle, he would have never gone to prison.

Today, the City of New York is facing a severe problem with one of the major interstate highways that traverse the boroughs; the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, aka, Interstate 278, or the BQE as it is commonly known. Curiously, this problem only concerns a small section of this expressway, less than a mile, where the roadway runs under and through Brooklyn Heights between the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue  

A word of explanation here. The BQE was built in sections starting in 1936. The last section in Queens didn’t open until 1964. Robert Moses seized control of the routing and construction after World War II. In 1950 he extended the road on an elevated highway south from the Kosciuszko Bridge to the Williamsburg Bridge. In doing so, Moses pushed the road through the blue-collar neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg using his powers as NYC’s transportation tsar and Federal Law to condemn the buildings in his path as slums that he replaced with a highway.

The next step was to extend the BQE south from  the Williamsburg Bridge through Clintonville and Fort Greene, then through DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook to connect with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Gowanus Expressway.

The route his engineers chose for the section of the BQE through Red Hook was an open cut running from Atlantic Avenue to the interchange for the tunnel. This led to condemning a row of fourteen square blocks of blue-collar housing in this neighborhood where the working poor, immigrants and people of color lived.

But not Brooklyn Heights. “The story was different in Brooklyn Heights, whose more affluent and influential residents were able to win design concessions from Moses that the poorer, mostly Italian -immigrant Red Hook residents could not.”

“Brooklyn Heights remained intact, as the expressway was moved four blocks to the west and redesigned into a bluff-hugging, double-level roadway topped by the Promenade and its magnificent Manhattan panorama. Red Hook got a below-ground, open-cut highway that still pours pollution into neighborhood streets.:

‘They got the Promenade, and we got the shaft,’ said Red Hook Celia Cacace.

‘What can you do?’ said Joe Tomo, who ran  a Red Hook candy store. ‘You can’t fight City Hall.’ And Robert Moses was City Hall.”

Those affected and their allies rightly condemned Moses for his bully tactics, but nobody objected to the magnificent section of the highway his architects and engineers built under the bluff in the Heights. All three levels were cantilevered into an enormous steel and reinforced concrete frame built into the bluff that allowed the two, three-lane decks of traffic and the upper most Promenade to be free of obstructing columns.

Since 1954 when this section of highway opened, the BQE has been subjected to a daily assault by a volume of traffic well beyond what engineers contemplated, heavier and heavier trucks and exposure to weather and sea salt in the air. Several years ago, engineers determined that the Brooklyn Heights cantilevered sections could fail by 2025.

At the mayor’s request, an engineering firm produced four alternative solutions. Every one of them reached the same conclusion, rebuilding or replacing this section of the BQE would be an expensive nightmare. Three of the four proposals called for closing the Promenade, at least for the duration of the reconstruction. ( The fourth called for replacing the existing structure with a tunnel, the costliest alternative.)

Our City fathers and mothers engaged in secret conferences. They knew that powerful forces opposed all the proposed alternatives and reached the conclusion that a consensus wasn’t in the cards. Every precinct got its say. Every pressure group must be recognized. No one is willing to be the decider. Truly, the inmates oversee the asylum, and it appears that this is how the majority of the city’s electorate are content, that a lack of leadership is their style of government.   

Nobody can or will make the tough decisions. The BQE is falling down. So, what to do? What else, kick the can down the road!

Delay the decision for twenty-years!  How? Reduce the number of lanes from six to four. Ban oversized trucks from using this stretch of the BQE, (good luck with that,) and apply Band-Aids to this section by repairing and replacing critical pieces and parts as needed and pray that this lasts until it becomes somebody else’s problem.

They ignored the obvious, reducing the number of lanes going through the Heights from six to four will not reduce the number of vehicles using it, it will only create two new bottlenecks: One for traffic going south starting from about Flushing Avenue and the second, for traffic going north from the Gowanus Expressway. This is exactly what transpired the on the first Monday morning after the number of lanes was reduced and what continues every day including weekends from about 6 AM until about 10 PM.

Excuse me, did I just hear someone say: “Where is Bob Moses when we need him?”

My 400th Blog

I published my first piece on this blog on October 16, 2013, three days short of eight years ago. I titled my first offering: An Incredible Story. I dedicate it to James Muri, a World War II veteran  who had passed away the previous February at 94 years of age. First Lieutenant Muri had participated in the Battle of Midway flying an Army Air Force B-26. Lt. Muri and his crew failed to sink or damage any ships in the Japanese fleet and his claim to fame was that he flew his bomber at a low level skimming the flight deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier front to back in a successful effort to escape numerous fighters trying to kill him and his crew. I wrote at the time: “They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing and the wreck that landed on Midway that afternoon tested that theory. The crew countered over five hundred bullet holes before they gave up with half the airplane still to go. Every crewman survived; a miracle in itself.”

