John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Reporting the Sinking of the Andrea Doria

On July 26, 1956, I awoke at home in Ridgewood, Queens to the news that the Italian luxury liner, Andrea Doria, had collided with a smaller Swedish combo / passenger ship and freighter, the MV Stockholm, off Nantucket Island the previous night. I switched on the Today Show on NBC, the premier morning news show, then just four years old and hosted by Dave Garroway, where I became mesmerized with the terminal struggle of this proud liner.

I thought I was viewing live action. Instead, NBC was broadcasting taped footage shot by camera men flying out of New York and Cape Cod that had been rushed to various networks and newspapers.

The two ships were operating in thick fog, the Andrea Doria inbound to New York from Genoa and the Stockholm, outbound from New York to Europe. At 10:45 pm, they established radar contact, but the officers manning each bridge, wrongly anticipated the other’s intentions without bothering to verbally communicate with each other leading to a radar influenced collision at 11:10 pm.

The radio room at The New York Times received an SOS radio signal from the Andrea Doria one hour later. Managing Editor, Turner Catlidge, rousted out of bed just after midnight, stopped the presses just after the early morning bulldog edition had been printed. So did the overnight editors at the Daily News, Mirror and The Herald Tribune.

At 3 am, Gabe Pressman’s bedside telephone rang him awake. Bill Corley, running NBC’s network overnight news desk explained: “Gabe, the Andrea Doria has been in a collision off Nantucket. Get down to Coast Guard headquarters at the Battery as fast as you can. They’re coordinating search and rescue from there.”

Gabe Pressman, then 36, was a radio reporter with NBC’s New York AM Radio station, then using the call sign, WRCA.  

Pressman filed several TV and radio reports early the morning of July 26. At about 7 am, he was invited by the Coast Guard to represent national broadcasters on a USCG plane about to leave from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Pressman signed on, and 90-minutes later, Gabe arrived over the stricken Andrea Doria.

Not to be outdone by NBC, Don Hewitt, at CBS, who would go on to create 60 Minutes, had enough clout to charter a seaplane out of Nantucket with a TV crew aboard to keep CBS viable. So did ABC and by the early afternoon, New York’s afternoon newspapers, The Post, Journal-American and The World-Telegram and Sun marshalled their reporters, re-writers and editors to blanket this modern tragedy.

Yet, despite the mobilization of print and media reporting, the story of the sinking of the Andrea Doria belonged to Gabe Pressman. I offer to you his account of “ The Death of a Great Ocean Liner:”

So, I boarded the two-engine plane with the others at Floyd Bennett Field. About 90 minutes later, we were flying over the Andrea Doria. The sleek, beautiful ship was listing heavily to the right side. None of us expected it would sink.

But as we circled overhead, the list became greater. It suddenly became clear that the ship was sinking before our eyes.

The sky was clear. The sun shone brightly on the calm sea. We found out later that, by this time, the survivors had been taken off the ship. There was no one alive aboard.

Then, as we watched in amazement and horror, the ship suddenly went from a 50-degree list to a 60-degree list to starboard and, within a few minutes, it fell beneath the Atlantic waters. I saw  huge bubbles rise to the surface.

I had a primitive tape recorder and spoke into it. “I am looking at the death throes of the Andrea Doria, pride of the Italian Line. It’s turning over, like a toy in a bathtub. And now it is sinking. It’s a horrible sight. The water is bubbling as the ship goes down in the waters off Nantucket.”

An hour and a half later, we landed at Floyd Bennett, and I rushed to a phone booth. The program director at WRCA Radio, Steve White, was a music man, who asked me “Is this story important?” I replied: “You’d better believe it and it’s exclusive.”

White told me that Al Jazzbo Collins was doing his jazz show, but since I said this was important, he’d have him put it on right away. I recorded a three-minute spot that went out to Jazzbo’s jazz junkies.

Later in the day, a solid newsman and producer, Joe Dembo, took my rather excited sounding tape and the film of the sinking, edited it down and it was carried on the network news that night. Fifty-one passengers aboard the two ships had died. More than 1,600 passengers and crew had survived.

Those were challenging old days. We weren’t sure we knew what we were doing. But it was a time when the goal for all of us was to gather news for television- and broadcast it to the greatest audience in history.

We were caught up in this new kind of journalism and determined to do the best job we could.

Gabe Pressman remained a presence at WNBC Television, Channel 4  even after he retired. He passed in June of 2017 at 93.

The World Trade Center Club

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 the twin towers to be the centerpiece of international trade. He decided that these towers should be the tallest buildings in the world to project their importance, but he wanted a crown jewel to enhance their glory. He commissioned 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, vintage wines and aged cigars. He recruited powerful restaurateurs who assembled a staff that exuded the proper snobbery of an elite country club. It became a new home for the three-martini lunch and featured a men’s room, adorned in pink and white Italian Marble, so magnificent, it could be an appropriate setting for a national leader to lie in state. The Club kept its own accounts and neither cash nor credit cards were accepted.

