John Delach

On The Outside Looking In


One of the definitions of irony is: A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

The Thirty-Second President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died both dramatically and suddenly on the morning of April 12, 1945, in his cabin at “The Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. FDR had long ago deemed Warm Springs to be his sanctuary for peace and renewal. As far back as 1928, FDR he confided in his doctors, “When I am worn out, I’ll come back to Warm Springs. In a few days I’ll be like new again.”

That March 29, FDR had boarded his personal Pullman sleeper, the Ferdinand Magellan, at a secret loading platform belonging to the Treasury Department beneath Union Station for a two-week respite in Warm Springs. Already seriously ill, the previous weeks journey to and from Yalta to meet with Stalin and Churchill had left him exhausted with little strength and reserves  remaining; FDR was a very sick man.

The hope was that a respite at Warm Springs would serve to afford the old man, at least, a partial renewal. His presidential train set consisted of six coffee-green Pullmans that accommodated the president and his official entourage. FDR had just turned sixty-three and his personal physician, Admiral Ross McIntire, had approved the trip. But McIntire had become too close to Roosevelt to be objective in accessing the President’s condition and acting accordingly.

Just one month earlier, an examination of the President by Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, a cardiologist at Bethesda Naval Hospital had revealed the Chief of State’s blood pressure to be 260/150…widow maker city!

Dr. McIntire was unable to make the trip so Dr. Bruenn substituted for him.

Roosevelt slept late on the morning of April 12. He complained of a headache but looked good. Dr. Bruenn decided to go for a swim. The President picked a spot with good outside natural light to work at his desk while his portrait artist, Elizabeth Shoumatoff worked on his latest portrait. Ms Shoumatoff later reported that about an hour later: “A glorious redness had spread over the President’s face chasing away the pallor that had hollowed his cheeks.”

“The President seemed to be fumbling for something, his hands flitting above his head, as if waving away a moth that was not there. An aide asked, ‘ Have you dropped your cigarette?”

“He replied,‘ I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.”

FDR slumped over. He would remain alive another two-and one-half hours, but his last conscience moment ended when he collapsed from his chair.

While the tragic news slowly made its way to the nation and across the globe, preparations began to embalm his’ corpse and bring the deceased president back to Washington and then on to Hyde Park fpr  burial.

The best funeral director in Atlanta was dispatched to Warm Springs. The consist of Pullman Cars that had carried FDR to Warm Springs, now designated the President’s Funeral Train, was ordered south from its layup track in Atlanta as preparations were made to begin the northern journey  the next morning.

Eleanor Roosevelt flew in that night on a military aircraft to accompany her late husband on his journey. Three thousand soldiers arrived overnight to line the route from Warm Springs to the station as a color guard made up of Second Lieutenants newly graduated from the Fort Benning’s Officer Training School in full ceremonial dress would highlight the army’s dedication to their lost Commander-in-Chief.





Oh dear. Admittedly, I apologize for stringing this out, but you must admit I grabbed your attention by re-visiting FDR’s last visit to Warm Springs and the circumstances of his death.

The irony happened during the procession from Warm Springs to the railroad station.

One of those sharp, handsome and decked out  newly minted Second Lieutenants ordered to be on duty to honor the deceased president was none other than William F. Buckley, the foremost American conservative statesman in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

That my friend is irony.

And yet, loyalty to his Commander-in-Chief, his uniform and his country came first for Second Lieutenant William F. Buckley that morning of April 13, 1945.

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.

The Voyage of the JJD-1701

First off, I must explain why I did not publish on September 22. Please note that this was the first time since On the Outside Looking In began publishing in October of 2013 that I missed a deadline without prior notice. Because of the circumstances surrounding this failure to launch, i.e.: I was hospitalized and unable to write, I am declaring a personal Force Majeure, thereby shedding any and all responsibility for this Act of God.

Now let us begin: The Voyage of the JJD-1701:

While in treatment at St. Francis Hospital, Flower Hill, NY, I underwent an endoscopy to determine the location of probable bleeding that had rendered me anemic forcing me to seek admittance on Friday afternoon, September 17. After a relatively short stay in the ER, I was happily transferred to a semi-private room. My first roommate was a semi-conscience fellow who was discharged the next day and sent home by ambulance. One could only imagine what burdens he will bring to his household, but overhearing his incoming phone calls from his wife, Renee, that he listened to on speaker, I knew getting him home was her only priority. He left for home by ambulance early on Saturday afternoon.

