John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: October, 2014

Fort Worth, TX: October, 2014

…And aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?


Let’s get the bad news out of the way before cutting to the chase; the Dallas Cowboys won the game on Sunday, October 19, defeating the Football Giants 31 to 21.


My son, Mike, joined me for our annual Giants road game this time to visit America’s team in AT&T Stadium, (a.k.a. Cowboy Stadium and a.k.a. Jerry’s World) in Arlington, Texas. We were part of a crew of a hundred faithful traveling with the Giants Road Crew travel service. We chose their venue because they were staying in Fort Worth and not Dallas. Arlington is closer to Fort Worth and I’ve stayed many times in Big D, but never before in Cowtown.


Our first priority on arrival at the Fort Worth Hilton early Friday afternoon was to secure libations, beer for Mike and vodka for me. Beer, we discovered, was less of a challenge to find, but the Hilton’s “Journey Ambassdor” (sic) Mike Goldberg, a.k.a. Papa Mike, explained that Fort Worth was a dry town when it came to retail sales of spirits.


Papa Mike looked like an unmade bed and we learned that his advice was not always the best. After some jabbering, he managed to get us directions to a package store with the disturbing name of “Liquor-rama.”  Located in a wet town several miles east of the hotel, we found it located in a seedy strip mall also featuring a pawn shop and a bail bondsman. The 1.75 liter bottle of Russian Standard Vodka turned out to be the most expensive bottle I ever bought. No, they didn’t rip me off. Nope, they only charged $26 for the vodka, it was the $35 round-trip cab ride that broke the bank.


We had a great dinner at the original Del Frisco’s that night and an early bedtime partially due to not having pay-per-view movies in the room. No porno in Cowtown!

Saturday morning, I discovered something curious about the hotel that reflected the pride that this city holds and openly presents about events related to the day JFK was assassinated. Here is how a Hilton brochure described it:


Opened in 1921, the Hilton Forth Worth is the former Hotel Texas where President John F. Kennedy and the First Lady stayed on November 21, 1963.The next morning, after a speech in the Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, the President’s motorcade departed, taking with it the final moments of a more innocent America.


Located directly across from the main entrance of the historic Hilton Forth Worth you will find the all-new JFK Tribute Park. Opened in the fall of 2012, the park recaptures the energy and vision brought to Fort Worth 50 years ago during John F. Kennedy’s visit to our city. The tribute park provides visitors with an interactive experience, highlighted by a 9’ bronze statue (of the president.)


I understand their intentions, but, having lived through that day, it remains a shock to my system.


We spent Saturday morning walking through parts of this compact city where we encountered a fair number of Texas Christian and Oklahoma State football fans on their way to the game wearing purple (TCU) or orange (OSU) gear with banners and flags flying, horns blaring accompanying their joyous cheers. The TCU Horn Toads’ prevailed 42-9 over the OSU Cowboy faithful.


Then on to the Stockyards, the old cattle holding and shipping area now a grand tourist mecca of shops, bars and restaurants featuring rodeos, a tourist railroad, entertainment and gunfights. We attended the daily “stampede” featuring cowboys on horseback escorting a small herd of Longhorn steers as they moseyed down the main drag in slow motion. The day’s highlight happened when a diminutive woman from Connecticut gleefully found my son. Maurya Keating was an old friend from the Nutmeg State and she spotted Mike crossing a street. We continued the reunion at the White Elephant Saloon with her Dallas friends.


Mike and I were amazed at the number of folks who wished us luck after seeing Giants logos on our shirts. Some were transplanted from the Northeast, but others were Fort Worth inhabitants who just hated Dallas. It seems the Dallasens look down on the Fort Worthians in the same manner that NYC’s East Siders treat Staten Islanders, like dirt.


Billy Bob’s was crazy, huge with 10 or so bars, performers on stage, endless HD TVs and the mechanical bull (which we avoided.) And the crowd: Texas gals with big hair, big boobs covered by sequined cowgirl shirts, tight jeans with big buckles and high-heeled boots escorted by slim guys sporting authentic cowboy hats, mustaches, checkered shirts, jeans, big buckles and boots; each looking like a Texas Ranger: One riot, one Ranger!


My son came up with two extra tickets to the game so we invited his two cousins, Bill and Tom, displaced New Yorkers who remain true to Big Blue. Rose did another fabulous job with the location of our stadium tailgate, the food and drink.


