John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2014

World’s Fair – The Beer Glass

From the very beginning of our early visits to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, my friends and I made it a habit to salute our visit by enjoying a brew or two at The Schaefer Center. Outstanding beer; extremely fresh, straight from their Williamsburg brewery having arrived by truck that very day. Not only was the taste exquisite, Schaefer served this, their premier draft larger in a special glass that they commissioned specifically for the Fair.


“Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one,

A most delightful pleasure in this man’s world,

 For people who are having fun,

Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”


Fortunately, I wasn’t bold enough to attempt to steal one or two of these works of art and I had enough cash in my pocket. So, I asked the bartender if I could buy one of these glasses? The answer was no, but he told me I could buy a set of six glasses protected by a strong carton in which they were boxed and sealed. The price was reasonable so I took the plunge. Somehow the glasses survived the night and arrived safely home with me in the early morning hours .


When my mother awoke the next morning she discovered the box on our kitchen table and naturally assumed that the glasses were a gift for her. After all, what would her 20-year-old son want with a set of glasses? Also, she accepted this as a special gift fomher son as the Fair opened on her birthday, April 22. Mom had adopted the Fair as her special place.


Even though I was a still-selfish, newly-minted, post-teen, I had enough sense not to deny her those glasses or to concoct some malarkey as to why I should keep them. And so they remained with my mother until she passed in 1997. It was then that I discovered that all six glasses remained almost in mint condition having never seen the inside of a dishwasher during their long lives.

Wow, what memories these glasses provide for me. Thanks, Mom for keeping these treasures safe.

This is what I wrote about them in 2002. That piece, The Beer Glass, appeared in my anthology, The Big Orange Dog:  


The Beer Glass


A fluted eight-ounce beer glass, it is both handsome and practical. Though not very old, it is nonetheless well-crafted projecting the pride of the brewery that commissioned it.


On one side, near the top, there is a vertical oval ring embossed in gold. Gold lines radiate inward from the top and bottom of the ring to a horizontal red oval in the center of the ring. In clear script, “Schaefer” is imprinted onto this red oval. Beneath the gold ring, in matching red script, the glass proclaims, “America’s Oldest Lager Beer.” On the opposite side in matching red script, “Schaefer Center- New York World’s Fair 1964-1965.”


The glass is well balanced, easy to hold, easy to drink from. It cries out to be filled with, “The one beer to have when you are having more than one.”


 When filled, the amber liquid backlights the red script, the clear brand name and the gold ring, while a foamy head provides needed contrast.


Pick it up. Look at it. Drink from it. Settle back into a different era when they still made beer in Brooklyn.


Spring – Queens, NY: 1964

The spring of 1964 in New York City; what an exciting time to be in The Big Apple’s fourth borough, Queens. On April 17th, LaGuardia Airport’s brand new main terminal opened replacing the original 1939 art deco classic. Yes, it’s true; this is same building that Vice President Joe Biden recently decried as being so awful, it’s worse than aviation facilities in third world nations. But 50 years of wear and tear can do that to a building and in 1964, it was a state – of – the – art edifice for both the city and the country opening just in time for the start of domestic jets service by  727s and DC-9s that would revolutionize our national travel habits.


Less then two miles away from LaGuardia, on the very same day, Shea Stadium opened. The Amazin Mets hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates for this first baseball game in their brand new ballpark. William Shea christened his namesake by pouring the contents of two small champagne bottles onto the infield. One contained water from the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. “You couldn’t see the Gowanus from Ebbets Field,” Shea said, “but you could smell it.” The other bottle contained water from the Harlem River that flowed by the Polo Grounds the Mets first home then being demolished.


Robert Moses gave the shortest speech, “My friends, this is no time for oratory. Mere words are superfluous. Let lunch begin.”


Casey Stengel, naturally, was the most obtuse: “We got 54 rest rooms, 27 for the men and 27 for the ladies and I know you all want to use them now. And the escalators, no stairs. I tell you, you’ll keep your youth if you follow the Mets.”


The Mets lost that game to the Bucs, 4-3. I sat in the upper deck on the third base side and watched together with 50,312 other fans as Willie Stargell hit the first home run out of the stadium.


