John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: March, 2018

Some Things That Go Bump in the Night

Item One: Chuck Schumer is a Putz


I do appreciate that I may have already annoyed those of you, dear readers, who appreciate the senior senator from the Empire State. So be it because he’s a putz and here’s why. Chuck Schumer, like him or dislike him, you have to admit he is a naked publicity hound who never met a camera or mic he didn’t like. Granted, that alone doesn’t make him a putz.


However, Chuck arranges his own fake news releases just to earn free camera moments and sound bites. He often uses props like an e-cigarette in a shoot about smoking or luggage to make a point about baggage fees and a location to make his point. Still not a putz but getting closer.


Recently, he held a self-made news conference in the shadow of the USS Intrepid to announce that the navy has agreed to name a new-building Arleigh Burke class destroyer after an Irish immigrant and hero, Patrick Gallagher who died in Viet Nam. Gallagher’s Long Island family gathered around the senator for the announcement and Chuck proudly presented a model destroyer with Gallagher’s name painted on the side to Patrick’s brother-in-law, Jack Walsh, who is confined to a wheelchair.


Memo to Chuck: If you are going to use a ship, airplane or railroad engine as a prop, get it right because experts take these things seriously and will pounce on errors.


In this instance, Newsday received a ton of angry mail decrying our senator’s insensitivity that they dedicated their Sunday’s editorial to reveal Chuck’s model was not an Arleigh Burke destroyer. Worse yet, it wasn’t even a US Navy destroyer. Nope, worst of all, it was a Russian destroyer, a Sovremenany Class ship built for the old USSR. That makes Chuck a putz!


Item Two: Can The New York Times Still Kill a Play?


Escape to Margaritaville opened on Thursday night, March 15. Jesse Green’s NY Times review noted in part: “If ever there was a time to be drunk in the theater, this was it. And that’s the good news… The bad news is you still have to see the show.”


(Shall I continue?) “Mr. Buffett’s denatured country calypso ditties and horndog swarm seem awfully lowbrow even in a Broadway environment debased for decades by singing cats and candlesticks. It is quite a comedown in the sing-to-me-of-romance department from “Shall We Dance” to “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw).”


Mr. Green’s less than subtle put-down climaxes with: “Escape to Margaritaville’ a paean to the pleasures of zipless debauchery is pitched so low it will temporarily extinguish your I.Q.”


Barbara Schuler saw it differently. Writing for Newsday, her review noted: “Frothy drink of a musical celebrating the music of Jimmy Buffett.” “The delightful, energetic…show.” “Buffett fans…are out in force, enjoying the inside jokes…dancing along to fins…and joining in on the singing when invited and when not.”


We can only hope there are enough Parrotheads willing to travel to Broadway to save this show.


Item Three: The New York Times Really, Really Hates Trump


I’ve never been a Trumper and never will. Being a New Yorker, I know only too well his schemes, manipulations and questionable behavior. What makes the Donald tick? I believe the answer is simple, he grew up with Roy Cohn as his mentor. If you know anything about the life and crimes of Roy Cohn, you will understand. If not, may I suggest the one word that describes him; despicable.


But Trump learned how to fight from Cohn. Trump is a natural counterpuncher. He has a hair-trigger temper so he retaliates instantaneously against all slights real or imagined. Combine this with Cohn’s strategy to hit one’s enemies with overpowering retaliation, Trump’s responses are nuclear. They have a lawyer, hit them with ten lawyers. They claim an amount of $140,000, sue them for twenty million. Failing that, deny, deny, deny. Most rationale people, don’t get his counterpunching style and find themselves spinning in circles trying to make sense of what makes no sense. Start with this: It’s a temper tantrum.


Instead, the media led by the Old Grey Lady, as spokesperson for the liberal community, can’t keep up with Trump’s temper. This fills them with angst and a continuous state of panic. Since they can’t keep up with him, they attack him unceasingly…he can do no right, none, nada, nyet, zip, nothing. Everything is suspect and must be torn apart. They probe, and they probe in hope of finding the smoking gun that will bring him down or the silver bullet that kills him politically. He’s in bed with Putin, he’s Putin’s puppet, he’s reckless, he treats our allies badly, he’s  un-presidential, he’s a moron, incompetent, he’s unfit for office, he’s a womanizer…


Their barrage is so continuous that it has become mostly noise. And still they throw more s*** against the wall in hope this batch will stick.


The latest missile appeared in their book review of March 18. In a review, Andrew Sullivan prophesized that the Donald is well on his way to subverting the Constitution by becoming The Authoritarian President, one step short of a totalitarian despot. I kid you not.


The thought occurred when I read this; Perhaps Sullivan had a bad dream about China and Russia and confused Xi and Putin with the Donald?


Item Four: Bitcoins and Blockchains


Bitcoins and blockchains,

they drive me insane.


