John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: November, 2014

TSA Giveth and TSA Taketh Away

If someone had asked me late last summer, “What does the code, ‘TSA PRECHK’ printed on a boarding pass mean,” I would have shrugged and said, “Does it have something to do with VIPs or frequent flyers?”


That’s about as close as I’d come to a realistic meaning. My first experience with TSA PRECHK took place on Monday, October 20 at DFW Airport when my son and I went to clear security for our flight home to LaGuardia. The first security area we approached only had a traditional x-ray machine to scan passengers. Experience had taught me to avoid these devices because my artificial hip lights up x-ray machines like a slot machine’s jackpot. It doesn’t matter if I tell the agents in advance or produce a card noting I had my hip replaced. If I go through the x-ray, I will be subjected to a body search that even under the best of circumstances is both physically and psychologically invasive.


Not knowing that the alternative devices are called “Advanced Imaging Technology,” (AIT) machines, I asked the first TSA agent I saw, “Where can I find those other machines,” demonstrating what I meant by putting my arms above my head, bending my elbows so my hands almost touch. My pantomime worked and he directed Mike and me to the gate where the AIT was located.


Upon reaching the gate, a TSA agent who checked our boarding passes noted that I was on the wrong line because I had been pre-checked. “I’m sorry; I don’t know what that means?” I asked.


“You can go through this line but he (Mike) can’t as he is not pre-checked.”


“Okay,” I replied, what does it mean?”


“You don’t have to take your shoes off, if you are wearing a light jacket or a sweater, you could keep them on and, if you had a laptop computer, you wouldn’t have to open it and turn it on.”


After we cleared security, I told Mike, “I don’t have a clue about what just happened.”


Almost two weeks later, I printed the boarding passes for my wife’s and my flight to Fort Myers (RSW) for a week’s stay on Marco Island. Both passes had the same notation, we were TSA PRECHK. More confused than ever, I Googled the TSA’s site where I discovered that precheck is designed to expedite travelers the TSA deems secure. These include folks they’ve registered, frequent flyers that participating airlines have nominated or regular passengers who sign up for this service and pass a TSA security check. None of these applied to us, but I did notice that the TSA suggests passengers could be randomly selected.


The next morning at Jet Blues’ JFK Terminal, we were directed to a special line that whisked us through to a special screening area where we didn’t have to remove our shoes and jackets and I didn’t have to turn on my laptop: “Life is good!”


Fast forward a week. I printed out the boarding passes for our return flight only to discover that Mary Ann was pre-checked and I was not. Back at RSW, a friendly TSA agent allowed me to join Mary Ann in her select status. She explained, “To join the program costs $85 for four years. What the computer is doing is randomly putting passengers on the list for one or two flights to wet their appetites to buy into it.”


On the other side of security, Mary Ann noted, “You know, John, we spend $170 on less important things. I think we should do this.”


Of course she was right, or so I thought. Back home I continued my investigation. The upside is easy, as I explained above. Downside issues: The $85 is non-refundable if we are rejected. (Okay.) We need to submit valid passports and arrange an appointment at a center to be fingerprinted. The closest center is in Hicksville, less than 10 miles from our home. (Also okay.)


But even if we pass muster and are accepted into the pre-check program, the rules stipulate that to adhere to the TSA’s rigid code that no group shall be profiled because of this and that, on occasion, when we check in, we will be randomly removed from precheck status and forced to endure ordinary security clearance. W.T.F!


A policy like this only makes sense if you take on the mind set of a government bureaucrat and replace common sense with a warped vision of absolute political correctness. Insanity personified.


I’m not saying I won’t apply, but the thought occurs that after publishing this essay, just exactly what TSA list I will wind up on?



Das Neighborhood es Kaput

The invasion that the citizens of Ridgewood, Queens had been dreading for over 60 years has finally come to pass albeit not the one they expected. So Ben Detrick reported in the NY Times on November 5, 2014:


The trajectory is familiar, and the players have slid into familiar position: broke millennials, underemployed artists, craven property speculators, fearful natives and first-time homeowners priced out of other markets.


“When I first moved there, I never saw people that were my age,” said Caitlin White, 26, an editor of MTV News who moved to Ridgewood last year from Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Creative people love to be the ones that explore new territory.”


This was not what was supposed to be Ridgewood’s fate. White flight had long been predicted to be its doom. The neighborhood was patterned to follow the same exodus as those from Bed-Sty, Williamsburg and Bushwick to Nassau County particularly, Levittown and Suffolk County, towns like Smithtown and Commack.


