John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2018

Memories of My First London Trip

This is a follow-up to the piece about my rookie trip. Several of these stories have gone unreported since 1976.


Although we arrived on a Sunday morning, our room was ready. We were able to nap, shower and eat before being picked up by a CT Bowring chauffer who drove us together with Ed Kettle from Chevron and his wife out to Roger and Irene Tyndall’s suburban home. (Ed seemed perturbed at having to share a car with us interlopers.) I remember a pool in the Tyndall’s back yard with a mechanized removal cover and little else.


Monday night belonged to Bland Welsh. Tony and Johan Tisdall and David and Mary Hussey met us at the Shakespeare Tavern near Downing Street for drinks. (Tony managed to spill his drink down Mary Ann’s back although he never acknowledged this.) Dinner was a blur, but they took us to the Mermaid Theater off the Thames River to see “Side by Side by Sondheim.”


Hartley Cooper hosted a curious dinner. Eddie Norris and his wife took us to the Ritz Hotel on Green Park first. (The Ritz was then on its heels and this was prior to its re-birth as a luxury hotel that befitted its famous name.) Norris introduced us to Powell Watson a major marine client of Hartley Cooper based in Norfolk, Virginia.  Norris had put Watson up in an enormous suite which was obviously to Mr. Watson’s liking. Although it was shabby, his suite was a throwback to a more elegant era. We sat in their living room where Eddie ordered champagne and hors d’oeuvres via room service. I remember observing the state of the room but being impressed by the display of intercom buttons on an old telephone that included one for a maid and another for the butler.


Norris’ working brokers, Chris East and Ian Wallace and their wives joined us for dinner. I recall Wallace’s wife, Jane, a raven-haired beauty and Watson explaining to the table that he had recently purchased a Cadillac Eldorado for his widowed mother living in Florida. Powell noted: “Mother’s sight is poor, and this car will protect her when she crashes.”


John and Jan Bremner of Baines Daws together with John’s deputy, Bill Boyle and his wife, Janet, met us at a dock near the Tower where we boarded a Russian built hydrofoil for a fast ride down the Thames to Greenwich. We visited the museum dedicated to the world clock and home of Greenwich Mean Time. The museum also had an exhibition explaining America’s revolution and our Bi-Centennial. Dinner followed in a Greenwich restaurant and I presented each of their wives with a mint-condition bicentennial two-dollar bill.


Dennis and Connie Mead had us to their first home in Nazing. I don’t recall who else joined us, but I’ll never forget how warmly they treated us. Connie Mead presented Mary Ann with the large bouquet of flowers she picked from her garden. (That was the infamous night when, on our return to the Carlton Tower, we encountered Chuck and Ann Marie Sabatino.)


One morning, we took the train to Windsor where John and Brenda Shapiro met us, and we enjoyed a tour and a splendid lunch before they arranged for a car and driver for the ride home.


Being a veteran of NYC’s public transit, I actively sought out different ways to travel from the Carlton Tower to the City of London. The Underground was my first choice and I mastered the Circle and District Lines from Sloan Square to various stops in the business district. My next conquest was the Central Line from Marble Arch and I walked from the hotel through Hyde Park to utilize this line.


A word about the Underground circa 1976. Except for the Circle and District Lines that originated as steam rail lines built close to the surface, most tubes were accessed by long escalators. Unlike 1976 New York, I quickly learned that when you just rode the escalator, you always stepped to the left allowing those in a hurry to walk on the right. (Note: In New York, it’s opposite: walk on the left, stand on the right that is when we abide by this courtesy.)


Framed advertisements lined the walls that included rather risqué lingerie ads. One of the brand names for these women’s panties was “Loveable.” (The British called them knickers.) Their ad showed a woman police officer from behind. One view showed her wearing her utility belt, flashlight, club and other equipment. Next to it, a second view without her uniform wearing just panties with the caption: “Underneath it all, they are just loveable.”


One free and clear morning, Mary Ann and I had a leisurely breakfast before I kissed her goodbye and began my journey to the city by bus. Armed with a map of London routes, I made two or three changes to reach my destination. I could have travelled the same distance in less than an hour on the Underground that took almost 90 minutes by bus. But my convoluted journey was a learning experience of Central London congestion. I never ventured on a London bus again.


Coffee was awful, afternoon tea was a daily ritual served from a trolley wheeled by one of the women who also served lunch in private dining rooms. Those lunches began at one pm with drinks usually gin and tonic (G&T) followed by an appetizer like smoked salmon or prawns accompanied by white wine. A main course, a roast; beef, pork or poultry followed accompanied by white or red wine. Next, dessert, then cigars port or cognac and coffee. Lunch ended at three with brokers going back to work. I did too but I am not sure how I did it except I was young.


