John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Lighter Than Air (Part 1)

Ferdinand von Zeppelin revolutionized the public’s perception of flight by designing the first practical dirigibles. Their success led to these rigid airships becoming identified with his last name. He caught the public’s imagination two years before the Wright brothers first flew a powered aeroplane from the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Von Zeppelin experienced more instances of failure than success, but the fragility of his airships was offset by the promise of what was possible.  In hindsight, aviation’s development would have been better off if these early failures had ended the quest to perfect a rigid lighter than air flying machine.   

World War I served to heighten the Zeppelin’s mystique. From 1915 to 1917, zeppelins killed nearly 700 Londoners, but at a cost to Germany of 77 of their 115 airships. These attacks dispelled the notion that England was invulnerable to aerial attack shocking the British citizens who reacted with both panic and awe.

Once the Great War ended, several allied nations, particularly the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States decided to develop their own fleets of airships. Most Europeans soon recognized that the fragile craft remained vulnerable to multiple dangers and abandoned their lighter than air (LTA) projects sometimes after catastrophic episodes.

Only the British persevered until 1930 when their luxury dirigible, R101, crashed in rural France on its maiden voyage due to heavy rain and wind. Forty-eight of the 54 souls on board perished. R101 was the prototype for a proposed fleet of passenger airships designed to carry mail and passengers to Britain’s far flung possessions such as India, Australia and Canada. The loss of R101 so early in its maiden flight convinced the crown to drop out.

America took a different approach. World War I exposed Japan’s desire for territorial expansion with the American Navy being their primary obstacle.

This led the US Navy to develop Japanese centric war plans to address several possible combat scenarios with the Imperial fleet. They included “what if” technology based on the use of combat aircraft. One innovation was the introduction of the navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, that joined the fleet in 1921.

Naval aviators also speculated on a what if idea of developing an aerial mothership to be their aircraft carrier in the sky?

Rear Admiral William Moffett, the first chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics introduced their first dirigible, USS Shenandoah. Designed by German ex-pats and the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation, the airship was fabricated by the navy at their Lakehurst, NJ base. First flown in 1923, the luckless Shenandoah was torn apart in a thunderstorm near Cadwell, Ohio on September 3rd of the same year. Fourteen of the 26 crew were lost in this catastrophe.   

The navy’s second, airship, the USS Los Angeles, was built by the Germans as a war prize. First flown in 1924, the Los Angeles successfully flew until being de-commissioned 1932. This zeppelin was dismantled in 1940.

The success of the Los Angeles led to the construction of two massive dirigibles, the USS Akron, ZRS-4 and USS Macon, ZRS-5. Both were more than seven times the size of a 747 and were designed to operate as the navy’s first flying aircraft carriers.

 Each ship carried five small fighter planes, the Curtiss F-9C Sparrow- hawk. The planes were carried in a small hanger inside the outer skin and were launched / recovered by means of a complicated trapeze system:

“The trapeze was lowered through the T-shaped door in the bottom of the ship. Each F-9C was attached to the crossbar by the ‘skyhook’ above its top wing. With the engine already running, the pilot tripped the hook allowing the airplane to fly away. On his return, the pilot locked onto the crossbar and was hauled on board.”

It was all for naught. The Akron, completed first in October of 1931 was lost in a thunderstorm on April 4, 1933 after 73 flights. Seventy-one of the 76 crew on board including Admiral Moffett were lost in the crash.

The Macon was commissioned two months later June 23, only to succumb in a storm off California’s Big Sur on February 12, 1935. Eighty-one of the 83 on board were rescued.

America exited the quest to develop practical rigid airships with the Macon’s destruction leaving the Germans as the last remaining zeppelin operator.

(To be continued)   

No Game Today

Jack Solomon, the original co-owner of Gallagher’s Steak House in Manhattan’s theater district, was also an avid fan of the New York Giants baseball club. So avid that he posted the daily score on a bulletin board located in the restaurant’s foyer but only when his team won. If they lost the message read: “No Game Today.”

These are sad days for our national pastime as COVID-19 has wrought havoc on the 2020 season. No Game Today or any day is our sad reality. Highlights of recent past seasons are available, but I believe baseball movies are a better escape. Why? Because baseball is the sport that best lends itself to production for the big screen. It captures everything that movies are all about and the movies make baseball sparkle.

Boxing and horse racing also have a decent compatibility to the film industry but nothing like baseball. Americas game, pro football, on the other hand is a dud on the big screen. There are a few, Rudy, Brian’s Song, Any Given Sunday, Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard and Friday Night Lights are the exceptions.

Hollywood offers over 50 baseball movies for your watching pleasure. The New York Times recently picked 10 to watch. Seems to me to be worth a shot especially while we remain in lock down that one wise man has described: “While Monday remains a Monday, every other day is a Tuesday.” 

