John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: February, 2016

Trolley Dodgers

One of New York’s worst kept secrets is that the governor of the Empire State and the mayor of the Big Apple despise each other. They do whatever they believe necessary to go one up on the other or undercut each other whenever opportunities present themselves. In theory, these two liberal Democrats, Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio, should be simpatico; cooperating for the greater good, but ambition, past slights, condescension, arrogance and just plain nastiness are the rules of their game. They have been reduced to two egos jousting in an endless gotcha contest.


They clash over policies, projects, funding and just about anything they can think of. Cuomo fancies himself as a Twenty-First Century, Robert Moses, proposing grand projects like a new LaGuardia Airport that includes a monorail to nowhere and a rebuilt Penn Station that would be nothing more than shining s***. Regardless, Andy Boy just loves to step on Comrade Mayor DeBlasio’s toes with these grand illusions that he proposes inside the city limits.


Comrade Mayor DeBlasio has had a few victories in these skirmishes including blindsiding the gov into making pre-school funding available across the state. As they joust, they may fantasize that they reflect Moses, the master builder, but they are actually more akin to Bernie Sanders. Moses knew how to fund projects in advance whereas the Gov and Hizzoner advocate free stuff since neither provides concrete funding for their dream works.


Hizzoner’s latest scheme is to add a sleek cross-Queens/Brooklyn trolley line to whisk passengers 17 miles from Astoria to Sunset Park at a thrilling speed of 12 miles-per-hour. So far, Andy hasn’t chimed in on this proposal, perhaps because our comrade mayor may have made an end run circumventing the Gov’s authority?


Did you know, Bob and Ray, that all rail and bus transit and transportation in and around New York City operates under the mantle of the state controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)! Despite this mandate, Dan Janison recently reported in Newsday: “The city would build this so-called BQX streetcar line independent of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s MTA. That might sidestep the current alienation between the mayor and governor.”


Okay, Hizzoner predicts the proposed trolley line will cost $2.5 billion. That estimate may be illusionary if reports are correct that the right-of-way will require two new draw-bridges to span Newtown Creek and the Gowanas Canal. The final figure must also include the sixty trolley cars needed for the line, the car barns* (where the trolleys will be stored, maintained and repaired) and money to fund operational costs. It is safe to say that the MTA will treat the BQX worse than a rented mule or more like the way The Donald predicts he will treat undocumented workers. Even simple items will be complicated. BQX employees will be separate from all other transit employees and the city will end up fighting its own MTA for federal dollars to repair and replace equipment and infrastructure. (Suggestion: Check out the popular definition of insanity.)


So how does Comrade Mayor DeBlasio plan to pay for this grand plan? The New York Times reported the following, “Administration officials believe the system’s cost can be offset by tax revenue siphoned from expected rise in property values along the route.”


The key words in that statement are siphoned and expected. If revenue is expected, that means that you’ve already anticipated that it will be there and that siphoning it infers that you are diverting it from an already intended use.


Neat, indeed! Something like: “If you build it, it will be okay because all will be good.” I wonder just who the administration officials plan to screw by siphoning away their intended funds?  Welcome to Fun City as Dick Shaap once put it.


The good news Andy is already in his second term as governor and even if comrade mayor is re-elected, he will be out of office by 2021. Both will be long gone before 2024 when the BQX is scheduled to be up and running which, if consistent with other NYC transit projects, should be more like 2030.


  • I’m sure there is modern alternative to “car barn” but I just like the way it sounds.


On The Outside Looking In, will be off next week and will resume on March 9th.

Uncle Sam’s Nuke Target List

The New York Times recently published a piece about an 800-page US Air Force document once labeled “Top Secret” that assigned identification numbers to various targets in Communist controlled countries. Titled, “SAC (Strategic Air Command) American Weapons Requirement Study, 1959,” it listed specific targets for SAC’s B-47 medium bombers and B-52 heavy bombers. The study was conceived in 1956 before effective intermediate and intercontinental missiles were available, when both nations nuclear strike forces were totally composed of long-range manned bombers.


Even though the SAC list is semi-public, it remains shrouded in double-speak. We do know our top priority for destruction was Soviet airpower to minimize retaliatory abilities. The next priority included government and military control centers. After that, we’d hit essential industries, transportation and communications. Major cities were prime targets as many of these facilities and operations were located in places like Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow and Leningrad. A very serious subject indeed!


Still, when I read this piece, I immediately thought of two things, the classic black humor movie, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and a parody of the New York Post featuring a front page headline that commanded:




Michael Jackson


90 Million Others



This parody of the Post was one of several done by a group of creative chaps during a lengthy New York newspaper strike in the 1980s. My personal favorite part of this parody was a side-line story on the second page that went something like this:


City Nuked 2nd Time

During yesterday’s nuclear

War, the air force admitted

they bombed Nagasaki for

the second time.

