Tube City Online

Filed Under: default || By jt3y

April 29, 2005 | Link to this story

A Little From Column A, A Little From Column B

Category: default || By jt3y

It's a potpourri, a grab-bag, a veritable mish-mash today. What the heck: It's Friday!

Alert Reader Officer Jim writes: "Apparently our favorite plucky tow-headed 'newsgal' got herself into quite a pickle at Harrisburg International Airport last week. It appears she was asked to step aside and submit to a more thorough search, including a pat-down, by a TSA screener. This must have really distressed our Miss Coulter, to the point where she wrote a column that allegedly resorted to first mocking the name of the security screener and then suggesting that airport security spend their time looking only at 'swarthy' Middle Eastern looking-males. Presumably this would not include our country's good allies, the Saudis."

According to a story in the Harrisburg Patriot-News:

Coulter, a conservative firebrand known for verbally eviscerating the likes of former President Clinton and Sen. Edward Kennedy on Fox News and MSNBC, took aim this time at Krista Snook of Middletown. Coulter began by making fun of Snook's name. It went downhill from there.

"The last time I was mauled like that, I at least got a couple of cosmopolitans and a steak first," she wrote.

Coulter did not respond to requests for an interview made through e-mails and a voice-mail message.

Of course not. Then she'd have to explain herself to a real reporter from the Harrisburg Patriot-News, unlike the clown that wrote the puff piece for Time magazine. The Patriot story continues:

U.S. Transportation Security Administration officials said yesterday they have not received a complaint from Coulter. However, after hearing about Coulter's comments on her Web site, they decided to look into the matter. They interviewed Snook and watched a videotape of the search, TSA regional spokeswoman Ann Davis said.

"Her account of the screening of Miss Coulter was reflected in the tape and it appears [Snook] followed standard operating procedure to the letter," Davis said.

During the investigation, Davis said, agency officials learned that Coulter arrived at the Northwest Airlines ticket counter 30 minutes before her flight, got into an argument there and showed up at the security checkpoint agitated.

Ann Coulter? Agitated? Perish the thought. She's America's sweetheart, Annie is.

Adds Officer Jim: "I hope no one ever examines my hard drive and discovers; I'm perfectly happy with them finding (I like owls, after all) but finding any reference to Ann Coulter would really ruin my reputation if it got out."

Don't worry. We won't tell a soul.


It's a little late to wish people happy Passover now, I suppose, but happy Passover. These people in Arlington, Mass., however, seem a little unclear on the concept. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Alert Reader Alycia)


In honor of last night's news conference, here's a look at "One-Take Georgie." And to think that we lost the brilliant oratory of his dad after only four years in office.


Actual letter to the editor of The Washington Post (hard-hat tip: Gene Weingarten):

Among the guilty pleasures I may one day have to account for, I admit to being a regular reader of "Hints From Heloise." But the April 17 column in the Comics section reached a low-water mark. "Mark in Philadelphia" suggested that readers use pencils to fill in crossword puzzles. That way, Mark triumphantly declared, you can erase your answers without messing up the puzzle.

I can accept a certain amount of folksiness, some backwoods simplicity and a fair degree of low-tech common sense from Heloise. But this "hint" is a large step in the direction of devolution of the human species. It's on a par with suggesting that we use spoons rather than forks to eat our soup.

Donald Evans, Washington

Didn't "Donald Evans" used to be the Secretary of Commerce during Georgie's first term? You don't suppose ... ? Nah. Although he does have a lot of free time these days.


Actual email sent by a Pennsylvania newspaper to its circulation department. The names have been changed to protect everyone, especially me:

If you sample again in the ---- area, please do NOT drop a paper off at ---

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April 28, 2005 | Link to this story

Busy, Busy, Busy

Category: default || By jt3y

No time write complete sentences! No time make Almanac!

OK, it's not quite that bad, but it's bad enough. So, I'll keep this brief.

From the Praising-With-Faint-Damns Dept. comes Pat Cloonan's story in The Daily News about the move of Huckestein Mechanical Services from Sharpsburg to Our Fair City:

"I don't have any body armor."


So John W. Bouloubasis told partner Keith Staso when the Huckestein Mechanical Services co-owner suggested moving from Sharpsburg to RIDC Riverplace Industrial Center of McKeesport.

After Staso assured his partner that he was serious about the move, which would bring between 75 and 85 employees to the city and eventually mean up to 25 additional jobs, they sought out Mayor James Brewster. ...

"You sure this guy is the mayor?" Bouloubasis asked after that first meeting with Brewster and City Administrator Dennis Pittman. "He has a lot of creativity."

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

This is all-around a positive development for Our Fair City --- Huckenstein is going to invest about $3 million in the building and equipment --- but it's still distressing to see what the public outside perception of the area is.

Also in the News, Jennifer Vertullo had a nice article about the auction last weekend at Chiodo's.

In his syndicated "Movie Answer Man" column, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times made a Bob & Ray reference that I appreciated:

Q. In your "Sahara" review, you refer to Bob & Ray's "Blake Dent, Boy Spotwelder." Bob & Ray fans near & far are, I'm sure, letting you know that it's "Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder" ("Over here behind the duck press, Todd."). With hundreds of hours of B&R indelibly etched in my brain, I cannot recall a Blake Dent in any context. --- Art Scott, Livermore, Calif.

A. You are absolutely correct and win a year's supply of Parker House rolls with rich creamery butter from nearby farms. I was delighted to learn that virtually the entire Bob & Ray archive is available at Not many people know that when you solve the Da Vinci Code, that's where it leads you, right there to the archive's friendly front parlor, where on a good day you might meet Kent Lyle Birdley, Wally Ballou, Charles the Poet, Dean Archer Armstead and Mary Backstayge.

Just the other day I dropped in and overheard a scintillating conversation:

"Golly gee whillikers, Mr. Science! What's that long brown object?!?"

"That's known as a board, Jimmy."

As anyone who knows me can testify, I have a large collection of Bob & Ray material, which I'll be glad to discourse on at length to anyone unlucky enough to wander past. Instead of going off on a tear, I'll point you to a lengthy Bob & Ray appreciation from Neil Schmitz, a professor at the University of Buffalo. Aunt Penny of "Aunt Penny's Sunlit Kitchen" would probably tell Schmitz to "dry up," but I thought it was interesting reading. (It's one of the few academic explanations of Bob & Ray's humor that actually captures the flavor.)

In fact, right now, the Webley Webster players are getting ready to dramatize Schmitz's essay: "It's three days at sea on the pirate ship now, and as we look in, we see the first mate and the captain ..."

(Here are two box sets that will provide a nice introduction to Bob & Ray, for those of you so inclined: Classic Bob & Ray: Selections from a Career, 1946-1976: (Volume One: 4 Cassettes, 4 Hours (75 Selections)); Bob & Ray: A Night Of Two Stars (Two Compact Discs--2 Hours) Remember, buying things at through Tube City Online enables us to keep this high-quality material coming your way. Ha! Ha! Ha!)

Until tomorrow, this is radio's highly regarded, blonde-haired "boy wonder of broadcasting," Wally Ballou, sending it back to the stu-

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Posted at 12:39 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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April 27, 2005 | Link to this story

You Don't Need a Weatherman

Category: default || By jt3y

The National Weather Service has been providing free weather information to sailors, pilots, long-distance truckers and pretty much everyone else for its entire 135-year existence, and once the Internet came along, it naturally started delivering the information online.

(Actually, that's not entirely true. Even before the Web, you could get weather information from NWS via your computer. You used to have to dial into the NWS computer with your modem, and it would spit back a bunch of numbers and codes at you that you could translate into the current weather and sky conditions. But only geeks knew about that, which is why I can remember it.)

Of course, the reality is that the National Weather Service isn't really "free." Your tax money is paying for it. Realistically speaking, though, the NWS would have to collect the information anyway for all of the government agencies that use it, and the amount of money it takes to run the NWS is miniscule compared to, say, the amount of postage Congress uses in a week. So, for all intents and purposes, let's say it's free.

Since it's a government service, the information is available to everyone equally --- if you're an airline dispatcher, you have access to the same data as a Cub Scout pack planning a camping trip, a PennDOT salt truck supervisor preparing for a storm, or Joe and Jane Homeowner getting ready for the weekend. If you're a smart cookie like the people up at AccuWeather, you can even take that data, reinterpret it, dress it up with snazzy graphics and resell it to TV and radio stations for a tidy profit.

Then again, if you're AccuWeather, that's not good enough. You've given a couple of thousand dollars to Rick Santorum's re-election campaign. Why should all these Cub Scouts, truck drivers and homeowners be getting the data for free, when you're trying to charge them for it?

So you put the arm on one of your U.S. senators --- say, Rick Santorum, who you've given a couple of thousand bucks. And he says, "Hey! I'll write some legislation that will forbid the NWS from providing the public with the weather information that the public has paid for."

But not in those exact words --- I'm paraphrasing. What the Senator actually says is that he wants to "modernize the description of the National Weather Service's roles" so that it can focus on its "core missions of maintaining a modern and effective meteorological infrastructure, collecting comprehensive observational data, and issuing warnings and forecasts of severe weather that imperil life and property."

Now, it would stand to reason that the National Weather Service can't collect all of that "comprehensive" data and issue those "warnings and forecasts" without doing all of the day-to-day forecasting that Santorum wants to block from being released to the public. The National Weather Service is supposed to collect all of this data and ... do what with it, exactly? Keep it to itself?

Let's cut to the chase, then. In effect, Rick Santorum wants to enact a tax on weather forecasting to help fund his re-election.

No? Well, what do you call it when suddenly you have to pay for something that the government used to do as a public service? A "tax." So wouldn't it be correct to say that Rick Santorum wants to raise my taxes to subsidize a private business and help his own political campaign?

Just checking.

Ol' Froth and 2 Political Junkies have been all over this, and I'm coming late to the party. (Tube City hard-hat tips all around.)

Suffice it to say this may be one of the most hare-brained proposals ever floated by the junior senator (R-Va.) and the fact that he's giving it serious consideration is a strong indication of just how out of touch he's become. Frankly, I liked it better when he was just shining flashlights into everyone's bedrooms.


On second thought, it may be too simplistic merely to conclude that Santorum wants to ensure that AccuWeather and a handful of other weather repackagers to have a monopoly on weather forecasting (concealing that, like the emperor, they really have no clothes).

No, perhaps this is just part of the Bush administration's ongoing effort to withdraw information from the public record. I'm sure that Santorum is just trying to protect us. If only he had sold this as a homeland security initiative!

