John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: October, 2022

Ridgewood Triumphs…and there goes my old neighborhood!

I authored a piece in the spring of 2014 about Ridgewood, Queens, the neighborhood where I came of age. I called it, Ridgewood Redux. I was prompted by an article in The New York Times that Ridgewood may one day evolve into a trendy “left Bank” center where truly starving artists gather to exhibit their creations.

This is what I wrote: Despite the despair and the fires and violence of the 1960s and 70s that consumed swathes of Bed-Sty and Bushwick, Ridgewood hung on remaining true to its blue collar. As the old Germans and Italians died off, their kin stood fast and the neighborhood assimilated a broad spectrum of new residents, a multi-cultural collage of New Yorkers seeking affordable housing. All the while, Ridgewood remained below the radar while Williamsburg, then Bushwick, became desirable neighborhoods.

It seemed the neighborhood was immune to gentrification being too far from Manhattan putting it beyond the range where urban pioneers felt comfortable. A subway runs through it from Manhattan, the old 14th Street-Canarsie Line. A long, local, multi-stop, dingy train line, that meanders through Brooklyn backwaters without joy.

 But, now re-named, the L Line, it was recently voted the cleanest subway in New York. According to its critics, the reinvigorated L has progressed “…from zero to hero.” Ridership has soared as a new army of hipsters wearing their defacto uniforms of “knit caps, skinny jeans and sporting intrepid takes on mustaches” with toddlers in tow with names like August and Apollo are pushing further and further east along the line out of Williamsburg across Bushwick to the very edge of Ridgewood.

True, at this stage, Ridgewood remains the lesser to the now hip and trendier Bushwick where the Times noted: The new gallerists, most with more hope than cash, are transforming a former gritty manufacturing and warehouse neighborhood into an art scene.

But the grabber in a recent article by Jed Lipinski entitled, Next Stop, Bushwick, published in the Style Section read:

And though technically in Ridgewood, Queens, a more upscale neighborhood to the east, new spaces like Valentine are considered part of the Bushwick gallery boom. Fred Valentine, 60, a painter who was priced out of Williamsburg 14 years ago, founded his gallery last summer by cutting his studio in half and installing some track lighting and a bar.

An accompanying map put Fred’s studio on the corner of Seneca Avenue and Harmon Street in the heart of the old neighborhood, one block from where I grew up. How thrilling! I think Fred’s studio was in an old knitting mill and I hope he included the bar as a tribute to the time when it seemed that almost every corner in Ridgewood offered a saloon to ease the thirst of the local population.

Fast forward to this October when the popular magazine, Time-Out New York, published its survey of the trendiest places to live and, believe it or not, Ridgewood finished fourth.

 Dear reader, I’ll admit I’m setting you up because that ranking is not just for New York City. It is not even for America. OMG, Ridgewood, Queens finished fourth out of 100 neighborhoods as the trendiest places to live in the world!

In the whole wide world! WTF! Time-Out New York noted in parts:

“Ridgewood’s identity…is old-school-meets trendy with a mix of landmark staples, like Rudy’s Bakery and Gottscheer Hall, and buzzy new bars and restaurants like The Acre, Evil Twin and Café Plein Air.”

“With its enduring mom-and-pop stores and a commitment to honoring its history, Ridgewood is a sleeper hit of a neighborhood: beloved not despite, but because of, its low-key vibe.”

Shayne Weaver, the editor set out a perfect day in Ridgewood. Of course, every place she recommended is alien to me.

Still, perhaps, one day, I’ll return to my old neighborhood and follow her recommendation to…”do dinner at Porcelain and drinks at Julia’s.” I wonder if they have an early bird special? 

Manila Insanity

This is the second part of my tale of an outrageous round-the-world business trip that I first published in 2014.

Manila was insane. Traffic was a chaotic choreography that, before it was politically incorrect, we’d refer to as a “Chinese fire drill!” Local jitneys, called Jeepneys, ruled the road traversing routes that locals understood, but were indecipherable to rookies like us. We arrived Thursday morning for a stay of two days and nights. The Hilton was our base and Paul C, our station chief in Manila, was our guide. I first met Paul when he ran the office in KL. A middle-aged Brit professional ex-pat, Paul enjoyed the good life mostly operating out of the Anglo-American-European restricted men’s clubs. He was truly a relic of Britain’s colonial past.