I rated the films from one to 10 and I included the year the film debuted, and noted the ratings given to each movie by Rotten Tomatoes and MLB.

Following that, I have listed as many of the other significant baseball movies from varying lists and their ratings, if any. Make your own list and let us know your top ten. Heck, since every day is Tuesday, except Monday, what else do you have to do?

I expect baseball aficionados will object to my placement of Bull Durham in fourth place, but that’s what sports are all about.  

Bang the Drums Slowly is my top pick. I read Mark Harris’ book before the film was released and fell in love with it. Today, it remains in the top five of books I have read. When the movie was released in 1973, Mary Ann and I were living in Middle Village, Queens. Unfortunately, the closest theater playing it was in Franklin Square. Times were hard but I grabbed enough money to hire a babysitter so we could see it.

The opening scene gave me goose bumps. A sunny day, old Yankee Stadium, before the renovation that was a Frankenstein-like defacement. The opening shot focuses on the old visiting bullpen that separated the left field stands from the bleachers.

The co-stars, a young Michael Moriarty and an equally young Robert DeNiro, head out from the bull pen, two players in identical dress; pin stripe baseball pants, navy blue undershirts covered by plain white cotton vests. Both wear NY logo hats and wear hand towels around their necks that they hold onto with both hands.

They turn right when they reach the warning path and jog along it toward home plate. They pass the visiting dugout, round home, pass the Yankees dugout as they jog toward right field.

Instrumental notes from the song, The Streets of Laredo, fill the air as the ace pitcher for the NY Monarchs and his ailing catcher jog along.

To me, that alone was worth the price of admission.

John’s top ten:

1.Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) 8 and none

2.Field of Dreams (1989) 2 and 4

3. The Natural (1984) 18 and 7

4. Bull Durham (1980) 1 and 1

5. Eight Men Out (1988) 12 and none

6. A League of Their Own (!992) 22 and 2

7. The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings (1988) 15 & 13

8. Moneyball (2011) 2 And 6

9. Major League (1989) 19 and 10

10. Bad News Bears (1976) 3 and 11

The others:

Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) 9 and 15

Everybody Wants Some (2016) 7 and 9

Sugar (2006) 6 and 17

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (2000) 4 and none

Up for Grabs (2005) 10 and none

Ballplayer: Peletero (2012) 13 and none      

42 (2013) 19 and none

Trouble with the Curve (2016) none and none

Cobb (1994) 24 and 27

Fear Strikes Out (1977) 17 and none

For the Love of the Game (1999) none and 25

61* (2001) 33 and 23

The Sandlot (1993) 30 and 8

The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 5 and 3

Off the Black (2006) 28 and none

Million Dollar Arm (2014) 26 and none

Fever Pitch (2005) 25 and 18

Damn Yankees (1958) 16 and 24

The Phenom (2016) 23 and none

It Happens Every Spring (1949) 21 and none

The Rookie (2002) 14 and 14

Quite a list. Admittedly, I never heard of some of these films. Off the Black, I believe is about umpires.  I believe Ballplayer: Peletero is an indictment of baseball recruiting in the Islands, but I know nothing about either.

I look forward to your comments and I promise to respond.

The Big White Ship

On Monday morning, March 30th, the USNS Comfort majestically glided through Gravesend Bay with a harbor pilot on board directing the ship’s captain to safely navigate the Narrows and enter New York Harbor. The arrival of this grand hospital ship was a visible manifestation of the Federal Government’s commitment to combat the COVID-19 emergency in the Metropolitan area.

I was sorely tempted to drive to one of the Belt Parkway’s parking areas overlooking Gravesend Bay to watch the ship arrive. But common sense reminded me that this was a bad idea for several reasons.   

Hospital ships are special with a unique appearance that distinguishes them from every other vessel. Their stark white exterior and the massive red crosses gleam in the sunshine to call out to all those in need that help has arrived. Their names reflect their calling: Mercy, Solace, Hope, Refuge, Haven and Repose. USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) and its sister ship, USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) entered service in the late 1980s and are the latest incarnation of a long line of the navy’s hospital ships.

The USS Relief (AH-1), was the first purposed-based hospital ship and joined the US Navy just after World War I ended. The Relief would serve until the end of World War II. Fourteen additional hospital ships were built or converted from freighters and passenger ships during the war and three, the USS Haven, USS Consolation and USS Repose were reactivated for service during the Korean War. Repose and the USS Sanctuary served during the Vietnam War. The navy was without a hospital ship after 1975 when Sanctuary was stricken from the fleet.