Or, maybe this is being offered in the spirit of Social Security "reform." Santorum should be calling these "personal weather accounts": "The National Weather Service trust fund is going bankrupt! It's not going to be there to predict severe weather in 2048 unless we do something now!"


In other news: One of my all-time favorite writers, Peter Leo of the Post-Gazette, appears to be back in the game (sort of) with a new feature called "The Morning File." It's --- dare we say it? --- a sort-of "blog."

Several writers from the Tribune-Review have been blogging for months now, so this is not exactly any new ground that the P-G is breaking. Still, it's nice to see Peter Leo back on a regular basis. I stole everything I know from him.

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April 26, 2005 | Link to this story

See Also, 'Cliches'

Category: default || By jt3y

In the pantheon of hack writing, one of the cheapest gimmicks has to be the dictionary intro. You know the type: "Webster's defines 'hack' as 'one who works merely for reward and not out of devotion or enthusiasm.'" Writers who resort to the dictionary lede have nothing to say --- for me, seeing an essay or news story with the phrase "Webster's defines ..." is a sure-fire clue to stop reading. (Other sure-fire phrases that signal me to stop reading include "By John Grisham" and "In NBA action today.")

Even when I was a kid, I could tell that using "Webster's defines" as your introductory paragraph was cheesy. It ranked one step below stealing your entire science fair project about glaciers out of the World Book Encyclopedia or copying your book report off of the dust jacket. (Was the teacher really supposed to believe that a sixth-grader thought Charlotte's Web was "a beloved and timeless classic for the ages"?)

Now, it seems, there's a new writer's cheat for those people too lazy even to cross the room and look for the dictionary. It's called the Google search. I've been seeing hack writers use the Google search to justify well-nigh anything (and I found these examples using Google, of course):

Tom Weir, USA Hooray, April 13: "'It's amazing that some of the people who are No. 1 overall on some people's boards aren't even No. 1 on my board at their position,' says Kiper, who has been analyzing the NFL draft for 27 years. His last name generates nearly 1,500 Google hits when paired with 'draft guru.'"

Rick Stone, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 10: "PBIFF has become a cultural asset in a state that is mentioned in nearly 11 percent of the Google hits returned by the search phrase 'cultural wasteland.'"

O.K. Carter, Fort Worth Startlegram, April 10: "A prolific producer, she's since had 65 novels published including more than 50 New York Times bestsellers now available in something like 30 languages -- White Hot, Hello, Darkness, The Crush, yada yada. No wonder she has 4.7 million Google hits."

Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix, Ariz., Business Journal, April 8: "A search on Google for 'online degrees' and 'online MBAs' shows just how competitive the higher education marketplace has become, bringing back 60 million hits."

Andrew Wolfson, Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal, April 24: "The telecast has drawn a flurry of attention. It has been the subject of 40,000 hits on Google, the Internet search site, and more than 300 articles and opinion pieces in newspapers in the United States and other countries."

Etta Walsh, Springfield, Mass., Republican, March 31: "A check of the Internet search engine, Google, elicited 230,000 hits for 'Chicopee Falls,' almost all of them for the area's second-largest city. References were also found to Chicopee Falls, Wis., and Chicopee Falls, Hampden, Maine, but there was no additional information about either locale."

Stop! Please, for the love of all that's right and holy, just stop. You're not "proving" or "showing" anything. You might as well try to prove how many stars are in the sky by standing outside and counting them.

Naturally, once the big boys of "journalism" take up a bad habit, it eventually filters down to the little guys. Over the weekend, for instance, I received my monthly copy of one of my favorite antique car magazines. According to one writer, a Google search for "Henry Ford" returned more "hits" than a search for the names of several other inventors, thus proving that more people are interested in Henry Ford than in any other inventor.

It's enough to make me want to hang myself from the garage rafters with a fan belt.

For crying out loud, Google just looks for the occurrence of the phrase --- it doesn't decide in what context the phrase appears. "Henry Ford" might appear in a text called "Michigan's most famous anti-Semites" or in the sentence, "The most overrated industrialist of the 20th century was Henry Ford." Google would find "Henry Ford" in both of those pages.

And Google returns many false matches --- it might be finding web pages about Henry Ford II, who was a decidedly different kind of a chap than his grandfather; or even pages about people named Henry who own Fords. It might even find some of the 237 people from Anniston, Ala., to Bothell, Wash., who, according to Verizon, are listed in the white pages as "Henry Ford." (The next Almanac entry will be about "writers who try to prove points by searching the telephone directory for funny names.")

Still, I can overlook this kind of sloppiness in a hobby magazine, which goes out to a limited number of people and whose writers aren't paid much, if at all. (Some hobby magazines, and I am not making this up, pay their contributors in free copies of the magazine. Try taking those to the bank and cashing them in.)

I have less tolerance for hackery in a magazine like Time, which has about 4 million subscribers (and presumably they aren't all doctors and dentists). Out of all of the groaners in John Cloud's 5,800-word love letter to Ann Coulter, which I won't bother to dissect (dozens of other people have already done that), perhaps his most egregious howler is the sentence, "Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words 'Ann Coulter lies,' you will drown in results. But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors."

If you can't prove that something's true via a Google search, then you certainly can't prove a negative, either. I just Googled the phrase "Youghiogheny River" in summer "smells like old fish" and didn't come up with any results, but stand on the boat launch in Boston on a hot day this August and tell me it's not true. (The irony, of course, is that because I've just written "Youghiogheny River in summer smells like old fish," and published it on the Internet, in a few days Google will find that page.)

Perhaps, then, if John Cloud wanted to find some "Ann Coulter lies," he could have done something like, oh, I don't know, fact-checked one of her columns or books. You know, something that would have justified what I suspect is a generous Time magazine salary, and which could have been reasonably considered "journalism." Plugging random phrases into a Google search is most definitely not.

Remember: If you see someone passing off the number of Google hits as "research," it's not. It's hackery, and deserves all of the scorn you can muster.

I wonder what hacks used as a crutch to prop up their lazy writing before they had Google? Oh, yeah, they reached for the dictionary. You know, Webster's defines "dictionary" as a "reference book containing words, usually in alphabetical order, along with information about their forms, etymologies, meanings, pronunciations, and syntactical and idiomatic uses" ...

(UPDATE Correction, not perfection: See the comments. I originally wrote "Bothwell" instead of "Bothell." Hat tip, Heather.)


Speaking of hackery: The Almanac was off yesterday because I was recovering Sunday and Monday from my annual spring sinus condition. Our customer service representative, Helen Waite, will be refunding the cost of yesterday's Almanac, so if you'd like a refund, go to Helen Waite.

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April 22, 2005 | Link to this story

I Wish My Brother Public Domain Was Here

Category: default || By jt3y

I was in a new discount store in Edgewood yesterday called "A.J. Wright." Apparently it's a spinoff of T.J. Maxx (which is kind of funny, since T.J. Maxx was itself a spinoff from Zayre Corporation, which was a chain of discount stores). The Edgewood location is at the site of the old Office Depot.

Anyway, they had a big stack of TV Guide DVDs of old TV shows --- 48 episodes for $5.99. Ran the gamut from a couple of old "Dragnets" and "Ozzie and Harriet" to "Jack Benny," "Andy Griffith," "Life of Riley" and "Twilight Zone." OK, for six bucks, I figure, what the hell. I had never actually seen the TV versions of "Jack Benny," "Burns and Allen," or "Life of Riley," so it was worth it for those.

The episodes seem to be intact, but they're grainy transfers of old 16-mm prints, like the kinds that were sent out to small-town UHF TV stations years ago. (In the case of the older shows, they definitely look like kinescopes.) It's like watching Channel 22 when I was a kid, but without the snow and ghosting. If only Eddie Edwards would break in every so often with a "Community Calendar" announcement, the effect would be complete.

The funniest part, however, is that TV Guide has very badly dubbed over the opening themes and credits with generic production music and amateurish SFX applause. I suppose they were worried about music clearance. They also have a very youthful announcer reading the credits who sounds nothing like a classic TV announcer; he also stumbles over some of the names.

In the case of a show like "Ozzie and Harriet," where the theme is not that memorable, it's annoying, but not jarring. But it's weird to see the credits for "Jack Benny" and not hear Don Wilson and "Love in Bloom," and it's positively hysterical to watch Andy Griffith and Ronny Howard stroll down to the ol' fishin' hole to the accompaniment of bad generic public-domain whistling!

(The worst offender in this box set, besides "Andy Griffith," might be "The Beverly Hillbillies." I loathe and despise "The Beverly Hillbillies," but cued up the episode just to see how they avoided using "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." They dubbed it over with generic fiddle music and made no attempt to explain that while the old mountaineer was a-shootin' at some food, up through the ground come-a bubblin' crude.)

The "Andy Griffith" episode, by the way, features the 1962 episode called "The Loaded Goat," which I will not spoil for you if you haven't seen it. Suffice to say it must rank as one of the funniest "Andy Griffith" episodes.

The Benny program features special guest star Liberace. I haven't seen footage of Liberace on TV since his death, but watching him with Benny last night, I couldn't help but wonder why people were so shocked to learn that the man was gay. (For cripes' sake, did he need to wear a big flashing neon sign?) He was also very funny, and he holds his own with Benny. The episode revolves around Benny (in his usual role as the world's stingiest man) visiting Liberace's mansion and being stunned at the lavish decorations. (Liberace, naturally, has candelabras on everything.)

The strangest part of the whole TV Guide collection is that on several shows, they left the end credit music intact. "Jack Benny," for instance, uses "Hooray for Hollywood," and I suspect that's still copyrighted.

Anyway, I suspected that for $6, I wasn't going to get pristine remastered TV shows, and I'm not disappointed.

As for "A.J. Wright," it's somewhere halfway between a Dollar General and a Wal-Mart. In other words, it sells junk that no one in their right mind would want. There were big signs over several displays that said, "Remember Mother's Day!" Yes, nothing says "I love you, mom" like a box of no-name chocolates from Guatemala and a purple and pink jewelry box shaped like a sofa.

My friend Dan, who was with me, neatly summed up the selection at A.J. Wright: "This must be what they find in the dumpster behind Big Lots."


Also new at Edgewood Towne Center, the vacant space once occupied by Phar-Mor has been replaced by a Busy Beaver. (Motto: "Still in Business.")

It's a little-known fact that Busy Beaver considered buying out Phar-Mor when the drugstore chain went bankrupt. Ultimately, negotiations broke down when it came time to pick a name for the new company: They couldn't decide whether to be "Phar-Busy" or "Mor-Beaver." (Rimshot.)