The press became aware of the privacy and opulence of The Club and 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. This was in the era of private lunch clubs when senior corporate officers frequented these clubs, belonging to one or more. They were swell places to entertain clients, prospects and underwriters with the bills going on generous expense accounts. My mentor, Charlie R, 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 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 Government’s tax rate was 90% and these trips provided an alternate method of compensation. The Brits usually invaded New York in May and October when the weather is best.

Charlie’s greatest coup came during a dinner for visiting Brits 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 convinced the staff to temporarily close the men’s room, and 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, 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 accomplished other matters of commerce.

The view was paramount and at times dramatic. On crystal clear winter nights, the brightness of the city overwhelmed 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 causing rivers, bays and the ocean to glow. Helicopters flew by at altitudes lower than The Club. The only view above us was of lights from airplanes and the stars. During dinner one night, as low clouds swept in from the west, the streets and buildings grew fainter and fainter until they disappeared. And yet, since these clouds were below The Club, we could still see the stars.

Such was life in the fast lane, 1970s and 1980s style. However, as the 1990s arrived, the Club had become an anachronism. The era of  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. Business had changed in focus, diversity and geography with a reduced tolerance for lunchtime drinking. This and 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 introduce them to The Club and the weather cooperated fully. The view was superb, the food good and the wine far too expensive, but they were as impressed as the French would ever admit.

I resigned from The Club in 2000 when I retired and never returned. On September 1, 2001 the Club died when the North Tower fell. It was no longer relevant, but my world changed forever with that tragedy.

To relieve my post-destruction gloom, I searched for and found my old photographs taken as a young man. I worked on Park Row at the time in sight of the towers as they climbed higher and higher. I thrilled at their ascent and frequently photographed their promise as new stories were added. I also found my last WTC membership card. I thought this evidence and my memories would be the final epitaph.

            Curiously, it was not. A letter arrived with the return address being Mr. Jules Roinnel in Baldwin, Long Island. Jules was the Club’s Manager. Dated October 12, 2001, it began: ”Dear Member:” This was a surprise, not because I was no longer a member, but rather that a letter had actually been sent. The letter spoke of the 72 staff members who died and 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? Perhaps the Club could gain a third life? If it did whatever its name, or location, it could not duplicate what was. The Club, like its era and the towers belong to history.

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001, should have been one of the 10 best days of the year weather wise in New York City. Seasonably warm, but clear without haze and free of humidity, Manhattan shined in all its glory living up to one of its nicknames, Babylon on the Hudson.

Overcoming my disappointment of having suffered through an opening night loss by my beloved Giants to the Chiefs  in Kansas City the previous night, I planned to travel to my company’s midtown headquarters at 1166 Avenue of the Americas to have lunch with my old boss, Steve P.  But first, I began a 45-minute workout on my treadmill to get my heart started.

Marsh & McLennan, the firm I had worked for from 1971until I retired on April 1, 2000, also had operations in World Trade Center. They occupied eight floors in the North Tower from 93 to 100. As I power walked, I watched as NBC cut away from their regular programming to reveal that an airplane had crashed into the upper floors of the north side of the North Tower. Little did we know at that moment that the high jackers managed to strike every one of the floors that Marsh & McLennan occupied expect 100. 

A longtime colleague, Jim H, had an office on 99 facing north. I still wonder if he saw the American Airlines plane as it hurtled in his direction. Flight Number 11 struck his office at 8:46 AM. Coincidently, Jim’s brother-in-law, Bill W, worked for AON on one of the nine floors occupied by that insurance brokerage firm in the South Tower. The folks who worked in that tower above the 85th Floor had 17 minutes to evacuate before United Flight No. 175 plunged into the south side of that tower. Although many workers did evacuate, Bill chose not to. Neither did Tony D, another former Marsh man who had joined AON. Tony had married late in life and his wife had recently given birth to twin girls. They would never see their father again.   

Two hundred and ninety-five Marsh employees died that day along with 63 contract employees. That total, 358, was the third highest behind the FDNY and Cantor Fitzgerald. Jeff L. was one of those Cantor Fitzgerald casualties. Before joining Canter, Jeff had worked in midtown, and I would often share an early morning cab ride from Penn Station with him.

My niece, Rita, was lucky. Employed by Deutsche Bank at their 39-story building on 130 Liberty Street close to the South Tower, she evacuated when that tower was hit. Rita set out for Brooklyn and was about to cross the Brooklyn Bridge when that tower fell wrecking her place of work. She spent the night in a convent. It would take years to demolish that building since it contained human remains from the South Tower.

Michelle G. had worked for me when I was the Manager of Marsh’s New York Marine and Energy operation. She was scheduled to attend an all-day conference at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th Floor of the North Tower. Michelle chose to forgo the pre-conference breakfast choosing instead to meander through the Barnes and Noble bookshop in the lobby.