Other than receiving my first of two transfusions that weekend, all I did was watch football on Saturday and Sunday with Elliott, my next roomie. Elliott was in to correct a problem that happened during a procedure the previous week. Whatever the SFH staff did to correct it, worked and Elliott left me early on Sunday night.

My final roomie, James, arrived about 10:30 that night from the ER, disoriented, practically incoherent and in serious distress. I admired the pro-active care the nurses and their aides rendered to James that night. In retrospect, if I knew what was to come, I would have rooted for him to go into a coma. Once coherent, he became the roomie from hell.

But I digress. Doctor C, my endocrinologist explained that he wanted me to sign on for the voyage of the JJD-1701 so he could observe my complete  GI system to determine if there was any internal bleeding anywhere in my system including where the camera used on an ordinary procedure could not go.

Once I agreed to swallow JJD-1701 and set it free, it would embark on an eight-hour journey down through my system before I ejected the capsule into a toilet bowl. During this voyage, its cameras would shoot 30,000 photos of my innards.

I had several responsibilities. I had to fast from midnight and continue fasting until the voyage was complete. I had to wear a belt that tracked its location and carry a transmitter the size of a 1970’s era Walkman. (In fact, this transmitter looked just like a Walkman.)

I could not lie down during its course and for the first four hours, I was supposed to stand often and walk to stimulate its downward descent.

Silly me, I expected to be called to the Endo Suite early Tuesday morning, say 8 AM, so the results could be delivered to Dr. C just after 4 pm before he left for the night. Instead, the launch was delayed until noon. With great pomp and circumstance and two cups of water, I swallowed JJD-1701 setting it free on its incredible journey. Eight PM that night, the transmitter signaled the end of its tracking. My belt and transmitter were sent to the lab to be analyzed on Wednesday.

Wednesday was to be my going home day. My admitting physician, Dr G agreed to sign off on my release once Dr. C accepted JJD-1701’s readings. One other doctor, Dr. S, needed a bit of persuasion to agree to forego any additional tests. This is where my skills as an insurance broker who had to deal with some of the biggest SOBs in the oil industry came in handy. He agreed to back off and I agreed not to make his life miserable.

It was at this point that Dr. C began to fail me. First off and unbeknownst to me, he only did his procedures in the morning meaning that he didn’t get around to reviewing JJD-1701’s evidence until 1PM. The good news: none of the photographs indicated evidence of any tear. The bad news, JJD-1701 remained somewhere in my lower intestines. Without confirmation of its exact location, Dr. C didn’t know if he had a complete visual mapping of my system.

He ordered an X-Ray of my intestines at 1:30. The technician shoed up two-hours later. I became more than a bit agitated at this point. Fortunately, the tech was both efficient and  competent. Once she shot her photo, I heard her tell Dr. C’s PA that JJD-1701 was near the end of its journey and had covered all parts he wanted to examine. She confirmed this to me and promised to personally deliver her picture to Dr. C.

By 4 PM, I had no news and no news, in this case, was bad news. Enough was enough, and to the embarrassment of my loving wife, I declared the nuclear option: “Either release me by 5 PM or I will release myself.”

As if by magic, Andrea, my veteran nurse called Alex, Dr. C’s PA who shortly confirmed to Andrea that I was good to go.

Release has its own time frame and Transport didn’t wheel me out until after 7:30 but, I was free, free, thank God almighty, free at last. On the way home, we stopped at Gino’s Pizza on Main Street  where Mary Ann picked up slices of their outstanding Sicilian pizza.

Max, our 11-year-old Golden and Tessy, our 13-year-old yellow Lab greeted me with their usual reserved postures that said, “Oh, you are finally back. Anything to eat?”

I rewarded their subtle loyalty with several pieces of pizza.

I slept like a rock. Next morning, I checked off three items denied me for the last five days: a shave with a razor and cream, a shower and a trip to “Let There Be Bagels,” our local store for two plain bagels with butter and a medium size cup of coffee, milk, but no sugar. Just driving there was a pleasure in itself.

So far and perhaps forever, the fate of JJD-1701 is unknown.

