John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2018

Nostalgia on the IRT

The second I stepped into one of those four ancient subway cars, the memory of that old, familiar smell ignited my senses. Electric ozone, a not unpleasant odor, filled my senses as it had since I first rode the subways with my mother in the 1940s. All those rides to all those places, movies in Times Square, shopping at Macy’s and Gimbles at Thirty-Fourth Street, adventures in Coney Island, voyages from Whitehall Street on the Staten Island Ferry and sweet sunny days at the Canarsie Pier. Later in my teens, trips to Madison Square Garden for Ranger games, the Polo Grounds for the Mets and Jets and Yankee Stadium for the Bronx Bombers and the New York Football Giants.


The odor always present, was joined by a vague taste of steel in the air. Sounds once common, also returned. As I sat on the waiting train my ears picked up the idling DC electric motors as they thumped and whirred until the motorman put them in gear. As the train began to move these electrical devices gave off a cacophony of bangs and booms as the carriages shook off their inertia and begrudgingly moved off into the waiting tunnel.


This excursion began at the Grand Central subway station that served the Forty-Second Street Shuttle Line. Sponsored by the New York Transit Museum, it was called Centennials & Cemeteries. About 50 ticket holders had gathered at the Museum store inside Grand Central Terminal where we were escorted down to the shuttle station. As soon as a shuttle train departed from Track 1 bound for Times Square, the four IRT (Numbered train lines) Lo-V cars entered the station from the opposite direction. As we boarded we could see that we were greatly outnumbered by subway workers, some on the job running the train, some providing security and crowd management, but mostly, subway buffs like many of us.


Not all were transit buffs, though. Our destination was the Woodlawn Station at the top of the Bronx celebrating it’s 100 anniversary and a tour of Woodlawn Cemetery. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011 by the National Park Service, Woodlawn’s celebrated lot owners include VIPs like Robert Moses, Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Fiorello LaGuardia, Celia Cruz, Admiral David Farragut, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Charles Evan Hughes and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”


Our little train began the journey by heading downtown on the Lexington Avenue (East Side numbered) Line on the local tracks south to the City Hall loop. The train moved slowly along this route as the train ahead made all stops from Thirty-Third Street to Brooklyn Bridge. South of that stop, we entered the loop that passed the abandoned and museum quality City Hall Station, the stop where the First Subway originated. The chandeliers and wall lights were all illuminated providing an excellent view of this historic station. The loop continued back to the north bound local tracks at Brooklyn Bridge.


From there excitement reigned supreme once the train left Brooklyn Bridge. No regular scheduled trains were operating on the express track making it our exclusive province. The motorman opened the throttle allowing this consist to travel uptown at the generous speed limit. What a feast of sounds, sights and smells as we roared through the tunnels and the local stations. These Low-Vs were built between 1916 and 1925 and they acted accordingly. We bounced and bucked continuously, conversation was impossible there was so much noise while a breeze manufactured by the moving train filled the cars with the same subway scent I remembered from old New York subway tunnels, the London Underground and the Paris Metro.  The motorman only slowed down to a more reasonable speed when we rolled though the express stops at Union Square, Grand Central, Fifty-Nine Street and Eighty-Six Street. What a run, there is nothing like riding a New York City subway express going full out especially one that felt it would fall apart at any moment.


The train became elevated as we approached Yankee Stadium and we continued northward through the Bronx past eleven more stops and such sights as the Kingsbridge Armory (once the largest indoor floor space in the world), Lehman College and Mosholu Parkway to the Woodlawn Terminal.


Coincidentally, Mosholu Parkway, a three-mile car only roadway connecting the Bronx Botanical Gardens and Van Cortland Park was built by Robert Moses in 1937 and remains a Bronx treasure.


This happened on Sunday, April 15, one of those many unpleasant days we were forced to endure this past winter and spring. The air was filled with a biting wind and enough moisture to make it miserable. I decided that the train ride was enough for me and chose to call it a day and ride a southbound Number 4 train back to Grand Central.


Seeing Robert Moses’ resting place would have to wait for another day.