In all seriousness, it's worth noting that Busy Beaver is a locally owned chain that has survived the arrival of Lowe's and Home Depot, and even appears to be prospering. On those rare occasions when I do need building supplies (I hate working around the house), I do make it a point to check Busy Beaver first.

I used to try to patronize 84 Lumber, which is also locally owned, but they've shifted from catering to do-it-yourselfers to catering to contractors. Since I rarely have the need for an entire pallet of bagged concrete mix, I don't shop their very often.

That brings up another interesting point, raised yesterday by Alert Reader Heather in reference to the closing of Chiodo's. She and Alert Reader Jonathan B. are wondering how many of the people bemoaning the loss of Chiodo's actually patronized the bar:

A few years ago, our neighborhood mom 'n pop True Value hardware closed. People wore varying expressions of shock and dismay (can I say maudlin?), their response to this, the last domino in the strip of local vendors to fall.

"Did you support the business?" I asked one neighbor who had been remodeling his home for, like, two years (can you say Home Depot?).

"No. *sigh*"

During their close-out sale (which was wildly patronized) I asked the owners if they would be taking a loss by eliminating their merchandise this way.

"We've been taking a loss for years."

I've been practically militant, over the years, in my support of Mon-Yough area businesses --- especially mom 'n pops and other independents. A big education in retailing for me came when I got my first real job and began buying my own clothes. One of the big fallacies people have is that large chain stores are always cheaper. So, I compared the prices at Kadar's on Fifth Avenue, Downtown, with the prices at Kaufmann's in Century III Mall.

Kadar's was selling silk ties at 2 for $25 and Arrow shirts for $17.99. Kaufmann's was selling the exact same ties for $25 each and Arrow shirts for $25.99. Now, either Kadar's was taking a loss --- which seemed unlikely --- or Kaufmann's was putting on one hell of a markup.

Shopping opportunities Downtown are rapidly dwindling --- Kadar's and Rubenstein's fought the good fight, but are gone now. Gala's moved to White Oak and Byer's Children's Shop finally closed. But I'm proud to say I shopped at all of them when I could. I even bought my first good camera at Photographics Supply.

Maybe the Almanac should start recommending good local independent businesses, as a public service. In the spirit of Heather's comments, I'll start by recommending one of my favorites --- Able Home Center True Value at Great Valley Shopping Center in North Versailles. No matter where you live in the Mon-Yough area, it's worth the drive.

The store doesn't look like much, but they've got a very deep and wide selection of oddball screws, nuts, washers and electrical and plumbing supplies. (It's the best I've seen outside of the late, lamented Levine Brothers Hardware in Homestead.) Able also carries a good assortment of building materials and fixtures that's priced competitively, and they're a Pittsburgh Paints dealer. It has a decent lawn and garden section that --- while not as broad as a specialty store --- stocks the most popular grass seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

Sometimes they don't have what you're looking for, but they're always willing to order catalog items, and they often beat the prices of the bigger chains. (And they have a great bargain section in the center of the store where they get rid of odd lots, mismatched paint, discontinued stock and miscellaneous tools.) They're also open on Sundays and late on weeknights.

I get no renumeration from that endorsement, by the way --- I'm just a happy customer. If you'd like to me to check out a Mon Valley independent business, send your recommendations to me at jt3y at dementia dot org, and I'll be glad to visit them.


To Do This Weekend: From a Penn State press release: "Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and Penn State McKeesport present Blood, Sweat and Steel, a play that dramatizes the lives of Mon Valley residents, where shared industrial and cultural experiences shaped communities and traditions. Members of the story groups included Betty Esper, Marlene 'Pumpkin' Robinson, Mike and Mary Solomon, Cecilia Sarocky, Pat French, George Czakoszi, Ed Salaj, and Ray Henderson, Roxanne Daykon, Melanie Brletic, Arlene Fath and Matilda Belan, all current or former residents of the Mon Valley communities of Homestead, West Homestead, Braddock, Munhall, Pitcairn and McKeesport." Performances continue at 7:30 tonight and Saturday in the Ostermayer Room in the Student Community Center at Penn State McKeesport. Tickets are $3 and are available at the door. Visit for more information.

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April 21, 2005 | Link to this story

Raising a Glass Before Razing the Bar

Category: default || By jt3y

This week's City Paper has a wonderful tribute to Chiodo's Tavern, the contents of which are to be auctioned off on Sunday. Chris Potter reports that owner Joe Chiodo's decision to close the Homestead bar was expected, but even still, it came as a shock to longtime employees and was announced just before last call on March 25:

It wasnít official until cook Marcia Anderson hung up her apron at the end of the 11 oíclock shift that night. "Joe told Marcia, and she walked out into the bar," says Josh Comer, whoís worked as a bartender for the past 12 years. "Everyone could tell just by looking at her.

"After that, it was a long three hours."

The news still hasnít sunk in for some. Even as the auction workers packed up the bar, would-be customers appeared at the door, only to be turned away. Bud Ward didnít know quite what to do with himself either.

"A place like this --" he shook his head. "It takes two or three lifetimes to create."

Potter also reports that Mark Fallon of the Homestead & Mifflin Township Historical Society is making a documentary about Chiodo's, and it will finally reveal the recipe (sort of) for the infamous Chiodo's Mystery Sandwich.

The Almanac is on record as stating that Joe Chiodo ought to be allowed to close his bar and sell it if he wants to. Chiodo is 87 years old, for crying out loud, and he's wanted to sell for years --- but no one ever came up with a realistic offer.

Still, it's disappointing and sad that Chiodo's Tavern is going to be torn down to make way for, of all things, a Walgreen's. A chain drug store! Lord knows, the Mon-Yough area needs another chain drug store. We don't already have our federally mandated allotment of overpriced greeting cards, Hazel Bishop lipstick, and cheap Chinese plastic beach toys.

As with so many things, this has moved me to song:

/ G - Em - / C - - - / G A / C - / G D7 G D7 /

Look what they've done to our bar, ma!
Look what they've done to our bar!
They're tearin' down Chiodo's,
To put up a damn drug store!
Look what they've done to our bar!

Look what they've done to our mill, ma!
Look what they've done to our mill!
They built a fancy shopping mall,
For the yuppies in Squirrel Hill.
Look what they've done to our mill!

Look what they've done to our town, ma!
Look what they've done to our town!
They let it go to rack and ruin,
Now nobody comes around.
Look what they've done to our town!

They say progress is all right, ma.
They say progress is all right.
Well, you can try to knock us hunkies down,
But not without a fight!
They say progress is all right.

Look what they've done to our bar, ma!
Look what they've done to our bar!
Still we doff our hats to good old Joe,
He'll always be a star.
Look what they've done to our bar!

(Thank you! Groupies can line up at the stage door.)


By the way: I want to remain on the record that people in Homestead and Munhall call it "CHI-oh-does," even though "Chiodo" is correctly pronounced "KEE-oh-doe." Saying "KEE-oh-does" marks you as an out-of-towner. (Though saying "CHI-oh-does" around the Chiodos is liable to get you a nasty look, or worse.)


In other news: Kris Mamula of the Pittsburgh Business Times has a story about Our Fair City's Blueroof Solutions, formed in part by retired McKeesport High School principal John Bertoty:

... with Robert Walters, Michael Richey and Jerry Gesmond called Blueroof Solutions to build safe, secure and modestly priced homes for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

What's different about these homes is complete integration of home security, phone, cable, energy management and video systems. Blueroof envisions one very smart house.

The electronic gear will allow seniors to, say, see who's at the front door by flipping on the television, or have family members "look in" on them, even from across the country, via unobtrusive Web cameras. Under development are blood glucose, weight, blood pressure and other tests that can be taken in the home and seamlessly transmitted to a caregiver.


Columnist John Leo --- mentioned in this week's Almanac rant about Ann Coulter (another of her detestable columns was in the Daily News the day that screed appeared, incidentally) --- has another fine effort in U.S. News & World Report:

Most of us, alas, are upset by vicious rhetoric only when it is aimed at our side. The extraordinary Bush-is-a-Nazi rhetoric of the antiwar marches and the presidential campaign drew very little criticism from the responsible left, just as the repeated accusations that President Clinton is a murderer, perhaps a multiple murderer, didn't ruffle many people on the responsible right. ...

We may be into another big anti-Clinton assault, this one aimed at Hillary Rodham Clinton. Last week a breathless item on the Drudge Report said that an anti-Hillary book, out next September, will be the equivalent of the Swift Boat Veterans campaign against John Kerry and may well derail her chances to be president. This is a cringe-making prospect. Do we really need yet another major assault on a prominent politician, or can we spend some time discussing actual issues? ...

Our political rhetoric is routinely awful. Let's work to clean it up.

With that in mind, I'm almost reluctant to pass along this vicious cartoon from Pulitzer Prize winning former L.A. Times artist Paul Conrad.

I said, "almost."


Finally, comes this story from Florida. While the Almanac deplores gun violence, I think everyone has wanted to do this at one time or another:

John McGivney had enough. He loaded his .380-caliber handgun Friday afternoon, walked out to the parking lot of his Lauderdale-by-the-Sea apartment building and fired four shots into the hood of his ailing Chrysler.

"I'm putting my car out of its misery," McGivney told his landlord.

But the Broward Sheriff's Office didn't see it as a mercy killing. They arrested McGivney on a misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm in public. After a night in jail, he was back at his Bougainvilla Isles apartment on $100 bond -- the bullet-riddled 1994 Chrysler LeBaron LX dead in the spot where he left it. McGivney said Tuesday he hasn't tried to start the car and suspects that the four slugs he fired into it probably made his car trouble worse. (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)

I hope McGivney fights these charges; in my opinion, he has an excellent argument for an insanity defense. Four years of driving a Chrysler K-car would drive anyone to violence, and not a jury in the world would convict him.

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April 20, 2005 | Link to this story

More Papal Bull

Category: default || By jt3y

As you may have heard, unless you spent the last 24 hours in a sensory deprivation chamber, the College of Cardinals has chosen a new pope. It remains to be seen what Pope Benedict XVI will do for the Catholic Church. I suspect Benedict XVI will moderate some of the reactionary statements he made as a cardinal --- statements that angered Jews, Orthodox Catholics, and much of his own flock in Germany. It's worth noting that although he's the first German pope in 1,000 years, more Germans disapprove than approve of the choice, frustrated by the cardinal's often inflammatory statements.

