John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

My Missing Passport

My here-to-fore hidden problem, a problem I didn’t even know I have, explodes on the morning of my scheduled departure from Bermuda in 1998. I am preparing to leave the Southampton Princess for my ride to the airport when the realization hits me squarely between the eyes: I don’t have a clue where my passport is.

“Oh shit, oh damn, oh Christ Almighty; f***, f***, F*** me!” I was operating in full panic mode. “Damn, damn, damn, I know I had it when I cleared Immigration to enter the island and I haven’t used it since my arrival. Where the f*** can it be? Damn, damn, damn.”

Finally, I calm down enough to retrace my steps; nothing. With everything packed, I call the front desk from my room to explain my dilemma. Of course, I stupidly begin by asking the clerk on duty if someone had turned it in. They are courteous enough to send up a manager who accompanies the housekeeper who serviced my room.

It becomes obvious to me that this is a waste of time, so I say, “Thank you both for coming, but what ever happened to my passport was my doing.”

The manager asks, “What do you plan to do?”

“Go to the airport. I am a long-time frequent traveler and they should have a file on me. I believe I can convince US Customs to let me fly back to New York.”

I thank them for their troubles and apologize for any disruption I may be causing. In the cab, I go over my game-plan to put the US Customs Agent on my side. First off, I decide to aim for a woman. The odds are, she will be more empathetic and caring than a male agent.

Plan A works. The agent enters  all my information into her computer and validates my clearance to leave the island and legally board my flight back to JFK. Since I clear US Customs and Immigration in Bermuda, I don’t have to repeat the process at JFK. I thank her for her assistance and her parting words are: “First thing when you arrive home, cancel your passport so it can’t be used for nefarious purposes.”

(I think to myself as I walk away, “Wow, nefarious is a big word and its meaning is even bigger!”)

The flight is uneventful, but my day isn’t over when I arrive at JFK. I had made a commitment to attend a black-tie dinner honoring my colleague at the New York Hilton that night. My tuxedo is hanging on the back of my office door, so, instead of going home, I grab a taxi to take me to my office.

Once in the office, I hang my sports coat over the tux and close my office door. I call my son to tell him what had happened in Bermuda: “Michael,“ I begin, “You won’t believe what happened to me…” As I say these words into the phone, I find myself staring at my sports coat.

Suddenly, I realize what had happened… “Hang on a second, Michael.

I stand up, and exclaim, “Son of a bitch.”

I already know what I will find and where. Sure enough, there it is in the right inside pocket of my jacket, my passport, exactly where I put it on arrival in Bermuda after the immigration agent returned it to me after adding his official stamp of approval for me to enter his island nation.

I shake my head and tell my son what happened. Now that I was once again a relaxed and a happy man, I could enjoy a good time at dinner where I tell the story of my day’s adventures until exhaustion overtakes me and I retire to my hotel room where I sleep like a baby.                

A Death in the Family

December 2022: I wrote this piece in June of 2016 in tribute to my teacher.

Last Saturday afternoon, the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society honored my teacher by presenting members of his family with personal tributes by poets and writers. This is my interpretation of the man who taught me how to write that I presented that day. 

Maxwell C. Wheat Jr, poet, parent, preacher and a man of peace.

Activist, protester, man of passion, letters, understanding and always; a poet.

Teacher, facilitator, critic, editor, advisor, arbiter, encourager, friend.

Witness excerpt from his eulogy to Pete Seeger’s genius saving the Hudson:

Now Pete Seeger belongs to his Hudson

His outreach of rousing songs

Are the frisky breezes, tall winds coming off the hills,

Touching, stroking the waved back of this 315-mile

Pleistocene invertebrate of a stream

He concludes his poem:

Pete Seeger’s song now parcel of the river’s song:

listen for his voice in the rustling of its autumn leaves,

listen for his voice in the rock slashing of the white capped waves.

Max often referred to his beginnings: reporter, New York Geneva Times Daily.

Assigned obits, his editor explained: “Human interest.” Max never forgot.

This from his poem about 9/11 he called, “Everybody Has a Story,”

Eamon McEneaney 46 in the first attack, 1992,

Led sixty-three people down one hundred flights of stairs.

Senior vice president, brokerage firm, Cantor Fitzgerald.

Calling his wife at her office, shouting “Is Bonnie there?