During the build-up and modernization of the navy during the Reagan administration, the navy decided to acquire two vessels each almost 900 feet long and convert them into hospital ships. One would be based on the East Coast the other on the West Coast. The Bureau of Ships decided to purchase two modern super tankers, gut them of the oil carrying cargo tanks and turn those enormous spaces into hospitals with a total capacity of 1,000 beds.

National Steel Shipbuilding Company (NASCO) won the bid to convert the tankers. The tanker, SS Worth morphed into the USNS Mercy and the SS Rose City became the USNS Comfort.

They were designed to be more advanced than a field hospital but less capable than a traditional hospital on land. Those one-thousand beds were divided into the following categories: ICU – 80 beds, recovery-20 beds, intermediate care-280 beds, light care-120 beds and limited care-500 beds.

Each ship has 12 operating rooms and facilities that range from casualty reception to a morgue. When deployed, each  ships’ complement consists of 16 reserve and 61 active mariners, six officers and 62 enlisted navy communications and support personnel and 1,156 medical and dental personnel.

The New York COVID-19 mission is Comforts 12th deployment. Others have included the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), Haiti (1994), the Iraq War (2002-2003), Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Haitian earthquake (2010) and Hurricane Maria (2017). Between, deployments, USNS sleeps at its own berth at the Norfolk Navy Yard under the watchful eyes of the skeleton crew.

The ship is designed and maintained to be activated in two-weeks and is operated by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) a combined military and civilian service. As a result, its designation is USNS and not USS.

“In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, Comfort and her crew carry no offensive weapons. Firing upon Comfort would be considered a war crime as the ship only carries weapons for self-defense. In keeping with her status as a non-combatant vessel, naval personnel from the combat specialties are not assigned as regular crew or staff.”

 Embarkation by warfare specialist such as-… “naval aviation, surface warfare, submarine warfare, special operations (like SEALS) or members of the Marine Corp. are prohibited…” except as patients.

Although firing upon a hospital ship is a war crime, it happens, and in an upcoming blog, I will report on some of the more controversial and deadly sinkings. It should be noted that these losses were caused by both active and passive attacks. Many were caused by mines placed in channels with no knowledge of what ship will become the unlucky target.

The only US Navy hospital ship to suffer loss of life as a result of enemy action was the USS Comfort (AH-6), the navy’s second ship to carry that name. During the invasion of Okinawa… “the hospital ship stood by…from 2 to 9 April receiving wounded for evacuation to Guam. Returning to Okinawa on 23 April, six days later she was struck by a Japanese suicide plane. The plane crashed through three decks exploding in surgery which was filled with medical personnel and patients. Casualties were 28 killed (including six nurses), and 48 wounded, with considerable damage to the ship.”

Our good ship, Comfort, arrived under escort of a fleet of our local McAllister and Moran tugboats and the fanfare of a grateful city. Now on station, Comfort’s mission is not to act as a direct respite to the virus, but rather provide a reserve for other hospitals as they exceed capacity once the peak of the cases descends upon us in the next couple of weeks.       

Once again, naval medical personnel put themselves in harm’s way. So here is a toast to all the personnel on T-AH-20:

Hip, hip Hooray,

Hip, hip, Hooray,

Hip, Hip, Hooray!        

Flying While Intoxicated

The May edition of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine includes a piece about Lyle Prouse, a Captain with Northwest Airlines who with his two fellow crew members, First Officer Robert Kirchner and Flight Engineer Joseph Balzer, flew their 727 from Fargo to Minneapolis-St. Saint Paul while (pick ‘em) – flying While Impaired / flying while intoxicated or flying while hung over. Captain Proust ended up spending 424 days in Federal Prison.

The night before, they enjoyed a nice drinking session at the Speak Easy Restaurant and Lounge in Moorhead, Minnesota. Prouse drank rum and Coke while his cohorts consumed draft beer. The bar tab revealed that the pilot had 17 rum and Cokes while his mates consumed seven pitchers.

This incident occurred in 1990 when controls were still loose and would have gone unnoticed except that an employee working at the bar that night had the good sense to reveal this to the authorities.

At that time Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit airplane crews from flying with an alcohol level of greater than 0.04 eight hours before the flight.

The FAA was already aware of their escapade when the crew arrived at the airport. An FAA official spoke with Captain Prouse reminding the crew of the agency’s eight-hour rule but, for unknown reasons, he didn’t subject them to a breathalyzer test allowing to make the flight.

The story in the May 2020 edition of Air & Space Magazine  tells what next happened: “Northwest Flight 650, a Boeing-727… with 58 passengers took off as scheduled…When the crew walked off and saw company officials, airport policemen, and several FAA agents waiting at the end of the Jetway, Prouse thought, ‘It’s over.” (Two hours after the flight his blood alcohol was 0.128, three times the legal limit.)