Now, the Catholic Church can't be run on opinion polls --- not if it's expected to stand for anything. No one is saying that the Vatican should uproot 20 centuries of doctrine for the sake of answering current trends. Still, the Church is suffering right now --- Catholic vocations are in serious decline in the first world --- and it needs a bridge builder, not a bridge burner. I'm hoping that the added weight of the papacy causes Benedict XVI to moderate his views somewhat.

His selection points up a problem that has plagued the Vatican since the death of John XXIII; namely, that while the Catholic Church made giant leaps forward in the 1960s to reach out to its faithful, the college of cardinals often behaves as if they don't hear, or worse, don't care, about complaints.

The American Church, coexisting (sometimes uneasily) with a culture that demands that every dissenting opinion be heard, has often bent over backward to be more inclusive. I suspect the changes have been driven mostly by priests and laity, as well as by bishops like Pittsburgh's Donald Wuerl, who have tried to be both responsive and responsible to the faithful.

For their efforts, American bishops have often been harshly criticized by Rome. The Holy See's attitude toward calls for change and reform from both America and Europe has often been that if you don't like it, then leave. Unfortunately, a lot of people have. Even among lifelong devoted Catholics, for instance, Rome's response to sexual abuse allegations against priests has provoked dismay and sadness.

There are some issues on which the Church probably can't and perhaps shouldn't bend, for doctrinal reasons --- the morality of abortion, for instance. But there are other issues that are rooted more in Catholic tradition than in true core beliefs of the Church or in biblical teaching. Isn't it worthwhile to discuss them?

For instance, I find troubling the Church's refusal to even discuss birth control, in light of the rampant spread of AIDS and the overpopulation of Africa; and married priests, to address the decline in the number of clergy. The new pope, as a cardinal, often hounded theologians who dared to discuss controversial issues, sometimes forcing them out of teaching positions.

A healthy Church can withstand a healthy debate. After all, before the 1960s, it was inconceivable that priests would face the congregation during the Mass, or that the worship would be conducted in the vernacular. Most Catholics would agree that those were positive changes, though they were very upsetting at the time. Nevertheless, it took considerable debate, reflection and discussion amongst theologians, clergy and the faithful to reach those decisions. Stifling that free exchange of ideas seems counter-productive.

As they say, past performance is not indicative of future results, so it's unfair to prejudge Pope Benedict XVI. Catholics can only trust in their faith, and pray that the new pope will oversee the Church with wisdom and patience.


Kudos, by the way, are owed the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which had its P.M. edition announcing the selection of the new pope, and his name, out on the streets of Picksberg and on sale by Tuesday afternoon. That's exactly what an afternoon paper can and should do. (Full disclosure: It's not exactly a secret that I had differences with Trib management when I worked there.)

It's a shame that the Trib PM isn't available in the Mon Valley, an area where afternoon Pittsburgh newspapers traditionally sold very well. The Sun-Telegraph was popular in Our Fair City, as was the Press, which in the 1960s and '70s also provided strong coverage of the Mon-Yough area thanks to the efforts of its reporter, the late Nicholas Knezovich. (Both the Telly and the Press were more popular, indeed, than the Post-Gazette is or ever was in the Mon Valley!)


Finally, does anyone care what some random guy with a website has to say about the new Pope? No, probably not. Is it a Mon Valley story? No, though there are a lot of Catholics in the Mon Valley.

But everyone else is chipping in their two cents, and anyway, the Almanac is free ... and worth every penny!

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April 19, 2005 | Link to this story

Almost Annie-One Would Be Better Than Her

Category: default || By jt3y

I know this humble webpage is read in hallowed corridors of power --- in fact, many people print out the Almanac on two-ply paper so they can use it when they sit on their thrones in the corridors of power --- so I'll toss this out to the crowd in the hope that someone in authority will take notice.

Why, oh why, is the Daily News printing the execrable Ann Coulter column on its editorial page?

When I was a tad, the editorial page of the great, gray lady of Walnut Street was regularly graced by Georgie Anne Geyer and Art Buchwald. Buchwald, as most people probably know, is a satirist, and a gentle one. He's still writing, though he's no longer at the height of his powers, and hasn't been for some time. In his day, however, few people wrote prose that was so charming, yet still deftly skewered pompous asses in Washington, D.C., and beyond. I heartily recommend Buchwald's memoir of working for the International Herald Tribune, called I'll Always Have Paris, and his heart-wrenching story of growing up in and out of orphanages, Leaving Home.

Georgie Anne Geyer is still around, too, I was delighted and surprised to learn this week. As a kid, I found her much more difficult to read than Buchwald, but still fascinating. It astonished me that she seemed to know so much about so many things, and that she seemed to travel so extensively. When I was a kid, the Iranian hostage situation was still very fresh in everyone's mind, the Reagan administration was lobbing missiles at Libya, and the Israelis were still fighting in Lebanon. I can even remember the nuns in elementary school asking us to pray for several journalists who had been kidnapped. So it impressed me that Geyer was often writing from the heart of these combat zones. (She's recently written her autobiography, Buying the Night Flight: The Autobiography of a Woman Foreign Correspondent.)

That brings us to the loathsome Ms. Coulter, who is Geyer's lineal (but not spiritual) replacement in the News, and whose smirky, perky face leers out from this week's Time magazine. Buchwald grew up on the mean streets of Queens, served in the Marines in the Pacific during the worst days of World War II, and ground out piles of journalism for pennies at the old Herald Trib. Geyer grew up in Chicago, got a job on the Chicago Daily News as a society reporter, got a grant to go to the Middle East and Latin America, and in between writing she was jailed and threatened with death. They know what it's like to work for a living, and they got to the tops of their profession with a lot of blood, sweat and toil.

Ms. Coulter, by comparison, grew up in an upper-middle-class section of Connecticut, the daughter of a union-busting Republican attorney, was sent to law school, got a job flacking for a Republican senator, and quickly became a TV pundit --- probably, frankly, because she's attractive, thus fulfilling one of television's main requirements for appearing on-camera. She's never worked as a reporter, and has never held a difficult job in her life.

Coulter's column is unremittingly nasty, and it aims its broadsides not at Washington party hacks (like Buchwald's) or at tinpot dictators (like Geyer's), but at the poor, the working-class, senior citizens, minorities and the dead --- in other words, people who can't fight back. She's also a misogynist, which is fairly astonishing to think about. (Among other things, Ms. Coulter has argued that women should not be allowed to vote, because they don't understand how money is earned, and because they too often vote for liberals.)

The best humor and satire doesn't come from targeting the weak. It comes from puncturing pomposity. You may despise the left-wing politics of Michael Moore and Al Franken, for instance, but they take on big powerful targets, who can and do fight back. Ann Coulter, by comparison, targets people on food stamps, people in prison, immigrants, and the illiterate --- in other words, the weak and out-of-power. Picking on the weak makes her a bully. And that makes her despicable column a stain on the pages of the Daily News, and any other newspaper that carries her drivel.

It's quite a shame, because the News' editorial page is otherwise pretty interesting these days. When I was a kid, the paper rarely editorialized about local subjects; now practically every editorial is local in focus, or else explains how a national issue will affect the Mon-Yough area. The letters to the editor are usually lively, too, and the syndicated editorial cartoons that the News uses are by some of the best artists in the country.

I have no objection to conservative writers or philosophy. I own practically all of P.J. O'Rourke's books and faithfully read John Leo's column in U.S. News & World Report (which is also regularly reprinted in the News); William F. Buckley Jr. remains the gold standard of conservative writing, and I think he's terrific, while Geyer was and is conservative as well.

Something else about O'Rourke, Leo, Geyer and others --- they actually report, rather than just bloviate. (And yeah, I know I bloviate here, but I'm not getting paid for it, unlike Ms. Coulter.)

There have to be other syndicated conservative columnists who could take Ms. Coulter's place. lists dozens, many of whom (Neal Boortz, for instance) are quite good. James Lileks' political columns, which are also right-wing, are also good, and are available through Newhouse News Service.

Anyway, nobody asked me, but the News could do a lot better than the likes of Ann Coulter.


From the Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk, we read of one man's frustrated tirade at Fred, a telephone fundraiser soliciting donations for something called "Friends of John Kerry":

Fred, you just called me and woke up my sleeping baby daughter, presumably to ask for more of my money to give to a guy that's married to a billionaire, and that I watched mount the most inexcusably inept and pathetic presidential campaign imaginable. You people with millions and millions of dollars, some of them mine, couldn't figure out how to beat a half-witted charlatan that had launched this country into a war over nothing ... NOTHING, FRED ... N-O-T-H-I-N-G ... NOTHING! ....

Five months later, his approval rating is in the 40s, Fred, in the 40s, and he still beat "my friend" John, and by complicity, you Fred. He beat you, and now you ask me for more cash. For what? To do what? What the f--- are you going to do with it?

I've edited out some of the nastier bits, but you can read for yourself what he tells John Kerry and Teresa Heinz to do with a bottle of 57 Sauce. Ouch.

I'm just surprised to find out that Kerry still has "friends." (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Wonkette.)

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April 18, 2005 | Link to this story

A Typical Sunday Afternoon Treasure Hunt

Category: default || By jt3y

What am I supposed to do for cheap weekend entertainment now that the flea market at Eastland is gone? It's really left my Sunday afternoons with a feeling of emptiness. I pad around the house, drinking coffee and feeling depressed.

I suppose I could, I don't know, clean the garage or prune the hedges or do something useful with my time. But who needs that when you can go look at mildewed record albums, dirty Smurfs and old golf clubs?

So, in desperate need of a junk fix, on Sunday I drove out to Trader Jack's in Collier Township, just off the Heidelberg exit of Interstate 79, to get my recommended daily allowance of mold spores and decayed plastic. (By the way: avoid Interstate 79 in Allegheny County if you can until the construction work is done.) It's a long drive from the Mon-Yough area, especially to look at someone else's discarded krep, but like I said, I was jonesing.

One woman was standing in front of a big blanket piled high with old books, kitchenware, toys and other ephemera. "Fill a bag for a dollar!" she kept yelling. "Fill a bag for a dollar!" Hell, a dollar? Who can resist that?

I wandered over and found a unused passenger conductor's ticket-collection envelope from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Inside was another envelope from the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie and an unused B&O passenger's claim check. Evidently someone had saved several pieces of stationary as a souvenir, probably when passenger service was taken over by Amtrak in '71.

I also picked up two pop bottles (one white, for fruit-flavored pop, the other green for ginger ale) from Sperky Bottling Works in Monongahela, Pa., which I'd never heard of. Neither the Internet nor Lexis-Nexis turns up anything about Sperky's, which is not surprising. Anyone out there from the mid-Mon Valley remember Sperky's pop?

