John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: February, 2017

Three Ring Circus

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (The Circus) is calling it quits after 146 years. The owners are figuratively folding their tents and going out of business this spring. Let me make this clear before we continue, “The Circus” in this piece is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and nothing else. Conveniently for me, the last stand for the Eastern version of The Greatest Show on Earth will be at the newly rebuilt Nassau Coliseum on May 21st. Tickets for the last performance are currently being re-sold at a range of prices from $250 to $2,980. I don’t plan to attend, but I may seek out the final nesting place for The Circus train that will be parked as close as possible to this venue.


The Wall Street Journal took a stand on this blaming the animal activists wrongly making the case of supposed animal abuse as the reason for its demise. In fact, the courts did find against these activists but the bad publicity and changing attitudes took their toll and the circus reluctantly eliminated the elephant acts in 2016. Elephants have always been the people’s choice. We love elephants and well we should. They are unique, gentle, sweet creatures. Similar to Golden Retrievers but just too damn big to have as a pet. Elephants at the zoo are fine but The Circus gives us the opportunity to watch them strut their stuff.


Elimination of these wonderful beasts was the final nail in the coffin but the patient was already on life support. Curiously, despite our collective fond memories of the circus, its very existence has been a struggle even in the best of times. The logistics alone are monumental.

The Circus is a mobile show, actually two shows, the Blue Tour and the Red Tour. Each tour spends the season traveling on and living in two separate circus trains each a mile long with 60 cars: 40 passenger cars that the workers and performers call home and 20 freight cars carrying everything from equipment to the stars personal automobiles. Films showing these impressive trains moving about the country can be found on line.

The living quarters are converted passenger stock dating back to the post-World War II golden age of streamliners: circa 1949 to 1962. The Circus mechanics have to be one part Houdini to keep this so called heritage rolling stock up to the Federal Railroad Administration’s codes. Everything about The Circus is Eisenhower’s America.

Throw out lines we all use originated there: “Rain or shine,” from circuses with tents. “Hold your horses,” warning drivers to let the elephants through. “White elephant, grandstanding, get the show on the road and jump on the bandwagon,” are other examples. As a kid growing up, I can recall three expressions that my mother and her friends and neighbors used to express exasperation with confusion and crowds: “What is this, Grand Central Station,” “This is a Cecile B. DeMill production” and “This is a three ring circus.”

Being a city kid, I never saw The Circus under the big top that the owners abandoned in 1956. My circus experiences all happened in Madison Square Garden. To be honest, this annual event was never the experience once described by a reporter as being, “Like Christmas, your birthday and the Fourth of July all happening on the same day.”

The annual hype never failed to raise my expectations. The grand, gaudy and colorful posters and newspaper photographs of the elephants being led out of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and across town to the Garden fed my excitement. (The Circus train parked in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s passenger train yards in Sunnyside, Queens and the tunnel was the easiest way to move these magnificent creatures under the East River.)

Reality was deflating and sum total of my circus experiences – confusion. My mother was right; a person can’t absorb a three ring circus. Too much activity going on at the same time and it’s all terribly confusing.

Later in life, I escorted my daughter and son and other guests to my company’s corporate box at Madison Square Garden to witness later editions of The Circus. My company was quite generous in making their box available to different managers to share with staff and their children. One senior person would attend to maintain some semblance of sanity and be responsible for ordering hot dogs, popcorn soft drinks and other kid friendly food. Since the box hung from the ceiling, it seemed to me that a touch of mystery and awe was lost since we looked down on the trapeze artists and tight-rope walkers.

The main things I took away from those experiences were horrible headaches.

According to Rodney A. Huey, who authored, “An Abbreviated History of The Circus,” The Circus was undone by the coming of age of Nouveau Circuses that began in the mid-1970s. Mr. Huey quotes, Ernest Albrecht to explain the origin of this new venue. (If you are like me, you will find this explanation to be a remarkable example of new-speak mumbo-jumbo.) “Its birth was synergetic, reactionary, bicoastal and organically conceived by a group of aspiring artists…”

That leaves us with Cirque du Soleil that began in the mid-1980s as a subsidized money-losing show to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the French discovery of Canada. But it gained traction and today…” boasts more than a dozen traveling units and operates stationary productions in Orlando, Tokyo, New York and Las Vegas.”