Once Upon A Time in the Hudson Valley

A Guest Blog by Geoff Jones

Ralph and I were seniors at Briarcliff High School. His family had multiple cars and his favorite was what we called a Jeepster. an elongated Jeep with a frame and canvas roof/siding. One day Ralph drove a group of us to a drag strip somewhere near Cornwall, in the hills north of West Point. On the way home, the Jeepster’s engine made a loud noise and just died as he pulled to the side of the road. We left it there and our friends drove us home. I agreed to help Ralph retrieve it the next day.


We conceived a plan to tow it back to Briarcliff using my big beat up 1954 Buick with plenty of power. The next morning, Ralph and I with another friend drove up Route 9A past Camp Smith and onto Bear Mountain Road, a curvy two-lane road that led to the Bear Mountain Bridge where we crossed the Hudson River. We continued past West Point and up a road that goes up and around Storm King Mountain, another steep, curvy and dangerous road.


I had an old but thick Manila rope which we tied between our bumpers. Ralph took the Jeepster wheel, I drove the Buick with our friend riding shotgun with me. We left about 15 feet of slack between us for safety and started out. The early towing was easy as it was level and even the uphill wasn’t bad aside from a few jolts when our speeds differed too much. We quickly realized that downhill was a problem. If I saw Ralph getting too close, I’d tend to speed up at about the same time he realized he was getting close. This produced some real snaps, but the rope held.


When we reached the Bear Mountain Bridge I remembered too late that we had to stop and pay the toll. We’d given little thought to this complication and it occurred to me that since what we were doing was illegal, not to say nutty, the toll taker could be a real problem. The bridge is in a state park, so the tolls were run by some sort of cop.


Undaunted, we coasted up and I gave the toll taker money for both of us and stuck out my hand to indicate to Ralph not to stop. Remarkably the guy did nothing. To this day I still think he was so dumbfounded he didn’t know what to do and didn’t call it in because he might have trouble explaining how he happened to let us through while collecting both tolls.


Back on the Bear Mountain Road, we pulled on to a shoulder to plan things because if you’ve driven it you know it’s tricky. We decided to tow him to the top and release him to coast down toward Camp Smith. We drove to the top just fine, found a big overlook to park in while we untied. Then we pushed him out onto the road and waved goodbye. Ralph started slowly but began gathering speed as he disappeared around the first bend. We returned to the Buick and took off to catch him at the bottom.


But we forgot something. That was just the first of several downhills separated by long enough stretches of level road that killed Ralph’s momentum. In a few minutes we caught up to him and stopped where there was no shoulder. Working in the road with nothing to alert drivers approaching from behind, we had to hook up the Jeepster again and resume towing Ralph to the top of the hill before us. We crested it, stopped, untied and pushed him off for another downhill ride.


Once again, we caught up to him in a few miles only to find the Jeepster at the bottom facing another hill. We did it all over and this time he rolled to the bottom a mile or so from Camp Smith. This was the end of Bear Mountain Road, so we hooked up and towed him from there down Route 9A to the exit before the old Putnam line railroad station.


There we exited onto the main road that led to Ralph’s garage located directly across the street from the police station. I gulped as I spied, Bob Whiting, a Briarcliff policeman standing at the front door wide eyed as we pulled in. Fortunately, Whitey knew me well from umping high school games and was one of the few nice cops on the force.


He strolled over and we tried to explain what we’d done. I remember him saying something like. “I didn’t see you, you never spoke to me and if you say anything I’ll guarantee to ticket you every time I see you until you graduate.”


We kept our word for at least for a few months by which time Whitey mentioned it to me when I came to bat in a game. He actually thought it was dumb but funny.

Step in a little closer, ladies and gentlemen and observe that I have nothing up my sleeves. I come before you today with the deal of a lifetime. I kid you not but let me warn you that I shall not pass this way again any time soon. Observe the little red card I hold in my hand. The Moviepass Mastercard. It’s a debit card property of the Fifth Third Bank but it can be yours.