I was in my Junior Year at St. Francis College in Brooklyn that spring and I already had a summer job. I was in a teller training program at First National City Bank’s main office in Manhattan to be a teller at their World’s Fair Branch once the fair opened on April 22nd, my mother’s birthday. Alas, I never did make it to that branch, missing the cut and being assigned instead to a money counting facility deep in the bowels of 399 Park Avenue where the fair’s deposits were sent. Instead of becoming a bright eyed, young teller garbed in his Citi-bank blazer and chinos happily assisting the banks customers visiting Mr. Moses’ grand creation, I was a mole working 12 hours a day, three days on, three days off in a sub-terrenean vault so deep that when the E and F subway trains rumbled by in their tunnels on Fifty-Third Street just on the other side the wall of our vault, they were above us!


But I did get three days off in a row every fourth day and I did have a bank pass to the fair. I practically lived at the World’s Fair that summer and on the night of June 5th; I met a girl in the Red Garter banjo bar in the Wisconsin Pavilion (also the home of the world’s largest cheese.) Her name was Mary Ann Donlon of Flushing, Queens and she would become my wife on November 11, 1967.


The fair was held at the height of the era when technology was king and the automobile reigned supreme. The member nations of the international association that controlled these fairs distained the New York Fair as it broke their rules. Germany, England, the USSR, and Canada chose not to attend as did all Communist countries following Moscow’s lead. (China attended, but it was our China: Taiwan.) R.M. said screw’em. He grabbed the Vatican for the space reserved for the USSR. Using his clout with Cardinal Spellman and the Archdiocese of New York, a relationship no doubt fashioned at Toots Shor’s, he pushed enough buttons to finance a Vatican Pavilion and have Pope Paul VI loan Michelangelo’s Pieta to the Fair. As a throw in, the Pope agreed to visit the Fair during the 1965 season: brilliant!


R.M. also went after the corporate giants who turned this world’s fair into a grand display of the American way. And these corporations responded spectacularly, especially those that commissioned the incredible talents of Walt Disney and his Disney organization to produce their exhibitions. Pepsi Cola’s “It’s a Small World After All” was one of Disney’s triumphs. Walt loved it so much that when the fair ended, he had it shipped to Disney World in Florida where it still operates today. Even if you don’t know the words, you can hum that incessant melody until it drives you nuts…It’s a small after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small, Small world. La, la, La, LA, la…     


General Electric commissioned Disney to build a circular ride where the audience went from scene to scene in Progressland watching as a robotic family acted out “… a warm, whimsical drama, from the days before electricity to the present.” Anyone who saw this will remember the same family dog appeared in each scene.


RCA, AT&T, the Bell System, Kodak, Coca Cola, General Cigar and IBM and its amazing egg vied for our attention. Bell created a, “400-foot floating wing (housing) an exciting ride that tells the story of human communications.” At IBM, “Audiences of some 400 at a time are lifted on a ‘People Wall’ of moving seats into the egg by hydraulic mechanism.”


And Moses touted religion. Besides the Catholics, we had the Mormons, The Russian-Orthodox – Greek Catholic Churches, Christian Science, Sermons from Science, American – Israel, Billy Graham and the Protestant & Orthodox Center. R.M. rules – religion: good – honey-tonk: bad


Moses ban on fun did not extend to the consumption of beer, wine or spirits. The Red Garter where I met Mary Ann featured Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller and Schlitz on tap. West Berlin had Lowenbrau; Ireland had Guinness and Irish coffee. Two of our local Brooklyn breweries, Schaeffer and Rheingold put up their own brilliant pavilions. (Schaeffer produced a beautiful World’s Fair 12 oz. beer glass that I will write about soon.)


But Ford and GM stole the Fair. Ford, that boasted the largest pavilion, used their latest model convertibles including brand new Mustangs first unveiled in April to carry visitors on a technology ride through their building. As super as that was GM ruled with a canopy over the entrance to their 200,000-square pavilion. “Behind the canopy, the main portion of the 680-foot-long building houses the exciting 1,700-foot Futurama ride.” Actually, “Futurama II” it was the modern version of the first ride introduced at the 1939-1940 Fair. Visitors rode chairs to see “…gigantic machines for conquering the oceans, the deserts and the Arctic. What was then jungle – rain forest, in today’s parlance – would be conquered by an atomic – powered 300-foot-long machine that would cut trees with lasers, spread herbicide and extrude behind it a four – lane freeway at a rate of a mile an hour.”