Not too bad for a buck, I figured. At another stall, someone had a big box of 45 rpm singles. I'm used to tearing through piles of old records pretty quickly. The kinds of records for sale at flea markets in Western Pennsylvania tend to be a lot of dross --- Lawrence Welk, showtunes, easy listening, K-Tel collections, sound-alike bands, etc. When you find something good, it's often missing its sleeve and is scratched to beat hell, or else it's been played so many times that the grooves have turned gray.

Occasionally you find a gem. This pile netted some old Stax soul, a single by Davie Allan & The Arrows, some Ricky Nelson, a few other items. No million-dollar finds, but not too terrible.

"How much?" I asked the guy sitting in the pickup truck.

"Fifty cents a piece," he said. "If you really like those, I got some better ones up here in the truck for a buck an' a half."

I had visions of a pile of original Elvis singles on Sun, or Bessie Smith 78s. They turned out to be a lot of kids' records and things like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

"Thanks," I said, "I better just stick with these."

At another booth stood a pile of yellowed old newspapers: Kennedy assassination, moon landing, Pirates '71 World Series, etc. Old newspapers draw me like a moth to ... well, to old newspapers.

"Want 'em?" the guy said. "Two bucks each."

"I've already got too much junk," I said. "Plus, I didn't really bring much money with me." (If I bring too much, I know I'll spend it.)

"How much you got?"

"I got seven bucks, and I don't want to spend it all. Let's say six."

"I'll take it. Get 'em out of here."

Back in the car, I looked them over. The Kennedy papers I have. I have a Post-Gazette from the day after the '71 World Series win, but in this pile was a Press from the day after that, detailing the riotous celebration in the Golden Triangle that snarled traffic and caused thousands of dollars in damage. (Lawrence Walsh, now at the P-G, had the byline.) Also in the pile were a Sun-Telegraph special edition from the St. Patrick's Day flood of 1936, a New York Daily News Sunday rotogravure from the same week (also showing pictures of flood damage), several pages of flood coverage torn out of the Post-Gazette, and three issues of the Homestead Daily Messenger from Sept. 5, 1938.

The Messenger has been gone for more than 20 years; most of the businesses advertised inside --- Wilkens E-Z Credit Jewelers, Katilius Music Store, long-closed shoe and clothing stores --- are gone, too. The headline reads "Czechs Prepare to Repel Germans Alone." World War II had just started, but no one knew yet what Hitler was capable of, so I have no idea why someone saved three copies of that day's Messenger.

But I have a suspicion. In the same pile, there was a clipping from a 1971 Messenger with pictures of the pharmacists at Weinberger's Drug Store in Homestead; while on the second page of the Sept. 5, 1938, Messenger, there's a little teaser ad: "What happens on Saturday? Weinberger's Drug Store opens!"

A little searching revealed that a Weinberger Drug Store was located on Diamond Street in Downtown Pittsburgh in the 1930s, and was presumably ruined in the 1936 flood. More sleuthing turned up a Harry Weinberger who was a 1925 graduate of the Pitt pharmacy school and lived in Homestead.

I have a theory that whoever saved those papers was a Weinberger --- maybe Harry Weinberger himself. Mr. Weinberger's first store was flooded out in 1936, which would explain why so many flood stories were saved. Rather than reopening the damaged store, he relocated to his hometown. When the ad announcing that his store was opening appeared in the Messenger, he went out and bought three copies, and when his sons came into the business, and their pictures appeared in the paper, he kept that, too.

Either that, or it's just a funny coincidence, but I like my story better. In any event, it was worth the drive out to Collier; who'd expect to find so much Mon Valley effluvia floating around there?

Still, I'd like to find a flea market a little closer to home, for the next time I get the urge. Anybody have any suggestions?


Signs of the Times: Advertising sign in front of Elks Lodge 11 in Lincoln Place: "SPAGAGTTI DINNER, SAT APR 23." I wonder if that comes with meepbulls and gorlak bred.


Welcome to the World: Congratulations to Bob and Julie Braughler on their new bouncing baby blogger. She'll be eatin' pierogies in no time, I'll bet.

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April 15, 2005 | Link to this story

What, No Screaming?

Category: default || By jt3y

From the Tube City Almanac National Affairs Desk, well, there goes that wacky, zany Howard Dean again! Hoo, hoo, hoo, wait 'til you read his latest crazy, outrageous comments in USA Today:

Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean says his party needs to do more to appeal to voters who have been lost because of unease over "values," including people who oppose abortion and parents who are dismayed by TV programs they find offensive for their children.

"We need to be a national party, we need a national message, and we need to understand why people in dire economic straits --- people who certainly aren't being helped by Republican policies --- why they vote for George Bush," he said. "We need to respect voters in red states who want to vote for us, but we make it hard for them by not listening to what they have to say."

Ha, ha, ha, that screaming liberal goofball! That left-wing ... wait, what did he say?

What Democrats need to do now, Dean said, is recast the debate on issues including abortion and win back voters who might be drawn to the party for its stands on economic issues and health care.

Karl Rove, busy torturing rats with a hacksaw in the White House basement, just shuddered. "I sense a great disturbance in the force," he said.

Democrats get "caught" in defending abortion, he said. "Well, there's nobody who's pro-abortion, not Democratic or Republican. What we want to debate is who gets to choose: (House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay and the federal politicians? Or does a woman get to make up her own mind?"

He said the party also should encourage "pro-life Democrats" to run for office.

At the headquarters of Planned Parenthood, the phonograph needle just scraped across the record and a tray of glasses crashed to the floor.

What Dr. Dean is saying is that the Democratic Party needs to focus on winning elections, not placating its warring factions. Because in its desperation to build consensus, the Democratic Party for the past decade has stood for everything, and thus for nothing. Too many national Democratic leaders have walked around for years looking down their snoots at the great unwashed who vote Republican, which has left them feeling morally superior and utterly out of power.

And ... surprise! ... Dean isn't focusing on the thoroughly stupid idea, advanced by the (losing) Gore campaign team and the (losing) Kerry campaign team that Democrats can some how ignore the South and Midwest:

Dean promised to do more to bolster state parties, including in places where Democrats haven't fared well lately. He announced grants totaling $465,000 for state organizations in Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia --- all Bush states.

If this means that the Democratic Party is finally going to be wrenched from the professional New York, L.A. and D.C. handwringers, bellyachers and assorted other mushy-heads who have handed the reins of power to the Republicans on a silver platter, then I'm all for it.

Meanwhile, in local news stories you may have missed, there's word (via Brandy Brubaker in the News) of a major new shot-in-the-arm for the Mon-Yough area's economy:

Glassport soon will welcome a new and improved Rite Aid. The national drug store chain plans to move its Monongahela Avenue store to a vacant lot on the site of the former Copperweld office building and Johnny K's Lounge along Ninth Street.

Rite Aid will build a new store more than twice the size of the current location. Reportedly, only one store in Ohio is as large as the one planned for Glassport.

Wow. We used to be the steel capital of the world. Soon, we'll have the world's second-largest Rite Aid. (Not the largest, but after all, that would be gaudy, and we in the Mon Valley have always been known for our exquisite good taste.) Feel free to take the rest of the day off.

Down in Metropolitan Finleyville, rumors that a Wal-Mart is coming to town are hurting business at Trax Farms, writes Mary Niederberger in the Post-Gazette.

Since word got out last summer that a developer was planning to build a shopping center with a Wal-Mart on land south of Trax Farms, "rumors have been floating that we closed or that we sold the farm to Wal-Mart," said John Trax, retail manager for the farm market and one of 17 Trax family members who own the farm. ...

Salesmen who call on the farm said they also had heard that Trax had sold the property to Wal-Mart. Trax said the rumors became so rampant that he had trouble convincing employees that the farm was not going to be sold. "It's really hard to keep employees' morale up when they are hearing this all of the time," he said.

In Turtle Crick, there's an exceedingly nasty race for borough council, writes Bill Heltzel in the P-G. Some of the language is barely fit for print:

Incumbent Bob Mullooly said his late wife, Helen, persuaded him to run for council eight years ago. ... He bemoaned decisions to build the expressway through Turtle Creek and to keep the junior high school in town, but he said there isn't much that council can do about other government agencies.

"Every time something comes down the pike," he said, "we get the poopy end of the stick."

Good Lord! Watch your language, Councilman Mullooly. There are ladies and children present!

Finally, over in Irwin, Patti Dobranski writes in the Tribune-Review that borough council is preparing to pave Pennsylvania Avenue, also known as Old Center Highway: "'That street looks like the Ho Chi Minh trail ... and that's the gateway to our town. It's got to be done,' said Councilman Harry Neil."

Some how I think Harry Neil means the Burma Road and not the Ho Chi Minh trail, unless there are Viet Cong snipers hiding behind the Irwin Park Amphitheater that I'm not aware of. Maybe someone should call Berk's ... are they selling a lot of cone-shaped hats and black pajamas these days?


To Do This Weekend: The Downtown post office, Walnut Street at Ninth Avenue, will be open until 9 p.m. today for you last-minute tax filers. ... Book Country Clearing House, located in the old Potter-McCune warehouse at 3200 Walnut St. in Christy Park, hosts another book sale Saturday and Sunday. Call (412) 678-2400. ... McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., presents "A Bedfull of Foreigners," today and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is $15 or $7 for students with ID. Call (412) 673-1100.

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April 15, 2005 | Link to this story

Shameless Plug

Category: default || By jt3y

P.S. I've got a new column over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

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April 14, 2005 | Link to this story

Nothing to See Here

Category: default || By jt3y

I had another project to work on Wednesday night, so no Almanac today. We'll be giving refunds in the alley.

You could go read this New York Times story about millionaire Walter O'Rourke, who owns his own railroad, yet amuses himself by working as a conductor for Noo Joisey Transit. (Tube City hard hat tip to Alert Reader Jonathan.)

Or you could go read Rip Rense's recent Rip Post about his confrontation with a young LaRouchie.

You could even look at Joseph F. Kelly's Life in thisLowCountry, which has had several terrific pieces lately.

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April 13, 2005 | Link to this story

April is a Taxing Month

Category: default || By jt3y

Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow, that's my motto. So naturally, I'm doing my taxes this week.

OK, that's not entirely accurate. I actually did my federal taxes some time ago, mostly in the hopes that I had a refund coming. But as they say in Italian, au contraire. Not only did I not have a refund coming, I owed the gubmint about 200 clams due to a withholding error. I figured the government could wait for its money, so I'm not sending the federal tax stuff in until Thursday, even though it's complete.

