John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: October, 2019

Fine Dining in the Desert

The following piece is partly an excerpt from a travel document I wrote about a trip we made in September of 2004 with two other couples, Don and Helen and Mike and Peggy to several Southwestern National Parks located in Arizona and Utah. They have been edited for content and subject manner.

On Tuesday, Sept. 21st, we departed Zion for Bryce Canyon where we hiked and explored in the late morning before having lunch in the park. After lunch we drove north another 100 miles to the Wonderland Motel in Torrey, Utah.

The afternoon scenery rivaled the morning. Don and Mike shared the drive north on Highway 12 through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park and Garfield National Forest. We reached 9,293 feet, as we ascend and descend on grades of 8% and 10%. The temperature dropped from 66 degrees to 38 as we encountered snow flurries and foliage comparable to New England at October’s peak. The most dramatic stretch of highway began north of the run-down downtown of Escalante where the road corkscrewed down the cliffs, crossed a small river then zig-zagged though a red rock canyon. Route 12 is cut into the right side of the canyon wall where we climbed at a steady pace. The left rim disappeared leaving the road to rise along the side of a mesa. On the opposite side, once we ascended to the top, a canyon provided a dramatic drop-off of several hundred feet. The top of the mesa was only wide enough to accommodate the road and narrow shoulders. This all happened in the space of five or six miles.

We reached Torrey after 5 pm and checked into the Wonderland Motel. Despite its whimsical name, the motel was strictly run with many rules. The woman behind the desk was polite, but firm. We could have only one key per room and could not check-out until the key is returned. The dinner menu at their restaurant was uninspiring and Don and Helen found an alternative in their AAA Guidebook called Café Diablo. It didn’t take much to convince the rest of us to take a chance over the Wonderland.

A 15-minute car ride into the desert brought us to what we were about discover was a four-star gourmet restaurant that was only open from April until October. When we arrived at six, it was already busy, and it just kept getting busier. As we enjoyed our meal, people crowded the lobby waiting for a table. Having to wait 20 minutes for a table on a Tuesday night in Torrey, Utah speaks volumes for the menu and quality of Café Diablo.

Our meal began with a complimentary Southwest Tapas. For appetizers we shared free-range rattlesnake, (it tasted like chicken) coconut calamari, and a house specialty called, Firecrackers with subcategories, Lady Fingers, Cherry Bombs and M-80 which were nowhere as hot and spicy as we expected. I ordered ribs that are served vertically in a circle. I could peel the meat off with a spoon. Don and Mary Ann had salmon, Helen, roasted pork tenderloin, Peggy, pecan chicken and Mike, Utah Lamb. Our margaritas received Don’s seal of approval. Our waitress was delightful, the wine, good and reasonable. She pointed out the fellow who is the owner and chef. He was busing a table when we spoke to him. He’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. “Why do you close for six months?” We asked. “Because I like to ski and travel, too.”

All desserts arrived with a separate serving of home-made ice cream. Mike devoured a large piece of chocolate cake, Helen, shared a piece of fruit-nut tart and Don, a plum tart, both topped with chunky ice cream and bourbon.

Mary Ann remarked, “Sure beats what we would have eaten at the Wonderland,” to which she received a collective, “Amen!”

A story about Utah triggered me to recall Café Diablo. I am happy to report that it is alive and well. Their 2019 menu includes Rattlesnake Cakes, Asparagus Firecrackers and Hellfire Shrimp as appetizers, Honeybee Salmon, Pomegranate & Chipotle Ribs and two steaks, the Rocky Mountain Elk Sirloin and the Boulder Mountain Ribeye.

As far as dessert, the menu notes: “It would be a sin if we told you before you got here.”

Café Diablo describes itself as: “A gourmet restaurant nestled below the Boulder and Thousand Lakes Mountains on the doorstep of Capital Reef National Park in Southern Utah. Café Diablo offers a fresh and fun dining experience that celebrates the geological majesty we find outside our own backdoor. Dine outdoors on our patio or indoors surrounded by paintings inspired by our landscape and the seed catalogs of the Early 1900’s. “

“It is our undying aspiration to make sure that you say ‘WOW’, when the food gets to the table. That you say ‘WHOA,’ when you take your first bites., and that you find yourself saying ‘WITHOUT A DOUBT ‘we will come back tomorrow.”  