And so it goes. Cirque du Soleil is now the circus of record and The Circus will be no more. When the lights go out at the Nassau Coliseum after the last show on May 21, 2017, the cast, crew and roustabouts will board the circus train for their last trip to Florida: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – RIP

Going home is such a ride,

Gong home is such a ride,

Isn’t going home a long and lonely ride?





Cutting Edge Technology

What could possibly go wrong?


Most of us are familiar with the crash of a Tesla Model S in 2016 on US Highway 27 outside of Williston, Florida. Joshua Brown was traveling at 74 mph using cruise control and his Tesla’s Automatic Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Warning systems commonly referred to as an “autopilot.”


At the intersection of NE 140th Court, he encountered a tractor-trailer driven by Frank Baressi making a left turn onto NE 140th thereby blocking Highway 77. For whatever reason, neither Mr. Brown nor the vehicles autopilot recognized the truck and the Tesla passed under the trailer without slowing down. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that Mr. Brown had seven seconds to take action by braking or attempting to steer around the truck.  The crash sheared off the windshield and roof of the Tesla killing Mr. Brown. The report noted: … “Mr. Brown failed to observe the truck crossing his path”…”took no evasive action.” and “There were no skid marks from braking and telematics pulled from the Tesla showed the brake pedal was never pressed.”


The sedan traveled more than 900 feet after the initial impact hitting two wire fences and a wooden utility pole before the now powerless car came to a stop. Damage to the truck and trailer were minimal and the police allowed Mr. Baressi to complete his delivery two miles away before taking possession of the vehicle.


Despite the obvious, both the NHTSA and the Florida Highway Patrol considered Mr. Baressi at fault for failing to give right of way during a left turn.


Further, the “NHTSA found the autopilot system had worked appropriately and was not designed to alert on a crossing vehicle.”


“Tesla’s own investigation revealed that the car’s cameras failed to notice the white side of the trailer against the brightly lit sky. Tesla notes that if the car had impacted the wheels of the trailer or the truck itself, the vehicle’s safety systems would likely have prevented serious injury.”


The reports do not speculate what Mr. Brown was doing prior to the accident and Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has made the point that the autopilot saves lives. “One percent is 12,000 lives saved every year,” Musk said last September. “I think it would be morally wrong to withhold functionalities that improve safety in order to avoid criticisms or for fear of being involved in lawsuits.”


If Mr. Musk is this concerned about safety, perhaps he’d like to comment on a certain option Tesla offers to the public? Back in 2015, Tesla announced that their Model S sedan would include a so called, “Ludicrous Option” in top end Model S line that has a base price of $119,200.  David Undercoffler of noted: “The electric-vehicle maker, channeling one of the more absurd moments of Mel Brooks’ comedy, ‘Spaceballs, ’announced this $10,000 option…that runs zero to 60 in a face-stretching 2.8 seconds.”


Tesla already had “Insane Mode” an option that made this leap in 3.2 seconds. Musk explained to reporters, “Nobody was asking for Ludicrous Mode because it was too ludicrous. Insane mode has been incredibly well-received. We figured out by engineering Zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, (this) puts the Model S, a large sedan, in the realm of some of the fastest sports cars on the road today. It’s faster than Porsche’s top-end 911 Turbo S which needs 2.9 seconds to hit the same speed.”


Fast forward to January of 2017. The following story appeared on the front page of my local paper, Port Washington News, written by Meagan McCarty under the headline: “The Miracle At Soundview:”


“Date night is something that all couples look forward to, as did a middle aged couple who wanted to see a movie and drove their Tesla to the Soundview Cinema on Shore Road, Wednesday, January 18.

“After the movie let out, with the wife behind the wheel, the couple started to make their way to Shore Road by driving through the shopping center lot. According to first responders, the driver was trying to navigate the lot when she inadvertently hit the button for ‘Ludicrous Mode.’

“Once that button was pushed, the driver lost control of the vehicle, striking a brick stanchion at the entrance, toppling it and pinning the passenger underneath.”


The stanchion was actually a concrete pillar encased in bricks measuring three feet wide on each side and twelve feet high.  