When reached for comment,

red faced Pentagon officials

admitted, “It was a mistake,

we forgot to take it off our

target list.”



Doctor Strangelove starred Peter Sellers in three roles, President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove and RAF Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake. Mandrake was special assistant to Brig. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who unleashed a wing of B-52s against the Soviet Union. George C. Scott played Ripper’s boss, General Buck Turdgison, Air Force Chief of Staff, loosely based on the real General Curtis Lemay. Slim Pickens had a significant role as Major T.J. (King) Kong, the Texan aircraft commander who met his demise as he rode a descending hydrogen bomb while swinging his ten gallon hat rodeo style. Keenan Wynn, played an army major named Bat Guano.  Unseen was the drunken Russian Premier with the delightful name of, Dimitri Kissov, who Preident Muffley was forced to calm and charm as the US bombers entered Soviet airspace.


The movie opened with an aerial re-fueling scene between a B-52 and a KC-135 tanker while the song, Try A Little Tenderness, plays in the back ground and ended with a parade of nuclear bombs detonating to the refrain of the old English music hall tune of, We’ll Meet Again Don’t Know Where Don’t Know When.


Stanley Kubrick produced this 1964 dark comedy with many great lines. The best is the last words spoken in the movie. They belong to the crippled, quasi ex- Nazi genius, and President Muffley’s chief advisor, Dr. Stangelove (think of a mad Henry Kissinger.) As the movie nears its end the doctor stops referring to Muffley as, “my president” in favor of, “mine fuehrer” and in a fit of excitement rises up out of his wheelchair, takes a step and shouts, “Mine fuehrer, I can walk!”


My father was a navigator / bombardier in B-47s. This aircraft was the air force’s first all-jet bomber and as he and the B-47 aged, SAC didn’t want to train him for new aircraft. He became somewhat of a vagabond moving from Homestead Air Force Base (AFB) just south of Miami in 1960 to March AFB in Riverside, CA until 1963 and finally to Pease AFB, Portsmouth, NH before he retired in 1966.


He noted to me over drinks one night that if the real thing happened, it would be a one way trip. It didn’t bother him though. If orders came, that is what he was trained to do. However, he did take a particular delight in the way his job was portrayed by a young James Earl Jones who played the navigator in Dr. Strangelove.


Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower

Late last year, I found myself driving home from Sunset Park, Brooklyn on a mild Sunday afternoon. The unseasonable weather stirred local residents of Bay Ridge to abandon TV images of NFL football games in favor of enjoying an afternoon of walking, jogging, bicycling or just relaxing on a park’s promenade overlooking Gravesend Bay. Driving on the Belt Parkway, on the opposite side of this park, I took in the scene then caught sight of the old Parachute Jump in the distance towering over Coney Island. I began to think about this now decommissioned landmark as the Belt Parkway steered me closer to this distinctive tower.



The Parachute Jump was designed to be the centerpiece for the amusement area at the 1939-1940 New York’s World Fair. Conceived by a retired navy commander, James H. Strong, he received a concession from the Fair Committee to build, assemble and operate the tower. The 1939 Fair guidebook described the ride:


Eleven gaily-colored parachutes operated from the top of a 250-foot tower enable visitors to experience all the thrills of “bailing out” without the hazard or discomfort.

Each parachute has a double seat suspended from it. When two passengers have taken their place beneath the chute, A cable pulls it to the summit of the tower. An automatic release starts the drop, and the passengers float gently to the ground. Vertical guide wires prevent swaying, a metal ring keeps the ‘chute open at all times, and shock-absorbers eliminate the impact of the landing. One of the most spectacular features of the

Amusement Area, this is also a type of parachute jump similar to that which armies of the world use in the early stages of actual parachute jumping.


Admission was 40 cents for adults and a quarter for children and the drop down took between 10 and 20 seconds. It was the delight of the fair and my mother and father, then an engaged couple, took delight in riding this phenomenon multiple times. Growing up, mom would regale me with stories about the fair and especially tales of this ride that both frightened and excited me. After the fair ended, the Tilyou family, who owned Steeplechase Amusement Park purchased the structure and re-assembled it at the  boardwalk entrance to their Coney Island grounds christening it: Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower.


