John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2020

Long Tall Sally and Me

Little Richard passed last month at 87. RIP: Richard Wayne Penniman.

In 1955, he exploded out of the Rhythm & Blues (R&B) backwaters of the deep South and crashed into the early days of rock and roll with his hit song: Tutti Frutti. Granted, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Bo Didley had previously crossed over from R&B to white rock, but Little Richard initiated a revolution and rightfully deserves to be called the Godfather of Rock and Roll!

As Tim Weiner explained in his New York Times obituary: “Little Richard, pounding the piano furiously and screaming as if for his very life, raised the energy level several notches and created something not quite like any music that had been heard before – something new, thrilling and more than a little dangerous.”  

Dangerous, indeed: Take my favorite Little Richard tune: Long Tall Sally. Most renditions muted the theme of the song that Uncle John was having an extra marital affair with Sally. The significant verse is:

Well, long tall Sally

She’s built for speed, she got

Everything that Uncle John need.

This verse was altered to:

Well long tall Sally’s

Kind of sweet, she got

Everything that Arkansas need.

Really! If it’s about Arkansas, then why did Uncle John have to duck back in the alley when he saw Aunt Mary coming?

But I digress. I was on my way home alone on a Friday afternoon at the end of another London business trip. (I made over a one hundred from 1976 to 2000.)

Seeking a hidden treasure, I stopped at the bookstore in the Heathrow’s Terminal Three. Luck was with me as I discovered a cassette featuring the mid-century R&B entertainers / song writers who became the roots of rock and roll.

Of course, Little Richard was one and the tape featured four of his songs: Good Golly Miss Molly, Lucille, Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally.

Pleased with my discovery, I made my way to the British Airways lounge to relax, have a bloody Mary and listen to my new tape as I waited for my flight to be called for boarding. When I saw it flashing on the departure board, I left the club and headed for my gate.

Back in the day, BA’s gates for flights to America were a relatively long distance from the club. From repetition, I knew my gate’s location, so I strolled along the corridors listening to these great singers filling my headphones with songs like Long Tall Sally.

I was in the groove by the time I reached the gate. Cassette player off, I received my boarding pass. I thanked the agent and made my way on to the jetway. As I stepped onto the 747, I offered my boarding pass to the flight attendant at the door who examined it and directed me to my seat.

I began my usual drill to settle in for the long flight home. I removed the items I expected to use during this flight before I put my carry-on into the overhead.

Suddenly, I heard the following announcement: “Would John Delach please identify himself?”

I rang my call button identifying my location.

“Mister Delach, may I see your boarding pass?”

I handed it to the flight attendant. She examined it, then asked, “Where are you traveling to with us today?” (Got to love Brit-speak!)

“New York’s JFK”

“I see. The problem is the destination for this airplane is Boston. It seems that you boarded the flight at Gate 73. Our British Airways flight to JFK is at Gate 75.”

Fortunately, time was on my side, the correct gate was only one away and this crew had alerted the JFK crew that I was on my way.

“Long Tall Sally” had been my undoing but I wasn’t the only one asleep at the switch that Friday afternoon.     

Once Upon a Time in Findlay, Ohio

Bill Smith as told to John Delach

Part Two: The Journey

The Imperial House Motel, next to the interchange of I-75 and Route 157 was the ideal spot to begin and end our journey. We picked May 30 to accommodate me as I was getting married two Saturdays later. We hoped that a starting time of 9am would put us in New York City sometime on Sunday morning to avoid heavy traffic

A small, but enthusiastic crowd saw us off as we headed north. Destination – Toledo, 45 miles away where we turned onto Interstate 90 East for the 582-mile run to Albany. Weather and traffic were fine as adrenalin began to wear off and we established our routine. We decided to rotate drivers every four hours and service the car every eight hours. The first driver would hit the rack at that first service stop and we followed that rotation at each additional service stop.

Upon reaching Albany, we made a planned detour to allow our route to include the northern New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We selected US 4, a route that took us 250 miles through Rutland, Claremont and Concord before reaching Portsmouth. US 4 was then mostly a two-lane road with limited passing and speed limits as low as 30 MPH for many towns. One advantage, we drove on a Saturday night when traffic was light. From Portsmouth, we crossed over the Piscataqua River to Kittery, Maine, paid our respects to the Pine Tree State before turning onto I-95 for the long journey to Florida.

As planned, we crossed through NYC about 7am and began our second day somewhere in New Jersey. Sunday took us through DC, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. We did not exit onto I-10 in Jacksonville but continued south until Daytona Beach where we transferred to I-4 for the run to Tampa. (Although this detour cost us an additional 425 miles, we considered it to be the correct route not to exclude I-4.)

