Journey’s End 1971: Part One

by John Delach

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.