For my four hundredth Blog, I offer you one of my favorites, The Poolhall and the Prizefight, first published as a blog in 2014.

The Poolhall and the Prizefight

Dark, dank and dirty, inhabited by petty hustlers, grifters, hangers-on and seedy men of ill repute; the New Ridgewood Grove was a grimy, old-time pool hall located on St. Nicholas Avenue on the Brooklyn-Queens border. It reeked of stale smoke, old beer and decay. The glaring lights above each table illuminated only the green felt surface and the balls in play giving each table the appearance of being a bright island in a dark sea that consumed the players as they moved about to make their shots. Only their cue sticks, arms, hands and fingers guiding the direction of the sticks were visible.

The pool room was  located on the second floor of what had once been a fight arena, a place like Sunnyside Gardens and St. Nicholas Arena where club fighters, newbies and has-beens battled in obscurity. But overexposure on TV during the 1950s killed this bottom end of the boxing trade and the arena gave way to a supermarket. The pool hall remained run by a just plain nasty manager who lived in a caged enclosure, took in the money and ordered the players about. A rummy bar tender served up cheap rye whiskey, brands like Philadelphia, Wilson and Imperial or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in cold, brown, 12-ounce bottles.

Warm, charming, friendly? Hardly! Not this joint. Not a woman in sight and not a good place to find yourself alone or separated from your pack. But it was a thing to do on another dateless Saturday night, an alternative to a movie, bowling or the neighborhood bar. My friends and I, war babies all, were newly minted legal drinkers having reached the age of eighteen. We proudly carried Selective Service Cards, not to prove we had registered for the draft, but as our passports to the closed world of adult drinkers. Our cards gave us the needed valid ID that let us in.

We knew our place, avoided the prime tables and accepted the older ones crowded together in the corners of the room. The ones with rough, worn and stained felt surfaces. The closeness of the tables forced us to patiently wait our turn while players at the table jammed next to ours took their shots. When it was time to buy four beers for the pack, the other three would keep a watchful eye on the gofer until he safely returned.

On that fateful night, March 24, 1962, one of our guys returned from his beer mission to report on the progress of the third in a series of prizefights between Emile Griffin and Benny “the Kid” Paret for the welterweight title. A black and white TV mounted on a wooden platform over the bar was tuned into the channel broadcasting the title fight. I don’t remember much about the early going, but as the rounds progressed, the pool players were drawn toward the bar to watch the fight unfold. We joined the crowd but remained a respectful distance from the center of attention.

I do remember the twelfth and final round. Griffin beat the Kid senseless while the referee, Ruby Goldstein, did nothing to stop the fight. Trapping his prey in a corner of the ring, Griffin hit the by-now helpless Kid in the head again and again.

Why didn’t the Kid go down? Why didn’t Goldstein stop the fight? By the time Paret’s manager threw in the towel, it was too late.

Silence descended upon the poolhall as the KID lie motionless on the canvas. The broadcast didn’t show the EMS attendants sliding a stretcher under Paret or the Kid being removed from the ring and being carried away to a waiting ambulance. The mood in the room darkened as the crowd stood around waiting for something to happen. Without speaking to each other, we knew the night was over and it was time to go. We downed our beers and left.

The next day the papers reported that Paret was in a coma. He died in the hospital ten days later.

Opening Day: September 12, 2021

This should have been the first game of my 60th Anniversary of being a New York Football Giants season ticket holder. But the 2020 season was played without fans in the stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic raising  the question: Did the 2020 season count toward my continuity as a season ticket holder? Your guess is as good as mine.

The last time I attended a Giants game in Met Life Stadium was on December 15, 2019. I sat with son, Michael, and his two boys, my oldest grandsons, Drew and Matt, on a special afternoon, Eli Manning’s last home game as a Giant. Manning did not disappoint us that day leading the team from a half-time deficit of 7-10 against the Miami Dolphins at half-time to a final score of 36 to 20. Tom Rock, of Newsday noted: Head coach, Pat Shurmur, pulled Eli out of the game with 1 minute and 50 seconds left in the Fourth Quarter…showcasing Eli to the media, his teammates and the faithful who gave him a standing ovation while chanting, ‘Eli Manning, Eli Manning, Eli Manning…”

We remained in the stadium after the game ended to celebrate his career as the Giants best quarterback of all time. I flagged a passing photographer who took a great shot of three generations of Delach men huddled together with the field in the background.