Reporting the Sinking of the Andrea Doria

On July 26, 1956, I awoke at home in Ridgewood, Queens to the news that the Italian luxury liner, Andrea Doria, had collided with a smaller Swedish combo / passenger ship and freighter, the MV Stockholm, off Nantucket Island the previous night. I switched on the Today Show on NBC, the premier morning news show, then just four years old and hosted by Dave Garroway, where I became mesmerized with the terminal struggle of this proud liner.

I thought I was viewing live action. Instead, NBC was broadcasting taped footage shot by camera men flying out of New York and Cape Cod that had been rushed to various networks and newspapers.

The two ships were operating in thick fog, the Andrea Doria inbound to New York from Genoa and the Stockholm, outbound from New York to Europe. At 10:45 pm, they established radar contact, but the officers manning each bridge, wrongly anticipated the other’s intentions without bothering to verbally communicate with each other leading to a radar influenced collision at 11:10 pm.

The radio room at The New York Times received an SOS radio signal from the Andrea Doria one hour later. Managing Editor, Turner Catlidge, rousted out of bed just after midnight, stopped the presses just after the early morning bulldog edition had been printed. So did the overnight editors at the Daily News, Mirror and The Herald Tribune.

At 3 am, Gabe Pressman’s bedside telephone rang him awake. Bill Corley, running NBC’s network overnight news desk explained: “Gabe, the Andrea Doria has been in a collision off Nantucket. Get down to Coast Guard headquarters at the Battery as fast as you can. They’re coordinating search and rescue from there.”

Gabe Pressman, then 36, was a radio reporter with NBC’s New York AM Radio station, then using the call sign, WRCA.  

Pressman filed several TV and radio reports early the morning of July 26. At about 7 am, he was invited by the Coast Guard to represent national broadcasters on a USCG plane about to leave from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Pressman signed on, and 90-minutes later, Gabe arrived over the stricken Andrea Doria.

Not to be outdone by NBC, Don Hewitt, at CBS, who would go on to create 60 Minutes, had enough clout to charter a seaplane out of Nantucket with a TV crew aboard to keep CBS viable. So did ABC and by the early afternoon, New York’s afternoon newspapers, The Post, Journal-American and The World-Telegram and Sun marshalled their reporters, re-writers and editors to blanket this modern tragedy.

Yet, despite the mobilization of print and media reporting, the story of the sinking of the Andrea Doria belonged to Gabe Pressman. I offer to you his account of “ The Death of a Great Ocean Liner:”

So, I boarded the two-engine plane with the others at Floyd Bennett Field. About 90 minutes later, we were flying over the Andrea Doria. The sleek, beautiful ship was listing heavily to the right side. None of us expected it would sink.

But as we circled overhead, the list became greater. It suddenly became clear that the ship was sinking before our eyes.

The sky was clear. The sun shone brightly on the calm sea. We found out later that, by this time, the survivors had been taken off the ship. There was no one alive aboard.

Then, as we watched in amazement and horror, the ship suddenly went from a 50-degree list to a 60-degree list to starboard and, within a few minutes, it fell beneath the Atlantic waters. I saw  huge bubbles rise to the surface.

I had a primitive tape recorder and spoke into it. “I am looking at the death throes of the Andrea Doria, pride of the Italian Line. It’s turning over, like a toy in a bathtub. And now it is sinking. It’s a horrible sight. The water is bubbling as the ship goes down in the waters off Nantucket.”

An hour and a half later, we landed at Floyd Bennett, and I rushed to a phone booth. The program director at WRCA Radio, Steve White, was a music man, who asked me “Is this story important?” I replied: “You’d better believe it and it’s exclusive.”

White told me that Al Jazzbo Collins was doing his jazz show, but since I said this was important, he’d have him put it on right away. I recorded a three-minute spot that went out to Jazzbo’s jazz junkies.

Later in the day, a solid newsman and producer, Joe Dembo, took my rather excited sounding tape and the film of the sinking, edited it down and it was carried on the network news that night. Fifty-one passengers aboard the two ships had died. More than 1,600 passengers and crew had survived.

Those were challenging old days. We weren’t sure we knew what we were doing. But it was a time when the goal for all of us was to gather news for television- and broadcast it to the greatest audience in history.

We were caught up in this new kind of journalism and determined to do the best job we could.

Gabe Pressman remained a presence at WNBC Television, Channel 4  even after he retired. He passed in June of 2017 at 93.