I am pleased to discover that Utah’s own gourmet restaurant lives on and remains true to its culinary mission.

Café Diablo, live long and prosper.       

On the Road with Michael

Baseball was once our national pastime. From the beginning of the Twentieth Century until the mid-1960s baseball ruled supreme. Boxing, horse racing and college football trailed badly. Professional football was relegated to a niche corner like hockey, pro basketball, pro wrestling or roller derby.

Television changed the landscape beginning in 1956 when the New York Football Giants crushed the Chicago Bears before a national audience. Two years later, the Baltimore Colts sudden death victory over the same Football Giants rocketed the National Football League onto center stage and captured our collective consciousness. The professional game was a natural for TV and, like a light switch being thrown, pro-football became our collective sports obsession starting in the late 1960’s with the creation of Super Bowl, America’s predominate entertainment event.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a hater. I love baseball too. I grew up going to Brooklyn Dodgers games in Ebbits Fields. I watched the newly minted Mets in the Polo Grounds in 1962 and 1963 and attended their opening day at Shea Stadium in 1964. Since I retired in 2000, I’ve made many baseball trips; been to Wrigley, Fenway, Dodgers’ Stadium, Camden Yards, PNC Park, the Jake, Chase Field, Minute Maid Park, the Toronto Sky dome and Target Field among others. I have baseball credibility.

What annoys me most is baseball scribes and authors like Rich Lowry and George Wills and spokesmen like Jonathon Swartz who espouse a fake news script that baseball and baseball alone is the one sport that develops a special bond between fathers and sons.

Balderdash! I strongly object!

I have made many trips with my son, Michael, beginning in 1990 when we traveled to Chicago to watch our Super Bowl XXV winners play the Bears on opening day. Michael, still in college, flew in from Boston, I from New York and we met at O’Hare. Our hosts were Gary Gatewood, Jim Hagelow and Reuben Minor, three natural-born Bears fans all bigger than me but not as big as my son.

We had a great tailgate gate and a hell of a time at Soldiers Field that day even though Big Blue came up short in a closely fought contest. Win or lose, our bond had been born. We made two brilliant trips down to Florida to participate in what we refer to Miami I and Miami II. Both were insane and deserve their own telling but truly bonding experiences.

Contrary to common belief about the attitudes of folks living in the Golden State, Californian football fans are anything but laid back. We had an awful experience in San Diego, and, long story short, we were ejected from the stadium for the only time in most of our lives.

Needless to say, we were apprehensive going to Candlestick Park for a 49er’s game. Not to worry, just before kick-off, a posse of Hispanic five-by-five fans sporting spanking new Giants gear parked themselves directly in front of us.  After high fiving us, I turned to Michael and said, “Looks like we’re covered today.”

We’ve attended away games against the Bills, Bengals, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Cowboys, Mariners, Packers, Patriots, Saints and Texans. This coming weekend we are off to Detroit to see the Lions.    

Super Bowl XLII was and will always be the game of my life. What could surpass traveling to Tucson, Arizona with your son and a merry group of eight other Giant fans, trekking to Glendale in chartered SUVs, illegally tailgating then going into a stadium to watch your pride and joy come from behind on an impossible play to beat a team that was 18-0?

Following Eli Manning’s incredible Houdini like escape, his pass and David Tyree’s impossible catch, Manning regained the lead 17-14 with his lob pass to a wide-open Plaxico Burress with 34 seconds left on the clock. Here is how I described what happened next:

The Patriots had one last chance with 34-seconds and three time-outs left. When rookie tackle, Jay Alford nailed Brady on second down, I had the hope that the Patriots wouldn’t reach field goal range, but I held my breath when Brady tried to hit Moss on a pass he must have thrown 75-yards that Corey Webster knocked away at the last second. Ten seconds left on the clock and I was holding my breath. When Brady’s next pass went incomplete, I lost track of the downs and Michael had to remind me that the Giants now had the ball for the one second remaining on the clock.

