John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: July, 2017

LIRR’s Rite of Passage Vs. Equal Rights

The Long Island Railroad has long distrusted its most faithful riders, those commuters who regularly purchase monthly tickets. Granted, the LIRR deeply discounts these fares in the hope of attracting more and more patrons, but the railroad also fears that these “loyal riders” will misuse and subvert their discounted tickets. For many years ticket collectors had to punch most tickets four times a day, twice in the morning on the ride to the New York Pennsylvania Station and twice on the evening commute. Collectors punched tickets before and after the junction in Jamaica, Queens where all branches save the Port Washington Line meet.


The only discernible rationales for a double punch were either; A. to make sure passengers who changed trains at Jamaica had a valid ticket for both trains or, B. to prevent ticket takers from going to sleep after first punching the tickets. Thankfully, this practice ended in the early 1980s. Passengers only showed their monthly on each ride and ticket takers randomly punch them two or three times a month to prevent counterfeiting.


Today, the introduction of electronic tickets is changing the game, yet the acceptance of monthly paperless tickets is yet to catch on.


Since recorded time, or at least as far back as 1924, (the earliest monthly ticket I could find on eBay,) the collector dutifully has taken the new ticket in hand at the beginning of each month, looked  at the commuter and punched the “M” or “F” box to denote the commuter’s sex. This custom established a rite-of-passage especially relevant during the male dominated Twentieth Century commuter scene. Most of these male commuters seldom ventured into Manhattan on the weekend and it was not unusual for their teenage daughters to borrow daddy’s ticket for a Saturday night adventure in the Big Apple.


Most collectors accepted the borrowed monthlies without fuss or bother but invariably the chap who was having a bad day or simply was a prick refused to honor the ticket. Such callous action could initiate a drama proportionate to the lass’ hurt feelings or her funds on hand to buy a one-way ticket. My own daughter, Beth, and even my wife, Mary Ann, encountered such harassment at least on one occasion.


I actually suffered a case of mistaken gender identity myself. One month, a ticket-taker hastily punched the wrong letter on my monthly. I didn’t notice until one of his brothers chose to take issue with me. The fool challenged me even though I had signed the ticket on the front and printed my name and phone number on the back. My response to his: “What’s going on here, bub?” was a sharp, “Well, it looks to me like one of your dumb-ass buddies decided I needed a sex-change.”


My sharp words, no-nonsense tone, and the look in my eyes sent him reeling. He took the only course of action left; he punched the “M” marking me bi-gendered for the remainder of the month.


Now at long last, the LIRR’s gender fixation has finally hit a wall, one of those Twenty-First problems we are forced to address, the rights of transsexual and transgendered people. Newsday recently reported that a public advocate, Letita James, has put the railroad’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (MTA,) on notice that, “The railroad’s gender policy, ‘violates the spirit, if not the letter’ of state and city laws meant to protect human rights.”


“This unnecessary antiquated and reductive system poses serious constraints on a range of groups including those whose dress or appearance is gender-nonconforming and anyone who doesn’t feel their gender is relevant to riding public transit.”


(After reading my new book on writing clearly, I am sorely tempted to edit that statement so that she speaks clearly.)


But it is a quotation and, so be it.  Me thinks Ms. James is asking the LIRR’s to stop identifying passengers by their gender and let’s go with that.


So I say: Bully for you, Letita! Enough is enough. With all of their other problems, both the MTA and the LIRR should cave on this issue. Pennsylvania Station is falling down, the four East River tubes damaged by Sandy must be repaired sooner or later and emergency repairs at Penn Station this summer will likely cause mini-nightmares.


That’s not all, folks. The signal system at the LIRR’s Jamaica hub is on death’s doorstep and the LIRR has two insanely expensive capital improvement projects under way. The first, Eastside Access, is the road’s perpetual project to shift a good number of its trains from Penn Station to a new terminal under Grand Central Terminal. This boondoggle devours money like Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” yet has an opening date that continues to slip-slide away. That opening, once projected for 2012, now hovers at 2022 but don’t bet the ranch on it opening that year either.


Add to that the LIRR a multi-billion-dollar project to build a vital third track along the main line from Jamaica to Hicksville. Still in the early stages of design and funding, it seems likely to inherit a life of its own and cost escalation without end.


The time has come to say adios to M/F feature on monthly tickets. Why fight a fight you can’t win especially when it’s un-necessary and dumb? Let people free to be who they want to be and, for God’s sake, make the trains run on time.