The World Trade Center Club

Austin Tobin was the driving force behind the construction of the World Trade Center. As Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he envisioned the twin towers to be the centerpiece of international trade. He decided that these towers should be the tallest buildings in the world to project their importance, but he wanted a crown jewel to enhance their glory. He commissioned The World Trade Center Club, his personal gift to power. Located on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower, The Club became a magnificent drinking and dining facility with private rooms, vintage wines and aged cigars. He recruited powerful restaurateurs who assembled a staff that exuded the proper snobbery of an elite country club. It became a new home for the three-martini lunch and featured a men’s room, adorned in pink and white Italian Marble, so magnificent, it could be an appropriate setting for a national leader to lie in state. The Club kept its own accounts and neither cash nor credit cards were accepted.

The press became aware of the privacy and opulence of The Club and all hell broke loose. How could a public agency promote a subsidized private club? Tobin had to pacify the press and politicos and so, at night it became “Windows on the World,” the unique public restaurant 107 floors in the air. The NY Times first review read in part: “…as to the quality of the food, you cannot beat the view.”

At lunchtime, The Club remained members only. This was in the era of private lunch clubs when senior corporate officers frequented these clubs, belonging to one or more. They were swell places to entertain clients, prospects and underwriters with the bills going on generous expense accounts. My mentor, Charlie R, introduced me to The WTC Club. Charlie drank Bombay Gin Martinis and loved to entertain there. He especially liked to show it off to visiting British brokers and their wives. This was an era when British firms sent their senior and most promising junior brokers to the United States for two or three weeks at a time in the company of their wives. The Labour Government’s tax rate was 90% and these trips provided an alternate method of compensation. The Brits usually invaded New York in May and October when the weather is best.

Charlie’s greatest coup came during a dinner for visiting Brits in one of the private dining rooms. He disappeared and, on his return announced: “ May I have your attention. I have arranged a special event for the ladies, a tour of the most magnificent men’s room in the world.” Charlie had convinced the staff to temporarily close the men’s room, and he proceeded to escort the ladies, including my wife, on a private tour to the delight of all.

Charlie encouraged me to become a member. We worked in midtown and the cost was discounted if you were north of Canal Street. I took his advice and, during my 20 years as a member, I hosted many a lunch and dinner there. I utilized their private rooms to set agendas, deal with crises, welcome visitors, congratulate success, say goodbye to retirees, good luck to transferees and accomplished other matters of commerce.

The view was paramount and at times dramatic. On crystal clear winter nights, the brightness of the city overwhelmed while the surrounding areas stretched to the horizon in strands of light. Manhattan buildings, seen from above, stood out silhouetted by spotlights and ground lights. If the moon was strong, or full, its reflected light causing rivers, bays and the ocean to glow. Helicopters flew by at altitudes lower than The Club. The only view above us was of lights from airplanes and the stars. During dinner one night, as low clouds swept in from the west, the streets and buildings grew fainter and fainter until they disappeared. And yet, since these clouds were below The Club, we could still see the stars.

Such was life in the fast lane, 1970s and 1980s style. However, as the 1990s arrived, the Club had become an anachronism. The era of  private luncheon clubs was over. The Harbor View Club, Drug and Chemical Club, The Wall Street Club and the infamous Whitehall Club, with its deadly bartender, Spiro, had all closed. Business had changed in focus, diversity and geography with a reduced tolerance for lunchtime drinking. This and loss of tax deductibility, the cost of space and the desirability of their locations conspired to hasten their demise.

The terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 had forced The Club to close, I thought permanently. So, it was with surprise that I opened an announcement in 1995 advising The Club would re-open. I re-joined at a discounted fee, but seldom used it as I too had changed. I hosted my last dinner in the fall of 1999 for a group of French underwriters from AXA Insurance Company. The summer before, they had entertained us and our client at their chateau in Bordeaux, a once in a lifetime event. My colleagues and I decided to introduce them to The Club and the weather cooperated fully. The view was superb, the food good and the wine far too expensive, but they were as impressed as the French would ever admit.

I resigned from The Club in 2000 when I retired and never returned. On September 1, 2001 the Club died when the North Tower fell. It was no longer relevant, but my world changed forever with that tragedy.

To relieve my post-destruction gloom, I searched for and found my old photographs taken as a young man. I worked on Park Row at the time in sight of the towers as they climbed higher and higher. I thrilled at their ascent and frequently photographed their promise as new stories were added. I also found my last WTC membership card. I thought this evidence and my memories would be the final epitaph.