AT&T Stadium is the best venue on earth for American football and Jerry Jones has enlisted Texas size entertainment. Cops on motorcycles, babes on horses, an American flag shaped like the continental USA, a half-time led with bagpipes  and featuring every type of uniformed peace officer in Texas, and, of course, the Dallas Cheerleaders.


Two of us sat in Row 7 of the 100 seat level, just above the playing field behind the end zone.  Several times during breaks, these lovelies performed their routine on an elevated platform stretching from sideline to sideline. The view during breaks was spectacular.


How bout dem Cowboys!                              

Hell of a Way to Run a RR, Brownie

Railroads for 20 points: The most traveled stretch of passenger railroads in America:


What is Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor?


Correct, for 30 points: The most densely trafficked part of the Northeast Corridor:


What is New York’s Penn Station?


Correct and finally: The least funded, least cared for and most neglected transportation operator in the US of A.


What is Amtrak?




West of Manhattan across the Hudson River, twin, hundred-year-old tunnel portals mark the point where Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains transition to and from daylight. Just beyond the Jersey swamps (a.k.a. Meadowlands) these tunnels flow under the Hudson River and into Pennsylvania Station. These tunnels are very sick. They are obsolete and overworked trafficked by more trains daily than the builders could have envisioned. As if that wasn’t enough, super storm Sandy’s aftermath is coming due creating high-anxiety for the engineers responsible for the safe movement of passengers and crews.


When Sandy hit New York City, it flooded the West Side causing the Hudson to cascade into the tracks leading to Penn Station. Those engineers faced a Hobson’s choice, let Penn Station flood causing an irreparable catastrophe, or open the flood gates into the tubes flooding them but sparing the station. Wisely, they sacrificed the tubes.


Massive pumps drained these tubes and in a few days, trains began to run again. One month shy of the second anniversary of this massive storm, Amtrak issued a report that the inundation by salt water has had a continuing and lasting effect on the inner workings of the tubes, roadbeds, tracks, signals, and even the very concrete linings. They are failing and the only alternative will be to close the tubes, gut them, re-waterproof, re-line with new concrete and install entire new roadbeds, tracks and electrical equipment. To do this work would mean closing each tube for at least a year.


Amtrak says insurance will pay for this to the tune of $350 million more or less. As a retired insurance broker, I caution, “Don’t bet the ranch on it.”


It gets worse. The New York Times reports: “But shutting one of the two tracks in the tunnel under the Hudson River would cut service by about 75 percent because trains headed into New York would have to share the remaining track with trains headed west from the city…an unacceptable effect on travel in the metropolitan area.”


Amtrak’s solution, delay this apocalypse until a new tunnel can be laid under the Hudson River. Why this grand idea already has a name, “the Gateway project.”  Anthony R. Coscia, Amtrak’s chairman told reporters: “…having the added capacity would make the shutdown more tolerable for the tens of thousands of commuters who pass through the Hudson tunnels each weekday.”


Isn’t that just swell? To the nearest billion dollars, name the amount funded for the Gateway Project? The correct answer: Zero point Zero!


That’s not all; two of the four tubes under the East River suffered the same kind of lasting damage from Sandy as their Hudson River cousins. Estimated cost to rectify, another $350 million, but at least three tubes would remain open while one was closed at a time. Back in New Jersey, just northeast of the town of Harrison, stands a two-track 100 plus year-old swing bridge called the Portal Bridge that is also in bad shape. Each time it is opened to permit the passage of marine traffic, it’s a crapshoot whether it aligns properly when it is closed. Same story…billions are needed to replace it but not one penny has been set aside to fund it.


Sad, isn’t it:


Once I built a railroad,

made it run,

made it run against time.


Once I built a railroad,

Now it’s done.

Buddy can you spare a dime.


Around the World at 80 Proof

Part 3: Kula Lumpur, Paris and Home


Our early Saturday morning flight to Kula Lumpur on a Philippines Airlines 727 was uneventful as was checking into the KL Hilton. We waited in the lounge to be delivered into the dubious care of Champagne Tony D, Paul’s successor as station chief in KL. Tony was another professional Brit ex-pat who had previously spent time in Hong Kong and Seoul, South Korea. But, unlike Paul who maintained his colonial aloofness and distanced local culture, Tony prided himself on his assimilation. In addition, he was certifiably insane. Paul never drove totally depending on Manu, his chauffer and favorite whipping boy. (Little did Paul realize that Manu, a wise Indian national, kept track of all of his hours including waiting time, which he faithfully submitted to the company. Over time, this made him one of the best paid employees in our KL office. Not only that, Manu used all of that time waiting for Paul to study local real estate where he made several killings.)