I love her and I love the kids…”

He was – in the Newsday obit,

The ending of a poem to his wife:

“…The end

is a bend in the road

That we’ll never find

A death I will always


us from.”

Maxwell Wheat a man of peace who served his nation as a Marine toward the end of World War II, did his duty and yet espoused Whitman and Melville; do no harm.

First Poet Laureate of Nassau County, a national treasure; did no harm.

Adios my teacher, my friend: Via con Dios!

Triumph and Tragedy

November, 2022 (Originally written in 2016)

Monday, March 1, 1962 was one of those superb winter days, moderately cold but crisp and clear, the perfect day for a parade. The Daily Mirror’s morning headline commanded:

Go! Go! To See

Glen Today

   Their accompanying story began: “The heavens will turn off that chronic drizzle of the past few days for the man who conquered the sky.”

    The parade actually honored all seven Mercury astronauts and was conceived following America’s first space flight by Alan Shepheard. But that flight and Gus Grissom’s subsequent success were so brief that the parade was postponed until John Glenn made our nation’s first orbital flight. Glenn became an instant hero and his flight was so well-received and applauded by the American public that the parade became known to all as “The Glenn Parade.”

   I was so excited to see the parade in person. March 1 was also important to me for another reason; I had turned eighteen in February. So, before I made the trip to Manhattan, I first travelled to Jamaica, Queens the location of my local draft board where I registered for the draft and received my Selective Service card. While this card demonstrated that I had fulfilled my civic duty, it also provided proof that I was eighteen and could legally drink in New York.

   Armed with my new status I boarded a Manhattan bound Jamaica elevated subway train at the 168 Street Station for the long ride to Lower Broadway.  For the most part this was a monotonous ride as the train meandered through lackluster neighborhoods like Richmond Hill and Woodhaven. It did have one interesting view though. At one point the el lifted up above the surrounding apartment buildings to clear the Long Island RR’s old Rockaway Line providing a stunning view of Jamaica Bay, Idlewild (Now JFK) Airport and the Rockaways. I stood up on that clear, cold day to take in the view only to notice a plume of smoke rising high above the bay making me wonder what had caused that to happen?

   On reaching Broadway I joined the masses that lined sidewalks five and six deep becoming absorbed by a crowd estimated to be as many as four million strong who stood along the route. I didn’t see very much even with my height advantage so I can’t say that I saw John Glenn but I think I did. I didn’t stay very long but I didn’t feel disappointment either. Everyone was so happy and proud to be there that it felt good to be part of it.

   None of us standing there knew that the plume I had seen earlier came from the remains of an American Airlines 707 that had crashed earlier in the morning after taking off from Idlewild. American Flight No. 1, non-stop service from New York to Los Angeles, began its takeoff roll at 10:07 AM, about the same time I arrived at the Selective Service Office.  The airplane carrying a crew of 8 and 87 passengers climbed to 1,600 feet over Jamaica Bay where the flight crew commenced a left turn. At this point something went terribly wrong with the rudder, the moveable part of the tail. The 707 banked beyond 90 degrees, flipped over onto its back and began a fatal dive toward Jamaica Bay. One minute and 49 seconds after beginning takeoff, the 707 smashed into the bay upside down at an angle of 73 degrees exploding in the shallow waters killing all on board.

   The crash of American Flight No. 1 was the largest single-plane domestic air tragedy up to that time and forced next morning’s newspapers to come to terms with all that had happened on March 1…

  The headline on the Daily News read:


95 Die in Jet; Busman Strike;

Millions Share Glenn Triumph

  The Daily Mirror stayed the course with:


  The only notation, a box at the bottom right-hand corner of the first page noted:

95 Die Here In

Worst Air Crash

  The New York Times went with twin banner headlines separated by a single column story about the Fifth Avenue Coach Company strike.  The left side banner headline covered three columns and read:




    The right- side headline covered four columns and read:




   Finally, the New York Herald Tribune separated the stories top to bottom of the front page with:

Triumph – The New York Way


TRAGEDY – End of Flight 1

   They began at the top of the page with this overview:

  “Man reaches for the stars but he stands upon the earth. And his fallibilities and failings go hand in hand with his capability and achievements. Yesterday this city honored a space hero – even while stunned by a great air disaster. Today it still feels the pride in John Glenn – and it mourns the ninety-five who died at Idlewild.

  We may be sure that there will also be other tragedies from the mines below the earth to the skies above it. But we know, too, that man will persevere and prevail and progress, for he knows no other way.”