When COVID-19 hit, the Giants pushed back the deadline for renewing season tickets until July when they announced that all ticket renewals had seen suspended for the 2020 season.            

The 2021 season included some radical changes. The Giants joined the rush to electronic or E-tickets  Definitely, a problem for an older fan like me, but, with Michael’s help, I will adapt to this brave new world.

Despite the COVID 19 Delta variant wreaking havoc among the un-vaccinated, the powers that be declared that Met Life Stadium will be open for business as usual without restrictions including proof of vaccination or negative testing. Tailgates are welcome.

And away we go!

Joe M. picked me up just before our scheduled ETD of 11 AM for our game against the Denver Broncos that would begin at 4:25 PM. Yes, your reaction that this was an early start is correct but, one of the biggest reasons for attending games in person is participating with our mates in a lively extended tailgate featuring both original and mundane food, plenty of beer and other liquid refreshments and outstanding comradery. We arrived at 12:15 PM, broke down the tailgate by 3:30 and headed toward Met Life Stadium by 3:45.

What happened next and for the rest of the day can best be explained by the old joke: “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

The Giants went paperless this season so every ticket holder had to display their e-ticket on their cell phone so the bar code could be authenticated by a stadium employee with a reader. Just one problem with this system, before reaching the agent who read the bar code, we had to pass security. That meant removing all metal from our pockets including cell phones, sending them through separately, retrieving our phones, and displaying the e-ticket. Naturally, this created a bottleneck delaying us from reaching our seats until after the game had already started.

The game, the game; please don’t mention the game. Big Blue’s offense self-destructed as they failed to score several times while on the doorstep of the goal line. The defense couldn’t cope with the Broncos offense. Ironically, Pat Shurmur, the Giants former head coach, directed the Broncos assault. When Bronco’s running back, Melvin Gordon III ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run making the score 27-7, the “faithful” fled the stadium in droves. We too exited Met Life to begin the ride home.

Joe followed WAZE that directed us to the GWB via Route 46 but sensed heavy traffic ahead and diverted us onto local streets as we neared Fort Lee. It was here that we encountered a nightmare of traffic instead of a safe passage. We were only two blocks away from an entrance to the bridge when we reached an intersection completely and terminally frozen in gridlock. Forty-five minutes later, Joe was able to maneuver through the chaos.

Our relief was short-lived as the entrance we intended to use was blocked off by police cones. Denied the ability to turn left to reach the bridge, we were forced to continue east until a police barricade led us into a right turn away from the bridge. Joe asked the cop on duty, “How do we get to the bridge?”

“Make the next two rights.” He replied. We did, which only led us to another holding pen where we waited for 15 to 20 minutes before the dam opened giving us a path to the toll booths and the bridge. Too tired and frustrated to care, we didn’t comment to each other on how relatively easy it was to navigate the Bronx, cross over to Long Island and to complete the trip to Port Washington. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves until we were nearly home.

Our trip home, on a fair day, takes two hours. That Sunday took us almost double that time. We set out at 11 AM and didn’t arrive home until after 10 PM. It would appear that a re-evaluation of my further game attendance may be an issue.

Still, I expected to attend the game on September 26th  against the Atlanta Falcons when the Giants planned to retire Eli Manning’s jersey number and add his name to their Ring of Honor.

Unfortunately, I already had a premonition that something was wrong with my body. A blood test revealed I was anemic due to internal bleeding that led to a hospital stay and my inability to make that game.

I hope my 2001 home season doesn’t end after a single game, but it will take time for me to heal.  It may be in doubt, and if it is, so it goes.

The Voyage of the JJD-1701

First off, I must explain why I did not publish on September 22. Please note that this was the first time since On the Outside Looking In began publishing in October of 2013 that I missed a deadline without prior notice. Because of the circumstances surrounding this failure to launch, i.e.: I was hospitalized and unable to write, I am declaring a personal Force Majeure, thereby shedding any and all responsibility for this Act of God.