Bitcoins and blockchains,

overwhelm my tiny brain,

fill my head with terrible pain.


Bitcoins and blockchains,

Instead, I’ll have a drink if it’s all the same.


Journey’s End 1971: Part Two

Guest Blog by Mary Ann Delach

The spring of 1971 was a stressful time in my life, trapped at home with a toddler and a new born on a bare-bones budget. Imagine my delight when Helen asked me if we’d be interested in vacationing with them at Journey’s End. Having the opportunity to get away with Helen who had become a good and supportive friend was special but when John lost his job, not having him for most of the week was a bummer. I cajoled my mother, Dorothy, to join me and help care for Beth and Michael. Dorothy drove but that also meant my grandmother, Catherine, who lived with Mom would be part of the entourage.


We had to explain to Mr. and Mrs. Rilling that we had two additional adults with us plus our dog. The ladies only cost us an additional $10 each but the bounty on Woofie was $20.


Catherine slept in master bedroom, while the rest of us shared the living room. Dorothy slept at one end on a Murphy bad, Beth and Michael in two cribs and I was consigned to a narrow single bed in the corner that doubled as a sofa during the day. Are we having fun, yet?


Helen’s fourth, Karen was also an infant just a couple of months older than Michael. Ann, her oldest, was eight, Bill, seven and Rita, three. Beth adored her cousins and couldn’t get enough of them. During the day, we would put the two babies to sleep in carriages under a tree near the pool while the older kids played. This gave us the chance to talk while smoking cigarettes and keeping one eye on the pool and the other on the babies. Our mothers would help by pushing carriages along the dirt “country road.”


Helen’s mother, Helen, aka, Big Aunt Helen, lived with the Markey family and it was not uncommon for the mothers to escape for a civilized lunch away from the fray providing us with a new sin of envy / hate. Some of the time they left Catherine on the front porch to her own devices. That didn’t sit well at all. Catherine enjoyed a drink now and then, especially Cold Duck or Southern Comfort. Dorothy decided to appease her with a couple of miniature bottles she bought at a souvenir store. My mother took the label to read Southern Comfort. Unfortunately, the look-alike label was for Northern Comfort, 100% Vermont maple syrup. She served it to grandma in a glass over the rocks. Catherine took a taste and exclaimed, “It’s a little sweet, Dorothy.”


One day Helen, Don and I ferried the six kids to Santa Land. What could go wrong, did go wrong. They sold animal feed from machines where one put in a quarter and turned a knob that dispensed animal food into a hopper that you caught with your hand. It seemed like a good idea at the time but, as usual ended in tears as feed spilled on the ground, animals were aggressive or the older kids threw it at the younger ones.


What stood out that visit was this chap, a total stranger, who saw Michael asleep in his stroller. He came close to look at Michael and exclaimed to me, “That is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen.”


Times were beginning to change but shopping and the choice of take-out remained limited. Few fast food outlets had yet to arrive but there was a Howard Johnson just across the river and their ice cream was a major treat. Back in the day, Howard Johnson was the nations eatery on the go and in many ways, they were the king of the road. By the early Seventies, they were losing their edge. Their food remained decent, but their service was awful.


There was a store in town called “Shop-o-rama.” We used this name to coin a new expression to describe bad days when we were at our wits end and the whip was flying. “This place is like being in a whip-o-rama.


Because Howard Johnson continued to operate more like a restaurant with take-out limited to ice cream, meals on the go weren’t yet available. Margaret Rilling ran a weekly spaghetti dinner that guests had to sign up for in advance, so she could have an accurate count. Besides the pasta, it included hamburgers, hot dogs, corn, Cole slaw and strawberry shortcake for dessert.


Washing was a must and the coin operated laundry was at the south end of Brattleboro, VT just across from the railroad station and bus terminal. The Giant Store, an early supermarket, became the place where Helen and I did most of our shopping.


On my own, without John, I had to exist only on the money he left me (setting aside what I could cajole from my mother.) Without a local bank account, the money you had in your pocket was all there was: no super market cards, no debit cards and no ATMs. What you had was all you had.


The electronic age was light years away. None of the cabins had phones and God forbid anyone asked the Rillings to use their phone unless it was a matter of life and death. The only place where I could call John was from a pay phone at the Sand & Sea Motel on Route 9 at the end of the dirt road. We had to agree on a set time for these calls otherwise making contact would be a disaster. Fortunately, we both kept the schedule, so I got through. If not, it was impossible to let him know I was trying to contact him.


Living with a toddler and an infant, my mother and grandmother made my head spin and it is safe to say that I was thrilled when John arrived early on the next Friday morning bearing a box of Dunkin Donuts.


All and all, despite the whip-o-rama, it was a wonderful experience making me look forward to a less hectic return visit.