Long story short, Proust repented, reformed and became a motivational speaker. Eventually with the help and kindness of others led by the judge who sentenced him to prison, he was re-employed by Northwest in 1993 and reinstated as a pilot in 1995.

Proust gives credit for much of his successful rehabilitation on AA, other peer groups and HIMS, Human Intervention Motivation Study, a rehabilitation organization for professional pilots with a success rate of 85.4%. This is a remarkable number when compared to other rehab groups rate of 40% or less at other organizations.

We can only wonder how bad it really was in the 1950s and 1960s when sobriety was treated far more casually and loosely.

Bob Newhart actually did a comedy bit about it in his spoof on airline travel: The Grace L Fergurson Airline and Storm Door Company: (The pilot speaking) “…Have you ever had one that hung on for four or five days? I don’t mind the headaches so much, it’s that damn double vision.”

My Godfather was a flight engineer with Pan American during that time. I can remember being at his house when he was on standby. If a crew scheduled that night had to be withdrawn, he would report to Idlewild to make their flight. The rule was no drinking, full stop. Nevertheless, he took pride in his chilled Daiquiris that he made with crushed ice served before their Sunday afternoon dinner, stand-by or not.

My Father, a US Air Force navigator, Flying B-47 jet bombers, charted his next day’s training mission the previous night on a chart spread across his kitchen table. The chart shared the table with a glass or two of Johnny Walker Red. When finished, he’d take a last look before folding up the chart, finish his drink. He’d smile and say: “Well, that’s good enough for government work.”

A different world, indeed.   

Blood Donor

In times of trouble, the New York area blood banks spring into action to appeal to the public for donations. This time Convid-19 is the reason. If I could donate, I would, and this is the reason why. 

I didn’t donate blood until I was well into my forties. It wasn’t that I was averse to the idea of giving blood that prevented me from becoming a donor earlier or fear that I would lose it, faint, or otherwise embarrass myself.

Rather, I led a world wind business life throughout the 80’s and 90’s with frequent travel to domestic and international destinations. I had places to go, flights to make, people to see to negotiate big deals, put out fires and keep my customers satisfied. Needless to say…  I lived in the fast lane.

A few things about that life, admittedly, it didn’t suck, but the risk / reward quotient was constant and without end. To describe what it was like, I have always taken pleasure in recounting a story told to me by the mother of my son’s best friend.

Diane explained, “I had picked up Mark and your son, Michael, from PYA, (our local little league association.) Driving home, Mark asked Michael: ‘Your father travels an awful lot; what does he do?’

Michael replied: ‘I’m not sure but he gets on airplanes, goes to different places, tells people what to do, and when they do it, he comes home.”

I kid you not, his version beat the hell out of reality.

My ignorance about giving blood ended the day my boss, Hobey Lockett, walked into my office to tell me that our colleague, Chuck, had terminal cancer and was receiving transfusions at Sloan-Kettering.

 “How can I help,” I asked?

Hobey replied: “Come with me tomorrow to donate blood in his name.”

I signed on and we donated the next day. Chuck didn’t survive but we continued to donate until his blood transfusions were paid back. Good deed done; I now knew that giving blood was a can-do event for me. I gave at office blood drives, at our local parish and a couple of one-off blood drives.

One day I received a call from the New York Blood Bank informing me that my A- blood was in high demand. They explained that it was especially needed for premature babies. Of course, I signed on and became a regular donor. As soon as they cleared me for my next donation, I would make my way to the blood bank’s facility located in the basement of Citicorp’s New York headquarters.

When someone would ask why I gave blood so often, I’d reply: “The blood bank folks have determined that my blood has an ingredient vital to premature babies, (wait for it) –  (wait for it): Alcohol.” Ha-ha.

One day, when I arrived for my appointment, a crew was filming a public service commercial for blood drives. Asked to participate, I agreed, and my pretty face ran on local TV ads for almost two years.  

But times change. Late in the 90’s a new question appeared on the list of restrictions that would prevent me from continued donations. At first blush, the question appeared to be innocuous: “Between 1975 and 1995, how many days did you spend in the United Kingdom?”

I read the question a second time. Now somewhat in shock, I called one of the nurses over and asked: “What is this question all about?”

After reading it, she explained: “Mad cow disease. The World Health Organization has decided that if a non-UK resident has spent over a year in Britain during those years, they are no longer eligible to give blood.”

“Kind of arbitrary, wouldn’t you say?”

“Perhaps, but that’s the way it is.”

Instinctively, I knew I had exceeded that time limit by my extensive travel to London during that very period. Reluctantly, I excused myself. Later, I called Rita C, the wife of one of my contacts at Exxon and a former UK RN. Rita simply said: “You have to obey the rules.”