Now let us begin: The Voyage of the JJD-1701:

While in treatment at St. Francis Hospital, Flower Hill, NY, I underwent an endoscopy to determine the location of probable bleeding that had rendered me anemic forcing me to seek admittance on Friday afternoon, September 17. After a relatively short stay in the ER, I was happily transferred to a semi-private room. My first roommate was a semi-conscience fellow who was discharged the next day and sent home by ambulance. One could only imagine what burdens he will bring to his household, but overhearing his incoming phone calls from his wife, Renee, that he listened to on speaker, I knew getting him home was her only priority. He left for home by ambulance early on Saturday afternoon.

Other than receiving my first of two transfusions that weekend, all I did was watch football on Saturday and Sunday with Elliott, my next roomie. Elliott was in to correct a problem that happened during a procedure the previous week. Whatever the SFH staff did to correct it, worked and Elliott left me early on Sunday night.

My final roomie, James, arrived about 10:30 that night from the ER, disoriented, practically incoherent and in serious distress. I admired the pro-active care the nurses and their aides rendered to James that night. In retrospect, if I knew what was to come, I would have rooted for him to go into a coma. Once coherent, he became the roomie from hell.

But I digress. Doctor C, my endocrinologist explained that he wanted me to sign on for the voyage of the JJD-1701 so he could observe my complete  GI system to determine if there was any internal bleeding anywhere in my system including where the camera used on an ordinary procedure could not go.

Once I agreed to swallow JJD-1701 and set it free, it would embark on an eight-hour journey down through my system before I ejected the capsule into a toilet bowl. During this voyage, its cameras would shoot 30,000 photos of my innards.

I had several responsibilities. I had to fast from midnight and continue fasting until the voyage was complete. I had to wear a belt that tracked its location and carry a transmitter the size of a 1970’s era Walkman. (In fact, this transmitter looked just like a Walkman.)

I could not lie down during its course and for the first four hours, I was supposed to stand often and walk to stimulate its downward descent.

Silly me, I expected to be called to the Endo Suite early Tuesday morning, say 8 AM, so the results could be delivered to Dr. C just after 4 pm before he left for the night. Instead, the launch was delayed until noon. With great pomp and circumstance and two cups of water, I swallowed JJD-1701 setting it free on its incredible journey. Eight PM that night, the transmitter signaled the end of its tracking. My belt and transmitter were sent to the lab to be analyzed on Wednesday.

Wednesday was to be my going home day. My admitting physician, Dr G agreed to sign off on my release once Dr. C accepted JJD-1701’s readings. One other doctor, Dr. S, needed a bit of persuasion to agree to forego any additional tests. This is where my skills as an insurance broker who had to deal with some of the biggest SOBs in the oil industry came in handy. He agreed to back off and I agreed not to make his life miserable.

It was at this point that Dr. C began to fail me. First off and unbeknownst to me, he only did his procedures in the morning meaning that he didn’t get around to reviewing JJD-1701’s evidence until 1PM. The good news: none of the photographs indicated evidence of any tear. The bad news, JJD-1701 remained somewhere in my lower intestines. Without confirmation of its exact location, Dr. C didn’t know if he had a complete visual mapping of my system.

He ordered an X-Ray of my intestines at 1:30. The technician shoed up two-hours later. I became more than a bit agitated at this point. Fortunately, the tech was both efficient and  competent. Once she shot her photo, I heard her tell Dr. C’s PA that JJD-1701 was near the end of its journey and had covered all parts he wanted to examine. She confirmed this to me and promised to personally deliver her picture to Dr. C.

By 4 PM, I had no news and no news, in this case, was bad news. Enough was enough, and to the embarrassment of my loving wife, I declared the nuclear option: “Either release me by 5 PM or I will release myself.”

As if by magic, Andrea, my veteran nurse called Alex, Dr. C’s PA who shortly confirmed to Andrea that I was good to go.

Release has its own time frame and Transport didn’t wheel me out until after 7:30 but, I was free, free, thank God almighty, free at last. On the way home, we stopped at Gino’s Pizza on Main Street  where Mary Ann picked up slices of their outstanding Sicilian pizza.

Max, our 11-year-old Golden and Tessy, our 13-year-old yellow Lab greeted me with their usual reserved postures that said, “Oh, you are finally back. Anything to eat?”

I rewarded their subtle loyalty with several pieces of pizza.

I slept like a rock. Next morning, I checked off three items denied me for the last five days: a shave with a razor and cream, a shower and a trip to “Let There Be Bagels,” our local store for two plain bagels with butter and a medium size cup of coffee, milk, but no sugar. Just driving there was a pleasure in itself.

So far and perhaps forever, the fate of JJD-1701 is unknown.