Journey’s End 1971: Part One

I was delighted when Mary Ann told me that Helen had invited us to join them for a week’s stay at Journey’s End. We had heard nice things about this collection of cabins on the Connecticut River, the cost was reasonable even for us in our salad days and we had no other plans. We jumped at the chance and Helen contacted Mrs. Rilling to introduce us.


That Spring of 1971 was one to remember. Mary Ann was pregnant with our second child, Michael, who was born on April 30th. Two weeks later, I lost my job as a cargo surveyor. This blow, shocking as it was, didn’t blindside me. I saw it coming but I hadn’t prepared for the obvious until it happened. Business had been slow for some time but ignorance is bliss.


The culprit was the advent of containerization. For generations, cargo arrived at ports like New York on wooden pallets that were unloaded and stored on piers until delivery. Containerization changed that forever and so rapid and so thorough did it happen between 1969 and 1971 that the number of surveys our firm conducted throughout the port of New York was halved from the number we conducted in 1969. There just wasn’t enough damage to cargo being discovered before the goods left the pier for delivery. My boss, Don Lamont, gave me two week’s pay and agreed to pay me for two additional weeks if needed to find another job.


My top priority was a cash and carry job to put money in our pockets while I sought a change in careers. A short search secured me employment as a claims adjuster for Boyd, Weir and Sewell who represented a German steamship company, Meyer Lines. I interviewed with the claims manager, Henry Meehan, a nice enough chap who was being swamped by a backlog of claims. My background fit but first, I had to meet with the principal of the firm, Mister Strauss. Strauss sat me down in his office but ignored my resume. He removed a yellow legal pad from a desk draw and began to ask me questions without looking up, jotting down my answers on the pad. When he finished, he put down his pen, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you have a drinking problem?”


I told him that I did not, and I was hired. Of course, I had no vacation days so, as our scheduled week at Journey’s End grew near, I confessed my dilemma to Henry. Henry was nice enough to give me off the Monday of the weekend we were to arrive and the next Friday when we would return home. Henry’s offer exceeded anything I could have hoped for. I decided that I would clear up as much of their claims backlog as I could in my hopefully short time at the firm.


Meanwhile, I had already begun my search for a real position. I applied to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) for a position in their ports and airports division, the newly minted Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Marsh & McLennan as a hull insurance broker. The first two never panned out but I did secure a position at Marsh where I began the last week in August.


Mary Ann and I headed north in our Dodge Dart with Beth, then twenty-months old, Michael, an infant of two months and change and our four-year-old mutt, Woffie. The ride was not without drama. Mary Ann made an exciting discovery as we headed out of Springfield, Mass when she realized Michael’s first tooth had popped through his gum. Not to be outdone, Beth put her hand in her mouth causing self-induced chocking followed by vomit. Once things calmed down and we cleaned Beth, she announced that she could be sick again by saying, “Uh-oh, more schokin.” Fortunately, it was only a scare.


We settle in to Cabin No. 4, the Oriole and I joined Don for a booze run to the Vermont and New Hampshire state package stores for price comparisons and to the beer and soda distributor.


The weekend went by in a flash. Mary Ann’s mother, Dorothy arrived on Monday together with her grandmother, Kate to help with Beth and Michael in my absence. I reluctantly hit the road home Monday at mid-afternoon after their arrival. My ride was uneventful except for the number of young semi-hippie hitchhikers who had taken to the road in that era as part of the so-called “summers of love.”


But a strange thing happened just after I left as I headed across the Connecticut River into Vermont and the southbound entrance to Interstate 91. The local AM radio station began playing a song I had never heard before. Its lyrics matched my mood just as I was about to begin my southbound journey:


Would you care to stay till sunrise?

It’s completely your decision,

it’s just that going home is such a ride.

Going home is such a ride,

going home is such a ride,

 going home is such a low and lonely ride.


I didn’t know the song was Dory Previn’s “The Lady with the Braid” that had just been released. It would haunt me for years to come until I finally rediscovered it on one of Ms Previn’s CDs.


I left Middle Village at four in the morning the following Friday and arrived a little after eight with a box of fresh Duncan Doughnuts giving me a full last day less a nap before we headed home on Saturday.


That Saturday was brutally hot, our Dodge Dart was without A/C and I still remember that long, hot ride through an oven called Connecticut. The only folks noticeably more miserable than us were motor cyclist in their leathers. Any breeze they found felt like a blow torch.


Then and there I vowed our next car would have A/C.

Eastern Airlines

My first business flight was a day trip between LaGuardia Airport and Norfolk, Virginia via Piedmont Airlines in March of 1973. My last, a farewell trip to London on United Airlines in March of 2000, days before I retired. Between those two round-trip flights I logged 355 trips courtesy of Marsh & McLennan in what was then still the golden age of flying.