Spoken like a true professional and someone I respected. Still, I felt the pain. Damn, I was doing good but, through no fault of my own, I had become unclean. Damn…and so it goes.

Oh well, I had my time at bat and life is good.

 Please GIVE BLOOD-It’s an absolute feel good thing to do and America needs your donation at this time of crisis. Understandably, blood banks reserves are at an all- time low as giving blood requires a huge leap of faith. You must abandon sheltering in place,  get into your car to reach your nearest blood bank, enter a strange building, wait with other strangers for a nurse, fill out a form, answer lots of questions and then take a blood test.

Only then will you be able to accept the needle and give blood, that is, if I didn’t miss a step.

Before the fact you will be nagged by friends and family not to do this and afterwards, you will be made to feel foolish, or simply a moron.

Nothing about giving blood in this time of National Emergency is easy. It is hard, very hard, hence the shortage of blood. No nagging from me. If you can, as the Marines’ recruiting slogan commands: THE FEW, THE PROUD…

And yet, to your own heart be true.

The Perfect Time to Buy a New SUV

Good God Almighty, if I listen to the President of the United States, the Governor of the state of New York, Comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio or other prominent politicians, scientists from the CDC, WHO – all I hear is blah, blah, and blah. By their accounts, both Mary Ann and I will probably be infected, maybe die – as- collateral casualties in the war against COVID-19!

We are told the purpose of their broadcasts is to express caution to protect us. Alas, their daily doom messages spread fear and panic. Meanwhile, more draconian measures are introduced daily reducing our freedom of movement. Each day, restrictions and prohibitions increase.

On Friday the 13th, President Donald J Trump declared a National Emergency to combat the COVID-19 virus giving our government dictatorial powers to do whatever is necessary to combat this virus.

Quarantine, is only a question of time. Slowly, but surely, the USA is heading to an emergency of biblical proportions where all normal activities cease by government mandate.

Oops, then comes the bad news news: Of course, the compromised and elderly are at extreme risk. “They should hunker down in place, avoid all contact with all organisms in the known universe. They should spend their lives washing their hands, live in fear and be prepared to bend over as far as their old, tired, arthritic bodies will allow to kiss their asses goodbye.”

A silly thought: What if the virus is part of a vast military / industrial /business / international Western governmental conspiracy to thin the herd by eliminating the old leaches who are sucking the system dry by our pensions, social security and socialized free medicine? We are their targets because we refuse to leave the planet on our own.  What if they developed this virus to take us out? Think about how much they will save by our elimination!

And what about our fearless leaders? For example, here in the USA, three old white men out of touch and living in the past are our only choices to be our next fearless leader. The Donald, the current and controversial president, Bernie the Red and sleepy Joe. Seriously, if you don’t believe this cabal of three are working under cover and in unison, you are playing into their hands. (Just a thought.)

What to do? Faced with this enormous crisis at 76, my only escape was to buy a new SUV. I picked out the brand-new Hyundai Palisade because I could enter it without banging my head and it had lots of bells and whistles at a reasonable price.

I enjoyed the fact that the salesman was oblivious to the stock market meltdown and the COVID-19 panic. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse so, what the hell, I took the plunge. I signed all the paperwork, put down a serious deposit on Wednesday, March 11 and took delivery that night.

Since then the world continues to implode. But what me worry? Hell no, I can stay in my new beauty of an SUV in quarantine until hell freezes over.

Since all of sports leagues and the colleges have voluntarily ceased for the foreseeable future, learning how to operate all these new systems will help me to survive our quarantine and I’ll have a complete understanding of my new vehicle ito escape Uncle’s wrath for telling the truth and spilling the beans.

Pick your poison; I picked mine. See you on the highway to freedom: Live Free or Die.

The Sky Is Falling

Here we go again. Err on the side of caution is becoming the general order of the day with interruptions, cancellations or restrictions multiplying geometrically and all because of the Corona virus or the COVID-19. American colleges and universities are banning travel and soon to come, cessation of attending classes replaced by virtual classrooms accessed on-line. Looks like University of Phoenix and like on-line colleges had it right after all.

In Italy all soccer games are being played for TV only, the stadiums being locked shut. Not just the one-percenter are abandoning commercial flights for private charters. So are the five, 10 and 20 percenters. If you got it, flaunt it.

Adios March Madness at least for fan participation, Pity the XFL. OMG, what about The Masters! And the ultimate casualty, the Tokyo Olympics. How do you say WTF in Japanese? Entertainment events like South by Southwest have been cancelled while passengers scramble to cancel overseas vacations and scheduled cruises. Chaos reigns supreme as the stock market vainly struggles to get it right opting instead for a daily rollercoaster ride to hell and back.    