Pop Art was represented by U.S. Royal’s tire – shaped Ferris wheel, “An 80-foot-tall pop concept worthy of Claes Oldenburg. It still greets motorists alongside Interstate 94 near the Detroit airport, as if it had rolled there from the World’s fair site down the Grand central Parkway, over the Triborough-RFK and the George Washington bridges and out to the Midwest.”


What a Fair, what a time to be young and living in Queens!


Why I Hate Airlines

One time just before I left Marsh & McLennan, in a fit of pre-retirement candor and rash enthusiasm, I looked my client from XYZ Petroleum in the eye and said, “Do you know that the only organized group out there that has a worse reputation than ‘Big Oil’ are child pedophiles.”


Though admittedly not the brightest thing to say, I stand by that statement except I believe that the airlines have deservedly joined Big Oil as the public’s favorite whipping boy. That certainly holds true for me. I do have two exceptions, Jet Blue and Southwest. Jet Blue is my go-to airline of choice as they offer frequent non-stop flights from New York City to multiple places at reasonable fares on new, clean and well-functioning equipment with excellent crews and good attitudes. My only real criticism is directed at their on line reservation which has become overly complicated.


Southwest is excellent at moving large number of passengers efficiently and economically also on well-functioning equipment with good and sometimes great crews. Bags fly free on both airlines and my one hesitation with Southwest is the need to make connections in Chicago or Baltimore to get to where I really want to go.


That’s it as far as I’m concerned. Traditional airlines, particularly, American – U.S. Air – Air West, Delta – Northwest and United – Continental all suck. Not too long ago, I was chatting with a flight attendant on a United flight about their upcoming merger with Continental. She noted, “I wonder what the new name will be?”


I replied, “I have a great idea for the new name, “Eastern.” The look she gave me let me know she knew what I meant.


Once upon a time it seemed that I lived on Eastern Airlines because they flew to all of the places where I peddled insurance; Richmond, Boston, DC, Miami, Atlanta, Mobile, Houston, San Juan and Bermuda. I was a one of their Executive Travelers and a member of the Ionosphere Club when it mattered. That combination was so powerful that I knew the receptionist at the club in their JFK terminal on a first name basis who always  upgraded me to First Class. In fact, one morning back in the 1980s I arrived for Flight 807, the morning airplane to Bermuda, without my passport or even my driver’s license. Helen, the receptionist, asked, “What are you going to do Mr. Delach?”


“Well, Helen, I do have my company ID that has my photo and we have an office in Bermuda so I think that will work.”


“Okay, good luck.”


Imagine that encounter today. Long story short. It did work with a minimum of fuss both ways; getting past Bermuda Immigration onto the island, and U.S. Customs and Immigration getting off.


But I watched Eastern go down under Frank Borman’s stewardship. In fact we had a running joke to describe how bad things became before Eastern went out of business. “Eastern is run by Frank Borman, but the way it is run you’d think it was being run by Martin Bormann.”


Which brings me to the point of this rant. Back in January I booked a baseball trip with  four buddies that would take us to Atlanta for a Braves game then on to Charlotte and Durham for two AAA games at the respective homes of the Knights and Bulls. We’d fly into Atlanta and drive a rental north and return to our homes from Raleigh Durham. Each of us made our own arrangements but coordinated times as best we could.


I chose two non-stop American Eagles flights. The south bound flight was scheduled to leave LaGuardia at noon and arrive in Hartsfield at 2:25 PM. Or so I thought until I received an e mail message nine days before my scheduled flight. American Airlines, in their infinite wisdom, had cancelled this flight and chose to book me instead on a flight that would leave LaGuardia at 11:20 AM. But guess what – not one to Atlanta! No, no, one going to Chicago. The connecting flight would not arrive at Hartsfield until 5:05 PM!