Folks hear me out, this little red card is your entrance to endless entertainment on the big silver screen any day, every day at movie theaters throughout the United States of America. Armed with this little red card, you may walk into a participating theater each day of the week and see a motion picture of your choice for free. You heard correctly; F-R-E-E, free, free, free!


You ask, “So what’s the catch?” There isn’t any catch. All you need do to obtain this little red card is to have a smart phone. You download the Moviepass app, fill out the application on the app and register your credit card number with your new pals at Moviepass. They will charge your credit card $9.90 a month and send you the little red card in seven to ten days.


“I sense skepticism! Do not fear and let your hearts be glad. I guarantee your credit card will not be billed until you successfully use your little red card for the first time.


Think of the possibilities: you can see 30 movies a month for the sum of $9.90. You say $9.90 is too much, how about $7.90? No; how about $6.90? Ladies and gentlemen, you must agree this is the deal of a lifetime.


Our daughter, Beth, first told us about Moviepass in early February. We took the $9.90 plunge and received our cards later that month. My first attempt didn’t go well. The rules that accompanied my card seemed simple enough, go to the theatre armed with your smartphone and debit card. On arrival in the lobby, activate the app for that theatre, the movie you want to see, the movie start time and check in electronically. Once my app confirmed I was checked in, all I had to do was present my debit card to the cashier who will print my ticket. But when I arrived at the Stadium multi-plex in Westbury, the app would not connect. I went so far to seek assistance from the theatre’s customer service rep. without satisfaction. Humbled, I thanked her and returned home.


Rather than give up, I tried using the app at our local theatre in Port Washington where it worked just fine. I had no desire to pick the movie about to begin so I gave my ticket to a waiting customer who successfully used it. As a second test, Mary Ann and I returned to the Stadium that had defeated me. This time, she successfully used her card. She picked Peter Rabbit as her movie. She asked the next person in line if he was interested in that movie? When he said yes, she made his day by giving him her ticket.


Since then we have enjoyed the following movies on Moviepass: Darkest Hour, Black Panther, The 3:15 to Paris, Red Sparrow, Game Night, A Wrinkle in Time, Stalin’s Funeral, The Leisure Seekers, Outside, In, Lean on Pete and Chappaquiddick.


To say this is a movie goer’s bonanza is at best an understatement. Not only does it provide a ready-made incentive to see the movies we truly want to see, it entices us to take-in less desirable films that we wouldn’t ordinarily considering seeing.


It works like a charm. Are there restrictions? Of course, there are. There is limited access to e-ticketing so advance purchase from home is severely limited. It doesn’t include 3-D showings or IMAX and so-called “stadium theatres” showing block-buster movies like Black Panther. Operators who know they will be mobbed can opt out of accepting Moviepass for new openings. But other than these slight inconveniences it is swell.


Truthfully, our problem is we keep looking over our shoulders waiting for the ultimate implosion. Someone is not making money. We’ve asked ticket clerks if this was hurting them? They laugh and say, “Not at all.” They are satisfied with amount they receive and are paid immediately thanks to the debit card.


Is this a Ponzi Scheme? Does Moviepass have a complicated business model we can’t contemplate? Or is this a means to some other end?


Who knows, not me. I sense somewhere a clock is ticking but until this bomb goes off, Mary Ann and I will ride these horses as far and as long as they will take us, and should a day of reckoning come around, we’ll take solace in an old warning that we expect will be Moviepass’ epitaphic:


It was too good to be true and like most deals that appear to be too good to be true, they usually are too good to be true… and so it goes.



(I will be traveling next week so the next edition of “On the Outside Looking In” will appear on May 23.)

New York Magazine and Me

On April 8, 1968, New York Magazine reappeared as a new stand-alone weekly magazine. My heart leapt with joy to discover this offspring of the late, great New York Herald Tribune had sprung back to life. Prior to the Trib’s demise, New York Magazine had been their Sunday magazine section and featured the Trib’s stable of outstanding writers. I had high-hopes for this new venture, but I soon realized we had a disconnect. Their editors designed the content with an elitist Upper East Side focus that disappointed me. I also suspected that these editors would be disappointed if they knew they had a subscriber like me and so began my love / hate relationship with New York Magazine.