When American Flight 11 struck the tower, Michelle made a run to the PATH Station to catch one of the last trains to leave the WTC Station for New Jersey. Her train was in one of the 100-year-old cast iron tubes under the Hudson River when the second airplane hit. Michelle told me: “The tunnel moved violently from side to side. The train ground to a halt and the lights went out. I have never been so scared. Finally, the lights came back on and very slowly, the train crept to the Exchange Place Station in Jersey City. I cringed when I emerged into the morning light to see both buildings were burning.”       

Our son, Mike and our daughter Beth both worked for Marsh & McLennan companies at 1166. Beth’s husband, Tom, also worked in Manhattan. The three of them met near Tom’s office on Broadway then made their way to Beth and Tom’s apartment in NoHo on Mott Street safely north of the poisonous smoke pouring from the debris. Mike spent the night with them.  

America shut down to protect the homeland. The FAA grounded every aircraft in USA airspace ordering those airplanes in the air to land immediately. Incoming international flights were instructed to return to their points of origin or find airports of refuge. If you ever see the play, Come From Away, you will discover the story of the jumble of transatlantic flights that landed in Gander, Newfoundland that day.

Emergency rooms geared up to treat the anticipated multitude of casualties that never materialized. There was only the living and the dead and most of the dead disintegrated under the massive pile of debris.

Relatives and friends of the dead created massive bulletin boards throughout the city featuring photographs of the missing with notes pleading for information about their status. Beth, a licensed social worker, volunteered at an armory to council those seeking help to cope with their loved ones who were now MIA.

A sense of loss, anger and absolute sadness blanketed the city. It enveloped me and may have consumed me except that Mary Ann and I and two other couples, the Cruises and the Markeys managed to escape to Ireland in early October on a pre-arranged holiday.

Good craic, the hospitality of Erin, rain, wind, laughter, Guinness and Irish whiskey soothed our souls and raised our morale. It feathered our anger and permitted me to be a human again.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of that dark day, next Wednesday, I will republish my piece about the Club at the World Trade Center that died on what should have been one of the 10 best days of the year for 2001.  

William H. Meyerholt: A Remembrance

When he died, The Cleveland Plain Dealer carried the obituary of William H. Meyerholt, age 72, of Munson Township, Ohio. Meyerholt, a retired United States Air Force Colonel, became the insurance manager for Lubrizol after leaving the service.

But he was always a jet jockey who drove F-105 Thunderchiefs during the Viet Nam war. The Thunderchief was a flying tank that pilots flew into harm’s way in support of our ground troops. The most audacious pilots were dubbed Wild Weasels.  These pilots deliberately flew toward NVA Surface-To-Air batteries challenging the enemy to lock-on with their radar so they could fire their own missiles at the SAMS control center and knock out the entire battery.

Meyerholt was good at this because he was crazy. All good fighter pilots are crazy. Like the World War II American submarine captains and their German U-Boat cousins, it was said: “There are bold commanders and old commanders, but there aren’t any bold and old commanders.

Fighter pilots, no matter how bold still had a much better chance at survival than a submariner since they could eject from their crippled fighters. Meyerholt eventually left the service and joined Lubrizoil as their risk manager. Business tempered him a bit but, deep down,  he was still insane.

Even though I never worked on the Lubrizol account, he often sought me out on his visits to New York City. Perhaps he’d gotten wind that I was an Air Force brat whose father flew 43 missions in B-24 Liberators with the Eighth Air Force during the Second World War? Or did he sense that I too had a crazy streak?

My weirdest encounter with Bill occurred in Paris on one warm, bright spring Paris morning; I was in town with my clients from Exxon. We had a break in our meeting schedule and my client, Richard G and I decided to take a stroll to enjoy the sights, sounds and the pleasant weather. As we walked across Place De La Concorde toward the River Sein, I distinctly heard a voice clearly shout out above the cacophony generated by the sea of automobiles circling the plaza,  “Hey, Delach, boy are you fat!”

I did a double take, looked at Dick and asked, “Am I crazy or did you hear what I just heard?”

“John, maybe we’re both losing it, but I heard it too.”

This is where this experience gets weirder. Two days later, Dick and I were about to cross a street in front of the Eiffel Tower when Meyerholt seemed to appear out of nowhere. He grabbed me in a bear hug and laughed like hell in his infectious way.

 I looked up at his smiling eyes and shouted: “You S.O.B, it was you who shouted out my name the other day, wasn’t it?”

“ Delach, you’re too fat to miss. You can run, but you can’t hide, and you owe me a Johnny Walker Black, you hump.”

I laughed as loud as he did, “You’re on, Bill.”

I had already bought him several Johnny Walker Black Scotch drinks in New York and London and that night I added Paris to the list by doing the honors at  the bar in the St. James Hotel.

We were both retired when another Marsh guy from our Cleveland office sent me his obit. Reading it, I remembered that time in Paris was the last time I ever saw Meyerholt.