You Are Quoting Shakespeare if…

My cousin, Bill put me on to “Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters” by Harold Evans. I recommend this gem of a book to anyone who wants to improve their writing skills.


Mr. Evans catalogues a list of clichés writers should avoid. These include acid test, breathless silence, crack troops, dig in their heels, given the green light, heartfelt thanks, in the nick of time, long arm of the law, never a dull moment, part and parcel, red faces, stick out like a sore thumb, true colors, up in arms and widespread anxiety. Directly following this list, He takes a time out that he calls “Interlude.” It contains the following passage Evans attributes to the late Bernard Levin:


If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “Its Greek to me,” then you are

quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting

Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in

sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has

vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an

inch or suffered from green-eyed  jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have

been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your

brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted  on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on

ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and  master), laughed yourself into stiches, had

short shift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing,  if you have seen better days or lived

in a fool’s paradise – why, be that as it may, the more fool  you, for it is but a forgone

conclusion that you are (as luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare;  if you think it is early

days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that’s the long and

short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it  involves your

own flesh and blood, if you lie low to the crack of doom because you support foul  play, if

you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to

 give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head)

you  are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if

you wish I was dead as doornail, if you think that I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the

devil incarnate, a stone-hearted villain, bloody minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove!

Oh Lord! Tut tut!  For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no butts! – It is all one to

me, for you are quoting  Shakespeare.          

As the Subways Go Rolling Along


Once upon a time, a chap named Steve Karmen produced an album of songs about New York City. He released his album during John Lindsay’s administration when all hell was breaking loose at the start of what would become that long, hard, rough and crime-ridden era of a dysfunctional New York City. Those of us who lived through those years remember this period as the bad old days.


One of the cuts had the title:  “As The Subways Go Rolling Along,” that included the following verses:


Oh they’re wild and loud,

and make a merry crowd,

together they’re happy right or wrong.


And without a plan,

this is where the plot began,

as the subways go rolling along.


There are people you meet

fifty feet below the street

as the subways go rolling along.


Some snooze, some booze,

if you snooze, they’ll steal your shoes,

as the subways go rolling along.


The city went to hell; the subways included. Years and years of deferred maintenance finally caught up and overwhelmed the system. Labor strife, racial and class discontent and that damn Viet Nam war stressed every element of society. Municipal workers felt put upon, pissed-off and prepared to retaliate. Unions were aching to strike and strike they did; transit workers, police, firefighters, sanitation, teachers, draw bridge operators, postal workers and on it went. All demanded satisfaction. Disrespect for the law followed. Crime and graffiti seemed to be the only prospering industry in Gotham.  Belief in the viability of the city cratered as the crack epidemic exploded.


Ed Koch insisted on a wake-up call to everyone starting with himself. Mayor Koch stood at the exit from the Brooklyn Bridge walkway and asked his constituents, “How am I doing?”


A new light began to shine on the city and life began to stir again. Quality of life began to improve under Koch, not so much under David Dinkins, but it soared under Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Money was re-directed into the transportation infrastructure improving both the suburban rail and the subway systems.


Newcomers; Generation X and Millennials flocked to New York. Their numbers overwhelmed the affordable space in Manhattan bringing about the gentrification of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Park Slope, always viable as a community, was the first to rise from the dead. Brownstone houses that sank to less than $50,000 in the ‘70s rocketed to multimillion valuations by the turn of the century and even a two-bedroom, third-floor, walk-up railroad flat on Garfield Street went for just over $900,000 in 2016.


Faced with soaring prices Park Slopeans pushed north into Fort Green and Bed-Sty, east into Crown Heights and south into Windsor Terrace. Likewise, urban pioneers pushed the frontier eastward into Bushwick and Ridgewood when prices rose in Williamsburg,


Heady days, but these new pioneers had to depend on outer subway lines as they pushed further from Manhattan. Unfortunately, state and city overseers had failed to provide adequate funds for maintenance and repairs. Cutting corners and doing things on the cheap are formulas for disaster and kicking the can down the road is a politician’s best friend.


Subway signals, once inspected every 30 days, are now inspected every 90 days. Subway cars, once inspected every 66 days or 12,000 miles, are now inspected every 75 days or 15,000 miles. Meanwhile, ridership increased dramatically from 1 million trips each weekday in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2016.


Reality caught up with this combination of neglect and over-crowding with a series of breakdowns and accidents that have plagued the system this year. The summer of 2017 is shaping up to be the summer of our discontent while Cuomo and DeBlasio point fingers at each other. A pox on both their houses!