First things, first, I purchased a post card with a view of Manila at the hotel gift shop and a stamp at the front desk. I wrote the usual message on the back, “Hi Doug. This place is nice and the girls are great. John & Al.”

This was the third post card that I had sent to Doug Adams, my traveling companion, Alan Gardiner’s boss.        

Paul had his driver pick us up at the hotel later that morning and take us directly to his shirt maker who outfitted us in Barong Tagalong shirts. Made of light-weight, local fibers, they are accepted as proper business dress designed to be worn outside over a tee shirt without a jacket or tie to deal with the tropical heat. Then we were off on a tour of clubs, lunch and a short visit to his office so he could show it off and make note that this was an official visit. Cocktails at one of Paul’s favorite clubs proceeded a relatively early dinner allowing Alan and me to crawl back to the Hilton for a decent night’s sleep.

Friday was more of the same. Prior to the trip, I had hoped to visit the battlefields on Bataan and Corregidor, but both proved to be too far away from the city for a day trip. Paul did introduce us to a couple of his clients, but we met more of his ex-pat buddies than we did clients that day.

Paul hosted cocktails in his personal regal digs, then it was dinner followed by more clubs until we ultimately found ourselves back at the Hilton in the early morning hours. I recall a worker waxing the floors when we arrived. “Alan,” I said, “We’re screwed if we go to bed. Our flight to KL is at seven and it’s almost three. Let’s go up, pack and come back down. We’ll grab some shut eye at the airport.”

By 4 AM, we were checked out and on our way to the airport. Without Jeepneys  clogging the streets, we quickly reached the airport. We quickly settled in at the departure lounge for what we hoped would be quiet time.

Unbelievably, we found an open bar where I ordered us bloody Mary’s. Alan and I were quietly resting on a faux-leather sofa nursing our drinks when, next we knew, there came a clatter of hoofs roaring down a near-by stairs like an imitation of Fred Astaire dancing his way to Ginger Rodgers. We watched the chap responsible for this commotion dance by and greeted him with what I considered an appropriate greeting of, “F— you!”

My obscenity didn’t stop him; it only redirected him toward us. He saw our drinks, went to the bar, grabbed a bloody Mary, headed back to us, sat down, let us know he was an Aussie and, unimpeded, proceeded to tell us his story:

“Mates, let me tell you about the week I just had. I came up here on what I expected to be a hell of a trip. I was so anxious that I set aside the entire week to resolve the problems I’d encounter. But unbelievably, I pulled off the deal before lunch time on the morning of the first day!

“I couldn’t believe this miracle so after a celebratory lunch, I returned to my hotel where I was pampered that afternoon in their spa. I had a light dinner then headed to an upscale club to celebrate before checking out and heading home the next day. Ah, but I fell into the company of a beautiful American woman who took me back to her place and proceeded to screw my brains out!

“The next morning, she insisted that I check out of my hotel and move in with her for the remainder of my stay. Not only was she a thoroughbred in bed, she was socially well connected. She took me to the race track, cocaine parties at her clubs, top shelf dining, dancing and drinking.”

Then he stopped, took a sip of his drink, shook his head and said, “It was the most incredible week of my life.”

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“Why to KL,” he replied, “I’m meeting my wife and kids. We’re going to a Club Med for holiday. Well, good day, mates, I’m off.”

With that, he disappeared into the terminal. The two of us sat there absorbing this encounter. “Alan,” I asked, “Do you realize what just happened here?”

Alan shook his head, no. “Alan, we were that bastard’s window of opportunity. We are two innocent bystanders to whom he could brag before he met his wife. Otherwise, he couldn’t be certain if what happened was real. Now he can.”

My Most Outrageous 747 Voyage

( This is the first part of my tale of an outrageous round-the-world business trip that I first published in 2014.)

Alan Gardiner and I sent our first post card to his boss, Doug Adams, during our layover at O’Hare International Airport. The front had a skyline shot of Chicago and on the back, I penned:

Hi Doug,

This place is nice and the girls are great.

John & Al.

I would write this identical  message on picture post cards that I’d mail to Doug from Tokyo, Manila, Kula Lumpur and Paris.