I tried itemizing this year for the first time, since everyone told me that buying a house and moving would result in all sorts of tax deductions. It turns out that I bought the house too late in the year for the mortgage interest to be more than a standard deduction, and moving expenses are only deductible if you move more than 50 miles. Also, real-estate taxes that you pay are deductible only when they've actually been sent to the taxing body --- not just put into escrow. That leaves me 0 for 3 in the homeowning department, but better off next year.

Maybe. Since the President and Congress are considering eliminating the mortgage interest deduction (so much for the "ownership society"), it's a big "maybe."

Anyway, that takes care of the feds. I'll be able to pencil-whip the state tax form out in a few minutes, and since freelance writing assignments fell off the end of the Earth for me this year, I won't owe anything to Uncle Ed.

Certainly, I don't begrudge the Commonwealth its three percent and change, so long as the state General Assembly continues to spend the money on vital needs, such as placing placards that say "In God We Trust" in public school classrooms, or promoting creationism, or regulating yearbook photographers. ("Pennsylvania: Legislative Grandstanding Starts Here.")

Still, there's one set of taxes that really frost my doughnuts, and those are the local wage taxes. I don't mind that they have taxes, per se. Hey, the borough (or township) and school district need their 1 percent (or 3 percent, for you lucky City of Picksberg residents, and 1.7 percent for people in Our Fair City). I've been behind the scenes of a lot of Mon-Yough area municipalities --- and most of them are run relatively frugally.

I do object, however, to the godawful local wage tax forms that boroughs, cities, townships and school districts have started sending out. A few years back, Pennsylvania attorneys convinced local taxing authorities to outsource their tax collections. Instead of having little old semi-retired blue-haired ladies at the municipal buildings collecting the local taxes, the attorneys promised to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war upon tax cheats.

Any time you add multiple lawyers to a problem, naturally, you aren't simplifying it. Lawyers don't make money by making things simple. Throw a couple of dozen accountants into the mix and you have a real recipe for eye-crossing bureaucracy.

These tax "experts" began sending residents complete local tax schedules which have grown ever more complex, and every bit as complicated as the IRS 1040 form --- they now want you to list profits from investments, farming losses, savings penalties, the whole nine yards.

Excuse the heck out of me, but exactly where do they get off demanding all this? Here's all a local tax form has to look like:

In fairness to North Bittyburg, my borough wage tax form actually looks a lot like that. In fact, it fits on a postcard. (Our Fair City's tax form isn't too bad, either.)

But because North Bittyburg borough council is fighting with the school district, the school district now has its own tax collection agency, and naturally it's owned by an attorney who sends out two-page multiple-schedule local tax forms, including a supplemental worksheet the taxpayer is supposed to fill out.

I'd like to tell him to fold it into his Black's Law and cram the whole thing up his legal briefs.

The best part is that because I moved halfway through the year, I get to fill out three local tax forms --- the (relatively simple) North Bittyburg Borough tax form, the North Bittyburg School District two-page nightmare, and an identical nightmarish tax form for East Bumpety Borough and the East Bumpety Area School District, where I used to live. (As it turns out, the same attorneys who collect the North Bittyburg school taxes also collect the East Bumpety borough and school taxes.)

Boy howdy, we is havin' some fun now, you betcha!

What does it cost to thoroughly obfuscate the local tax system, print up the forms, collect the forms, process the information, and count the loot? According to Mike Wereschagin in the Tribune-Review, about $100 million per year. Per year!

As Wereschagin puts it: "That's enough to resurface 526 miles of two-lane roadways, buy more than 2.1 million prescriptions for seniors enrolled in the state's Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly program, or provide an $18 refund to every income tax payer in the state." Jesus wept!

The Pennsylvania Economy League recommends just having the state Department of Revenue collect the local wage and property taxes, and send taxpayers one consolidated bill each year. The money would then be disbursed back to the local school districts and municipalities. And quite naturally, the tax collection agencies think that's a horrible, horrible idea.

Unlike the flat-earthers and the Grover Norquist crowd, I don't object to taxation in principle --- just government waste. And it seems to me that one quick way to lower Pennsylvania's taxes would be to ash-can all of these local tax forms and streamline some of this bureaucracy, because it sure smells like waste to me.

If there are any local tax collectors who'd like to rebut this Almanac, I welcome their comments.

However, we will not accept those comments electronically. Instead, please stop by our office and pick up a copy of the Tube City Almanac 2005 Official Tax Collector Comment Form (forms cannot be faxed or sent via email!) and file them in triplicate to our office no later than 11:59 p.m. April 15, 2005; you should attach to the back (not the front!) current proof of residence, a completed Schedule A ("Description of Current Tax Collector Assets and Liabilities"), three personal references, a copy of your Pennsylvania PA-40 form ....

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April 12, 2005 | Link to this story

Clink! Clink! Another Drink

Category: default || By jt3y

Do you know where all of the bad guys go? Why, Jefferson Hills, of course. Don't you know about the criminals who are at Large? Haw. Haw. Haw. Then, of course, there was the midget psychic who gave palm readings in a shack along Route 51. Her business cards read, "Small Medium at Large." Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!

Seriously, folks, the Mon-Yough area community of Large takes its name from the John Large family, which came to Western Pennsylvania shortly before the turn of the 19th century. John Large erected a distillery along Peters Creek which made Monongahela Rye Whiskey.

His son, Jonathan, and grandson, Henry, eventually turned Large Whiskey into a nationally known brand. There's a story about former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor William Holland arriving at the office one day in the 1900s with a terrible chest cold. He asked his secretary to telephone the Schenley Hotel and have them send over a bottle of Large Whiskey.

The secretary called and told the bartender (I'm paraphrasing slightly), "The Chancellor needs a large bottle of whiskey."

"No, I want a bottle of Large Whiskey!" the Chancellor yelled from his office.

"He says a very large bottle of whiskey," the secretary repeated.

The Large Distillery was eventually sold to another company, and finally was closed. The property passed through the hands of contractor, bus operator and financier Noble J. Dick before being sold to Westinghouse Electric Corp., which constructed its Astro-Nuclear Laboratory around the old distillery buildings. (Their motto should have been, but wasn't, "One way or another, you'll get high in Large!")

Anyway, I stumbled over John and Linda Lipman's web site, which gives the history of Western Pennsylvania distillers, including Large Distillery and Thomas Moore Distillery (makers of "Possum Hollow" Whiskey and originally based in Our Fair City). You can also read about Westmoreland County's famous Old Overholt brand whiskey (or as old-timers called it, "Old Overalls"), which contributed to the fortune that Henry Clay Frick would later invest in coal and steel.


Speaking of which: I finally saw a copy of the new free newspaper being distributed in the South Hills called the 51Corridor. There's a story on the front page of the most recent issue about the Large Hotel. (Which isn't that large, natch.) I'd link to the paper or the story, but its website doesn't appear to be working.

One wonders what the market for yet another free weekly newspaper could be in an area that already has the Gateway papers, The Valley Mirror, The Almanac (the one printed by the Observer-Reporter, not the TCA), three dailies, and who-knows-what else. But good luck to the proprietors. If nothing else, I enjoyed the Large Hotel story.


Why is this man smiling? He doesn't have much to smile about.

He's Harry James Collins, 57, of Connellsville, and he's accused of setting a fire that damaged the Wesley United Methodist Church in that Fayette County city.

There have been 27 arsons in Connellsville over the last year and a half, and while police aren't linking Collins to other fires at this time, it's obvious that they're looking closely at him. Bob Stiles had a thorough story in this morning's Tribune-Review, and I'd expect more in tonight's Connellsville Daily Courier.

The neighbors, naturally, are "shocked":

"He's a good neighbor. I find it hard to believe," said one woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

"When I heard about it, I was shocked," another neighbor said. "The old guy's so nice. He doesn't even have a car to get around and do this stuff."

Writes an Occasional But Alert Reader of the Almanac: "I can't wait for the time when a serial killer's or arsonist's or garden variety murderer's neighbors and family aren't stunned. I want someone to say, yeah, I know that guy and he is exactly the guy I thought who would burn down a church."


Like "CSI"? Well, I got your "CSI" right here, buddy. A man from Pottstown, Pa., disappeared in California in 1983. Last month, an intern in the coroner's office in Marin County, Calif., working with a investigator there, identified his body with the help of a keychain from a closed AMC dealership in Erie.

Sound bizarre? Read all about in the Marin (Calif.) Independent Journal.

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April 11, 2005 | Link to this story

A Light in the Driveway

Category: default || By jt3y

Ah, the life of a swinging, hedonistic bachelor was on full display this weekend. Take Sunday morning, which I spent at Sears, Roebuck, buying pruning shears, a rake, and throw rugs. Then I came home and (you may want to chase the kiddies out of the room now) cleaned out the flower beds and trimmed the rose bushes.

Whoa, Nelly! I have to admit, I'm feeling a little bit dissipated now. But that won't stop me from continuing my sybaritic ways, such as later this week, when I go over to my mother's house and spray pesticide on the lawn. Yowza!

Also this weekend, the sleek, gray Mercury decided to jerk me around. Saturday night, as I washed dishes (slow down, Hugh Hefner!) I saw the interior lights were on. I said a bad word, then put on my shoes and went outside ... but the interior lights weren't on.

Hmm. An optical illusion, I thought.

I finished rinsing the dishes and was about to wipe off the counter when I noticed the lights were on again. This time I watched them slowly fade out.

So I kept watching. About 10 minutes later, they came on again, and then slowly faded out. And I said another bad word.

A word here about modern automobile technology. Years ago, someone (perhaps Henry Ford, when he wasn't writing anti-Semitic claptrap for the Dearborn Independent) realized it would be a good idea if when you opened the door of your car, the lights came on inside.

So, they hooked up a little switch that was activated when you opened the door, and turned on the interior lights. The circuit diagram looked something like this:

The switch cost about 39 cents, and the bulb was 19 cents, and the wires cost another 79 cents. Sometimes the switch broke, and you'd stop down at the Esso (or Sinclair or American or Gulf) station, and Gus (or Eddie or Stush or Tony) would install a new one. Sometimes the bulb would burn out. But that was about all that could go wrong.

For about 70 years, this is how dome lights in cars worked. Well, this wasn't good enough for the modern American consumer. They don't just want lights that turn on and off. They want them to dim slowly --- they call it "theater lighting" in the auto trade. They also want to be able to turn them on and off with their keyless remote entry doohickey. They want the lights to turn on, too, if they open the trunk. And they want the lights to go off after a certain amount of time, like if little Timmy, age 3, has been playing around in the car and left the door wide open, so that the lights don't drain the battery.

