John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: October, 2021

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Kicking the can down the road is the expression we usually give to our local, state and, yes, even national executives and legislators who use gimmicky accounting tricks to project financial problems into the future where they become somebody else’s concerns allowing them to side-step no-win issues rather than do their duty and try to fix them to the best of their ability.

This chicanery goes on every day with the biggest ones being our national debt and the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Out government regardless of party affiliations has allowed these issues to  morph into “legal” Ponzi schemes. Hell, If Bernie Madoff had worked for Uncle, he would have never gone to prison.

Today, the City of New York is facing a severe problem with one of the major interstate highways that traverse the boroughs; the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, aka, Interstate 278, or the BQE as it is commonly known. Curiously, this problem only concerns a small section of this expressway, less than a mile, where the roadway runs under and through Brooklyn Heights between the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue  

A word of explanation here. The BQE was built in sections starting in 1936. The last section in Queens didn’t open until 1964. Robert Moses seized control of the routing and construction after World War II. In 1950 he extended the road on an elevated highway south from the Kosciuszko Bridge to the Williamsburg Bridge. In doing so, Moses pushed the road through the blue-collar neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg using his powers as NYC’s transportation tsar and Federal Law to condemn the buildings in his path as slums that he replaced with a highway.

The next step was to extend the BQE south from  the Williamsburg Bridge through Clintonville and Fort Greene, then through DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook to connect with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Gowanus Expressway.

The route his engineers chose for the section of the BQE through Red Hook was an open cut running from Atlantic Avenue to the interchange for the tunnel. This led to condemning a row of fourteen square blocks of blue-collar housing in this neighborhood where the working poor, immigrants and people of color lived.

But not Brooklyn Heights. “The story was different in Brooklyn Heights, whose more affluent and influential residents were able to win design concessions from Moses that the poorer, mostly Italian -immigrant Red Hook residents could not.”

“Brooklyn Heights remained intact, as the expressway was moved four blocks to the west and redesigned into a bluff-hugging, double-level roadway topped by the Promenade and its magnificent Manhattan panorama. Red Hook got a below-ground, open-cut highway that still pours pollution into neighborhood streets.:

‘They got the Promenade, and we got the shaft,’ said Red Hook Celia Cacace.

‘What can you do?’ said Joe Tomo, who ran  a Red Hook candy store. ‘You can’t fight City Hall.’ And Robert Moses was City Hall.”

Those affected and their allies rightly condemned Moses for his bully tactics, but nobody objected to the magnificent section of the highway his architects and engineers built under the bluff in the Heights. All three levels were cantilevered into an enormous steel and reinforced concrete frame built into the bluff that allowed the two, three-lane decks of traffic and the upper most Promenade to be free of obstructing columns.

Since 1954 when this section of highway opened, the BQE has been subjected to a daily assault by a volume of traffic well beyond what engineers contemplated, heavier and heavier trucks and exposure to weather and sea salt in the air. Several years ago, engineers determined that the Brooklyn Heights cantilevered sections could fail by 2025.

At the mayor’s request, an engineering firm produced four alternative solutions. Every one of them reached the same conclusion, rebuilding or replacing this section of the BQE would be an expensive nightmare. Three of the four proposals called for closing the Promenade, at least for the duration of the reconstruction. ( The fourth called for replacing the existing structure with a tunnel, the costliest alternative.)

Our City fathers and mothers engaged in secret conferences. They knew that powerful forces opposed all the proposed alternatives and reached the conclusion that a consensus wasn’t in the cards. Every precinct got its say. Every pressure group must be recognized. No one is willing to be the decider. Truly, the inmates oversee the asylum, and it appears that this is how the majority of the city’s electorate are content, that a lack of leadership is their style of government.   

Nobody can or will make the tough decisions. The BQE is falling down. So, what to do? What else, kick the can down the road!

Delay the decision for twenty-years!  How? Reduce the number of lanes from six to four. Ban oversized trucks from using this stretch of the BQE, (good luck with that,) and apply Band-Aids to this section by repairing and replacing critical pieces and parts as needed and pray that this lasts until it becomes somebody else’s problem.

They ignored the obvious, reducing the number of lanes going through the Heights from six to four will not reduce the number of vehicles using it, it will only create two new bottlenecks: One for traffic going south starting from about Flushing Avenue and the second, for traffic going north from the Gowanus Expressway. This is exactly what transpired the on the first Monday morning after the number of lanes was reduced and what continues every day including weekends from about 6 AM until about 10 PM.