For whatever reasons, probably the town’s continued ability to provide affordable housing coupled with somewhat convenient public transportation to Manhattan, the wave of white flight stopped at the Bushwick – Ridgewood borderline. Instead of white flight, many of the older German and Italian residents remained in their homes and apartments allowing Ridgewood’s demographics to gradually diversify and remain a vibrant blue collar community.


The neighborhood ducked that bullet but the fires of the 1970s brought a new crisis. Not only was The Bronx burning; so was Bed-Sty and Bushwick. And Bushwick burned badly. Ridgewood historically shared the same postal codes with Bushwick, 27 and 37 that became zip codes, 11227 and 11237. For whatever reason the USPS never chose to assign Ridgewood a Queens code. With the wave of arson came red-lining where insurance companies would not cover the peril of fire in the affected postal codes and Ridgewood landlords suffered. Finally, in 1979, the community was assigned a Queens zip code, 11385.


Be careful what you wish for. The myth of a Brooklyn Ridgewood ceased to exist, but the hipsters and their ilk are mortified to be moving into un-trendy Queens. Fine, Astoria works, but that’s because it’s off on its own. So too Long Island City. But Ridgewood, God forbid. It’s merely a geographic extension of Bushwick. These invaders despise having crossed this line and have floated alternative monikers like, “Quooklyn” and “Ridgewick” both of which reek of the lack of manners and sense of history by these barbarians.


Still, the rabble seems unstoppable. Mr. Detrick noted: “Cafes with vegan muffins, yoga studios and destination pizzerias have (naturally) sprouted. Bars with names like Milo’s Yard and Bierleichen are slated to open. Guitar cases, tote bags and shearling coats are increasingly frequent accessories on pedestrians.”


It gets worse; “…a hipster crowd in a warehouse on Decatur Street, a crowd that included Bruce Willis’ daughter, Scout.” “A performance in front of a crowd of 20-somethings with stonewashed jeans and cans of Genesee beer.” Worse yet: “the younger crowd in the bar up front (at Gottscheer Hall), where artsy types in their 20s and 30s, wearing hoodies and black-frame glasses, huddled over mugs of Spaten.”


Gottscheer Hall where rumor has it that they continued to celebrate You Know Who’s birthday! Alles verloren, all is lost!


But Mr. Detrick’s most telling point came in the following observation: “Crystal River Williams, a co-founder of  Norma’s, a café on Catalpa Avenue that serves baked goods and bread pudding to freelancers on Mac Books, chess-playing Europeans and customers from the Muslim barber next door…compared Ridgewood to Park Slope, ‘a sleepy Brooklyn neighborhood of families and baby strollers.”


Das neighborhood es kaput!


Paradise Re-opens

John Clancy worked as a waiter at both the Rainbow Room and the Rainbow Grill during the 1960s. Here is how I composed a few of his memories of the time when he served those two grand slices of paradise when the Rainbow Room and Grill still represented the elite in New York dining and entertainment. From his memoir, “Never Say: I Can’t:”


It was called the Rainbow Room because it had a circular floor that slowly revolved around as an organ played and all of the lights in the ceiling would change colors just like a rainbow.


The grill was a nightclub starring performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Bassie, Flip Wilson, Liberace and many others. It was not uncommon to have more than one of these stars perform on the same night.


When Richard Harris starred in Camelot, he did a performance for guests that included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden. Even Burton’s first wife, Sybil, was at the performance. That night, I couldn’t believe Harris put his cigarette out in a saucer on Princess Margaret’s table.


The Rainbow Room and Grill closed in 2009, victims of the failed economy and irreconcilable differences between Tishman Speyer, the owner, and the Cipriani Family, the operator. In this 2014 guise, the Rainbow Room will be able to seat 300 mostly for private parties but, as The New York Times reported: “…it will be open to the public on Monday evenings and most holidays when there will be live music and entertainment. It will serve an elaborate, globally inspired Sunday brunch buffet.”


Not to be outdone, The Wall Street Journal noted: “The original chandeliers and sconces remain…The mechanics of the revolving dance floor 30 feet in diameter have been upgraded as has the sound system.” And “The blinds on the 15-foot windows…were removed to make way for three-stranded crystal curtains, each featuring 1,200 crystals.”


The three-course dinner is prix fixed with nine appetizer choices that includes Maine diver scallops baked in its shell, oysters Rockefeller and hot and cold Hudson Valley foie gras. There are ten entrees such as Dover sole, Maine lobster pot pie with black truffle and beef Wellington. Desserts include baked Alaska.


The Rainbow Room was never the destination for a “cheap date,” this new prix fixed dinner starts at $175 per person that will vary based on entertainment. Needless to say, it doesn’t include alcohol, tax or gratuity. Neither does Sunday brunch which costs $95.