            Curiously, it was not. A letter arrived with the return address being Mr. Jules Roinnel in Baldwin, Long Island. Jules was the Club’s Manager. Dated October 12, 2001, it began: ”Dear Member:” This was a surprise, not because I was no longer a member, but rather that a letter had actually been sent. The letter spoke of the 72 staff members who died and advised that two surviving luncheon clubs would offer guest privileges until the end of the year. Even though it read in part: “…the future of The World Trade Center Club is unclear.” it had an upbeat tone about it.

Perhaps Jules was going through the motions? Perhaps the Club could gain a third life? If it did whatever its name, or location, it could not duplicate what was. The Club, like its era and the towers belong to history.

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001, should have been one of the 10 best days of the year weather wise in New York City. Seasonably warm, but clear without haze and free of humidity, Manhattan shined in all its glory living up to one of its nicknames, Babylon on the Hudson.

Overcoming my disappointment of having suffered through an opening night loss by my beloved Giants to the Chiefs  in Kansas City the previous night, I planned to travel to my company’s midtown headquarters at 1166 Avenue of the Americas to have lunch with my old boss, Steve P.  But first, I began a 45-minute workout on my treadmill to get my heart started.

Marsh & McLennan, the firm I had worked for from 1971until I retired on April 1, 2000, also had operations in World Trade Center. They occupied eight floors in the North Tower from 93 to 100. As I power walked, I watched as NBC cut away from their regular programming to reveal that an airplane had crashed into the upper floors of the north side of the North Tower. Little did we know at that moment that the high jackers managed to strike every one of the floors that Marsh & McLennan occupied expect 100. 

A longtime colleague, Jim H, had an office on 99 facing north. I still wonder if he saw the American Airlines plane as it hurtled in his direction. Flight Number 11 struck his office at 8:46 AM. Coincidently, Jim’s brother-in-law, Bill W, worked for AON on one of the nine floors occupied by that insurance brokerage firm in the South Tower. The folks who worked in that tower above the 85th Floor had 17 minutes to evacuate before United Flight No. 175 plunged into the south side of that tower. Although many workers did evacuate, Bill chose not to. Neither did Tony D, another former Marsh man who had joined AON. Tony had married late in life and his wife had recently given birth to twin girls. They would never see their father again.   

Two hundred and ninety-five Marsh employees died that day along with 63 contract employees. That total, 358, was the third highest behind the FDNY and Cantor Fitzgerald. Jeff L. was one of those Cantor Fitzgerald casualties. Before joining Canter, Jeff had worked in midtown, and I would often share an early morning cab ride from Penn Station with him.

My niece, Rita, was lucky. Employed by Deutsche Bank at their 39-story building on 130 Liberty Street close to the South Tower, she evacuated when that tower was hit. Rita set out for Brooklyn and was about to cross the Brooklyn Bridge when that tower fell wrecking her place of work. She spent the night in a convent. It would take years to demolish that building since it contained human remains from the South Tower.

Michelle G. had worked for me when I was the Manager of Marsh’s New York Marine and Energy operation. She was scheduled to attend an all-day conference at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th Floor of the North Tower. Michelle chose to forgo the pre-conference breakfast choosing instead to meander through the Barnes and Noble bookshop in the lobby.

When American Flight 11 struck the tower, Michelle made a run to the PATH Station to catch one of the last trains to leave the WTC Station for New Jersey. Her train was in one of the 100-year-old cast iron tubes under the Hudson River when the second airplane hit. Michelle told me: “The tunnel moved violently from side to side. The train ground to a halt and the lights went out. I have never been so scared. Finally, the lights came back on and very slowly, the train crept to the Exchange Place Station in Jersey City. I cringed when I emerged into the morning light to see both buildings were burning.”       

Our son, Mike and our daughter Beth both worked for Marsh & McLennan companies at 1166. Beth’s husband, Tom, also worked in Manhattan. The three of them met near Tom’s office on Broadway then made their way to Beth and Tom’s apartment in NoHo on Mott Street safely north of the poisonous smoke pouring from the debris. Mike spent the night with them.  