Laugh about it, shout about it,

when it comes time to choose,

any way you look at this you lose.*


*Mrs. Robinson: Paul Simon


Pima Air & Space Museum (Part 2)

Our guide, Trish Hughes, warned us to refrain from taking photos while on Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB) until we left the base proper and entered AMARG, the largest military aircraft boneyard in the world. Ms. Hughes objected to the term “aircraft boneyard” explaining, “AMARG is much more than a place airplanes come to be dismantled; that’s AMARG’s purpose of last resort.”


Point made. The Department of Defense created the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) to take possession, inventory, clean, mothball and maintain aircraft retired from all branches of the service. DMAFB was selected to host the resting place for over 4,000 aircraft because of the surrounding desert’s low humidity, lack of rainfall and its hard alkaline soil. Ms. Hughes explained, “We locals call this surface, caliche or ‘Indian concrete.” (Don’t try referencing this politically incorrect term; it must be a local expression.)


“On arrival, all guns, ejection seat charges and classified hardware are removed. Each aircraft is washed twice, the fuel system drained and protected and the airplane is sealed from dust, light and high temperature before being towed to its storage position.”


Our tour took us throughout the facility past aircraft of every type and kind. Type 1000 are aircraft in waiting, sealed, untouched and ready for re-activation. Type 2000 are being cannibalized to provide needed parts for sister aircraft still in use. Type 3000 wait to be re-purposed and Type 4000 await the cutter’s torch.


Many fighter jets are waiting to be re-purposed into drones. The F4H Phantom II was the drone of choice for the last 20 years, but AMARG re-purposed the last of these work horses from the Viet Nam war in 2013. Ms. Hughes explained that the air force has just given the go-ahead to begin converting F-16s Flying Falcons into drones. Even though the F-16 remains in use by the air force, the sea of these fighters already retired that we pass on our tour demonstrates that they will serve as drones far into the future. AMARG also converts other aircraft, particularly helicopters, for use by the forest and the border services.


The tour took over an hour and the bus exited the facility just as I was reaching sensory overload. Thankfully, we headed back to the museum for a burger and a beer.


Our first stop after lunch was to a separate building housing the 390th Memorial Museum dedicated to all of the members of the 390th Bombardment Group. Their beautifully re-conditioned B-17G Flying Fortress is the centerpiece of this museum. A guide insisted that this is a separate museum within the Pima Museum with its funding. Their exhibits do add to the experience and their handsome building is worth a stop.


Bill and I agreed it was time to make the trek out to the B-36 that sat gleaming in the sun between a B-52 Stratofortress, the bomber that replaced it, and a B-47 Stratojet, our first medium range all-jet bomber. What a sight, the three bombers that constituted the foundation of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for over twenty years during the height of the cold war now sitting side by side by side.


(As I noted, in Part 1 of this story, Bill and I couldn’t believe that more than one B-36 Peacemaker still existed but here was a second Peacemaker. Subsequently, I discovered four of these giants have been preserved. Of the remaining two, one is housed indoors at the SAC Museum in Ashland, Nebraska and the other outdoors at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California.)


Pima has more than 300 aircraft with most displayed outdoors. Despite the heat, we took our time viewing several of the more interesting airplanes including an early model of a Lockheed Constellation in TWA markings that actually belonged to Swiss Air and a pre-WW II Sikorsky S-43 flying boat nicknamed the “Baby Clipper.” Built between 1937 and 1941, these amphibians island hopped passengers and cargo for Pan American and other airlines around the Caribbean. I was quite pleased to actually see one of these relics from that by-gone era. One of the oddest airplanes we came across was a Northrop YC-125A Raider. Twenty-three of these three-engine beasts were built in 1948 only to be deemed less desirable then helicopters. The museum believes theirs is one of two survivors.


By the time we reached Hanger No. 4, I was on the cusp of the heat defeating me. The a/c and a bottle of water saved the day and between No.4 and No. 5 we finished our day with a PB4Y-2 Privateer, the navy’s version of the B-24, a two-engine B-25 Mitchell bomber similar to the one Doolittle’s squadron used to bomb Tokyo in 1942, a PBY Catalina flying boat, the workhorse recon and rescue plane in the Pacific and a B-29 Superfortress, the bomber that ended the war in the Pacific.


Bill and I departed the next day pleased with our time together and the experiences at the Titan II Missile Museum, the Pima Air & Space Museum and AMARG. The trip fulfilled our expectations and now I have to begin thinking about a trip to Nebraska to visit the SAC museum.