Manu’s earnings declined appreciably under Tony who used him sparingly preferring to chauffer himself most of the time. He fetched us from the hotel Sunday morning for a tour of the countryside, sacred caves, the jungle and scenic overlooks. Our tour included an impromptu stop at a roadside stand to sample a vendor’s coconut juice. Tony picked a dirty stand on a dirty road where he eagerly selected a coconut. The local vendor retrieved his machete from the mud, rubbed it with a dirty rag sliced and chopped a hole into the top of the nut. He extracted three opaque colored glasses that he swished with water that failed to alter their suitability. Tony did the honors and poured the juice. Then he offered a toast “cheers” and downed his share. Alan returned his glass to the stand while I poured mine onto the ground. Unabashed, Tony beckoned us back to his car and continued to drive around like a mad man.


We did have dinner at his home and his wife, Jan, a lovely lady who served an excellent meal. Anchor, the local beer, wasn’t bad either. Tony led the conversation telling us the glories of his previous posting in Korea. At one point he asked Alan, “Have you ever been to Korea?”


“No, no, the closest I got was Japan.”


Blithely ignorant that this happened in 1952, Tony continued: “Oh, dear Alan, what a shame. You really should have pressed on to Korea.”


Alan shook his head, “Tony, I don’t think so, when I was in Japan, people were doing their best to kill each other in Korea.”


We spent three days at morning meetings, lunches, afternoon meetings and dinners, a schedule not unusual for road shows back then. The lowlight was a presentation that Alan was asked to make to some association of junior insurance people on the subject of marine claims. Not an uplifting topic to begin with, the presentation was scheduled for after lunch on a hot afternoon in a room that was better suited for a three lane bowling alley. Alan’s audience was a sea of young Chinese and Malaysian guys and gals all dressed in white tops and dark pants or skirts. The awful audio quality in the room was compounded by Alan’s low gravely voice. The result was a disaster that couldn’t end quickly enough. Thankfully, there weren’t any questions.


Other than that we broke even and got out of KL without further incident. We flew first class on an MAS, (Malaysian Air Systems), 747 that left KL at 11 PM. We both slept most of the way to a scheduled stop in Dubai and I didn’t even leave the aircraft to wander the terminal during our layover. The trip from there to Paris was livelier and I realized that the Malaysian air hostesses were playing a game to see how much we could drink. Alan was drinking Scotch and water and his drinks turned progressively darker and darker as the flight progressed. I was drinking vodka so there wasn’t much they could do to me that I couldn’t detect.


We did have a scary moment over the Alps shortly after it became light. Sitting by the window, I first saw a dot straight out from our flight. As it grew, I recognized it to be an aircraft flying perpendicular toward us. It seemed to be at the same altitude and I quickly said, “Alan, look, this is going to be close.” With that, the jet was above us and gone. But I can report, I was able to tell it was a Swiss Air DC-10, Registration Number SW 22941, the pilot had blue eyes and his name tag was Hans Serbil!


When we arrived in Paris later that morning, the giggling stewardesses looked at us in awe and said, “You two can really drink!”


A cold, wet day greeted us on our arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Neither Alan nor I had ever been to the City of Lights before and the only reason we stopped there was to break the journey. This concept had seemed like a good idea when I was putting the trip together; to have a rest stop along the way, but reality demonstrated that such breaks just provided additional opportunities to get in trouble…and so it goes.


After recovering our grips, we made our way to a taxi stand where I showed the dispatcher the name of our hotel together with an appropriate tip. Even so I was surprised by his efficiency in procuring the taxi for us and dispatching the driver to our destination, Hotel George V. Being rookie travelers, neither of us had a clue that we were booked into one of the finest Paris hotels.  We arrived too early to check into our rooms so we dropped off our bags and made our way onto Parisian streets.  We walked along the Seine, to the Isle de la Cite peaked into Notre Dame de Paris and enjoyed a light lunch at a local bistro before returning to George V where we both enjoyed marvelous naps before readying ourselves for an early dinner and a night to sample the touristy things first-time visitors do in Paris.