Having the chance to read his obit put a smile on my face.

I had good times with a good man. True to form, for what it’s worth, here is how his obituary concluded:

Memorial contributions may be made to Bush-Cheney ’04

P.O. Box 10648  

Arlington, Virginia, 22210

Still crazy, still crazy, still crazy after all these years.

Once Upon a Time on Stone Pond Road

So far, the summer of 2021 has been an eventful time at our house in Marlow, New Hampshire. This is the house that Mary Ann christened, “Little House” when we bought it in 1984. The events affecting our summer included an inordinate amount of rainfall, a contract to install spray insulation to the bottom of the house that turned into the job from hell and a hot tub spa on the fritz.

July was the third wettest on record in NH averaging about 14 inches across the state and as much as 19 inches in Monadnock County in Southeastern NH. The July deluge was capped off by four inches of rain that fell on July 29th. This storm brought with it flash flooding that caused serious damage along the Route 10 corridor flooding roads and houses in towns that included Gilsum, Marlow, Lempster, Goshen and Newport.

We first learned about the severity of the flooding on the morning of July 30 when our handyman, Don, called on my cellphone. He asked: “Are you still in New York?”

“Actually, Don, we are on Interstate 95 on our way up to Marlow.”

He went on to explain that Route 10 and Route 123 were closed, and Stone Pond Road was cut off to traffic. Don can be a bit of a doom and gloom kind of guy, but this sounded serious. He promised to check on current conditions and give us an update within an hour.

We decided to continue our journey, but we chose to stop at the nearest service area on I-95 that was just east of Stamford, CT. Mary Ann decided to call Aaron’s, a local lunch and ice cream shop in Marlow while I checked Google maps on my iPhone. The map revealed two interesting findings: There was heavy traffic in the vicinity of Little House and the road was out between Lempster and Goshen.

The woman who Mary Ann spoke to at Aaron’s said that Route 10 was open in Marlow. Don  called back at the same time to confirm her update. Happy and satisfied, we continued our drive. It took us over six hours to reach Marlow, a trip that once upon a time could be completed in four-and one-half hours. Such is the increased traffic in 2021.

We saw our initial indication of the severity of the storm as we crossed the first viaduct on Route 10 south of Gilsum. This bridge permits the Ashuelot River to pass under the road. A rocky stretch, the water was moving along rapidly with a volume that looked to be greater than any spring runoff that I have seen since we first came here.

The second came as we approached Marlow and entered a flat area south of town. The river had overflowed its banks and one house just below the dam was almost surrounded by water. The water level was no more than two feet from overtopping the Marlow dam and we later learned that a voluntary evacuation had been ordered for fear the dam could fail.

The road to Lake Washington was closed by a cruiser manned by two part-time peace officers. Our local school, The John D. Perkins Academy was surrounded by emergency vehicles as it had been commandeered as a command center and a relief center for evacuees.

The road between Lempster and Goshen remained closed and didn’t reopen until Saturday morning.

One of the reasons we pressed on to reach Little House was that our visit had already been delayed two weeks because of the contractor’s difficulties in spraying the new insulation on the underside of the house. Originally, this area had been protected by bundles of insulation that had been stapled onto the wooden surfaces. Over the years, gravity had prevailed and many of these bundles had dropped to the ground. We had contracted for all these bundles to be removed and that a crew spray five inches of foam insulation to replace it. The work was scheduled to be done on July 14 but was delayed one day by a broken nozzle.

On the morning of July 15, the crew confirmed that they had finished spraying a third of the foam and expected to finish by later in the day.

The next day, they advised that the rest of the foam contained in a new barrel was defective, but that they would finish the spraying the next day. That attempt failed too, again because of defective material.

As the clock ticked forward and we flipped over the calendar, we learned two significant facts, the foam could not be sprayed when it was raining or water content in the air was above 18% and we couldn’t occupy the house for at least 24 hours after spraying was finished, and ideally, not for 36 hours.

Every attempt to finish the work had to be aborted for one reason or another. Finally, we cried uncle to Crystal, a customer representative in the contractors Nashua office on Tuesday, July 28. We explained that it had to be completed by the next day. She worked her magic, and a manager assembled a crew that day and completed spraying by day’s end.

One ordeal remained: the broken hot tub. Steve, the repair guy from Clearwater Spa Sales and Service solved that problem on Wednesday, August 4. He was sure that he had a spare control panel in stock in the shop and, with a bit of luck, it would replace the broken panel. Fortunately, he was right, and, in no time, it was up and running.

After Steve removed the old control panel, he explained that mice had destroyed the old unit by nibbling on the wires!

And so it goes. Things returned to normal…so far!

On the Outside Looking In will not publish on August 18 and will return on August 25

Flight

This must be one of the most ironic quotations an individual could make about their first flight,  especially as it came from Chuck Yeager: It was in January of 1942, and I  had never been in an airplane in my life. I was a PFC (private first class), a crew chief on an AT-11 bomber trainer, and I had to change the engines. The engineering officer said, “You want to test the airplane?”