This was my first of almost 100 trips I would make to London during my career. I learned three important pieces of advice that I went on to share with those who came after me:

  1. Look left.
  2. Most things in London are on a 4/5th size scale. If you are tall, prepare to duck when entering trains, buses, cars and rooms.
  3. The queen is none of your business. If you think you have something to say to a Brit about Her Majesty be it good, bad or indifferent; shut your mouth and keep it to yourself.



Once Upon A Time at Sunnyside Garden

Guest blog by Peter King

Recently, SNY, the N. Y. Mets sports network featured the award-winning documentary about Sunnyside Gardens, the old fight club the famous Queens arena and for many years, the home of the Golden Gloves Tournament sponsored by The Daily News. (I was given an advance viewing of the documentary and think it is terrific. Admission — I make several appearances throughout the documentary.)


Boxing and horse racing were the kings of sports in New York from the turn of the Twentieth Century until overexposure by television killed the old fight clubs. Clubs proliferated in New York City. The granddaddy of them all, St. Nicholas Arena located on West 66th Street and Columbus Avenue reigned supreme from 1896 to 1962.


Eastern Parkway Arena deemed “House of Upset” held forth in Brownsville, Brooklyn from 1947 to 1958. Located at 1435 Eastern Parkway it was the setting for a national boxing show on the DuMont Television Network from May 1952 to May 1954. Teddy Brennan, later of Madison Square Garden fame was the matchmaker who featured up and coming talent like Floyd Paterson who fought there six times during that period.


Other venues included Jamaica Arena on Archer Avenue, the Broadway (Brooklyn) Arena, 1920 to 1951and The New Ridgewood Grove on the Brooklyn / Queens border from 1926 to 1956. These venues hosted their own televised boxing nights on the DuMont Network beginning in the late 1940s. This led to over-exposure as the ever-expanding television coverage of local boxing killed the gate and doomed these arenas. By 1956 most of these arenas had ceased to exist as had the DuMont Network.

Sunnyside Garden was the last of New York’s neighborhood fight clubs. A ramshackle, weather-beaten old building which stood stolidly on Queens Boulevard between 44th and 45th Streets in the shadow of the massive concrete el that carried the elevated Flushing subway line. It was about one mile from the 59th Street Bridge, three blocks from Manufacturers Trust Bank where Willie Sutton pulled his last stickup and four blocks from St. Teresa’s Grammar School where Dominican Nuns threw left hooks that rattled kids’ heads like trash cans full of broken toys.

I lived in an apartment house on 44th Street between Skillman and 43rd Avenues about 2 1/2 blocks from Sunnyside Garden and passed it each morning on my way to school. Next to the fight club was Robert Hall’s clothing store which was always good for a cheap suit. Inside the arena the air was a perpetual thick haze filled with cigar and cigarette smoke. There was a bar just after the front door and beer sales were always heavy. Since there were only a few hundred ringside seats, most of the always boisterous crowd crammed into rickety wooden bleacher seats.
Sunnyside Garden was all real with no frills. It didn’t attract Hollywood, Broadway or political celebrities. More likely to be seen were numbers runners, bookies or nondescript ward heelers. What it did attract were tough local fighters and the occasional top ranked fighters like Hurricane Jackson and Nino Valdez or even an ex-champ like Harold Johnson. One local guy who qualified on both counts was Levittown’s Irish Bobby Cassidy who fought countless times at Sunnyside against other club fighters and went on to become a top light heavyweight contender and a member of the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame.

Sunnyside Garden held its last boxing show in June 1977. Just six months later the fabled arena was torn down to be unceremoniously replaced by a Wendy’s! Today the only indicator of what went before is a monument outside Wendy’s honoring the arena and the gladiators who fought their hearts out there.

The SNY documentary with its vintage footage and insightful interviews captures Sunnyside Garden’s proud boxing history of grit, sweat and blood — as well as the neighborhood spirit of the times. Definitely worth watching!!

My Rookie London Trip

My first experience arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport was humiliating at best. Mary Ann and I arrived on a Sunday morning having flown overnight on British Airways. The seal on the bottle of Johnny Walker Red had come undone somewhere during the flight. I had bought it at the Duty-Free Shop at British Airways’ JFK Terminal on the advice of my boss, Charlie Robbins. Enough whiskey leaked onto my sports jacket that I’d stowed beneath it in the overhead to make me smell like the town drunk.


“What should I do?” I asked Mary Ann as we prepared to de-plane.

“You don’t smell as badly as you think you do. You’ll be fine.”