Excuse me, did I just hear someone say: “Where is Bob Moses when we need him?”

My 400th Blog

I published my first piece on this blog on October 16, 2013, three days short of eight years ago. I titled my first offering: An Incredible Story. I dedicate it to James Muri, a World War II veteran  who had passed away the previous February at 94 years of age. First Lieutenant Muri had participated in the Battle of Midway flying an Army Air Force B-26. Lt. Muri and his crew failed to sink or damage any ships in the Japanese fleet and his claim to fame was that he flew his bomber at a low level skimming the flight deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier front to back in a successful effort to escape numerous fighters trying to kill him and his crew. I wrote at the time: “They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing and the wreck that landed on Midway that afternoon tested that theory. The crew countered over five hundred bullet holes before they gave up with half the airplane still to go. Every crewman survived; a miracle in itself.”

For my four hundredth Blog, I offer you one of my favorites, The Poolhall and the Prizefight, first published as a blog in 2014.

The Poolhall and the Prizefight

Dark, dank and dirty, inhabited by petty hustlers, grifters, hangers-on and seedy men of ill repute; the New Ridgewood Grove was a grimy, old-time pool hall located on St. Nicholas Avenue on the Brooklyn-Queens border. It reeked of stale smoke, old beer and decay. The glaring lights above each table illuminated only the green felt surface and the balls in play giving each table the appearance of being a bright island in a dark sea that consumed the players as they moved about to make their shots. Only their cue sticks, arms, hands and fingers guiding the direction of the sticks were visible.

The pool room was  located on the second floor of what had once been a fight arena, a place like Sunnyside Gardens and St. Nicholas Arena where club fighters, newbies and has-beens battled in obscurity. But overexposure on TV during the 1950s killed this bottom end of the boxing trade and the arena gave way to a supermarket. The pool hall remained run by a just plain nasty manager who lived in a caged enclosure, took in the money and ordered the players about. A rummy bar tender served up cheap rye whiskey, brands like Philadelphia, Wilson and Imperial or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in cold, brown, 12-ounce bottles.

Warm, charming, friendly? Hardly! Not this joint. Not a woman in sight and not a good place to find yourself alone or separated from your pack. But it was a thing to do on another dateless Saturday night, an alternative to a movie, bowling or the neighborhood bar. My friends and I, war babies all, were newly minted legal drinkers having reached the age of eighteen. We proudly carried Selective Service Cards, not to prove we had registered for the draft, but as our passports to the closed world of adult drinkers. Our cards gave us the needed valid ID that let us in.

We knew our place, avoided the prime tables and accepted the older ones crowded together in the corners of the room. The ones with rough, worn and stained felt surfaces. The closeness of the tables forced us to patiently wait our turn while players at the table jammed next to ours took their shots. When it was time to buy four beers for the pack, the other three would keep a watchful eye on the gofer until he safely returned.

On that fateful night, March 24, 1962, one of our guys returned from his beer mission to report on the progress of the third in a series of prizefights between Emile Griffin and Benny “the Kid” Paret for the welterweight title. A black and white TV mounted on a wooden platform over the bar was tuned into the channel broadcasting the title fight. I don’t remember much about the early going, but as the rounds progressed, the pool players were drawn toward the bar to watch the fight unfold. We joined the crowd but remained a respectful distance from the center of attention.

I do remember the twelfth and final round. Griffin beat the Kid senseless while the referee, Ruby Goldstein, did nothing to stop the fight. Trapping his prey in a corner of the ring, Griffin hit the by-now helpless Kid in the head again and again.

Why didn’t the Kid go down? Why didn’t Goldstein stop the fight? By the time Paret’s manager threw in the towel, it was too late.

Silence descended upon the poolhall as the KID lie motionless on the canvas. The broadcast didn’t show the EMS attendants sliding a stretcher under Paret or the Kid being removed from the ring and being carried away to a waiting ambulance. The mood in the room darkened as the crowd stood around waiting for something to happen. Without speaking to each other, we knew the night was over and it was time to go. We downed our beers and left.

The next day the papers reported that Paret was in a coma. He died in the hospital ten days later.

Opening Day: September 12, 2021

This should have been the first game of my 60th Anniversary of being a New York Football Giants season ticket holder. But the 2020 season was played without fans in the stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic raising  the question: Did the 2020 season count toward my continuity as a season ticket holder? Your guess is as good as mine.