The New York Post gave the brunch mixed reviews. On the positive side they note, “…It’s already worth $95 a head not including liquor. (…at the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley, Sunday brunch is $98 and the view is not of tower tops, but luggage stacked on the lobby floor.)” They liked “…well-turned out breakfast favorites” pot pies. beef ribs, chicken and the raw bar, but pass on the apple cider donuts, sushi, popovers and preheated dessert crepes.


The Rainbow Grill has been reincarnated as the Sixty-Five Club, named after its location on the 65th Floor of 30 Rockefeller Center… “with a silvery, faceted Gehry-like ceiling and a wraparound outdoor terrace, and the Gallery, a bar just outside the Rainbow Room.” Sixty-Five will be open nights from 5 until midnight offering views up to 30 miles to the north, west and south.


This divine cocktail lounge and bar will offer two drink menus, the classics and contemporary drinks. Classics include the 1915 Gin & Tonic featuring Dorothy Parker Gin ($22), Negroni ($26) and a Manhattan with Wild Turkey 101 Rye ($25). Contemporary cocktails include a Gotham mule with apple infused vodka and ginger beer. Wine by the glass ranges from $15 for a 2013 Pinot Gris rose to $32 for Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne NV.


One critic dubbed the dinner menu as having been designed for “Old School Millionaires.” I hope to report later when the food critics report their verdicts. Meanwhile, we can only hope that those lucky enough to re-gain this paradise never have the misfortune to suffer a similar fate as the one John Clancy described to me:


Then there was the blackout of 1965 when all the lights in Manhattan went out. We had a full house and since we were on the 65th Floor of the RCA Building, everybody had to stay there all night. They had to sleep on chairs and the next morning, many who were scheduled to leave on a cruise had to watch helplessly as the ship left Pier-95 at Fifty-Seventh Street without them.              

Thank You Alan Eustace

Though I am a serial newspaper reader, even I was overwhelmed by the hate, violence and fear that appeared in the Saturday, October 25, 2014 editions of my New York newspapers.


Witness: Cuomo and Christie Order Strict Ebola Quarantines,


Ottawa Gunman’s Radicalism Deepened as Life Crumbled


2 Offices Killed in Rampage (in Sacramento)


Korean Nuclear Advance (probably fit small weapon atop a missile)


Tears After School Shooting (in Marysville, Wash. three dead – three wounded)


Egyptian Soldiers Attacked (31 killed by insurgents in the Sinai)


Attacker With Hatchet Called Self-Radicalized (attacks two NYPD  – one



And those are just some of the headlines. It was enough to make me pick up every section of all the newspapers and fling them into the recycle bin while screaming, no mas, no mas. But as I was imploding I turned the page of the New York Times to the National News Section and my eyes fell on a color photograph of a man suspended by a hookup connected to his back from the bottom of a balloon filled with 35,000 cubic feet of helium. The headline read: Parachutist’s Record Fall: Over 25 Miles In 15 Minutes.


That man is Alan Eustace, 57, an engineer and a senior vice president at Google. The photograph showed him during his two-hour ascent to an altitude of 135,908 feet where he started his descent breaking the world altitude record of 128,100 feet set by Felix Baumgartner on October 14, 2012.


But Mr. Eustace made his ascent “without the aid of the sophisticated capsule used by Mr. Baumgartner or millions of dollars in sponsorship money.” Eustace instead, gathered together a technical team with the brilliance to design his “spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system.” They had to solve many hurdles in life support systems, parachute and balloon technology to pull off this extraordinary feat. He had to breathe pure oxygen, his suit did not have a cooling system, so elaborate modifications were made to keep dry air in his helmet so the visor didn’t fog up. The entire event was recorded using a GoPro camera mounted to his helmet.


The ascent began from an abandoned airfield in Roswell, N.M. and it took a little over two hours for Eustace to reach the desired altitude. There, he set off a small explosive device which released him from the balloon beginning his return to earth where he reached a peak speed of 822 miles per hour, breaking the sound barrier and causing a small sonic boom.


“His technical team had designed a carbon-fiber attachment that kept him from becoming entangled in the main parachute before it opened. About four and-a-half minutes into his flight, he opened the main parachute and glided to a landing 70 miles from the launch site.”


“It was amazing,” he said. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere which I had never seen before.”


Thank you, Alan Eustace, for doing this without corporate or government sponsorship. Thank you, Alan, for demonstrating what we are capable of accomplishing.

Thank you for casting a warm bright light where there was darkness.


Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


From: High Flight

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.