The result is that the interior lighting on the modern automobile is no longer controlled by mere switches and wires. On most cars, they're now computer-activated; the sleek, gray Mercury has something called a Lighting Control Module which controls everything from the headlights to the turn signals to the brake lights to the dashboard hibachi and automatic package shelf bobble-head doll motion detector. Thus, the circuit now looks like this:

There is no switch --- there's a motion detector built into the hinge of the door, which Gus (or Eddie or Stush or Tony) wouldn't know how to service, even if the Esso (or Sinclair or American or Gulf) station hadn't been torn down and replaced by a "GetGo."

And when something goes wrong with the interior lights, you don't just replace the switch or the bulb, you take the car to the dealer, where they (I swear I'm not making this up) hook the Lighting Control Module to the special computer analyzer, which tells them (at a shop rate of $75 per hour) that the Lighting Control Module (Motorcraft Part No. F8AZ-13C788-BA) is fried, and that will be $270.49, plus tax and labor, and can you pay the man on the way out?

Naturally, what I've done instead is pulled the fuse on the dome lights for the time being. The car is still under warranty for another 3,000 miles, but the warranty only covers the power train, not the electrical fizzly bits. If only the dome lights had gone on the fritz because the motor had fallen out of the car, then I might be covered.

There is a slim chance --- very slim --- that the doors are slightly misaligned or the door sensors are dirty, and some futzing around in the driveway this week might fix the problem. I'm going to try it, but I'm not hopeful.

This is progress? Phooey on progress, I say.

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April 08, 2005 | Link to this story

Flying the Nostalgic Skies

Category: default || By jt3y

Remember when all of the Port Authority buses used to be painted pretty much alike, so that you knew they were Port Authority buses? When PAT went to its "Ride Gold" marketing campaign (which beat its old marketing theme, "Not as Bad as You Think"), they decided that every bus had to be painted "distinctly." That resulted in the current mish-mash of bus paint schemes --- buses with giant shiny swirls, buses with "Welcome to the Neighborhood" in Esperanto scrawled along the sides, and now, buses with the names of historical figures emblazoned on them.

The other day, I saw a bus from the West Mifflin Garage --- I think it was Number 5439, but I didn't have a pen or paper --- with the name "Clifford Ball" on it. Do people know who Clifford Ball is? He's been mentioned here before. Needless to say, I recognized the name, and was tickled to see that a prominent resident of Our Fair City was remembered by Port Authority.

Cliff Ball was a McKeesport car dealer --- he sold Hudsons and Essexes --- who in 1919, while on a drive through Dravosburg, saw a bunch of biplanes circling for a landing in a field. Ball drove over to see what was going on and happened to meet aircraft designer and stunt pilot Eddie Stinson. (Stinson would eventually found the airplane company that bore his name, and which eventually became part of General Dynamics.)

Stinson took Ball for a ride in his plane, and Ball decided that the future of America was in aviation. He soon began rallying prominent McKeesporters to his cause, and a Republican congressman from Our Fair City, U.S. Rep. Clyde Kelly, introduced legislation authorizing the Post Office Department to award contracts to private companies to carry mail via airplane. (Until that point, the U.S. Army Air Corps was carrying all of the mail, and several army pilots had been killed.)

In 1925, Ball and Barr Peat, an engineer from what was then Mifflin Township, borrowed $35,000 and purchased 40 acres on the hill above Dravosburg --- the same pasture land where Ball had watched Stinson and his friends land --- from farmer Harry Neel to create Pittsburgh-McKeesport Airport. It quickly became popular with pilots, supplanting several smaller airstrips around the region, and spawned a restaurant and inn across the road called the Airways Tavern. (The Airways, which closed a few years ago, was destroyed in a fire earlier this year.)

Pittsburgh-McKeesport Airport was renamed Bettis Field in 1926 to honor World War I flying ace Lt. Cyrus Bettis, who died after being in a plane crash that year.

Ball and Peat were awarded a contract to carry mail from Cleveland to Pittsburgh in March of that year, but service didn't begin until the following April 21. Their firm, called Skyline Transportation Company, had two Waco 9 biplanes; a third was added a short time later. The planes were christened "Miss McKeesport," "Miss Pittsburgh" and "Miss Youngstown" to describe three of the cities on the route that STC flew, and the airline soon was known as "Clifford Ball's Airline." The few passengers carried had to sit on postal sacks in the open cockpits of the plane; that first year, Ball carried some $58,800 worth of U.S. mail. (One of the early passengers was comedian Will Rogers, who used to fly into Pittsburgh, sitting on sacks of mail in one of Cliff Ball's planes, to do broadcasts over KDKA radio.)

Ball won admiration from other airline pioneers for being able to fly successfully in and around western Pennsylvania; in an era before radar, sophisticated weather instruments or good navigational equipment, the hilly terrain intimidated many pilots and companies. McKeesport and Ball were further honored on Aug. 23 when Charles Lindbergh flew his "Spirit of St. Louis" into Bettis Field about three months after his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Ten thousand people greeted Lindbergh when he landed; he was met at the airport by Pittsburgh Mayor Charles H. Kline and other dignitaries, then ferried to Pitt Stadium in Oakland in a motorcade. (It was an appropriate enough visit --- the propeller for the "Spirit of St. Louis" was manufactured by Standard Propeller Company of West Homestead!) A national balloon race was launched from Bettis Field in May 1928, but ended in tragedy when several crafts were struck by lightning, and one racer died.

In the meantime, Cliff Ball's airline kept growing. In 1928 it officially added scheduled passenger service and in August 1929, the company (by then called "Clifford Ball Inc.") added a route from Cleveland to Washington, D.C., via McKeesport. Soon it was flying a whole fleet of planes, including a Ford Tri-Motor, a four-passenger Fairchild FC-2, five (one source says four) New Standard D-27s, and seven additional Waco 9s that had been repossessed by a bank for non-payment of liens against them.

In 1929, Cliff Ball joined two of his partners in selling their shares of Bettis Field to aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright, and in November 1930, Clifford Ball Inc. was itself sold for $137,000. The buyers --- Pitt professor Charles Bedell Monro, his brother-in-law, Fred R. Crawford, and Pittsburgh attorney George Hann --- paid $137,000 for the company, which they renamed Pennsylvania Air Lines Inc. In 1931, PAL carried 7,000 passengers and in 1932, operating from its headquarters at the brand-new Allegheny County Airport about a mile away, PAL carried nearly 9,000.

The Depression and a government scandal involving the mail contracts forced PAL to cease operations for several months in 1934; in 1936, PAL merged with a competitor, Central Airlines, to become Pennsylvania-Central Airlines and was soon the fifth-largest airline in the United States. Its headquarters remained near the entrance to Allegheny County Airport (in the building currently used as the Allegheny County Police substation), but in 1941, it moved to National Airport in Washington, D.C. Eventually it would change its name to Capital Airlines, and in 1961 it was merged into United Airlines.

Meanwhile, the loss of commercial airline traffic, and competition from the larger, better-equipped county airport nearby, sent Bettis Field into a long, slow decline as a private field. Increased air traffic during World War II, and the planes that Curtiss-Wright was constructing for the war effort, helped build traffic somewhat, but in January 1949 it sold Bettis Field to Westinghouse Electric, which closed the airstrip and began constructing an atomic power laboratory for federal government research.

And yet there's still much evidence of the property's former tenant; the Bettis security office near the intersection of Bettis Road, Lebanon Church Road and Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard still looks pretty much the same as it did back when it served as the administration office for Bettis Field (though the control tower that once graced its roof is long gone). The two buff-brick buildings along Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard are still obviously former airplane hangars, and they remain in use today, though no longer for aircraft maintenance.

So if you see the PAT bus named "Clifford Ball" chugging along the 56C McKeesport route some day soon, you'll know how it got its name. Let's just hope that it doesn't live up to that name --- unlike Cliff Ball's airplanes, buses work much better when they're planted on terra firma.


To Do This Weekend: In keeping with our Almanac theme today, why not go look at a restored bus tomorrow? The members of the McKeesport-based Antique Motor Coach Association of Pennsylvania are unveiling a restored 1947 GM bus repainted in the colors of the North Hills' Harmony Short Lines at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh's Strip District. Rides will be given for $12.


Sources on today's Almanac:

Baptie, Charles. Capital Airlines: A Nostalgic Flight Into the Past (Annandale, Va.: Charles Baptie Studios Inc.), 1996

Davies, R.E.G. Airlines of the United States Since 1914 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press), 1972. | [Buy it here!]

Hartman, Jim. "Bettis: Pittsburgh's First Airfield," Homestead & Mifflin Township Historical Society Newsletter, April 2002.

Wissolik, Richard David, editor. A Place in the Sky: A History of the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (Latrobe, Pa.: St. Vincent College), 2001. | [Buy it here!]

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April 07, 2005 | Link to this story

The Mon Valley's a Big Brown Marble

Category: default || By jt3y

If a picture's worth 1,000 words, then consider this an 8,000 word Almanac. Via Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, I learned this week that Google's mapping feature now offers satellite views of much of the country.

For a guy who's a map junkie, is already more fun than a barrel of monkeys. The satellite photos are more fun than ... um ... a barrel of monkeys with water pistols and funny hats.

OK, so I've got nothing.

Anyway, the images also must be fairly recent --- from some of the clues, I'd say they were taken last year. Google allows you to zoom in fairly close, for pictures that are surprisingly life-like and detailed. (And you, Mr. Ignatz Stopowitz of Grandview Avenue, had better start wearing pants when you're out sunbathing.) No wonder all the U-2 pilots are looking for work.

Here's part of Our Fair City from the air:

(Here's a larger, annotated overhead view of Our Fair City and vicinity.)

The McKeesport High School grads in the audience should recognize this place. That's the "Voke" at the top and the junior-senior high at the bottom, and Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium shows up quite nicely, even from outer space.

For those of us who went to Serra, here's a view of the high school, priory and chapel, and football stadium:

This would be your regulation-type Cornell Middle School, formerly Tech High and later the junior high (left) and Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport (red-roofed building at the right):

We've been fairly obsessed (well, not really, but the topic has come up several times) with the fate of Eastland Mall recently, so for old time's sake, here's a look at that doomed shopping plaza:

Leavin' on a jetplane? You're probably not departing Allegheny County Airport unless you're on a corporate aircraft, but here's a look at the terminal and apron, as a pilot might see it:

And finally, everyone from Western Pennsylvania should recognize this ... it's the One and Only Roller Coaster Capital of the World:

(All original images: Copyright and courtesy Modified and color-corrected here for better visibility.)