Our fearless leaders demand that we don’t panic while they pour out news and statistics that broadcast doubt, anxiety and worry. Don’t panic, really? Instead, whistle a happy tune for twenty seconds while we wash our hands.

In the 70s we had gasoline crises. A good deal of the shortage was caused by hoarding. Today, folks are hoarding hand sanitizers, wipes, paper towels, nose and toilet tissues. One wag told us to use vodka but the folks at Tito’s reminded us that the minimum alcohol content should be 60% and their content is 40%. Even Smirnoff 100 is 10% short. Perhaps drinking it is the better alternative, especially Tito’s!

Meanwhile businesses announce plans to minimize employee contact with each other, customers and others. Bloomberg LLC intends to divide facilities to spread the risk. Others will push the exploding universe of working remotely. Our fake media broadcasts hysteria and panic. What a time for an infodemic, (an overabundance of information.)  A vicious tornado that tore into a suburb of Nashville didn’t have a chance to compete with the COVID-19 infodemic.

What’s a girl to do? Hoard antiseptic cleaner, toilet paper, soap and paper towels? Stock up on cereal, soup, Spam, fruit cocktail and peanut butter in expectation of an imposed fourteen-day quarantines that lurk around the corner?

Does Chicken Little’s battle cry: “The sky is falling,” have a familiar ring?” Or, has Homeland Security upped the terror threat to fire engine-red, albeit, a completely different terror threat – or, has NORAD issued a DEFCON Five alert? “The sky is falling; the sky is falling.”

Memo to file: Delach, get your ass to Total Wine, chop-chop to stock up on two weeks supply of Jameson’s, Johnny Walker Red and Kettle-One. Hell, make that a month’s supply!  And don’t forget mother’s hooch too. After all, THE SKY IS FALLING!

Truth be known, most humans, especially those of us who live in the free world, in my case, the USA, be us Trumpers, Bernie addicts Joementumers and everything in between are insecure and believe that we don’t deserve what we have. Instead we secretly believe we are under attack because we are blessed. Linda Ronstadt reminded us in “Back in the USA:”:

I’m so glad I’m living in the USA:

Yes, I’m so glad I’m living in the USA

Anything you want we got it right here in the USA   

Many of us suffer from the feeling too good blues. In our hearts, we believe we have it coming which is why we buy into Armageddon: Sooner or later something bad will happen: War, a natural disaster, a plague, a climate catastrophe, or attack from outer space are but a few examples.

If only we just relax and: Don’t worry, be happy. Valium or a stiff drink can help.

Once COVID-19 runs its course, and it will, we’ll go back to normal and leave the unpleasant memory behind. This too shall pass; that I can guarantee.

Certain changes will remain. The work-place and university structure will never be the same. Virtual and remote will be the legacy of the COVID-19.

Can We Lessen the Noise?

Something remarkable happens when I sit down at my computer to begin the process of creating a new piece like this one. I am alone with my thoughts. In the background I can hear the soft purr of Mary Ann’s sound machine. Her pleasure is to go to bed between 9 pm and 9:30 to catch up on social media comings and goings and to read her latest e-book.

Part of my motivation is to escape the noise of talk TV. The noise began with the Bush – Gore disputed election of 2000 especially Florida and the “chads.” Since then, it has multiplied beyond belief.

Some may point out that it’s my own fault that I am electronically challenged. Perhaps? Yet I deliberately decided to avoid any and all social media forums. It’s bad enough knowing that my name and countless things about me are bouncing around the internet but, at the very least I can refuse to participate in the process. I don’t care what others think when I have a birthday, start something new, eat a meal or go to the toilet and I certainly don’t care to know about others’ birthdays, eating or bathroom habits.

My resolve several years ago when I received a message from a friend asking me to become one of his Facebook friends. Having already heard horror stories of innocent victims being sucked in by Facebook’s siren song, I deleted his invitation and replied to him via an email message that went something like this:

Dear Friend,

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but, if Jesus Christ himself asked me to be his Facebook friend, I’d tell him to f***-off.

Your loving friend,

John

Yes, I have an iPhone and an iPad, but, to the best of my knowledge, I am not a member of any social media outlets which is not an easy thing to accomplish. As of last June, there were approximately 65 outlets. The top site remains Facebook with 1.59 billion monthly users. Second, Whats App with 1 billion; third, QQ with 853 million; fourth, WeChat (697MM); fifth, QZone (640MM); sixth, Tumblr(555MM); seventh, Instagram, (400MM) and Twitter (320MM), eighth. Baidu Tieba, Google and Skype filling out the last three each with 300 million users. One could point out that this means I miss out on a significant amount of information but consider that it also means that I have successfully lessened the amount of noise directed at me.