“The Tesla appeared completely flattened, like an abstract sculpture with shards of glass and twisted metal…Almost immediately the driver walked out of the vehicle, stunned and shaken, but mercifully, nothing more. It took rescue workers 35 minutes to stabilize both the wreck and the stanchion that fell on top of the passenger’s side before they were able to extract her husband.  He complained of a bruised shoulder to EMS workers before he was transported to St. Francis Hospital for further examination. “


Would someone please explain to me if Elon Musk is so concerned about the morality of increasing safety, why on earth would he decided to equip a sedan with such a feature and then sell it to middle aged customers?


Sampson’s Story

The following is a guest story written by my daughter, Beth.

I had avoided getting a dog for some time but my days were numbered. My excuses (our family move, young children, summer vacation) were running out and the day of reckoning was coming.


Late last August I had lunch with our 12-year old, Marlowe and my husband, Tom and they really put the pressure on –When were we going to get a dog? They were tired of my excuses and concerns and they were ready. Tom and I walked away from that lunch in different corners but quickly resolved our differences, as modern couples do, over text messages. I texted Tom that we should talk to our neighbor, Mark, who lived with a small, older rescue dog named P.B. to think about how we could do something similar. We reasoned that finding a dog, a little older and maybe lightly trained would make the whole situation easier. We left it at that.


I woke up early the next day, a Saturday morning, to head to the local bagel store. As I was getting ready to leave our doorbell rang. It was Mark from next door – he asked me to step into the hallway because he had a question for me. I thought he was asking us to dog sit for P.B. as we had done earlier in the summer.


Dog sitting was not on his mind but dogs were. He explained that he had had dinner at the new Thai restaurant across the street from our building and that the owner A. (short for a very long Thai name) had approached him during his dinner. It seems that A. had found a dog tied up two blocks over from our building on Friday morning. The dog was scruffy and alone except for an empty bowl of food. A. already had a dog – plus she had just opened a new restaurant – and she could not keep the dog she found. In fact, when she first saw the dog tied up she just passed him and went home. A true animal lover, A. could not stop thinking about this poor dog’s predicament and within an hour of returning home she went back and rescued him. A. had named him Sampson and Mark thought of us immediately when A. asked him about taking Sampson home.


I was a little overwhelmed by Mark’s proposition – Is this it? Is this how we wind up with a dog? I decided to take the kids to get bagels and leave Tom sleeping and revisit this all in a few hours.


As I headed out of my building with my kids in tow there was A. across the street walking her dog and Sampson. She knew we wanted a dog from Mark and we all stopped on the sidewalk for what would become a life changing transaction. A. introduced us to this small furry creature with a cheerful disposition and a serious under bite. He was beyond what we could have hoped for, small but sturdy, hypoallergenic and friendly. I told the kids to go get their father and Tom came to meet us from a sound sleep. After all agreeing, A. handed us Sampson’s leash and he was ours. Suffice to say, we never saw those bagels.


We took him to the Vet and learned that he had no chip, weighed around 16 pounds and was between 1 and 2 years old. We kept the name Sampson because it seemed to suit him. And, thus began our adventure of dog ownership.


Needless to say he is the love of our lives. Most of my original worries were fulfilled – the dog walker costs a fortune, as do all dog expenses, the kids don’t help nearly as much as they promised they would and he has occasional accidents. But owning a dog is not a rationale decision, it is an emotional one and he has captured all of hearts.


 I would be remiss if I did not note that Sampson has a particular love for my parents’ dog Max. Max, who some may know is the Robert Redford of Golden Retrievers, views Sampson as an unfortunate small beast to be sniffed and dismissed on each occasion they meet. Once Max creates action, Sampson insists on participating by biting Max’s back legs. To date, Max has refused to acknowledge this annoyance.



The Second Avenue Subway


January 1, 2017 was indeed a Happy New Year’s celebration for the citizens of New York City.  Through, and because of, the clout of Andrew Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York and the absolute Tsar of the MTA (take that Cuomo’s arch-enemy, comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio) the Second Avenue Subway finally opened for service as promised at the start of the New Year.


Admittedly, this newly completed line is just a small portion of a grand idea. Less than two miles long, It begins at the existing station at 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue where the new tunnel continues toward the East River before turning north under Second Avenue to reach three new stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets.