When Michael lifted me in the air, I knew the Giants had won. The fellow with the cigar stood in stunned silence. Michael yelled to him, “You know where you can put that cigar now.”

 We didn’t stay long and began the crawl out of the parking lot. The mood was overwhelmingly joyful. We had just seen the greatest football game of our lives. Then Michael noticed a young woman wearing a Brady Jersey walk by. He leaned out the widow and said, “Don’t worry, Tom, 18-1 ain’t bad.”

“Fuck off.” came her reply.

Brilliant, Michael had nailed her.

And that’s what I call bonding!

The El the gate Train and the Conductor’s Song

The Myrtle Avenue Elevated line ceased operating this month 50-years ago. I first wrote this piece in 2002 and included it in:” The Big Orange Dog and Other Stories.”

Clang-clink, clank-clank, cling-clank, clang-clink, four bells, each rung twice, eight repetitions, the sound of the conductors’ song. No two sound the same; each bell expresses the identity of the conductor who rings it. Four different conductors play their song every day at each station on the Myrtle Avenue Elevated line.

The train’s crew, four conductors and the driver (or motorman) amble from their rest house at the Bridge Street Station and take their assigned positions on their five-car train. The conductors work outside forcing them to adjust their uniforms to meet their environment. Winter, cold and freezing rain are the worst elements and quilted vests, rubber gloves, ribbed shoes and plastic hat protectors’ help. But, at every station, they must leave the warmth of the coach and return to their position onto the open platforms between each coach.

With a lurch, the gate train leaves Bridge Street and downtown Brooklyn, its courthouses, law offices, the cavernous Dime Savings Bank, department stores like Abraham & Straus, Mays and Martins and its theaters, the Brooklyn Paramount, Fox and the RKO Albee. Nosily, the train crosses Flatbush Avenue and makes its way north through Fort Greene and Bedford – Stuyvesant past tenements and public housing projects, parks, storefronts and schools. Hovering two stories above Myrtle Avenue, trains travel on rails supported by wooden ties and steel beams past windows with open curtains, blinds, or shades revealing living rooms and kitchens, plants, bird cages, furniture, lamps, radios and televisions. Peering from coach windows, passengers glimpse people in their apartments. On hot days, women relaxing on pillows propped on windowsills stare back forcing the voyeurs to avert their eyes in embarrassment.

As the train pulls into a station, each conductor steps between the two platforms and faces the station. Straddling the space between two coaches, he observes the passengers waiting to detrain and board and pulls two iron levers toward him opening the gates. Passengers hurry by and, when all are on board, he takes a final look at the activity on the platform, reverses the levers and closes the gates. Then each conductor in turn performs the same ceremony, pulling the cord to his right ringing the bell on the next platform working toward the front of the train. “Clang-clang” it sings alerting the next conductor that the gates behind him are secured. He yanks the cord twice confirming that his gates are closed. The chorus continues until the final conductor rings a bell in the motorman’s cab signaling him “You have the railroad and it’s okay to go.”

Sparks fly from the third rail, motors strain emitting an electrical odor as coaches move over track joints. Trains cross busy streets active with trackless trolleys, diesel buses, cars, delivery trucks horse, wagons and push carts, relics of a bygone era, Pedestrians J-walk weaving and dodging to avoid colliding with this traffic.

Wooden platforms with ornate Victorian style station houses line the El. Each is named after the street below, many for famous Americans like Washington, Vanderbilt and Franklin.