“Every Way You Look at This You Lose

If a nation divided cannot stand, so what in hell is holding our Republic together?

Consider this verse from Simon and Garfunkel’s breakthrough hit: Mrs. Robinson:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon

Going to the candidates’ debate

Laugh about it, shout about it

When you’ve got to choose

Every way you look at this, you lose

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Woo, woo, woo

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away

Hey, hey, hey

Hey, hey, hey.

Election day was held on Tuesday, November 8th. By the time you read this just after the third Tuesday in November, the people should have spoken and ordinarily what’s done should be done. But in this era of our national division, disagreement and litigation, I fear a plethora of court challenges will be the next cycle for our 2022 elections? I hope not, but I fear this may be our new reality.

Here’s what really sucks, both parties have become stupidly predictable. While we were sleeping, they became captive by their own extreme elements. The crazies on the right led by The Donald, have far too much influence on the Republicans while a coalition of left wing, so called, progressives seem to control the Democrats and their policies.

Ordinary men and women, those folks who think of themselves as Citizens, don’t buy into either philosophy. They want a government that will do the right thing. The problem for free-thinking independent voters should be obvious; for them, both parties are rigged by the inordinate influence of their most radical members. Moderate candidates who they may have favored are regularly defeated in primaries. Many reasonable voters are usually ambivalent when it comes to their party’s primaries and don’t participate in primary elections. Unfortunately, radicals on the left and right figured this out and incentivize their followers to vote while we, mainstream voters, abstain.

Add to that our modern age, greatly influenced by social media and other electronic venues, bombard us with seemingly endless attacks against any candidate who runs against their favored son or daughter. And what about those slick carboard flyers that clog our mail boxes? Stop already, do something nice and save a tree.

“He’s against a woman’s right to choose.”

“She’s soft on crime.”

“He supported, Trump.”

“She’s responsible for the uncontrolled inflation.”

“If he wins, it will be the end of our nation as we know it.”

If she wins, it will be the end of our nation as we know it.”

When you’ve got to choose

Every way you look at this, you lose.

If the Democrats retained control of both the Senate and the House, they will still face dissention in their ranks from Joe Manchin and if the Republicans take control of either house, grid-lock will prevail.

I can only imagine what a three-ring circus it will be for the 2024 Presidential election, especially if it includes The Donald which is likely.         

And as I pen this two days before Election Day, even though I put my civic duty above my doubts that this is an exercise in futility, I do so as a citizen of the greatest democracy on earth. I vote to protect and preserve the United States of America now, and for future generations.


Glory be, reasonableness prevailed at the polls! Granted, extreme partisanship did prevail in many individual elections, but overall, the country decided on moderation. Everything considered, the voters produced reasonable results. The predicted Republican wave failed to materialize, except on Long Island. The Democrats retained control of the Senate but lost the House of Representatives so grid-lock will prevail.

The Donald promises to make an announcement next week. We should all mark our calendars to register that November 15th was the day that the circus came to town.        

God bless the United States of America. Come 2024, we will surely need His blessing, if not His Divine intervention.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Our nation turns its troubled eyes to you…

Section 107, Row 3, Seat 15

First published, December, 2002.

            Hard to believe, twenty seasons have come and gone since I authored this piece. The good news is my Giants won two more championships, Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Between those two championships, Giants Stadium, the home of this piece, was demolished in favor of a new nerd of a stadium, a mistake designed to accommodate its two owners, the Giants and the Jets. Instead, neither fan base is happy with MetLife.

            Bah humbug! This story is about passion, glory and awful disappointment. In other words, the life of a serious fan and his offspring who inhabited Giants Stadium. That was our house.  Now we are reduced to MetLife Stadium, Giants Stadium’s flawed successor. Sadly, to buy into this dubious distinction coat me $10,000 for two Personal Seat License (PSLs) that I was forced to buy so I could renew my two season tickets. You can’t make this up!

But I digress…When asked, “Why do you bother going to these late season football games when you can see so much more on TV at home? Conveniences like replays, slow motion and video analysis that provide insights you don’t get to see being in the stadium. Add to that all of the personal advantages of watching the games from home, it just does not make sense to fight the traffic coming and going, the cold, wind and, at times, rain or snow. You have to be nuts!

I merely reply, “I have had my season ticket since 1962 and the Giants are a way of life for me.”