America shut down to protect the homeland. The FAA grounded every aircraft in USA airspace ordering those airplanes in the air to land immediately. Incoming international flights were instructed to return to their points of origin or find airports of refuge. If you ever see the play, Come From Away, you will discover the story of the jumble of transatlantic flights that landed in Gander, Newfoundland that day.

Emergency rooms geared up to treat the anticipated multitude of casualties that never materialized. There was only the living and the dead and most of the dead disintegrated under the massive pile of debris.

Relatives and friends of the dead created massive bulletin boards throughout the city featuring photographs of the missing with notes pleading for information about their status. Beth, a licensed social worker, volunteered at an armory to council those seeking help to cope with their loved ones who were now MIA.

A sense of loss, anger and absolute sadness blanketed the city. It enveloped me and may have consumed me except that Mary Ann and I and two other couples, the Cruises and the Markeys managed to escape to Ireland in early October on a pre-arranged holiday.

Good craic, the hospitality of Erin, rain, wind, laughter, Guinness and Irish whiskey soothed our souls and raised our morale. It feathered our anger and permitted me to be a human again.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of that dark day, next Wednesday, I will republish my piece about the Club at the World Trade Center that died on what should have been one of the 10 best days of the year for 2001.  

William H. Meyerholt: A Remembrance

When he died, The Cleveland Plain Dealer carried the obituary of William H. Meyerholt, age 72, of Munson Township, Ohio. Meyerholt, a retired United States Air Force Colonel, became the insurance manager for Lubrizol after leaving the service.

But he was always a jet jockey who drove F-105 Thunderchiefs during the Viet Nam war. The Thunderchief was a flying tank that pilots flew into harm’s way in support of our ground troops. The most audacious pilots were dubbed Wild Weasels.  These pilots deliberately flew toward NVA Surface-To-Air batteries challenging the enemy to lock-on with their radar so they could fire their own missiles at the SAMS control center and knock out the entire battery.

Meyerholt was good at this because he was crazy. All good fighter pilots are crazy. Like the World War II American submarine captains and their German U-Boat cousins, it was said: “There are bold commanders and old commanders, but there aren’t any bold and old commanders.

Fighter pilots, no matter how bold still had a much better chance at survival than a submariner since they could eject from their crippled fighters. Meyerholt eventually left the service and joined Lubrizoil as their risk manager. Business tempered him a bit but, deep down,  he was still insane.

Even though I never worked on the Lubrizol account, he often sought me out on his visits to New York City. Perhaps he’d gotten wind that I was an Air Force brat whose father flew 43 missions in B-24 Liberators with the Eighth Air Force during the Second World War? Or did he sense that I too had a crazy streak?

My weirdest encounter with Bill occurred in Paris on one warm, bright spring Paris morning; I was in town with my clients from Exxon. We had a break in our meeting schedule and my client, Richard G and I decided to take a stroll to enjoy the sights, sounds and the pleasant weather. As we walked across Place De La Concorde toward the River Sein, I distinctly heard a voice clearly shout out above the cacophony generated by the sea of automobiles circling the plaza,  “Hey, Delach, boy are you fat!”

I did a double take, looked at Dick and asked, “Am I crazy or did you hear what I just heard?”

“John, maybe we’re both losing it, but I heard it too.”

This is where this experience gets weirder. Two days later, Dick and I were about to cross a street in front of the Eiffel Tower when Meyerholt seemed to appear out of nowhere. He grabbed me in a bear hug and laughed like hell in his infectious way.

 I looked up at his smiling eyes and shouted: “You S.O.B, it was you who shouted out my name the other day, wasn’t it?”

“ Delach, you’re too fat to miss. You can run, but you can’t hide, and you owe me a Johnny Walker Black, you hump.”

I laughed as loud as he did, “You’re on, Bill.”

I had already bought him several Johnny Walker Black Scotch drinks in New York and London and that night I added Paris to the list by doing the honors at  the bar in the St. James Hotel.

We were both retired when another Marsh guy from our Cleveland office sent me his obit. Reading it, I remembered that time in Paris was the last time I ever saw Meyerholt.

Having the chance to read his obit put a smile on my face.

I had good times with a good man. True to form, for what it’s worth, here is how his obituary concluded:

Memorial contributions may be made to Bush-Cheney ’04

P.O. Box 10648  

Arlington, Virginia, 22210

Still crazy, still crazy, still crazy after all these years.