I first discovered the New York Herald Tribune while a student at St. Francis College in Brooklyn in 1961. My newspaper experience growing up was limited to The Daily News and Daily Mirror in the morning and the New York Journal-American at night. College opened my horizon but one look at The New York Times turned me off. All those columns and tiny headlines on the front page reminded me of a tombstone.


The Trib lived right next to The Times on every newsstand and I quickly took a liking to its off-beat approach and especially, the collection of skilled scribes, writers and reporters like Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap, Art Buchwald, Tom Wolf and Red Smith. These were giants who could go toe to toe with anyone The Times could bring to bat.


Little did I realize how fragile newspapers were and that their golden age was about to disappear forever. The demise began when Thomas Murphy, the head of The Newspaper Guild, led the largest newspaper union out on strike against The Daily News on November 1, 1962. The other newspapers foolishly joined ranks and ceased publishing. This prolonged the strike / lock out which still could have ended with a reasonable solution. However, on December 8th, Bert Powers, the radical president of the NY Typographical Union, led his Local 6 out on a bloody strike with outrageous demands that would destroy the newspaper industry as we knew it.


By the time the strike ended in 1963, several newspapers were severely damaged. The loss of holiday advertisement for the 1962 season was put at over $100 million and post-strike circulation dropped by almost 12%. Powers name became a curse word outside his union, as the man who killed newspapers.


The Daily Mirror succumbed on October 15, 1963 with the remaining papers deeply wounded yet trying to continue.


The post-strike Trib gave birth to New York Magazine in 1963 as a new concept to enhance its ability to compete with The Sunday Times Magazine. It did enhance my love for The Trib. Breslin and Schaap’s columns regularly ran as did Buchwald’s giving me an extra dose of their journalistic ability. Unlike the later magazine, it had a man-on-the-street approach to covering the city. (Then again, with Jimmy Breslin, how could it not have had this approach.)


The Trib soldiered on for three more years before raising a white flag. That was when a grand merger of three of the traditional but ailing newspapers was announced early in 1966. The Herald Tribune, Journal-American and the World-Telegram & Sun would combine operations producing two daily newspapers, the morning Herald Tribune and the World Journal in the afternoon.


The new entities were scheduled to debut on April 25th, but several newspaper unions went out on strike against, “this cost-cutting consolidation (that) also meant the loss of many jobs for typographers, reporters and editors.” A settlement wasn’t reached until September 12th, 140 days later.


These strikes gutted the new entity, reducing it to a single evening newspaper now christened as the World Journal Tribune. The cripple lasted just over a year until Friday, May 3, 1967. The headline on the last night of business proclaimed: “World Journal Tribune Ends Publication Today.”


I’m not sure how many times I re-subscribed to New York over the years but my M.O. was consistent. I’d see an issue with an article that reflected the city that I believed in. I’d sign on, once again only to be disappointed and turned off by the glut of opinions counter to my own. My last renewal began several years ago. Somehow, I signed on for a perpetual subscription. I kept looking for renewal notices, but none were forthcoming.


Granted, occasional pieces were noteworthy, but it was a slog. Meanwhile, New York, like many other magazines suffered under E-commerce and subscription rates fell off over the last few years. Eventually, they reduced their frequency to two issues a month which extended my subscription. Last fall I received notice that my subscription would expire in the spring.


Any consideration that I would possibly renew ended when they ceased mailing the magazines and bought into a cheaper delivery service. Their magazine would be delivered by the same drivers who brought us Newsday, our local morning newspaper. Delivery has been haphazard at best. I estimate that I have missed at least half of the editions since they began using this service.


I kept waiting and finally the day of my salvation arrived. I received the March 19-April 1 issue clad in a red cardboard jacket that proclaimed: “LAST ISSUE: RENEW NOW!”


No phone calls, e-mails or telegrams.* Perhaps they finally had enough of me too. Whatever:


Adios New York Magazine, I’m free of your clutches at long last!


*Does Western Union still send telegrams?