The last time I attended a Giants game in Met Life Stadium was on December 15, 2019. I sat with son, Michael, and his two boys, my oldest grandsons, Drew and Matt, on a special afternoon, Eli Manning’s last home game as a Giant. Manning did not disappoint us that day leading the team from a half-time deficit of 7-10 against the Miami Dolphins at half-time to a final score of 36 to 20. Tom Rock, of Newsday noted: Head coach, Pat Shurmur, pulled Eli out of the game with 1 minute and 50 seconds left in the Fourth Quarter…showcasing Eli to the media, his teammates and the faithful who gave him a standing ovation while chanting, ‘Eli Manning, Eli Manning, Eli Manning…”

We remained in the stadium after the game ended to celebrate his career as the Giants best quarterback of all time. I flagged a passing photographer who took a great shot of three generations of Delach men huddled together with the field in the background.

When COVID-19 hit, the Giants pushed back the deadline for renewing season tickets until July when they announced that all ticket renewals had seen suspended for the 2020 season.            

The 2021 season included some radical changes. The Giants joined the rush to electronic or E-tickets  Definitely, a problem for an older fan like me, but, with Michael’s help, I will adapt to this brave new world.

Despite the COVID 19 Delta variant wreaking havoc among the un-vaccinated, the powers that be declared that Met Life Stadium will be open for business as usual without restrictions including proof of vaccination or negative testing. Tailgates are welcome.

And away we go!

Joe M. picked me up just before our scheduled ETD of 11 AM for our game against the Denver Broncos that would begin at 4:25 PM. Yes, your reaction that this was an early start is correct but, one of the biggest reasons for attending games in person is participating with our mates in a lively extended tailgate featuring both original and mundane food, plenty of beer and other liquid refreshments and outstanding comradery. We arrived at 12:15 PM, broke down the tailgate by 3:30 and headed toward Met Life Stadium by 3:45.

What happened next and for the rest of the day can best be explained by the old joke: “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

The Giants went paperless this season so every ticket holder had to display their e-ticket on their cell phone so the bar code could be authenticated by a stadium employee with a reader. Just one problem with this system, before reaching the agent who read the bar code, we had to pass security. That meant removing all metal from our pockets including cell phones, sending them through separately, retrieving our phones, and displaying the e-ticket. Naturally, this created a bottleneck delaying us from reaching our seats until after the game had already started.

The game, the game; please don’t mention the game. Big Blue’s offense self-destructed as they failed to score several times while on the doorstep of the goal line. The defense couldn’t cope with the Broncos offense. Ironically, Pat Shurmur, the Giants former head coach, directed the Broncos assault. When Bronco’s running back, Melvin Gordon III ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run making the score 27-7, the “faithful” fled the stadium in droves. We too exited Met Life to begin the ride home.

Joe followed WAZE that directed us to the GWB via Route 46 but sensed heavy traffic ahead and diverted us onto local streets as we neared Fort Lee. It was here that we encountered a nightmare of traffic instead of a safe passage. We were only two blocks away from an entrance to the bridge when we reached an intersection completely and terminally frozen in gridlock. Forty-five minutes later, Joe was able to maneuver through the chaos.

Our relief was short-lived as the entrance we intended to use was blocked off by police cones. Denied the ability to turn left to reach the bridge, we were forced to continue east until a police barricade led us into a right turn away from the bridge. Joe asked the cop on duty, “How do we get to the bridge?”

“Make the next two rights.” He replied. We did, which only led us to another holding pen where we waited for 15 to 20 minutes before the dam opened giving us a path to the toll booths and the bridge. Too tired and frustrated to care, we didn’t comment to each other on how relatively easy it was to navigate the Bronx, cross over to Long Island and to complete the trip to Port Washington. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves until we were nearly home.

Our trip home, on a fair day, takes two hours. That Sunday took us almost double that time. We set out at 11 AM and didn’t arrive home until after 10 PM. It would appear that a re-evaluation of my further game attendance may be an issue.

Still, I expected to attend the game on September 26th  against the Atlanta Falcons when the Giants planned to retire Eli Manning’s jersey number and add his name to their Ring of Honor.

Unfortunately, I already had a premonition that something was wrong with my body. A blood test revealed I was anemic due to internal bleeding that led to a hospital stay and my inability to make that game.

I hope my 2001 home season doesn’t end after a single game, but it will take time for me to heal.  It may be in doubt, and if it is, so it goes.