Interstate-75 sent us back north to I-10. Day 3 began near Tallahassee where we navigated a gap of 264 miles in Interstate-10 using US 90 that slowed our progress until Pensacola. Back on I-10 we headed west through the night passing Mobile, New Orleans and Houston before reaching Fort Stockton, Texas and the start of Day 4.

We cruised through Texas, New Mexico and into Arizona where we witnessed the power, beauty and fury of nature as the night exploded courtesy of a powerful electrical storm in the desert. Never had I participated in an event like that before and never would again. It was still dark when we reached San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.

Day 5 found outside Fresno heading north on Interstate-5, destination, Seattle and Interstate-90. We were forced to transverse several gaps along this stretch of I-90 before we could cross into Idaho. We reached Lake Coeur D’Alene close to the start of our sixth day where we were blessed by the sight of that lake in the morning sun. It dazzled like a jewel.

I also experienced a far less pleasant episode as we exited the Cascade Mountains. Pollen invaded the car bringing on an asthma attack that forced me to put my nose and mouth right up to the A/C vent and breathe deeply for several minutes before I found relief. The big sky country accompanied us for most of the daylight hours before we slid into darkness of North Dakota and Minnesota.

A sunrise west of St. Paul greeted us and in the next ten-hours, we buzzed by Chicago and turned south at Toledo for the last run on I-75 for Findlay. We reached the Imperial’s parking at about 7 PM on Friday evening making our total elapsed time: 6 days, 10 hours, and 30 minutes.

Once the formalities ended, I made my way home to sleep, clean up and begin my preparations for my wedding ceremony the following Saturday. Comments about my journey, both positive and negative, consumed my poor bride and me at our reception.

As I look back on our trip, I can’t help but smile. None of us had travelled extensively at that stage in our lives and this adventure gave us the opportunity to see our country in all its geographical glory.

For me it was also an excellent bachelor party.

Once Upon a Time in Findlay, Ohio

Part One: The Plan

The year was 1969. Two other twenty-something colleagues, brothers Bob and Roger B. and I had a light-bulb moment: “How long would it take to make a car trip along the Interstate Highways that follow the perimeters of the USA at the legal speed limits stopping only for fuel, food and to freshen up?” (Alaska and Hawaii need not apply)

What-if, indeed! Instead of returning to a netherworld, we began figuring out the what-ifs and a plan began to form.

Our timing was favorable. Most of the perimeter interstates: I-5, I-10, I-90 and I-95 were nearly complete. The price of gasoline was relatively cheap, and the speed limits were set at 65 and 70 in most rural areas and in a few at 80. Findlay was a perfect place to acquire sponsors. First things, first, we needed the right type of automobile. Since our journey would be one of endurance rather than speed, we decided on a large, comfortable vehicle. By coincidence we were all Pontiac men, and each had recently purchased a new car from, Jim Herrin, our local dealer.

Mr. Herrin caught our enthusiasm and convinced his regional manager to lend us a 1969 Executive Safari Station Wagon 400, a 4,636 pound beast that normally sat eight. One problem though, was its range. Even with its 20-gallon fuel tank, given the Safari’s MPG of 13.4 for highway driving, its range was only between 245 and 290 miles for time-consuming fill-ups.

We three adventurers worked for Marathon Oil Company at its national headquarters in downtown Findlay. Our pitch to management was well-received. Marathon, then considered to be a regional operator, was looking to expand its brand and hasten the development of their own credit card.

As our plan took shape, Cooper Tire Company, also domiciled in Findlay, came on board as a sponsor fitting the Safari with top-of-the-line tires.

We didn’t plan to use the third rear-facing seat in the station wagon during this trip so Bob, who was a car buff and excellent mechanic, ameliorated  the driving range limitation by installing a second 20-gallon tank in this seat’s foot well. The tank was connected by a hose with a pump to transfer gasoline on the fly. We installed a plywood floor behind the front seat for a padded sleeping area, an electric camper fridge that plugged into the cigarette lighter socket and a porta-potty for “urgent and unscheduled necessities.” We even rigged a makeshift café curtain to afford a degree of privacy

Paper maps and atlases were used to identify routes and planned stopping points. Bob acquired a ship-to-shore radio-telephone, a God-send in this era before the concept of cellular phones even existed. Crude, by today’s standards, the originating party called a special operator who connected the call to the desired phone number. Only one party could speak at a time and the conversation was open to any third party listening on a shortwave radio.