The message noted: “If the proposed flights are NOT acceptable to you, you (your) reservation can be discussed with one of our specialists.”


After forty-eight minutes on hold, a human being answered my call. I wanted to demand being transferred to another non-stop flight to Atlanta in the same time frame with any additional cost their responsibility, but that would have required a call-back from a supervisor with no guarantees. So I asked for an alternative and the best the rep named, Nancy could do was to offer me a new flight out of LaGuardia that would get me to Hartsfield at 1:07 PM. That was the good news. The bad news: it was a US Air Flight is scheduled to leave LaGuardia  at 8:40 AM going to Atlanta by way of Charlotte.


No mas, I grabbed it. Otherwise, I foresaw continued frustration and high blood pressure.


I hate flying and I hate the airlines.

Ridgewood Redux

The Ridgewood of my youth was a humble, blue collar, working-class neighborhood located on the Brooklyn / Queens border. Originally settled by German immigrants just prior to the start of World War I, their influence remained into mid-Century albeit tempered by later arriving Italian-Americans. Corner saloons, pork stores, bakeries, social clubs, knitting mills and mom and pop shops gave Ridgewood its character. A sleepy community isolated from the frenzy of “the City,” most neighborhood activities revolved around churches, schools and these local stores. Weekday mornings I ran my daily errand before school, first to Edelman’s candy store for the Daily News and Daily Mirror then to Bauer’s Bakery for fresh rolls and crumb buns.


Meat at dinner came from the Emil, the butcher or from the pork store. Vegetables came from Carmine, the green grocer. We had Penesi, the shoemaker and his cousin, Penesi, the barber. Myer’s Delicatessen, Koch’s Drug Store and Schneider’s Funeral Home were all less than a block away on Onderdonk Avenue.


But, as the 1950s progressed, Ridgewood’s future grew dim as people of Color from the South and the Puerto Ricans came to dominate nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick making it seem that it was only a matter of time before “white flight” would add Ridgewood to the list of old neighborhoods left behind by the exodus of people escaping to those new tracts rising in the endless dust from former potato fields in Nassau and Suffolk. Those of us who stayed watched our friends, neighbors and family leave adding sadness to this time of discontent.


Despite this despair and the fires and violence of the 1960s and 70s that consumed swathes of Bed-Sty and Bushwick, Ridgewood hung on remaining true to its blue collar. As the old Germans and Italians died off, their kin stood fast and the neighborhood assimilated a broad spectrum of new residents, a multi-cultural collage of New Yorkers seeking affordable housing. All the while, Ridgewood remained below the radar as Williamsburg, then Bushwick, gentrified.


It seemed the neighborhood was immune to gentrification being too far from Manhattan putting it beyond the range where urban pioneers felt comfortable. But a subway runs through it from Manhattan, the old 14th Street-Canarsie Line. A long, local, multi-stop, dingy train line, that meanders through Brooklyn backwaters without joy. But, now re-named, the L Line, it was recently voted the cleanest subway in New York. According to its critics, the reinvigorated L has progressed“…from zero to hero.” Ridership has soared as a new army of hipsters wearing their defacto uniforms of “knit caps, skinny jeans and sporting intrepid takes on mustaches”, toddlers in tow with names like August and Apollo are pushing further and further east along the line out of Williamsburg across Bushwick to the very edge of Ridgewood.


Now, according to a report the New York Times, it would appear that unassuming Ridgewood may one day evolve into a trendy “left bank” center where truly starving artists gather to exhibit their creations.


True, at this stage, Ridgewood remains the lesser to the now hip and trendier Bushwick where the Times noted: The new gallerists, most with more hope than cash, are transforming a former gritty manufacturing and warehouse neighborhood into an art scene.


But the grabber in a recent article by Jed Lipinski entitled, Next Stop, Bushwick, published in the Style Section read:


And though technically in Ridgewood, Queens, a more upscale neighborhood to the east, new spaces like Valentine are considered part of the Bushwick gallery boom. Fred Valentine, 60, a painter who was priced out of Williamsburg 14 years ago, founded his gallery last summer by cutting his studio in half and installing some track lighting and a bar.