My seat is three rows from the playing field on the side of the western end zone at Giants Stadium, Section 107, Row 3, Seat 15.

A seat close to the field may be the premier place to watch baseball, basketball, tennis or hockey, but not football. Football is a sport that lends itself to distance. That is why it works so well on TV. From a distance, the dance unfolds, the players flow moving along intricate patterns choreographed by the coaches, rehearsed in practice and set into motion by the snap of the ball.

That is not what I experience from my seat. Frankly, if truth be told, for a good part of the game, the action is too far away from my seat for me to witness anything except what my 7×35 binoculars allow me to bring into focus.

A distant event, but once the teams reach the 35 yard-line at my end of the field, I put the binoculars away and concentrate on the battle at hand. Gone are the fluid movements of pass receivers and defensive backs as they race for the football, or running backs cutting and weaving. Instead, I see eleven angry men on each team intent on forcing their will on the other eleven. This is football. The game ceases to be solely visual. The air pops with sound as the quarterback barks his signals, the linebackers shout out defensive codes. The players’ grunts, groans and curses as the ball is hiked and contact is made. The shocking sound of plastic helmets and shoulder pads colliding. all about, bodies are moving furiously engaging each other while the quarterback struggles to release the ball or the running back struggles to break out, break free as the opposition’s defensive players furiously attack intent on wrecking any semblance of success.

Fans are vocal and astute. Being close to the field, our voices carry to the players as they await the next play. To the enemy, shouts of,  “Not Today, not in our house!” or if the Giants have the ball, encouragement like, “Have an idea,” “Go Blue go,” or “Get six, O, get six!”  The officials, too, hear our admonitions if they render a poor or questionable decision. The closest is only 30 feet away well within our range.  “Excuse me Number 77, Mister Back Judge, you will burn in hell for that call!”

There is nothing like a close game late in the 4th Quarter. The Giants are either driving desperately attempting to score or playing defense determined to stop the bad guys. The rush of adrenalin is real. 77,000 faithful fans are charged, hard wired, ready to live or die on every play. They fill the stadium with chants like, “DEE-fense, DEE-fense, DEE-fense.”

Exciting? Oh, yes. One or two plays to go, everyone is standing. A time out is called and everything stops. Not long, only thirty seconds, but enough time to catch our breath. The crowd is oblivious to the rain, the snow, the cold.  I look around at these fans, mostly grown men, most dressed in Giants’ colors, “these idiots” cold, wet and far from home. I see their faces, the excitement in their eyes. I smile and I ask myself, “Well, JD what do you think?”

“What do I think? Here is what I think: “Damn, I cannot think of anyplace I would rather be than right here, right now, Go Giants.”        

My Alaska Anxiety Undoing

Our travel documents for Alaska arrived less than a week before we leave. To my horror, I discover that they call for three flights on Northwest Airlines: JFK to Detroit, Detroit to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Fairbanks. Having to make two connections is bad enough, but the one in Detroit stuns me. The flight from JFK is scheduled to land at 2:40 p.m. and the flight to Minneapolis departs at 3:10 p.m. 30 minutes later!

“This is nuts,” I say to Mary Ann. Frantic calls to Northwest, and the travel agent fail to solve this potential mess. There are no discounted seats left on direct flights to Minneapolis.

When I share my dilemma with a friend, Frank D’Ambrosio, Frank replies, “I agree, you’re in a fix. So how can you be proactive?”

I look at him strangely, but he continues, “Why don’t you FedEx your bags directly to the hotel in Fairbanks. I’ve done that with my golf clubs on a trip to Hawaii and Suzanne and I send things to our realtor in Sanibel, Florida to be delivered to our house there.”

I check with the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel who sees no problem with this plan. FedEx estimates the cost per bag at $100 for two-day delivery if they each weigh-in at 40 pounds or less. Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day but the agent that I speak to at FedEx confirms that they deliver on that day.

I convince Mary Ann to a three-part baggage strategy to help me cope with my anxiety over these connections. We will send two bags via FedEx containing clothes and items we will need on arrival, pack a large bag with the things we won’t need until we board the RYNDAM and take a small carry-on that contains items we will need should we miss our connections. Mary Ann drops off the two bags a day early on Wednesday, May 25 at Kinko’s in Glen Cove. Of course, it’s not as easy as I hoped. She tells me, “It took me 45 minutes. They did not want to ship the bags because of the straps and they didn’t have a box big enough for them. They had to construct a large box out of two. Another thing, since I dropped them off today, they will arrive Friday afternoon.”