Afternoon trains carry a melting pot mix of passengers, residents returning to their homes, Black and Hispanic women carrying groceries, their wash or packages from the central post office and German and Italian housewives, together or with children returning to Queens from shopping trips downtown. Post school time trains include high school students, boys from Brooklyn Tech with slide rules, science and engineering textbooks, girls from Dominican Commercial wearing pleated skirts and knee-high socks and boys sporting ties and jackets from St John’s Prep and Bishop Loughlin. Workers from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, tired and dirty, board the train at a station appropriately named Navy Street and brewery workers from Rheingold and Schaefer board at Broadway. The train continues north through Bushwick, crossing into Ridgewood, Queens until it reaches the end of the line at Metropolitan Avenue and the low-density communities and plentiful cemeteries that populate Maspeth and Middle Village.

For 75 years, the melody of the gate train is played until the tide of time and progress stills its sound in 1958. More efficient rebuilt wooden cars requiring only one conductor to operate doors replace the gates and the gatemen. For eleven more years trains continued to roll. Then in 1969, to the relief of all who live there, the Myrtle Avenue El met the same fate as the gate trains and was demolished south of Broadway.

Sunlight returned to a 35-block stretch Myrtle Avenue after years of perpetual darkness and the relative quiet of a Brooklyn street replaced the repetitive noise of passing trains. Still neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clintonville and Bed-Sty struggled through economic downturns, the drug invasion capped by crack and other crises. Now these neighborhoods are changing once again as gentrification takes hold. Ready or not Brooklyn is back.

Water Dogs

Dear reader, I believe you know about my love of retrievers. You also know that Mary Ann and I adopted Tessie last fall after her partner, Ria M reached the conclusion that Tessie could no longer perform all that is required of a blind person’s service dog. Tessie was Ria’s seventh Seeing Eye for the Blind guide dog all who had served Ria for as long as they could. If you wish to read in detail how Tessie came to live with us, go to my WordPress site and find “Welcome Tessy” published last December. (Using the spelling “Tessy” was my error.)

Goldens and labs are hard-wired to be retrievers. Historically, these working dogs have been bred to fetch waterfowl that their hunting masters bring down into ponds and lakes. On command, they follow hand signals to search out the fallen birds and return them to shore intact thanks to their soft mouths.

When Ria invited us to adopt Tessie, she hoped her loyal yellow lab companion would have experiences beyond those in the realm of a service dog’s life. Ria wanted Tessie to experience play with other dogs and the freedom to be just herself for herself.

Without question, we fulfilled Ria’s hopes and wishes thanks to our then eight-year old – still wacky Golden Retriever, Max, enhanced by our almost anything goes attitude toward our family dogs. When Tessie came to live with us, I told Mary Ann: “Give me a month and she will be a Delach dog.”

Tessie soon found pleasure in her new environment just as Ria had hoped. She checked off a variety of experiences previously off-limits in her mind. The most important to Ria was play. Not a problem as Tessie took to Max and, he to her. They became pals and play mates from the get-go; tug of war, a morning tussle, a post dinner tussle initiated by whoever decided to start a play session.

As the calendar flipped from 2018 into 2019 and winter morphed into spring, we re-opened our New Hampshire house and looked forward to summer.

Tessie had never experienced being in water. Our summer project was to convince a ten-year old Lab that she could swim. The key was to help her break the code that she was buoyant, that it was in her nature to retrieve and that she was engineered with a coat made to protect her from cold water.

We had a few advantages, Tessie loved playing with tennis balls and retrieving them. Another was Max. He is truly a water dog. When he was younger, he was somewhat ambivalent to fetching tennis balls but as he matured his enjoyment steadily increased.

In the beginning Tessie chose to concentrate on the tennis ball offered to her. Fortunately, she didn’t have a problem getting her legs and belly wet. It was only when she felt the beginning stage of becoming buoyant that she rushed back to shore. Our first goal was to make her comfortable. Throw the ball where she could grab it, praise her for retrieving it, repeat, repeat and repeat. A few times we tossed it beyond her comfort zone to extend her reach, but she wasn’t having any of that. This wasn’t a problem as we had Plan B; Max would retrieve the balls that exceeded her range.