I said, “I’ve never been in the air.”

He said, “You’re really going to enjoy it.”

Me being raised in West Virginia it was like me looking over a cliff. He flew some touch -and-goes, and I got really sick. After puking all over myself, I said, “Yeager, you made a big mistake.”

Fortunately, my own first flight was considerably more relaxing and without drama or illness. That experience filled me with a love for flying that has remained with me for over 60 years. I made my inaugural flight during the summer of 1957 on an Eastern Airline DC-6 from New York International Airport to Miami, Florida. I was 13-years old. Although this gateway airport had been operating since 1948, the first permanent modern terminal didn’t open until the same year of my first flight and that terminal was only used for international flights. My flight originated from the, so called, temporary air terminal, a collection of single-story plywood structures that meandered haphazardly on a need basis.

My destination was Miami and its rather unattractive temporary terminal. Commercial aviation, born in the 1930s, was only a teenager and had not hit the growth spurt that would come with the introduction of domestic jet service in the 1960s.

I recall two disappointments from my first flight; most of the route was over water making my  window seat view boring and not being able to see the New York skyline on take-off.

My second and third trips followed the same route, round trip between Idlewild and Miami. Number Two, in 1959 and Number Three in 1961. Both were on National Airlines with the second being my last trip on a piston powered commercial airliner, a Lockheed Constellation.  The third was also my first flight on a jet, a Douglas DC-8.

I didn’t fly again until 1967 when Mary Ann and I, just newlywed, flew to Bermuda for our honeymoon.

Since then, I have enjoyed more than my fair share of personal and family flights, but the bulk of my flying consisted of business trips that I made from 1973 until I retired in 2000. My first trip was a round trip between LaGuardia and Norfolk, Virginia in March of 1973 on Piedmont 737s.

I made my final retirement trip to London in March of 2000 round trip on two of United’s  Boeing-767s.

I want you, dear reader, to understand that I loved flying so much that I kept a written record, a sort of a travel log, of all my flights,  Between 1973 and 2000  I made 94 business trips to London, I flew 51 times to Bermuda, 39 to Atlanta, 36 to Dallas, 23 to Mobile, 24 to Pittsburgh, 20 to D.C., 19 to Richmond, 14 to Houston, 12 to Oslo and Lewisville, WV, 11 to Boston, 10 to Miami, 9 to Zurich, Nashville and Chicago and 8 to San Juan, PR.

I’ve traveled to Bergen, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bahrain and Bombay, Mexico City, Rome, Manila, Copenhagen, Munich, Bordeaux and Beijing.

I spent more time in flight on Boeing 727s than any other airplane and made more flights on Eastern Airlines than any other carrier even though they went out of business in 1990.

I was privileged to fly supersonic 9 times on the Concorde between New York’s JFK airport and London’s LHR airport.

And in my time, I also managed to make an additional 117 non – business trips.

If you too enjoy flight, especially commercial flight, I recommend two classic books and a relatively new one that will join them as a classic as time goes by.

The first and oldest: “Wind, Sand and Stars,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It is a realistic, yet romantic memoir that chronicles his exploits during the 1920s as a mail pilot flying across the Sarah and the Andes.

“Fate is the Hunter” is the classic re-telling of Ernest K. Gann’s  commercial flight experiences as a pilot for an unnamed American airline that my best guess is Eastern Airlines. The last chapter that was made into the movie, “The High and the Mighty,” will give you pause.

“Skyfaring: A Journey with A Pilot,” was published in 2015. The author, Mark Vanhoenacker, an American, beats all odds to achieve his dream job, a pilot flying British Airways 747 on world-wide routes.

I walked away from this book with a renewed understanding of how remarkable our ability is to fly safely and efficiently. Mr. Vanhoenacker completes Saint Exupery’s and Gann’s journeys of trial and error, defeat and renewal. He explains the technical miracles of flying a modern airplane with the same love and respect that Orville and Wilber felt about their Flyer. Flight is truly a miracle.             

A Dream Denied

“So, you want to own a caboose?” That was the headline on a one-page article in the August 2021 edition of Trains, the best magazine around for railroad fans. The article included a photograph of Dan Larkin, the proud owner of a former Delaware & Hudson wide-vision cupola steel caboose, No.35713 built by International Car Co. in 1959.

The article, written by Jim Wrinn, goes on to explain that Mr. Larkin bought his caboose in October of 2020. Mr. Wrinn explained: “The car is in what is referred to as ‘caboose village’ in Northfield, NH, where 20 privately owned cabooses reside.”

What the article didn’t say but what I read between the lines was that Mr. Larkin had bought his caboose as is, where is at its current location and that any plans he had for it didn’t include moving it.