By the mid-1950s I began to travel to Coney Island with other local neighborhood kids. We’d venture by subway to swim at the beach or to explore the amusement areas behind the boardwalk. We rode the three roller coasters, the famous and still operational, Cyclone, and the Thunderbolt and Tornado. We rode the Bob-Sled, a short-thrill ride that performed just as its name implied, the Wonder Wheel, a gigantic Ferris wheel and a peculiar ride called the Virginia Reel. The Reel featured round cars where about six people sat in a circle facing each other. The car rode a chain to the top of a slope, then spun down a zigzag incline bruising as many parts of bodies as possible.


We visited Steeplechase Park but never got up enough nerve or the price of 75 cents to ride the Parachute Jump. Back then 75 cents was an exorbitant price especially when the Cyclone only cost a quarter. But in my head I thought, “Someday, I’m going to do it.”


Then one windy day, I looked up to see a couple trapped aloft beneath a parachute entangled in the wires. All they could do was sit there and wait until a hook and ladder arrived and the firemen could raise the main extension ladder high enough to rescue them. I was mesmerized by this spectacle and I don’t know what scared me more; watching them being trapped or their 200 feet climb down the ladder!


After experiencing the horror of that evacuation, it was beyond my nerve to consider a ride on the jump ever again.


Ironically, Steeplechase and its Parachute Jump closed in 1964, the same year that the successor to the 1939 World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows Park. A popular swell of enthusiasm wanted to bring the jump back to the new fair, but Robert Moses, the Tsar of the 1964-1965 Fair, wanted no part of it or an amusement zone.


To this day it remains derelict yet a stately, well-maintained and freshly painted landmark; Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower.






A Ground Hog Day Joke That Fizzled

Back in the mid- 1980s, when my firm’s profits were excellent and electronic communications were rudimentary, the extravagant business trips to London remained the order of the day. Since my wife had her own career, she didn’t travel with me often, but other men, both colleagues and customers often brought their wives. We’d be invited to elaborate dinners where the wives of our senior London hosts would also attend.


An hour long cocktail reception prior to dinner elevated the mood of gaiety by means of generous offerings of champagne, wine and spirits. A multi-course dinner followed accompanied by different wines for the appropriate course. After dessert coffee was served together with liqueurs or brandy, or selected cheeses and vintage port if not both. Conversation flowed freely including many socially acceptable attempts at humor.


One such occasion found me at a slightly smaller gathering than those usual “dog and pony shows.” In place of a private room, we gathered in the main dining room of the Savoy Hotel. It was a grand evening and when it was my turn to add to the entertainment, I selected a story from my repertoire that I knew would amuse the ladies and gentlemen, be acceptable in mixed company, and didn’t telegraph its slap-shoe ending until I reached the punch line. I began:


The Pope died and as is their duty, the College of Cardinals met in Vatican City to select the new pope. Days passed but each time smoke rose from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, the color was always black: no new Pope today!


Unbeknownst to the waiting faithful, the cardinals could not choose among three Polish prelates, Cardinal Smykowski, Cardinal Katkavage and Cardinal Komorowski. Ballot after ballot, the results were the same, one third, one third and one third.


At this point I knew that I had the table hanging on my every word. The joke was working perfectly and they were all intrigued.


In desperation the cardinals agreed to take an unorthodox approach to end this papal dilemma. A committee of the 12 most senior cardinals would question each of the candidates to determine who was the holiest and then recommend that man to the college to be elected Pope.


First up was Cardinal Smykoski: Question: “Cardinal, what is the holiest day in the Christian Calendar?”


“Oh that’s easy; it’s the Fourth of July, you know that great day when we bar-b-que, clam bakes, drink beer and watch the fireworks at night.”


It was at this point after I used that reference to our Independence Day that I realized to my horror that my audience was overwhelmingly British and while they got the Fourth of July, most of them knew nothing about Ground Hog Day. Still I pressed on:


Smykowski was quickly dismissed. Cardinal Katkavage entered next – asked the same question, he replied: “Thanksgiving, of course, when families gather from far and wide to give thanks, eat turkey and watch football on television.


I could see they understood the Thanksgiving reference too. Damn, no choice but to keep going.


Finally, Cardinal Komorowski is summoned: “What is the holiest day in the Christian Calendar?”


Komorowski pondered his answer as tension filled the room. Finally he spoke, “Why Easter, of course. That is the day that Christ rises from the dead, leaves his tomb and…” Komorowski was suddenly interrupted as the room erupted in relief and joy at the realization that finally the cardinals had a holy man their presence.


At last the excitement abated and the room quieted. Komorowski cleared his throat and continued “…It is the day when he leaves his tomb and if he sees his shadow, we have two more weeks of lent.”


I inherited a polite noise that mimicked laughter and a sea of blank faces. No time for explanations, that will only be digging my hole deeper. Instead, I smiled back, took a large sip of my drink and pretended what just happened did not happen. I quietly waited for the next idiot to tell his story.