At least the cost was in the ballpark. Shipping the two bags cost $201.64.

Ah, but so much for being proactive. On Friday night I track the bags on FedEx’s web site that confirms the bags have been delivered. I call the hotel to double check delivery but I am told that only one bag arrived. Curious, I call FedEx’s 800 number. When I give the agent my tracking numbers, she tells me there is a problem. It turns out that one of the boxes has been sent to Anchorage. The agent says it won’t be delivered until Tuesday as they are off on Monday. “No, no!” I say, “Your agent told me that you are delivering in Fairbanks on Monday.”

“Well I’m in Pittsburgh and we are closed on Monday. Hold on, I’ll call Anchorage.”

The agent in Anchorage admits that they received the box, but they have already forwarded it to Fairbanks. “We’re closed on Monday and so is Fairbanks. You can’t get it until Tuesday.”

This really pisses me off and I tell him: “This is unacceptable, first, it should be in Fairbanks, today, and, second, I was told it could be delivered on Monday.”

He replies, “I can hang up on you.”

“No you won’t,” I reply, my voice fixed and stern. “I have not used foul language or threatened you in any way. I am justified to be upset and I am not being unreasonable. Your job is to solve this problem. Like it or not, you are FedEx’s representative. Now what are you going to help me?”

His lame reply is, “You’ll have to call Fairbanks.”

“Fine, that’s great, what’s their number?”

He hesitates, has a side conversation, then returns to the line, “I can’t give you that number, you have to call the 800 number.”

“Great, what’s your name?”


“Ron what?”

“Ron Fales,” (pronounced Fails.)          

I call FedEx and am transferred to Deanna, the tracker assigned to my claim. She conferences in their Fairbanks office and things just get worse. The Fairbanks agent, Brittany, advises that the box will not arrive at their facility until after we leave for our next stop, Denali National Park. Brittany’s bad news continues, “FedEx does not ship to Denali. We use a local courier service and I don’t know how long it will take them to get it there.”

As I’m absorbing these blows, I notice that the Holland American Lines’ (HAL) itinerary only shows a post office box for McKinley Chalets, not a street address. As FedEx does not deliver to a P.O. Box, I ask Mary Ann to call the hotel on our other line to obtain a street address. She obtains one that reads, “Mile Post 239.8, Denali Park 99755.

Since Brittany can offer no joy, I say to Deanna, “I must really speak to a supervisor.”

 Finally, she puts me through to a supervisor in Memphis, Doris Copper. Ms Copper cuts through some of the complications and determines that she will guide the process to have the bag delivered to McKinley Chalets in Denali National Park on Tuesday afternoon.

She promises to personally supervise this on Tuesday and we exchange phone numbers. By this time, I have no options left so I agree that this is an acceptable solution. I don’t tell her about Ron Fales, I’ll leave that for later. God only knows if this will work.

Of course, the big outstanding question is, whose bag is at the hotel in Fairbanks?

 We sent two almost identical bags one filled with Mary Ann’s gear and one with mine. The only difference is mine is blue and hers is red. Normally, the hotel puts the FedEx box in their luggage room unopened. Mary Ann calls and explains our dilemma, “The only way we can know what we have to bring is if you open the box and tell me what the color of the bag is.”

At first the agent says that she cannot do this, but Mary Ann tells her, “Have another employee talk to me and I will confirm my instructions to him or her.”

The agent agrees. We wait a couple of minutes before she returns to the telephone. “It’s red.” Thank God, I lose! Mary Ann’s bag made it and I ducked that bullet.

 My only recourse is to pack the essentials I will need into the carry-on including toiletries extra socks and underwear. This will get me through until Wednesday. After that, sans the FedEx bag, I will need a credit card to continue.

We reach McKinley Chalets on Tuesday, June 1st and, as if by wizardry, so does my blue bag. FedEx also refunds the $201.64.

Life is good.  

Ridgewood Triumphs…and there goes my old neighborhood!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manila Insanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

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

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

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

My Most Outrageous 747 Voyage

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

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

Hi Doug,

This place is nice and the girls are great.

John & Al.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen of the Skies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My reply: “Fantastic.”

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

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

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

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

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

First 747 Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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