We picked one of those restaurants that caters to unsophisticated diners by using menus with photographs of the food. For all I know the bouef et pomme frites I ordered may have been horse meat. Ordering a drink was easier. I looked at an ad posted on the wall, raised my hand to my mouth imitating a drinking motion and said, “Becks.”


Our first stop was the Moulin Rouge for their early show then on to Le Crazy Horse Saloon for their cabaret performance. Good clean touristy fun, we were home before midnight, had one or two at the bar for the ditch then off to bed. One last 747 the next day, an uneventful and, needless to say, a quiet flight home to JFK on TWA.


I don’t exactly recall how long it took to recover but it countered the old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I can now add, “Not always.”








Round the World at 80 Proof

Part Two: Manila

Manila was insane. Traffic was a chaotic choreography that, before it was politically incorrect, we’d refer to as a “Chinese fire drill!” Local jitneys, called Jeepneys, ruled the roads traversing vague routes that locals understood, but were indecipherable to rookies like us. We arrived Thursday morning for a stay of two days and nights. The Hilton was our base and Paul C, our station chief in Manila was our guide. I first met Paul when he ran the office in KL. A middle-aged Brit professional ex-pat, Paul enjoyed the good life mostly operating out of the Anglo-American-European restricted men’s clubs.

Paul had his driver pick us up at the hotel later that morning and take us directly to his shirt maker who outfitted us in Barong Tagalong shirts. Made of light-weight, local fibers, they are accepted as proper business dress designed to be worn outside over a tee shirt without a jacket or tie to deal with the tropical heat. Then we were off on a tour of clubs, lunch and a short visit to his office so he could show it off and make note that this was an official visit. Cocktails at one of Paul’s favorite clubs proceeded a relatively early dinner allowing Alan and I to crawl back to the Hilton for a decent night’s sleep.

Friday was more of the same. Prior to the trip, I had hoped to visit the battlefields on Bataan and Corregidor, but reality proved both to be too far away from the city for a day trip. Paul did introduce us to a couple of his clients, but we met more of his ex-pat buddies than we did clients that day.

Paul hosted cocktails in his personal regal digs, then it was off to dinner followed by more clubs until we ultimately found ourselves back at the Hilton in the early morning hours. I recall a worker waxing the floors when we arrived. “Alan,” I said, “We’re screwed if we go to bed. Our flight to KL is at seven and it’s almost three. Let’s go up, pack and come back down. We’ll grab some shut eye at the airport.”

By 4 AM, we were checked out and on our way to the airport. Manila, without Jeepneys  allowed us to reach the airport in record time. We quickly settled in at the departure lounge for what we hoped would be quiet time.

Unbelievably, we found an open bar where I ordered us Bloody Marys. Alan and I were quietly resting on a faux-leather sofa nursing our drinks when, next we knew, there came this clatter of hoofs roaring down a near-by stairs like an imitation of Fred Astaire dancing his way to Ginger Rodgers. We watched the chap responsible for this commotion dance by and greeted him with what I considered an appropriate greeting of, “F— you!”

My obscenity didn’t stop him; it only redirected him toward us. He saw our drinks, went to the bar, grabbed a Bloody Mary, headed back to us, sat down, let us know he was an Aussie and, unimpeded, proceeded to tell us his story:

“Mates, let me tell you about the week I just had. I came up here on what I expected to be a hell of a trip. I was so anxious that I set aside the entire week to resolve the problems I’d encounter. But unbelievably, I pulled off the deal before lunch time on the morning of the first day!

“I couldn’t believe this miracle so after a celebratory lunch, I returned to my hotel where I had myself pampered that afternoon in their spa. I had a light dinner then headed to an upscale club to celebrate before checking out and heading home the next day. Ah, but I fell into the company of a beautiful American woman who took me back to her place and proceeded to f— my brains out!

“The next morning she insisted that I check out of my hotel and move in with her for the remainder of my stay. Not only was she a thoroughbred in bed, she was socially well connected. She took me to the race track, cocaine parties at her clubs, top shelf dining, dancing and drinking.”

Then he stopped, took a sip of his drink, shook his head and said, “It was the most incredible week of my life.”

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“Why to KL,” he replied, “I’m meeting my wife and kids. We’re going to a Club Med for holiday. Well, good day mates, I’m off.”

With that, he disappeared into the terminal. The two of us sat there absorbing this encounter. “Alan,” I asked, “Do you realize what just happened here?”