Like Custer, I fear one day it will overwhelm me. Am I fighting a losing battle? Already our political polarization has poisoned the radio and television airways, great newspapers have lost their way and the entertainment industry has gone bonkers in their support of a progressive agenda. In the process civility has been obliterated as collateral damage by these out-of-control clashing ideologies.

Even the ultimate safe harbor of professional sports reporting is under siege thanks to the Houston Astros rigging their first World Series win. The 2020 baseball season will be a horror show, that is of course if there is a 2020 baseball season.

The Corona virus may go pandemic taking the all organized sports with it from Major League Baseball to the Tokyo Olympics. The stock market has already fled the scene in full panic mode while efforts to protect the Heartland are crushed under insanely partisan noise. Even when the virus runs its course the noise will find new sources. 

Five G will enable more and more noise that will be thrust upon us by amazing, addictive and sophisticated devices. Don’t get me started about my thoughts on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Through no fault of my own, we secured a single device now occupying our breakfast room. I assume it’s a Google product since to get it to talk, Mary Ann begins her request with: “Hey Google.”

Mary Ann requests basic things, phone numbers, movie times, etc. Her success rate is about 50%. This AI machine is a first generation: “A Tin Lizzy” of its species. I don’t look forward to witnessing the future of this brave new world

I have only had one interaction with this machine. One morning, while I read the print editions of Newsday and The New York Times, over a second cup of coffee, my radio barked an ad for its own broadcast with the command: “Hey Google, play WABC.”

As if by magic, the AI device began to broadcast the station. Stunned, I shouted out: “Hey Google, shut the f*** off.”

It did! I suspect, in the future its successors will have me eliminated for my anti-social behavior… I’ll be waiting: Live free or die.

When Death Rode the Rails: Sept. 15, 1958 (Part Four)

I published a stand-alone version of Part Four entitled: “No. 932: Sent from the gods” in January of 2014.

When the third coach, Car 932, temporarily came to rest on that 80-degree angle, it became the iconic newspaper photograph of record carried on the front pages of Tuesday’s Metropolitan newspapers. All the morning papers from the Daily News and Daily Mirror the Star Ledger and The Asbury Press carried the image of this half-submerged coach conspicuously identified as 932. It became a message from the gods.

And so, workingmen and women who played the numbers flocked to this heavenly gift and played 932 in droves. Back then, a big bet was one dollar, but you could bet as little as a quarter with a local runner, a part-time collector who worked for a bookie. When you bet a three-number combination, the payoff was 600 to 1.

Harry Barnhardt worked as a hostler for the Erie Railroad in their Hoboken Yard shuttling locomotives within a terminal. Harry would transfer steamers and diesels from shops and lay-up tracks, hook them up to coaches and move the consist into the station for the evening rush hour trains.

Harry was my friend, Mike Scott’s, grandfather. Aside from his Erie job, he was also a runner for a bookmaker in Jersey City. He collected daily bets from fellow Erie workers in the afternoon and, each morning, made the rounds of bars along Hudson Boulevard and Summit Avenue in north Jersey City. Harry’s railroad workday began at 3 pm making his mornings clear to troll these local gin mills, pick up the day’s bets and pay off yesterday’s winners. Mike was eight in 1958 and recalls, “On days off from school and during the summer, my brothers, Jimmy and Kevin my sister, Kathy and I took turns visiting Harry and Rose. Harry would take us out with him on his morning rounds. We’d get a free Coke and Harry would sip a beer while conducting business. Then, it was on to the next gin mill.”

The Wednesday night after the wreck, Harry dropped Grandma Rose off at the Scott’s house for her traditional spaghetti night. But this night was different! Instead of distributing her normal allowance of twenty-five cents to Mike and his older brother, Jimmy, grandma handed them each a Five Dollar bill. “Unheard of!” Mike reported. “Not only that, she took all of us out to the Chinese Joint, a rare thing indeed.”

“Then, even crazier, the next weekend, on Harry’s day off, he took everybody to Mario’s, a bar in Clifton that served up those 1950s’ vintage pizzas with enormous air pockets. Were they any good? Who knew – They were the only and best pizza we ever had. But what made this special was, Harry blew for dinner, something he never did.”

Mike continued, “Years later, when I went into the insurance business, Harry clued me into what happened that day. He said, ‘People play the same number all the time, birthdays, anniversaries, and so on. But they are also superstitious and when a crash happens and they find a number, it’s played like wildfire. That morning, 932 came in everywhere I went. It was crazy. When I took my sheets in, I said to the guys, ‘This is nuts!’

“Did you play it Harry?’ they asked me? ‘Hell, yes, I replied. But how can the bookies cover if it hits?”