In 1997, I had a far more ambitious dream to buy a late model caboose made of steel or stainless steel and have it shipped to our property in Marlow, New Hampshire where I planned to use it as a guest bungalow.

I set out to determine the necessary steps needed to pull this off. I picked a good location, between our house and the road now occupied by a basketball / badminton court. Once I selected my caboose, I would have the site prepared and contact a contractor to install a gravel roadbed, ties and tracks. Once the caboose arrived,  a crane would have to lift it from a flatbed truck and lower it onto the stretch of track. I would use the contractor to install the needed improvements including water, electricity, insulation and a septic system to convert the empty shell into a livable abode.

As I was a complete novice, I decided my first step was to learn just how available cabooses were. I did locate a promising source, Anderson Steel Flange RR Equipment of Fairfield, Iowa. Anderson sent me their catalog rich in its color photographs, drawing and explanations of a variety of railroad equipment including passenger cars, cabooses, boxcars and Fairmont motorcars. I was particularly drawn to this statement: “If needed, we can also assist with transportation and set-up.”

They didn’t list prices, but the Trains’ piece includes an interview with John Suscheck, the owner of Ozark Mountain Railcar in Kirbyville, Missouri, an operation similar to Anderson’s. Mr.Suscheck noted that a basic caboose can cost about $10,000 while one with upgrades like heat and a/c, modern restrooms, kitchen, accommodations, etc. can fetch $50,000.

Still interested? Jim Winn included this passage: “But that’s just the start. There’s moving and renovations.

Says Suscheck: ‘Keep in mind that moving rail equipment either by road or rail is expensive. I normally tell buyers the best option will be to have the car trucked so you can contract the price up front”

The article explains that sending your caboose by rail can become a nightmare. There are prepping costs before the ICC will approve it is ready to ride the rails. Just as importantly, rail tariffs run between $10 and $25 per mile. Those miles can include a significant amount of back-tracking at the railroad operator’s discretion. The caboose’s owner is responsible for all those extra miles. Add to that the increased risk of damage and vandalism during this unsupervised journey and shipment by rail loses all appeal..

Mr. Larkin figured that between purchase and renovations he has invested about $20,000 in his caboose. Also, if I read between the lines correctly, he is keeping his car exactly where it is.

If I had been in the market for my dream caboose today, reading that article would have brought it to a sudden stop, but reality was such that my dream died way before I reached that stage.

After discovering that Anderson was a possible source for my caboose, my next step was to write  to the Marlow Board of Selectmen. In November of 1997, I sent them the following note to alert them to my plans: “I am considering installing a caboose on my property. My plan would be to have a sufficient length of railroad track with the caboose installed on this track. Please advise if there are permits or variances that must be complied with before I proceed.”

The Board of Selectmen replied ten days later: “You must obtain a building permit for this item prior to bringing anything to your property. You must also abide by Marlow’s setback requirements. As you already have a residence on your property, you cannot use the caboose for human habitation. Sincerely, J,N, Ferrer,-chair’s”

“YOU CANNOT USE THE CABOOSE FOR HUMAN HABITATION!’

Seriously! It turned out that our ten acres was insufficient to support two habitable dwellings. A stupid zoning law prevented me from pursuing what would have been one of the bigger disasters in my life.

But at the time, I saw it as: Marlow-One, Delach-Zero. A dream denied!

 Live Free or Die, my ass.

Now, of course, I see it as: “Thank you Jesus.                  

Sarah and the Waiter

It had been a grand day to spend hiking in the Canadian Rockies. We had trekked along a trail that followed the Bow River.  Accompanied by my sister, Sarah, her friends, Molly and Agnes, we had enjoyed magnificent views of the river, lakes and falls all framed by the endless mountains. Our attempts at stealth had been rewarded by moose, elk and mountain goat sightings. I was happy that we had not stumbled across a grizzly or black bear. I feared the ladies’ city skills would not protect them. Secretly, I also doubted the extent of my own skill.

After a delightful morning of hiking followed by a picnic lunch, we were weary and all to ready to return to civilization. We piled into the estate wagon for the drive to the Banff Springs Hotel. Having access to a car was a new experience for all of us. War rationing had only ended last spring and our vacation was a unique break before we all returned to university. I drove our Nash across the river and onto the road leading to this imposing stone structure built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to pamper its important travelers. Parking a short distance from the main entrance, I approached the doorman and asked, “Excuse me, can you accommodate three young ladies and myself for a drink and a snack? We have been hiking and we are all dressed in sporting gear.”

“Yes sir, the Mount Rundle Room is just such a place.” Bring your automobile up to the front door and I will have the valet park it. When you pay your bill, the waiter will validate the receipt providing you with free parking.”

“Thank you, “ I replied, “that will be swell.” I give him a half-dollar as a tip. Walking away, I wondered if my tip was probably more than the cost of parking.

The doorman directed us to the stairs leading to the mezzanine and the café. Although we found it without difficulty, the hostess seemed reluctant to seat us. “Is there a problem?” Sarah asked, her voice guarded.