Once Upon a Time on Stone Pond Road

So far, the summer of 2021 has been an eventful time at our house in Marlow, New Hampshire. This is the house that Mary Ann christened, “Little House” when we bought it in 1984. The events affecting our summer included an inordinate amount of rainfall, a contract to install spray insulation to the bottom of the house that turned into the job from hell and a hot tub spa on the fritz.

July was the third wettest on record in NH averaging about 14 inches across the state and as much as 19 inches in Monadnock County in Southeastern NH. The July deluge was capped off by four inches of rain that fell on July 29th. This storm brought with it flash flooding that caused serious damage along the Route 10 corridor flooding roads and houses in towns that included Gilsum, Marlow, Lempster, Goshen and Newport.

We first learned about the severity of the flooding on the morning of July 30 when our handyman, Don, called on my cellphone. He asked: “Are you still in New York?”

“Actually, Don, we are on Interstate 95 on our way up to Marlow.”

He went on to explain that Route 10 and Route 123 were closed, and Stone Pond Road was cut off to traffic. Don can be a bit of a doom and gloom kind of guy, but this sounded serious. He promised to check on current conditions and give us an update within an hour.

We decided to continue our journey, but we chose to stop at the nearest service area on I-95 that was just east of Stamford, CT. Mary Ann decided to call Aaron’s, a local lunch and ice cream shop in Marlow while I checked Google maps on my iPhone. The map revealed two interesting findings: There was heavy traffic in the vicinity of Little House and the road was out between Lempster and Goshen.

The woman who Mary Ann spoke to at Aaron’s said that Route 10 was open in Marlow. Don  called back at the same time to confirm her update. Happy and satisfied, we continued our drive. It took us over six hours to reach Marlow, a trip that once upon a time could be completed in four-and one-half hours. Such is the increased traffic in 2021.

We saw our initial indication of the severity of the storm as we crossed the first viaduct on Route 10 south of Gilsum. This bridge permits the Ashuelot River to pass under the road. A rocky stretch, the water was moving along rapidly with a volume that looked to be greater than any spring runoff that I have seen since we first came here.

The second came as we approached Marlow and entered a flat area south of town. The river had overflowed its banks and one house just below the dam was almost surrounded by water. The water level was no more than two feet from overtopping the Marlow dam and we later learned that a voluntary evacuation had been ordered for fear the dam could fail.

The road to Lake Washington was closed by a cruiser manned by two part-time peace officers. Our local school, The John D. Perkins Academy was surrounded by emergency vehicles as it had been commandeered as a command center and a relief center for evacuees.

The road between Lempster and Goshen remained closed and didn’t reopen until Saturday morning.

One of the reasons we pressed on to reach Little House was that our visit had already been delayed two weeks because of the contractor’s difficulties in spraying the new insulation on the underside of the house. Originally, this area had been protected by bundles of insulation that had been stapled onto the wooden surfaces. Over the years, gravity had prevailed and many of these bundles had dropped to the ground. We had contracted for all these bundles to be removed and that a crew spray five inches of foam insulation to replace it. The work was scheduled to be done on July 14 but was delayed one day by a broken nozzle.

On the morning of July 15, the crew confirmed that they had finished spraying a third of the foam and expected to finish by later in the day.

The next day, they advised that the rest of the foam contained in a new barrel was defective, but that they would finish the spraying the next day. That attempt failed too, again because of defective material.

As the clock ticked forward and we flipped over the calendar, we learned two significant facts, the foam could not be sprayed when it was raining or water content in the air was above 18% and we couldn’t occupy the house for at least 24 hours after spraying was finished, and ideally, not for 36 hours.

Every attempt to finish the work had to be aborted for one reason or another. Finally, we cried uncle to Crystal, a customer representative in the contractors Nashua office on Tuesday, July 28. We explained that it had to be completed by the next day. She worked her magic, and a manager assembled a crew that day and completed spraying by day’s end.

One ordeal remained: the broken hot tub. Steve, the repair guy from Clearwater Spa Sales and Service solved that problem on Wednesday, August 4. He was sure that he had a spare control panel in stock in the shop and, with a bit of luck, it would replace the broken panel. Fortunately, he was right, and, in no time, it was up and running.

After Steve removed the old control panel, he explained that mice had destroyed the old unit by nibbling on the wires!

And so it goes. Things returned to normal…so far!

On the Outside Looking In will not publish on August 18 and will return on August 25