Perhaps she was correct, but, from my end, I swore I stank. Curiously, nobody mentioned it, not Chuck or Ann Marie Sabatino, our traveling companions, none of the officials at Customs and Immigrations nor the snotty driver from Bland Welsh who drove us and the Sabatinos to the Carlton Tower. The staff at check-in nor the bell-hop who took us to our room didn’t seem to notice either, still…


The year was 1976 and Chuck Sabatino and I both had reputations as “wise asses” at Marsh & McLennan, he on the cargo side, me on the hull side. Despite this, both of us had been promoted to Assistant Vice Presidents and our bosses decided that it was time for us to be make our debut in the London market. Whoever decided to send us over together insisted that we bring our wives for obvious reasons. We had both been prepped by various bosses on how to behave including what to say to our wives. Our prep went so far that our supreme leader, John Buzbee, invited us to his office after five pm on the Friday before we left. We were heavy with cash advances both in Dollars and Pounds as credit cards were not yet universal. We both had the traveler’s high, the combination of excitement about our coming adventure and money to burn.


John’s purpose was to take us down a peg by warning us about the impressions we would make; “Don’t be frivolous, lose control (see drinking) and be respectful and serious.” I expect his lecture would have gone on longer, but Chuck cut him off with this: “John, I know this drill. When I was in the Marine Corps, we made a trip to Japan, but before they let us off the ship for liberty, our Captain gathered us in formation and said: ‘Men, Japan is an ally: Keep it in your pants!”


What a week, what a time and what a city. London was fabulous. Mary Ann and Ann Marie’s days were free, and they had a grand time both sightseeing and more importantly, shopping. But London was a dangerous place that spring. One of the IRA’s bombing campaigns had just ended. Posters lined the underground, buses and public places warning citizens to report any unattended items.  The Carlton Tower had a security desk just inside its lobby entrance manned by uniformed guards. Mary Ann and Ann Marie befriended the guards, but they still inspected the contents of the ladies shopping bags every afternoon as they did our briefcases when we returned from the city.


At night we went our separate ways as the cargo scene and the hull scene encompassed different casts of characters. In those days, we placed business with several different Lloyds brokers, so each couple had a full dance card for the entire week.


Each night revolved around a big dinner proceeded or followed by an event, the theater, a cruise down the Thames on a hydrofoil, a trip to a country inn or a concert.


We did manage one serendipitous late-night encounter where we could be ourselves and blow off steam. That night, we all arrived on our floor at almost the same time. Mary Ann and I had just started toward our room when the next elevator arrived. We both turned around and out came Chuck and Ann Marie. Mary Ann carried a large bouquet of flowers presented to her earlier that evening. Chuck took one look and sprinted toward her blowing by me. I watched as he jumped into her arms as down they went flowers cascading in every direction; one of the funniest sights, ever! We all exploded in laughter then retreated to our room where the four of us drank my bottle and the mini-bar dry as we let loose.


God knows how many rookie mistakes we made. The most common, when taking a ride with a Brit in their company Jaguar; automatically walking over to the left-hand door. The Brits loved it and always asked, “Oh, I didn’t know you were driving.” I can’t tell you how long it took to break that instinct.


Private lunch clubs prevailed, all of them position or class oriented. If I went to lunch with the, “so called, ‘boys,” the senior boy hosted the lunch at the firm’s pub. (Yes, they all had their own pubs and luncheon clubs and, in those days; men only.)


Lots of pretensions, many lunches were command performances for us to present ourselves.  That’s why lunches with those boys were my favorite. They were ambitious wise asses just like me and we could get on using guile and humor. Many of those boys became lasting friends.


My rookie lunch reckoning came at a more upscale lunch in the executive dining room belonging to Mead, Shapiro and Tyndall, a small firm, now long gone. The meal began with fried prawns as the appetizer, one of my favorites. I looked around for salt and spied a bowl that I assumed was what I sought. I spooned some on my dish and Giles Bly, a junior broker, admonished me my saying, “John, I didn’t know you liked sugar on your prawns.”


He deliberately compounded his slight by demanding that the waiter replace my ruined prawns immediately loud enough for all to hear.


To this day, Mr. Bly doesn’t realize how close he came to death for doing that.



My Dream of Becoming an Aviator

Guest Blog by Phil Brown

John’s articles about the airplanes/airports sure brought back a flood of memories. I went to school in Bonham, a small North Texas town with a population of about 7,000. Dallas was home of most of my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. When I would visit, (if lucky) one of my uncles would drive us out to Love Field to watch the action. Security didn’t really exist. We would park where planes taking off flew right over us. So exciting for me! We could also go into the terminal and up to an observation platform where we could watch the action and hear the tower. I was in love with the idea of flying and dreamed of being a pilot. After reading stacks of pulp fiction I envisioned a long white silk scarf, dashingly worn around my neck, a form fitting helmet with dashing Ra-bans carefully shooting down those damn Nazis and Japs!