“No miss, not really.”

But her demeanor demonstrated s certain discomfort, so I imposed myself between Sarah and the hostess. “What is your concern?”

“I am so sorry sir, but we are serving high tea. I can sit your party, but would you mind if it is here, close to reception. I am afraid the seats with the view of the river are occupied by others.”

I looked at the opposite end of the room. Ladies and gentlemen were taking tea dressed in Sunday finery. “ One moment,” I replied to her.

The four of us huddled and I suggested, “Come ladies, let us sit here and conspire in this private location. If we are discreet, you may all have Champagne and mother will never know.” Agnes and Molly gladly accept this compromise. Sarah bristled but chose silence.

Pleased with our decision, our hostess exclaimed: “Wonderful, I will have Hans, your waiter come right over.”

After a delay, Hans reluctantly arrived. “Ah, my good fellow, champagnes for the ladies and I will have a Canadian Club and soda.”

“ I do not wish to serve you because of the way the ladies are dressed.”

I was stunned. “I beg your pardon. Who do you think you are speaking to in this manner?” I felt my voice rising, but then, I saw the look of rage in Sarah’s eyes. Sarah was about to begin a tirade; her goal to destroy Hans. Immediately, I thought, “Poor Hans.”

Poor Hans indeed. But, before Sarah could begin, the hostess intervened, “How dare you! Hans, we have had this conversation before. Now off to the kitchen where I will deal with you privately.”

Looking directly at Sarah, she continued, “I am terribly sorry for this incident. Please accept your refreshments with us today as being complimentary of the hotel.”

To my relief, Sarah made a conscious effort to regain control and not make a scene. Instead, she looked directly at the hostess and said, “Thank you.”

Our table turned quiet, spirts saddened by that near-confrontation. Once drinks arrived,

the alcohol worked its magic restoring gaiety. A second round returned us to our original good mood. Too soon, it was time to leave as to not be late for mother and dinner.

I tipped and thanked our hostess. Feeling good about the outcome, I handed the receipt for the auto to the valet. Sarah observed and drew near, “So George, if you are such a smoothie, why didn’t you have your new friend validate your claims check?”

I remained silent as I turned away from my sister while I mumbled to myself, Dear Sarah, what a pill you can be. Hans managed to  avoid your serpent tongue, so you took it out on me.

Urban Bonfire

“C’mon, c’mon, grab a tree, don’t be slow and show some hustle.”

It is January 2nd, a Friday, eight days after Christmas. It is also a pick-up day for the NYC garbage men to collect discarded Christmas trees from the gated disposal areas in front of our four and six-story railroad flats in Ridgewood, Queens. Several gated areas are full of discarded Christmas trees.

 “C’mon, c’mon,” the older boys shout, “Grab a tree.”

Joey and I do as we are told. Being nine years old, both of us are excited and want to stay on the big boys’ good side. We claim a tree from the gate in front of 1821 Himrod Street. “Charlie, you take the back and I’ll take the front.” Joey orders.

I carefully pick-up the tree by its thick, lower branches so I don’t get sap on my hands and clothes. As we lift the tree, a forgotten glass ornament detaches and shatters as it hits the sidewalk. Hearing it break, I look at the tree. The branches are stiff and dry, but the tree retains its abandoned decorations. Tinsel, pink and white popcorn, a string of multi-colored lights and three or four other ornaments still adorn it.

Joey breaks into a run pulling me with him. Boys, carrying discarded trees,  are running to the vacant lot from several different directions, some from the other side of Senaca Avenue. When we reach the pile of trees, it is already three feet high. “Throw it on top,” Christie, the meanest of the big boys, shouts.

Joey and I look at each other. We count to three and let it go. It is a good throw, but before our tree reaches the top, it snags the branch of another tree and falls back bouncing off lower ones until it hits the ground. An angry Christie shouts, “Get out of here you babies.”

Admonished and shamed, Joey and I re-cross Senaca Avenue so we can watch the pile grow from a safe distance. The pile must reach 30 to 40 trees before the big boys stop building it. Then they stuff newspaper between the branches of the bottom trees and light them with wooden kitchen matches. The flame flares, but quickly goes out merely turning newspaper to ash. The trees fail to ignite even though they try two or three more times as they still contain enough sap to defeat the boys.

Christie yells, “Put more paper in and get away from the pile. I’ll take care of this.”

After the boys follow his order, Christie pulls a can of Ronson lighter fluid from his pocket and uses it to saturate the paper. “Watch what happens now,” he commands as he strikes a match and holds it to the paper.

The newspaper burns hotter and longer. Finally, the tree closest to his artificially set conflation catches. In seconds, flames engulf more and more trees. Then it seems like the whole pile explodes. Flames shoot high toward near-by buildings as the air crackles with the sound of the trees being destroyed in a fire storm. Shouts erupt from the building closest to the out-of-control bonfire. Boys begin running. Joey and I retreat further away as the sound of sirens begins to fill the air.