We planned this trip in the late winter of 1983 to visit an oil company client in Malaysia. The outbound flight was the brain child of my buddy, Mike Scott, who discovered an ad in The Wall Street Journal, for a special fare that offered first class travel on Northwest Airlines at a bargain price on their route between New York and Manila. “Hopie,” (then my nickname at work,) look at this crazy cheap price for your trip to K.L.” (Kula Lumpur, Malaysia.)

Mike was right; Northwest’s price for a first-class ticket to the Far East was less than business class on every other airline. Better yet, it also put us in first class for all of the other legs of our journey: Manila to KL, KL to Paris and Paris to JFK. The bad news: the flying time was insane, especially the outbound journey. The first leg was JFK to Dulles just outside DC, Dulles to O’Hare, O’Hare to Tokyo’s Narita Airport and Narita to Manila. Total flying time of 23 hours!

Somehow, I convinced Alan that this could be a blast and, being 39, I considered myself young enough and eager enough to believe it would be fun. Our 747 left JFK about 9 AM and the first two legs to DC and Chicago were uneventful. Our accommodations were in the upper cabin where we occupied two of the nine seats. These seats were the most luxurious that either of us had ever sat in on a flight. We were seated in Row 1, Seats A and B.

Our defacto private nine-passenger airplane remained exclusively ours during these first two legs. I cannot describe what the seating was like in the rest of this jet as I never ventured below except to deplane during layovers. Service was attentive, Bloody Mary’s, before take-off and in-flight; though the flight attendant let us know that her crew was deplaning in Chicago.

We did notice one thing on the airplane that seemed unusual. On the bulkhead in front of our seats were three metal stanchions arranged like an upside-down letter “L”. Neither one of us could imagine what purpose they served.

A few other travelers joined us at O’Hare but several seats remained vacant. The purpose of those mysterious stanchions became apparent once we reached cruising altitude out of Chicago as in-flight service began. A flight attendant climbed the spiral staircase from the main cabin carrying pieces of metal and fiberglass and went to work. She fitted a “u” shaped metal leg into the two stanchions one on top of the other and the bottom and a straight metal leg into the third. Then she placed a fiberglass table onto the top of the “u” brace. By Jove, she had built a bar and then this angel proceeded to stock it with spirits, wine, ice and mixers. She had our complete and undivided attention. Satisfied with her effort, this extraordinary woman turned around and addressed her charges: “tell me what you are drinking gents. I’ll make you each your first drink but from then on it is strictly self-service.”

I asked her if this was heaven? She replied, “No, but we’re flying over Iowa.”

Compounding this experience of being a kid in a candy store, the fourteen-hour flight to Japan had left O’Hare about 11 AM so we’d be traveling during the day most of the flight meaning sleep wasn’t an option. Add to that the excitement of making this trip and I was still running on adrenaline when we deplaned in Narita 14-hours later for a layover.

The first-class lounge was outside the main terminal meaning Northwest had to issue us “shore passes” allowing us to clear Customs and Immigration. Not much to report about the stay. We bought the post card and a stamp and found a mail box to post it. But I do recall teaching a group of Japanese businessmen a mathematical card trick that my colleague, Lisa had taught me called, “The Sundance Kid.” Using a prepared deck, I dealt three fellows and Alan each a hand. When they turned over their cards, each of them had a full house. But I had also dealt a straight flush to myself. They were astounded.

I “crashed” as soon as I re-boarded the 747 and slept for the full six-hour flight to Manila. Think about it, six-hours is the same flying time as New York to London. Not a bad nap.

At baggage claim in Manila, Alan tried to tell me about things that happened on the flight from Tokyo, But I explained that I had gladly missed all of it. To this day, I don’t regret sleeping through almost that entire flight. It would appear that I finally learned exactly how to utilize  those luxurious seats to complete the last leg of this outrageous journey in peace.

In 1983, the suitcase of choice for people flying into Manila was the corrugated box and I do not believe I had seen that much cardboard since I quit being a cargo surveyor. I deemed cardboard boxes to be the national luggage of the Philippines!

Looking back, this was my most outrageous aircraft journey and that Northwest 747 Queen of the Skies, was the only airplane up to the challenge.

Queen of the Skies

I can remember the advertisements Boeing used during NFL games in 1967 and 1968 to introduce the concept of their new giant of the skies. The exterior of this jet liner wasn’t shown. Instead, Boeing concentrated on its theme that their new creation was more than just another airplane. Instead, Boeing promised that it would revolutionize trans-Atlantic travel and they boldly insisted their queen of the skies would replace traditional ocean liners like the SS United States, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 and the SS France.