Mike explained: “When the bookmakers discover that a number is being heavily played, they find other bookmakers who don’t have this action. The 1958 CNJ wreck was an East Coast event so the bookies figuratively headed west. Their search began in Pittsburgh, then to Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, etc. until they managed to layoff enough to survive. In return, they took the western books hot numbers then or later.

“Harry not only hit the number; he was a hero in all those gin mills. Grandma took his $600 payout, but Harry kept all the tips from his bettors and the action she didn’t know about.

“When Harry told me this story, he stopped, thought about it and said, ‘I went down to Jersey City early the next morning scared that there wouldn’t be a payout. Already, the word was bookies had reneged. As it turned out, those were mostly locals, kids or jerks, without a clue trying to get a piece of the action. The people I worked for were solid and paid off in full. You know, it hit me when I walked out to make my rounds that day, ‘My God, this is the most amount of money I will ever have on me in my entire life.”

When Death Rode the Rails 1958 (Part Three)

Paul Land, the stockbroker from Rumson, regained his senses fifty feet under water in the second car: “…under the roof, there was an air pocket several inches high. I don’t know how I did it, but I floated up there. I gulped all the air I could, but at that point I thought I was a goner.

‘You see, I don’t swim. Only recently did I learn to float. But I don’t swim or dive. In the top of the car, the swishing of water was fantastic. It banged me around this way, then that way. I would say there were about thirty-five bodies in the car then and only a few others got out with me.

“Some way, maybe I dove, or maybe I pulled myself down, I don’t know, but I got myself to the bottom of the car and against this window. I don’t know if it was open or I broke it, but suddenly an enormous air bubble formed. It burst out the window with me in it and shot me to the surface.

“I thought I was going to drown again, that I would sink. But then a helicopter came along with a rope dangling down. I wrapped it around and around my arms, tight, then I passed out. Later I found that there were five of us in the helicopter. The others were also severely injured. One of them, I think, died.”

John Hawkins body was recovered the next day as was his briefcase containing the $250,000 in securities. So was James Adams body. The family tried to keep the news from his dying wife, Alice, but a nurse let it slip. Alice died the next day. Her brother, Kurt, the not yet famous author and his wife raised the couple’s oldest three boys while the baby went to other relatives.

Rafael Leon, a Venezuelan financier, was trapped in the tilted third coach with his wife. “I tried to get hold of my wife. I had one hand on something above me in the water – a seat or something. I had the other hand on my wife. But there was a man on top of her, and he was already drowned. I tried to get hold of her, but I could not get her up.

“I was drowning there under the water. I was drowning and praying. My wife was beneath me in the water. I swam down in the water and tried to find her, but the water was too deep, and she had slipped down. I went back up to the surface of the water inside the coach. A window was open, but I stayed there some time inside the coach praying. There is no use trying to find my wife. She is already lost. If I go down again to try to get her, it will just mean that I will die too.”

Mr. Leon climbed up to higher window in the coach and escaped in a small boat.

Boats had quickly converged on the wreck. One of the first to arrive was Edward McCarthy who owned the Elco Marina in Bayonne just north of the drawbridge. He heard the distress signals from the Sand Captain as it neared the bridge just as the train catapulted into the bay. He immediately set off in a 16-foot launch and was credited with rescuing 11 people in the first 15 minutes.

“There were people floating all over the place. They were screaming for help. It was so frustrating. You are all alone and there is only so much I could do to help.”

The Sand Captain launched its lifeboat which maneuvered over to the dangling passenger car. Passengers climbed out of the windows above the bay and into the boat. Soon police and fire boats from New Jersey and Staten Island arrived as did Coast Guard cutters, land units and helicopters. Unlike other wrecks, response on a massive scale was un-necessary. The living was quickly rescued turning the operation into one of recovery. Divers arrived to enter the murky, polluted waters of Newark Bay to recover the wrecked engines and coaches and any bodies they stumbled across in the darkness. Magnus “Peanuts” Sonnergern, a 36-year-old diminutive master diver from Staten Island led the efforts to raise the units. He explained, “I have hands and they are my eyes.” Making over a dozen dives in three days, Peanuts recovered 21 bodies and helped raise all five units despite lack of visibility and tricky tides.

Snuffy Stirnweiss wife and six children received $9,000 in cash death benefit from the Major League Players’ benefit Plan and a monthly amount of $157.50 for the rest of her life.

All the passengers who died occupied the second and third cars that fell into the bay. This wasn’t happenstance. These cars were closest to the front of the train which passengers had to pass to board the connecting ferry to Manhattan.

The two diesels were recovered, repaired and returned to service. Full service across Newark Bay ended in 1967 when all Shore Line trains were re-routed to Hoboken. Shuttle service ended in 1980 and the bridge was soon dismantled

That should have been the end but Part Four will tell a curious story related to the wreck.