From multiple directions, police squad cars, fire engines and two fire chief cars reach the scene. But in the short time it takes the police and firemen to  arrive, the blaze has already consumed its fuel and has subsided. All that remains are black sticks and an awful stench.

The authorities are angry. They fan out grabbing as many kids as they can. Many rat out Christie right away telling the cops where he is hiding. The cops find him in an alley hiding behind garbage cans. He starts to cry.

As I watch him being hauled away, I sense that somehow, he saw me watching his humiliation. This is not good, as I know the beating, he will receive from his father will only make him meaner and sooner or later, it will be my turn.

The great 1954 post-Christmas season urban bonfire is over, the only one I recall having been a participant.

Ironically, that same year, my friend, Joey, and his family were burned out of their apartment when a neighbor’s water heater short-circuited. His family all escaped except for their cocker spaniel, Honey, who was a nice dog.

I never saw Joey again.          

My Stable of Jokes

While in college, I developed an instinctive sense of humor and the ability to remember and tell jokes. Timing, which is the essential ingredient that turns an ordinary story into a joke, came easily to me. I also understood the second commandment; don’t tell jokes that telegraph themselves. Shock or surprise are essential to the delivery of the punch line. Be it a one-liner, a shaggie dog story, or something in between, In most cases, delivering a hard tap is more effective than pulling off a soft shoe ending.

Hennie Youngman was a master of the one-liner: “Take my wife; please” “A guy asked me for a bite, so I bit him.”

I discovered my two personal favorite one-liners on visits to our local post office in Marlow, NH. The first was sported by a local woman’s tee shirt. It pronounced: “Kiss My Ass, I’m on Vacation.” The second was a chap wearing a baseball cap that noted, “Got a Gun for My Wife: Good Trade.”

One-liners are in the moment and quickly forgotten. Personally, I love shaggy dog stories that seem to go on forever without telegraphing the ending. The key to this art form is to draw your audience in and keep them intrigued as your story weaves a crooked path while maintaining the suspense. Build up the suspense until, out of nowhere, you hit them with the punch line.

I have two favorite shaggy dog stories and this is the milder of the two. It is also my personal favorite because the teller must repeat every line of the joke as he / she tells each sequence and increases the length. Most jokes like this one are best told in a bar or a café where liquor is liberally served and consumed. For sanity’s sake, I will set it out in its entirety without it’s complete repetition:

An 18-year-old French-Canadian seaman gets shore leave in the port of Montreal. In his pocket, he has a piece of paper with the name of a woman, her address and phone number. He seeks out a pay phone, deposits the required coins and dials her number:

Halo, is this Miss Evan Doucette?

Qui, this is Miss Evan Doucette .

Halo, is this Miss Evon Doucette of 221 Duquesne Street, Montreal, Quebec, Canada?

Qui, this is Miss Evon Doucette of 221 Duquesne, Montreal, Quebec, Canada,

Halo, is this Miss Evon Doucette of 221 Duquesne Street, Montreal, Quebec, Canada who had the baby 18 years ago and threw the baby into de trash can in de alley?

Qui, this is Miss Evon Doucette of 221 Duquesne Street, Montreal, Quebec, Canada who had the baby 18 years ago and threw the baby into the trash can in de alley.

Halo Ma!

My material played havoc with a wide-spectrum of life’s problems following the theory that tragedy plus time equals humor. I even had an Aids joke:

Doctor, I don’t know if my husband has a heart condition or Aids. What should I do?

Take him up to the track and force him to run a mile. If he doesn’t drop dead, don’t f**ck him!

 One day, seemingly out of nowhere, a new paperback book appeared entitles: “Truly Tasteless Jokes”. I bought a copy of this book only to discover to my dismay that almost a third of my material had been usurped by this book: “Damn!”  

Over time, I reconciled my pain to the fact that “Truly Tasteless Jokes,” forced me to abandon being a joke man well before the arrival of political correctness and when the cancel culture and the thought police would come knocking at my door.

I do regret the loss of a free rein culture where joke telling sessions, especially classic stories like the one about the little girl Petal and her doggie Porky, or Jesus, being angry on Easter could be told without fear of condemnation or cancellation. Morning

All of this brings me to my own brand-new original joke. Hopefully, it follows all the rules I have set out for a perfect hit, so, as a warning, may I suggest that you place any beverage container on a solid surface before you read on:

As a non-practicing Catholic, it shocks me when I attend wedding and funeral masses only too discover that the liturgy has been changed. The simple:

Command: May God be with you:

Response: And with thy spirit.

Has undergone a metamorphosis to new speak that my brain cannot remember. Then, out of the blue, I thought of my own ecclesiastical change to this exchange:

Command: May God be with you:

Response: And with the horse you rode in on!

“On The Outside Looking In” will not publish on July 7 and will return on July 14. Happy 4th of July.”