The Seattle based airplane manufacturer had come a long way from introducing the first airplanes capable of crossing the Atlantic, the B-314, Pan American’s Pre-World War II flying boat and the  post-war four engine Stratocruiser that replaced these elegant, yet obsolete airplanes.

 Boeing’s share of the commercial airplane market waned as advanced models of Lockheed’s Constellation and Douglas’ DC-6 and DC-7 erased the Stratocruiser’s appeal.

The firm abandoned this sector in favor of developing a jet transport and airborne tanker for the Air Force, Douglas also bid on this contract, but Boeing’s design won out, The USAF deemed the cargo version, the C-135 and the tanker version, the KC-135.

That Air Force contract gave Boeing a head start on the competition allowing the early introduction of its civilian version, the 707, the first  successful commercial jet capable of flying passengers in comfort and safety all over the world.

Boeing followed this success by introducing the world’s first jumbo jet with a sales pitch using the slogan that their 747 was: “The airplane that is a ship, and the ship that is an airplane.”

December 12, 1969 found me in the cargo area at JFK International Airport. I was employed as a cargo surveyor for Donald M. Lamont:

That September. Don had asked in his Scottish brogue, “Don’t you live in Queens? How close are you to JFK (Airport)?”

“Don, I’m in Middle Village. I can drive to JFK in less than a half-hour.”

“ Great,” he replied. “I have a good number of requests to perform surveys at the airport for lost cargo and baggage. “I hereby designate you to be my JFK surveyor of record. I will make you a beautiful, fake ID that will get you in to every airline cargo operation and all of the freight forwarders located outside the airport.”

My reply: “Fantastic.”

That adventure is a tale for another blog. But Don’s decision found me at JFK when the first 747 debuted. Boeing pilots taxied their charge over to the massive Pan Am service hanger that was also their warehouse for lost cargo.

I was sitting in the parking lot when I heard the commotion, I looked up to see the biggest airplane I had ever seen moving down a taxiway in my direction. I jumped out of the car,  my 35 MM camera in hand and began taking photos of this beautiful bird.

I had the privilege of watching the ceremony where Boeing turned over the first operational 747 to their lead customer The queen arrived  with Pan Am’s name written along the massive fuselage and their logo on the tail. Unfortunately, my black and white film failed to capture a Boeing produced abnormality. Instead of the stripe that encircled the hull below the windows being Pan American’s baby blue, the painters at Boeing had made it red, Pan American chose to name this airplane: Young American Clipper and re-paint the stripe before sending it off to Paris. 

I turned my black and white photos of Young America’s arrival over to Lamont who used them in a brochure touting our ability to find lost or missing cargo at JFK.

Pure chance had put me in the right place at the right time.

First 747 Flight

I left Lamont and surveying in 1971 and joined Marsh & McLennan as a marine broker. My first experience on a 747 took place in November of 1974 when I accompanied our Director of Marine Insurance, George Handley, and my immediate boss, Charlie Robbins, on a Pan Am flight from JFK to San Juan for a meeting with a major marine client. Befitting Handley’s status, we all flew First Class. Our Pan Am Clipper had an upstairs lounge, but it wasn’t in service as the airline was in the process of adding additional seating there.

This was the only opportunity I had to travel with Handley as he died of a massive heart attack  a little more than a year later. We did have an excellent dinner that night and a fabulous stay at the Caribe Hilton. But the next morning, the manager of our San Juan office informed Handley that the Executive Director of this client had excluded  brokers from participating in this meeting.

Handley was stunned and embarrassed. We were ready to propose improvements to their insurances at a lower coat. Now the trip was simply a waste of time. To this day, I don’t know who screwed up, but if I had to bet who it was, I’d pick Luis M, our San Juan manager. 

Suddenly off duty, Charlie and I also screwed up when George asked, “What do you think we should do?”

“We jointly replied, “Go to the beach.”

Handley, always on duty, let us go, but he spent the day with Luis M. I guarantee that Charlie and I had a better time the rest of the day than Luis did. But we too paid the price for this screw-up. Neither of us were allowed to go to San Juan again until after Handley passed in December of 1975.

I retired in 2000 and between that flight in 1974 and my final 747 one in 20031993, I flew 152 flights on that airplane.

Soon, I will report on the most memorable of those flights.