I flew on Eastern Airlines most of the time because they had the best service to many of the places I flew on business; Boston, DC, Richmond, Miami, Bermuda, San Juan, Mobile, Houston and Corpus Christi. Eastern became my airline of record and the first airline club I joined was their Ionosphere Club. They also provided my entry into the world of frequent flyer perks. Eastern may not have been the first carrier to offer bonuses to valued customers, but they were on the cutting edge. They christened their original program the Executive Traveler Club, (ET Club.) My colleague, Steve Beslity, put me on to it and gave me a copy of the application. “To be honest, John, they are limiting the number of travelers they accept.”


Undaunted, I submitted it and, by return mail, I magically received my ET Card and Luggage Tag. Oh, happy days, I still have that gold on brown ET Card with my number: ET51668. This card together with my membership in the Ionosphere Club threw open the door to frequent upgrades to First Class. No wonder why I went out of my way to fly Eastern.


I flew enough morning flights out of JFK to befriend the woman who ran the front desk at that Ionosphere Club. Her name was Helen and she was magical. She even upgraded Mary Ann to first class on a flight to West Palm Beach when Mary Ann and I were flying separately.  I had left two days earlier to attend our Managing Director’s meeting held that year at the Breakers Hotel and Mary Ann would join me for a post-conference Florida vacation.


That would turn out to be a tumultuous conference because the very day I left, news of a bond trading scandal involving our firm broke in the morning papers. I had The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal with me as I boarded the airplane. Helen had upgraded me to First Class on one of their Lockheed L-1011s. Heading to my seat, I noticed a chap sitting near me. He was reading information about our conference, so I asked, “What do you think of the bond scandal?”


“Pardon,” he replied with a heavy French accent. Instead of replying, I handed him the Times Business Section. Marsh &McLennan’s name was plastered across the front page as our bond scandal was the lead story. He looked down at the piece, looked up at me, looked down again and finally looked me in the eye and said, “Sacrebleu!”


His name was Raymond Jutheau, son of the president of a major French insurance broker that Marsh had recently purchased. He had just arrived at JFK on the daily Air France Concorde to attend his first Marsh conference and he hadn’t seen a newspaper since he left Paris. The price of our stock was tanking. Much of the purchase price was paid in Marsh stock making his family the largest shareholders in our firm: Sacrebleu, indeed!


Looking back at my flying career, if Eastern was my airline of record, my airplane of record was Boeing’s 727. Over the course of my career, I flew in a 727on 239 occasions. The DC-9 / MD-80 finished a distant second with 107 flights. Eastern used the 727 extensively as that three engine Boeing jet became the first domestic workhorse that opened almost all of America to jet travel. My colleague, Norb Forrester, once called it “the Pacific locomotive” of the airlines.


The party ended once the FAA de-regulated the airline industry. Eastern and other so called, “legacy carriers,” like Pan Am and TWA couldn’t compete in a free market. They were too slow to adjust to this brave new world and operated with many uncompetitive practices. Eastern’s flight network, constructed under tight FAA rules included several money-losing routes. So too, their pension obligations, union work rules and pay scales made them a weak sister to Delta, their principal domestic competitor. Eastern’s management exacerbated their problems by making several bad business decisions. I have said this before, their CEO, former astronaut, Frank Borman, didn’t help. As Eastern waivered and declined I offered my own explanation: “Eastern’s CEO is Frank Borman. The way he operates the airline, you’d think he was (Hitler’s private secretary) Martin Bormann.”


Using this carrier became a chore and I last flew on Eastern Airlines in 1987. I was prompted to abandon the Ionosphere Club and my remaining frequent flyer miles in part because the FAA slapped the airline with a $9.5 million fine for safety violations, an amount that wasn’t surpassed until 2010. Their service too, had deteriorated to a point just short of being antagonistic. Cabin crews were definitely in an, “I don’t give a s*** mode.


Borman sold Eastern to Texas Air who also bought Continental. Frank Lorenzo the new CEO didn’t try to save Eastern and cannibalized it by selling off profitable operations.   What was left of Eastern gave up the ghost at midnight on January 19, 1991.


American became my domestic carrier of choice and when they bought TWA’s overseas routes, American became my first choice for flights to Europe, especially London and Paris. I even joined American’s Admirals Club. Their service was a definite improvement, yet it too was declining.


The last time I traveled in a 727 was on a round trip Delta shuttle flight between LGA and DC in 1999. By then this jet had been relegated to the Boston and DC shuttles. Delta had the distinction of retiring the last 727 still operating in domestic scheduled passenger service in April of 2003.


What remained of the joy of flight disappeared after 9/11 as security regulations, shoddy service, cramped cabins and endless add-ons crushed it. Once a romantic adventure, flying became a bad experience to be avoided whenever possible.