An accompanying map put Fred’s studio on the corner of Seneca Avenue and Harmon Street in the heart of the old neighborhood, one block from where I grew up. How thrilling! I think Fred’s studio is in an old knitting mill and I hope he included the bar as a tribute to the time when it seemed that almost every corner in Ridgewood offered a saloon to ease the thirst of the local population.


So good luck Fred and your fellow pioneering artists; may culture reign supreme. But then again, if they succeed; I fear, there goes the neighborhood.

Blindsided by The Sharing Economy

If you had made mention of The Sharing Economy (TSE) to me about a month ago or asked me a question about it, I would have first tried to tune you out or, failing this approach, I would have replied with a rude remark to shut you up.


Not today, thanks to being blindsided by this very same TSE. It began innocently enough during a telephone conversation with my daughter, Beth, who just happened to mention something called Uber taxis that serve her Brooklyn neighborhood. “Dad, they are great. I contact them using an app. on my IPhone. I select an available car based on location of the car and the driver’s rating. I know almost to the minute when it will arrive, how much it will cost and I pay for my ride using the same app. It’s all in real time.”


Yes, I couldn’t help but notice that some of you raised your eyebrows when you read the word “Uber.” Well, although I cannot say this with absolute certainty, I believe Uber is not a Neo-Nazi organization.


But I digress. “Uber is a venture-funded startup and Transportation Network Company based in San Francisco, California that makes a mobile application that connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services. The company arranges pickups in dozens of cities around the world.” So says Wikipedia.


So what! I agree, but here’s the thing; Uber started on August 1, 2009 with $200,000 in seed money. The founders received another $1.25 million on October 5, 2010. After that they raised capital through several offerings so that by last year the company was valued at $3.8 billion. That’s right: 3.8 billion with “B” dollars. Blindsided in deed. If that isn’t enough, Uber is not alone. There are two embryonic competing services, Sidecar and Lyft; I kid you not.


But wait, wait, “You aint seen nothing yet.” You know what Hyatt and Wyndham are, but do you know who Airbnb is? Hint: they are in similar businesses. Hyatt and Wyndham are established mega-hotel chains whereas Airbnb (air: b-n-b) is another tech startup (circa 2009) that finds rooms here, there and everywhere in places owned by ordinary people where travelers may crash. Hyatt’s current market capitalization is $8.4 billion. Wyndham’s is $9.3 billion. Airbnb, on the other hand is at $9.6 billion and it is in advanced negotiations to increase that amount by another $400 million to a cool $10 billion! Too late, like a crazy Golden Retriever undercutting our legs, here we go again:  blindsided.


And being blindsided is awful. One moment you’re standing there safely both feet securely on the ground and the next thing you know your legs have been cut out from underneath, your ass is higher than your head and gravity is about to intervene. It hurts and you feel stupid.


The financial analyses swear that this is not the dot-com craze all over again. Of course not. This time as noted in the NY Times, Jim Ellis, a lecturer at Stanford’s business school notes: “…the companies now enjoying the limelight are a far cry from those that rose and fell during the dot-com bubble. Many start-ups now have business models that can lead to sustained revenue and profits.”


The models or plans are based on a concept called “collaborative consumption.” What could be simpler than that?


Here are a few of them:


Snapgoods – for lending or borrowing high-end household goods such as cameras, kitchenware or musical instruments.


Dogvacay – Hosts who will board your pooch while the family goes bye, bye.


Relayrides – Borrow a car from your neighbors for an hour or a day.


TaskRabbit – Hire day workers for various jobs or tasks.


Liquid – Bike rentals from neighbors. (Formerly known as Spinlister.)


Fon – Wi-fi band sharing with neighbors and friends.


Postmark and Neighborgoods – Buy and sell used clothes.
No doubt, excellent business models all. No dot-com repetitions here. This time they rely on collaborative consumption, that’s their plan.


You do know what Mike Tyson had to say about the plans boxers used to fight him? “The first time I tagged them good, their plan ended.”


That drink I wrote about before; I think it’s overdue. But watch out for crazy Golden Retrievers lying in wait intent to blindside us on the way to the saloon.