Prior to the war the Army Air Corps began to expand. They did not have enough instructors nor training fields. A program was started that enabled civilians to establish a training fields for the Air Corp. These contractors provided the actual airstrip, barracks for cadets and everything necessary to house and feed them. They also provided the flight instructors. When these instructor pilots hit town they really made a stir, young, handsome, dashing with lots of money; they were paid as much as $200 per month!


I was working at Saunders Drugs, the most popular of three drug stores spread around the town square. I was a soda jerk and none of the other stores had fountain action like we did. We were THE place for the local high school crowd to hang. The food (breakfast and lunch) was quite good. The owner of the store had a cook who had previously been a Pullman dining car cook. The cook prepared the pimento cheese, chicken salad, tuna salad and other dishes at home that he brought to the store.  We were about the only hot spot in town and the flight instructors jumped all over our food and fellowship. Can you imagine how bored those guys were?


Since several were in the store regularly I made particular friends with two or three of them. As we became better friends I shared my dream to become a pilot. Two of them volunteered to give me free lessons. The closest field where a trainer could be rented was about 35 miles away in Sherman, Texas. There you could charter an Aeronica K for $8.00 per hour. The plane had a 45-horse power engine. In a strong headwind it would just about fly backwards! The instruction was free, I only had to pay for the plane. At that time my hourly income at the store was ten-cents an hour. Just think…I only had to work my a… off for 80 hours to get one lesson! Simply put, they were out of my reach.


One day my sister told me that I had a call from one of the other drug stores. I returned the call with hesitation and the owner, Mr. Jackson, asked me to come by his store. Mr. Jackson was very dour and intimidating. He told me that he was well-aware of the dominant business we had built up. He explained that he wanted to get something like that going. After some very flattering remarks he asked if I would consider coming with him. He said he would be more than willing to invest in whatever new equipment I thought we would need. I thanked him for his confidence, but I was happy where I was. He cleared his throat and told me he knew how much Saunders paid and he was willing to pay me 25 cents an hour. I nearly fainted. The old man had lost his mind. Since he was a pharmacist I thought he had been dipping into his own stuff: Twenty-five cents, holy cats, Great Scot or even caramba! I tried to look cool and only somewhat impressed. He said take my time to think about it and let him know in a few days.


I staggered out of the store and on to my regular job. I sweated over the offer for several days, planned to accept the fantastic offer but didn’t have guts enough to tell Mr. Saunders. We were paid in cash each Saturday night after closing. I thought that would be the proper time to tell Mr. Saunders the devastating news that his Cracker Jack soda jerk was moving to greener pastures.


Saturday night rolled around to find me sweating bullets. I went to the office for my weekly pay but also to resign. Saunders handed me the envelope and I stuttered and stammered as I gave him notice that I was leaving. He calmly asked why and where. He asked how much I would be paid? He cleared his throat and told me how much he liked me personally and that he would hate to lose me. If I would agree to stay with him he would immediately raise my hourly rate 50%.


I nearly fainted. That sounded like all the money in the world. Wow!!! 50%. Of course, I agreed to stay. It did not occur to me how much 50% was. All I saw was my rate would now be – just think of it – 50% more. I had the miserable task of going by Mr. Jackson’s store to tell him the bad news. Thankfully, he didn’t ask how much Saunders would now pay. Next Saturday night I took my money home and dumped it on the bed. It was certainly an improvement. However, I thought it seemed a little light. I then multiplied my hours by 25 cents and realized I had been given a math lesson that I never forgot.


But never mind, the raise gave me the money I needed to train to be a pilot. In those days you were required to have eight hours of dual instruction prior to your solo flight. Even so, the expense turned out to be too rich for my blood and I finally folded after six or seven hours. My log book has long since gone the way of the buffalo…wish I still had it. It was exciting, particularly for a boy of 15/16.


You can imagine how primitive the instruments were, a compass, altimeter, bank indicator, magneto meter which I think was it. The engine was started by twirling the propeller being very careful to step back and not forward. The flights we took were of course at low altitudes. In stiff winds cars on the roads below could easily out pace us. If we became careless and somewhat turned around, we would head for one of the towns and circle the water tower to see exactly where we were. I became adept at take-offs, but landings were a bit dicey. The plane was a taildragger and prone to stalling making low speed landings tricky.


My dream of being an ace did not come true. When I enlisted in the Navy my recruiter agreed that I could join the Navy’s V5 program meaning I would attend flight school. About the time the ink was dry on my papers he advised that the program was full…the Navy had more aviation trainees in flight school than they needed or wanted. Instead, I was sent to amphibian warfare school where I became a scared swabbie, probably a good break since I made it home safely!