But the device enabled us to call ahead to our planned service stops to give our ETA, a list of what supplies, food, or other things we needed and approximately how much fuel we expected to pump on board. The radio-phone also allowed us to remain in contact with family, friends, and our buddies at Marathon. (Having the phone came in handy when we were travelling in the humid air along I-10 near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Our windshield began to fog up on the inside. Befuddled, we called an engineer back in Findlay who worked us through how to clear it.)

Before we left, other Marathon engineers gave us advise that included a mind trick to maximize our miles per gallon. “Before you step on the accelerator imagine that there is an egg under it. You don’t want to crush the egg so you can only ease the accelerator down each time you begin and when you want to speed up.”

As the trip progressed, WFIN, the local radio station, became aware of our endeavor leading us to call in status reports to the station’s morning drive-time show.

We did not realize that our lack of movement and activity would affect us, but our food consumption diminished as the trip progressed. We wore loose fitting clothing, tee shirts and sweatpants. Our company doctor suggested we wear athletic socks under sandals to reduce foot perspiration and swelling. (I still wear sandals this way. Before you say it looks dorky, try it first.)

The Imperial House Motel, located next to the interchange of I-75 and Route 157 was the ideal spot to begin and end our journey. We picked May 30 to accommodate me as I was getting married two Saturdays later. We hoped that a starting time of 9am would put us in New York City sometime on Sunday morning to avoid heavy traffic.

(To be continued)

The People You Meet

The genesis for this story began when I read a delightful piece written by my fellow scribe, Janet Pomeranz. Janet called it; The Joke’s on Me, about a class she attended advertised as Writing Humor for Profit.

The class’s final assignment was to: to “…write an interview of a Chippendale.” Janet was confused. “Why would I interview a piece of furniture?” But a classmate intervened: “Janet, the modern-day definition of a Chippendale is a male stripper.”

My reaction was the same as hers, but after being corrected, my thoughts didn’t remain with male strippers. Instead, I thought about the most intriguing seatmate with whom I ever flew, a chap named John Chippendale.

In the early months of 1982, we flew together from London’s Heathrow Airport to JFK in business class on a TWA 747. For whatever reason, we connected with each other and initiated a long conversation covering a range of topics, but mostly, aviation stories.

John pronounced his last name as “Chippendall” and explained his family used this pronunciation to avoid confusion with the furniture family. (I imagine today’s descendants are only too glad they cannot be confused with the current co-opted meaning of their name.)

I informed him I was on my way home from a business trip where I had arranged insurance coverage for a major US oil and gas company. He replied that he was going to America to inspect airplanes that his company was interested in buying.

As our flight progressed, John described his flying experiences. He was a life-long aviator who had come up the ranks, first at British Overseas Airline Corporation or BOAC and then at its successor, British Airways.

“I finally became bored with their seniority system, the numbers game and the politics. I took the ex-pat route, joined Lebanon’s Middle Eastern Airlines (MEA) and moved to Beirut. Now I am their chief pilot and I spend the bulk of my time negotiating contracts for new airplanes. Most people still don’t know who we are, but MEA is a growing airline backed by wealthy investors.”

Time melted. It didn’t hurt that we both enjoyed a cocktail or two that enhanced our comradeship and conversation. Eventually, we discussed the exact purpose of his trip: “I’m on my way to Texas to inspect two American Airlines 707s in active storage at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW). MEA ordered several new Airbus A-340s to expand their routes and destinations.”

“My problem, Airbus is behind schedule. The American 707s could alleviate the problem if they are useable. Experience has taught me to personally inspect any used airplane before I buy it.”

We spoke of other things. I asked him what living in Beirut was like? “Up until 1976, it was a fabulous place to live, truly the Paris of the Middle East. My apartment is still safe, but electricity and access to drinking water are haphazard. It’s becoming ugly, new barricades are erected daily. Something bad is going to happen soon.”

We shook hands said goodbye at JFK. He joined the line for foreigners while I joined the one for returning citizens. I walked away knowing this was an encounter I would not soon forget.

Talk about an understatement! Flash forward to an early morning that June. I boarded my usual Long Island Railroad train for the commute to Manhattan, taking my self-assigned seat where I unfolded my copy of The New York Times. I noted the lead story: Israel Invades Lebanon.

Beneath this headline, I examined a photograph of the Beirut Airport. A burned out 707 with MEA markings laying on the tarmac filled the forefront of the photo. Then I realized that just behind the wreck stood a seemingly undamaged 707 bearing American Airline markings.

“Son of a bitch,” I exclaimed to the train, “He bought those airplanes after all!”