Alan shook his head. “Alan, we were that bastard’s window of opportunity. We are two innocent bystanders to whom he could brag before he met his wife. Otherwise, he’d never be certain if what happened was real. Now he can relive it and know it was real.”

Round the World at 80 Proof

Part One: Journey To the Far East


Alan and I sent the first post card to his boss, Doug Adams, during our layover at O’Hare International Airport. The front had a skyline shot of Chicago and on the back I printed:


Hi Doug,

This place is nice and the girls are great.

John & Al.


This would be the identical message I’d put on post cards that we’d mail to him from Tokyo, Manila, Kula Lumpur and Paris.


We planned this trip in the late winter of 1983 to visit an oil company client in Malaysia. The outbound flight was the brain child of my buddy, Mike Scott, who discovered an ad in the Wall Street Journal for a special fare for first class travel on Northwest Airlines on their route between New York and Manila. “Hopie,” (then my nickname at work,) “look at this crazy cheap price for your trip to K.L.” (Kula Lumpur, Malaysia.)


Mike was right; Northwest’s price for a first class ticket to the Far East was less than business class on all other airlines. Better yet, it also put us in first class for all of the other legs of our journey: Manila to KL, KL to Paris and Paris to JFK. The bad news I discovered the flight was via Dulles in DC, O’Hare and Tokyo’s Narita Airport; a total flying time of 23 hours!


Somehow, I convinced Alan that this could be a blast and being 39, I considered myself young enough and eager enough to believe it would be fun. The 747 left JFK about 9 AM and the first two legs to DC and Chicago were uneventful. Our accommodations were in the upper cabin where we found nine of the largest and most luxurious seats we had flown in arranged three across in three rows. We were seated in Row 1, Seats A and B. Our defacto private nine-passenger cabin remained exclusively ours during these first two legs. I cannot describe what the seating was like in the rest of this jet as I never ventured below except to deplane during layovers. Service was attentive, Bloody Marys, etc. before take-off and in flight; though the flight attendant let us know that her crew was deplaning in Chicago. We did notice one thing on the airplane that seemed unusual. On the bulkhead in front of our seats were three metal stanchions arranged like the letter “L”. Neither one of us could imagine what purpose they served.


A few other travelers joined us at O’Hare but several seats remained vacant. The purpose of those mysterious stanchions became apparent once we reached cruising altitude out of Chicago and in-flight service began. A flight attendant climbed the spiral staircase from the main cabin carrying pieces of metal and fiberglass and went to work. She fitted a “u” shaped metal leg into the two stanchions one on top of the other and the bottom and a straight metal leg into the third. Then she placed a fiberglass table onto the top of the u brace and placed the top of the other leg on an angle into the bottom of the table. By Jove, she had built a bar and then this angel proceeded to stock it with spirits, wine, ice and mixers. She had our complete and undivided attention. Satisfied with her effort, this extraordinary woman turned around and addressed her charges: “Tell me what you are drinking gents. I’ll make you each your first drink but from then on it is strictly self-service.


I wanted to ask her if this was heaven but I was afraid she’d reply, “No, but we’re flying over Iowa.” Compounding this experience of being a kid in a candy store, the fourteen-hour flight to Japan had left O’Hare about 11 AM so we’d be traveling during the day most of the flight meaning sleep wasn’t an option. Add to that the excitement of making this trip and I was still running on adrenaline when we deplaned in Narita 14 hours later for the layover.


I recall that the first class lounge was outside the main terminal meaning Northwest had to issue us “shore passes” allowing us to clear Customs and Immigration. Not much to report about the stay. We bought the post card and a stamp and found a mail box to post it. But I do recall teaching a group of Japanese businessmen a mathematical card trick that my colleague, Lisa had taught me. Called, “The Sundance Kid” using a prepared deck, I dealt four fellows and Alan each a hand. When they turned over their cards, each of them had a full house. But, I had also dealt a straight flush to myself. They were astounded.


I “crashed” as soon as I re-boarded the 747 and slept for the full six-hour flight to Manila.


Baggage claim in Manila, I think Alan tried to tell me about things that happened on the flight from Tokyo, but I explained I missed all of it. In 1983, the suitcase of choice for people flying into Manila was the corrugated box and I do not believe I had seen that much cardboard since I quit being a cargo surveyor. I deemed cardboard boxes to be the national luggage of the Philippines!