Critics point out that this mere hint of a real subway cost $4.8 billion, that the next phase extending the line to 125th Street may cost $6 billion and may not be built for another ten- years. Smart money bets the line will never reach its ultimate southern terminus in lower Manhattan. One wag noted that the cost of subway construction in New York was more than four times the cost in Barcelona and twice the cost of Paris. He compared this to paying $60 for a steak at Peter Lugers while being able to get a steak at a Parisian bistro for less than $30. “How much better could the steak be at Peter Lugers at double the price?”


For the record, I have had the pleasure to partake great steaks at famous New York steak houses like Lugers, The Palm, Sparks and Keene’s. Fate has also allowed me to dine in Paris. By way of comparison, I will make two points: First, if you can’t tell the difference between the steaks in New York and anywhere else, stick with chicken. Second, you get what you pay for: The New York cuts are out-of-this world. As for the Parisian cuisine, that piece of meat you are served has about a 50 / 50 shot of originating from a horse.


But this is a time for celebration. Set aside the negativity, part of the Second Avenue Subway first proposed 80 years ago is finally a reality. This is the hoped for salvation that most New Yorkers had resolved they would never see.


If you ever lived on the East Side in the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties and commuted to work, your only access to the subway system was the grossly over-crowded Lexington Avenue Subway. This became a daily descent into your own personal hell with no alternative except yellow taxis or Uber.


The Lex’s express stop at 86th Street was a hub of horror. Narrow entrances / exits have to accommodate both those wanting to get in and wanting to get out. Double-decked with local service above and express below, every rush hour train creates a combat zone. The quick and those left behind.


The opening of this new line has finally ended that bondage and suffering. I say to those critical wags; balderdash! As a certified NYC transit geek, long ago deemed with the handle, “Johnny Transit,” I invite you to celebrate the Second Avenue Subway:  Oh come let us explore it.


Bob Christman and I made our opening run on Wednesday, January 19. We boarded a Q-Train at Herald Square and rode it north.  We’d only ridden as far north as 57th Street when the door at the end of our car opened and a beggar entered imploring us passengers with his tale of woo. After he passed, Bob observed, “New subway; same ole panhandlers.”


We rode to the end of the line at 96th Street then worked our way back south stopping to explore the other two stops. The run north along the new tube was noticeable for its speed, smoothness and relative quietness.


Along the way we exited at 86 Street for a leisurely lunch of beer and sauerbraten at the Heidelberg Restaurant that Zagat’s describes as, “a remnant of old Yorkville.” This 1938 vintage Bauhaus lived up to our needs. German lager on tap and acceptable sauerbraten; good, but not outstanding, made for a satisfying lunch.


Pleased, we returned to the underground. The sounds of trains entering and leaving the station are muffled by concrete ties that are mounted on noise reducing rubber gaskets allowing us to experience a semblance of quiet at least by New York subway standards.


Each station features a spacious and uncluttered island platform that is well-lit and well ventilated. A lower mezzanine extends the length of the station above the platform featuring large cutouts that offer unobstructed views of the vaulted ceiling directly from the platform. The effect creates a space both open and airy.


Entering and exiting each of these new stations is a joy to behold. Multiple stairs, escalators and elevators connect platform and mezzanine with exits at both the north and south ends of each station. These three stations are set apart by individual art work themes that decorate the mezzanine walls. Second sets of escalators, stairs and elevators take passengers either to an upper mezzanine or directly to the street. The length of those escalators leading directly to the street is similar to those in London revealing how deep down below street level  these stations were tunneled.


Too new for dirt, vermin and graffiti, the stations are well-covered by security cameras and uniformed NYPD officers. So grand, so modern, the Second Avenue Subway is everything a Twenty-First Century transit facility should be.


With all its glitz and glamor, our new subway is an appropriate addition for the silk-stocking Upper East Side that it serves. I salute Cuomo and Co. for finally bringing it in and I salute the designers and builders who created this brilliant addition. Unfortunately, these three stations are also a reminder of how old the rest of the system is and they do not reflect the subway system we love to hate:


New York, New York, It’s a hell of a town.

The people ride around in a hole in the ground.


Some snooze,

some booze,

if you snooze,

they steal your shoes,

as the subways go rolling along.