Next time out, we tossed more balls into the forbidden zone. Each time we waited as Tessie checked out the distance and measured her options. Soon enough she chose to leap toward those tennis balls floating just outside her reach. She pounced, grabbed the ball into her mouth, made a quick 180 degree turn and quickly returned to safety where her paws found the muddy bottom.

She didn’t know it yet, but we recognized that Tessie had broken the code and was already swimming. Finally, after one otherwise uneventful toss, Tessie, leapt, grabbed and began to circle but then continued to circle realizing being buoyant was a good feeling that she could manage.

Breakthrough achieved, the rest was just a matter of increasing the distance, graduating from tossing the ball to using a tennis racquet to hit her target further and further out into the pond that eventually matched the distance that we were hitting them for Max.

We try to separate the balls, so our two dogs don’t aim for the same one. Even if we miscalculate and both aim for the same ball, neither can mouth more than one so both retrieve the prize they desire.

It is a joy to watch them race out to retrieve their tennis balls then leisurely paddle back to shore side-by-side tennis balls held proudly in their mouths. They are our water dogs who make us so happy.          

On The Outside Looking In

Welcome to my 300rd blog. What a ride, what a thrill.

I readily admit that on most Wednesday mornings, I am excited yet wary of the task at hand, launching my weekly piece. I kid you not, that piece has been edited by Mary Ann, also, in many cases, my writing group and by me one last time after all the input. Like a rocket paused on a launch pad down at Cape Kennedy, my hope each time is, it’s the payload: my blog ready to go?

First thing Wednesday morning, a trip to the Keurig brewer and a medium cup of Nantucket breakfast blend with a dab of milk. Coffee in hand, access my computer, open my piece, highlight and copy. Then open AOL, access my publisher, enter my site, write my title, paste my piece and select publish. Hit publish twice and in 98.5% of my attempts, the bird launches and in minutes, it arrives on “you have mail.”

I print out every blog just in case. You may ask, “Just in case of what?”

“Who the hell knows.” But in my mind, have a written record. No disc, no thumb-drive, no cloud.

Sounds logical and easy; right? But believe me, being 75, all my reference points are pre-analog technology and our entire cyber world remains to me, at best, a mystery and when it goes off the rails, the work of Satan. This electronic revolution is the way of the world, but it’s the revolution part that I don’t want to accept much less embrace it. Even if I were able to shake off the rust of history, all it takes to reduce me to incompetence is a major change in my operating system like the jump from 4G to 5G. Such a great leap forward breaks my mind and spirit while returning me to the electronic stone age.

I live and die on the whims of technology. Having access to electronic communication is a wonderful vehicle for a writer like me. I have a loyal and treasured following to whom I am grateful. WordPress allows me to share the widest range of topics possible and I hope that I reach my goal every week to present to you, dear reader, a quality presentation about a meaningful subject that you will find interesting but never insulting or offensive.

There is far too much “in your face” material being published. I refuse to be a part of that scene. There are plenty of other places to find a fight to the finish. Perhaps that is why I report about sports as often as I do. To me the most wonderful aspect of being a fan of a team is that once the contest ends; win, lose or draw, you walk away and return to your real life.

I ask your indulgence and promise not to overwhelm you with sports talk.

Having said that, let the record show that My Giants have now won two games in a row behind our rookie quarterback, Dan Jones. I can only hope that Eli Manning accepts this end of his era of king of New York and comes to terms with his excellent body of work especially being named the Most Valuable Player in his two Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots.

I avoid controversy as much as possible. That is why I do not openly reply to comments made to my pieces. If I believe I have an additional point to make, I will answer the reader personally via e-mail. My second reason for not publicly responding is I don’t want to turn my site into a debate forum.

I will take on a controversial subject but only if I can deal with it objectively and dispassionately and hopefully with humor. This is close to being impossible in our disruptive world where payback and revenge are paramount. I will not add to the noise that continuously bombards us. 

Three hundred blogs! God willing, I’ll publish Number 301 next Wednesday which is about helping a ten-year old Labrador Retriever swim for the very first time.

Dear reader, I thank you all for your loyalty, support and encouragement.