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April 06, 2005 | Link to this story

Short, Yes, But Sweet ... ?

Category: default || By jt3y

No time for the kind of finely crafted drivel that Almanac readers have come to expect, except that we can't help notice that Benderson Development Co. is apparently confirming --- in a backhanded way --- that Eastland Mall has a date with the headache ball:

PennDOT is closing the driver's license center in North Versailles April 23.

The driver's license center is closing because the building in which it is housed, the Eastland Mall and Marketplace, is clearing out its tenants to make way for the demolition of the building. The demolition of the mall, owned by Benderson Development Co. Inc., was announced back in February.

The license center will close permanently, meaning people who would ordinarily have their photo taken in North Versailles should now visit the centers in Belle Vernon, Bridgeville, Penn Hills, East Liberty or Monroeville. (Post-Gazette)

The Almanac first speculated back in January and February that this was Eastland's destiny. (Big whoop for us.) I still hope, for the sake of the people in Green Valley and Crestas, that they nuke the bugs and rats before they start demolition. Otherwise, the vermin that pour of that place will be truly mind-blowing.

Back in my day we used to get our driver's license photos taken on Long Run Road in Our Fair City. I also took my written test for my learner's permit at the McKeesport YMCA, and my road test at the Troop A state police barracks in Greensburg.

I took the test at Troop A instead of Troop B Washington Boulevard because the word in the junior class at my alma mater was that people who took the test in Greensburg didn't have to parallel park.

Having failed to confirm rumors about the mechanics of sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, and a thousand other topics of interest to high schoolers, it should come as no surprise that this rumor was wrong, too. When the trooper asked me to parallel park, I nearly had an accident --- and not the motor-vehicle kind, either. Needless to say, I jumped the curb, which the trooper informed me was an "automatic flunk."

"You also forgot to put your turn signal on when you pulled away from the barracks, so I would have had to flunk you anyway," he informed me.

Bless his soul, my maternal grandfather then decided to teach me to parallel park, if it killed him, me, or the transmission in his Ford Escort. Every afternoon after school for the next month, he watched as I parallel-parked against every curb in McKeesport, Glassport, Versailles and Port Vue.

I sailed through the next driving test and to this day, can parallel park just about anything just about anywhere. And that, and a quarter, buys me what? Thirty minutes on a parking meter.

Of course, it also allows me to stand by and smirk confidently when I watch someone in a Honda Civic jump the curb while trying to get into a space where I could park an 18-wheeler, two Buick Electra 225s and the Kennywood trolley.

Was there a point to this reminiscence? Not that I recall, no.

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April 05, 2005 | Link to this story

Location, Location, Location

Category: default || By jt3y

Three prominent Downtown landmarks are on the sales block. Any of them could be yours if you have a spare 200 grand burning a hole in your pocket.

The first is a real prime location, and I say that without a bit of sarcasm. The Fifth Avenue Medical Center, a late 1950s office building, is right at the corner of Fifth and Evans, directly across the street from the outpatient surgery entrance of UPMC McKeesport Hospital.

County tax records indicate that it's owned by the heirs of longtime city dentist Dr. Michael Fontana, whose office was formerly located in the building (and was illuminated by a big neon toothbrush, if I remember correctly). Tax bills are still sent to Fontana Dental, now located in North Huntingdon Township.

The county has the building assessed at $220,000, but Howard Hanna Real Estate's North Huntingdon office has it listed at $179,000.

The other city landmark currently for sale also deals with oral hygiene. Well, sort of. It appears that Sam's Superior Restaurant is for sale again, at a cost of $159,900. It's listed with Coldwell Banker. (The county has assessed the property at a market value of $51,100, so presumably, the restaurant and its name goes with the sale.) The restaurant was offered once before several years ago, but was removed from the market shortly thereafter.

Sam's has changed hardly at all in the last 50 years, for better or for worse. Caterer Philip Haughey has added some very good items to the menu since he's owned Sam's (I especially like his soups).

But the location, which was once in the heart of the business district, is severely hampered by a lack of foot traffic. Sam's fronts on Lysle Boulevard, but really it's behind the CVS drug store (formerly White Cross drugs and before that Woolworth's), between the old G.C. Murphy Co. store and the People's Bank Building. It also has no parking to speak of; you can park on Fifth Avenue and walk down Tube Works Alley, but how many people are willing to do that?

Sam's dates to 1922, when the late Sam Pandel opened the restaurant, then located on Fifth Avenue, and according to a story by Joanna Carman in the Daily News several years ago, once sold nearly 2,000 hot dogs in one day on the Christmas weekend of 1969. As much as it pains me to say this, anyone who bought the Sam's business would be well-advised to move to a location closer to the RIDC industrial park ... or how about into the industrial park?

And finally, the old United Societies Building on Sinclair Street near Shaw Avenue is up for sale. The United Societies (formerly the United Societies of the Greek Catholic Religion), which published the weekly newspaper Prosvita ("The Enlightenment") in Our Fair City for many years, merged with the Greek Catholic Union of the USA back in 2000 and sold the building in 2003. The asking price is $225,000 and it's also listed by Coldwell Banker; apparently it's primarily an apartment building now.

(Photos courtesy Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments)


In other news, deepest sympathies to the family of Guerino E. "Woody" Antonelli, founder of Woody's Little Italy Restaurants, who died last week at the age of 79. Jerry Vondas had a fine obituary in the Tribune-Review on Saturday.

Mr. Antonelli was a lifelong resident of the Mon-Yough area and according to Jerry's story, 80 people currently work at Woody's on Walnut Street in Versailles. (Incidentally, one of the many people who got experience working for "Woody" was Phil Haughey, mentioned above.) "Woody" got his nickname from a first-grade teacher who couldn't pronounce Guerino. (Some how, I doubt that would fly in a public school today.)

Mr. Antonelli is survived by his wife, Evelyn; four sons and two daughters, a sister and a brother; and several grandchildren. He was interred yesterday at Mount Vernon Cemetery in Elizabeth Township. Requiescat in pace. (There is an online guestbook at the Post-Gazette website.)


Correction, Not Perfection: Last week I wrote that a Studebaker logo was engraved into the Olive Street side of the old Baer Brothers Building at 801 Walnut St. In fact, that's the Wilkins Alley side; the building may appear to be large, but it doesn't stretch all the way to Olive Street. Sorry about the error.

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April 04, 2005 | Link to this story

Local Wedding Was Almost a Royal Pain

Category: default || By jt3y

One of the guys I knew in high school is a line officer now at the Munhall Gardens Volunteer Fire Department. Mike called me Saturday: "I'm up the truck hall. You gotta get up here."

"What's up?"

"Don't ask questions, just get up here."

Mike's "office" is actually an old steel desk at the front of the garage. I found him pacing back and forth in front of the American La France pumper, rubbing his hands together nervously.

"What's so important that I had to drive all the way over here?" I asked.

"You can't tell nobody about this, but I hadda tell someone, or I was gonna explode," Mike said. "I just booked the hall for a wedding on April 8."

"Big deal!"

"For 'Mr. and Mrs. Charles Windsor'!"

"Again, big deal."

"Boy, you're dense. Didn't you used to work for the newspaper?"

"I worked for a bunch of them. Some of them even admit it."

"OK, so don't you read the news? The Windsors? As in future King of England but just now getting re-married Prince Charles? That Charles?"

"So what are you trying to say, that the freaking Prince of Wales is getting married at the Munhall Gardens fire hall?" I said. "Yinz gotta open a garage door once in a while when you run the trucks. The exhaust fumes are getting to your brain."

"He's not getting married at the fire hall, jagoff," Mike said. "He's getting married down at Torkowsky's office in Munhall, probably. I told him St. Matthew's down in Homestead is a 'piscopal church, but it's supposed to be a civil ceremony, 'cause what's-her-face is divorced. Anyway, if I can't get the magistrate to do it, I'll ask the mayor."

I rubbed my eyes. "OK, I'll humor you: Why would Prince Charles want to get married in Munhall?"

"He's P.O.'d at the media in Britain. Didn't you see the news over the weekend? He was skiin', and they kept askin' about his weddin', and he said he was sick of those 'bloody people.' I told the guy at the embassy all Munhall got is the Valley Mirror and they only come out once a week."

"The embassy?"

"The British embassy. Yeah. So listen to this. I come in Friday night to help with the bingo and there's a message on the answering machine. Some funny area code. Well, you can't make long distance calls down here in the truck hall no more, so I had to use the phone in the chief's office."

Mike pulled a pack of Marlboros out of his coat pocket and shook one loose, then fumbled with a Bic lighter. It took his shaky hands several tries to light the cigarette, and when it finally caught, he took a long, deep drag.

"Anyway," Mike said, "I called, guy with a English accent answers, starts askin' all these questions: Is the hall available Friday afternoon? Sure, I said, as long as you're done by 6:30, cause that's when the early birds start arrivin'. He wants to know, do we have a big parking lot? Biggest one in the Valley, I said. Big enough to land a helicopter? he wants to know. Sure, I mean, Life Flight uses our parking lot all the time."

"You still didn't answer my question," I said. "Why Munhall Gardens?"

"Don't you remember?" Mike said. "Like 15 years ago? The Prince came to look around the Mon Valley when the mills were closin' down? Well, it turns out he liked it so much that he wants to come back for a visit. I told the guy from the embassy that we didn't grow tulips like the Prince wanted, but that we built the Waterfront, so we got something done. I'm just sorry Chiodo's closed."

"This whole thing gets dumber and dumber," I said. "How the hell are the Munhall Gardens police gonna handle security?"

"I already talked to the cops. They're cancelin' all of the vacations and callin' in the sheriff. I thought that was pretty funny --- the sheriff protectin' the Prince, like the sheriff of Nottingham, you know? And we got the fire police, and some of those guys are more gung-ho than the Airborne Rangers --- anyone tries to cause trouble, they're liable to get a mouthful of loose teeth."

"I just still can't believe that the Prince of Wales, the future King of England, isn't gettin' married in England," I said. "That doesn't make sense."

"Him and what's her face are flyin' back to England right after the reception for a religious ceremony at one of the castles," Mike said. "That's why they need the helicopter. I guess the Prince's jet is gonna land up at the County Airport."

"If this is a big secret, why do they need a hall for the reception?" I said.

"Well, they wanna have a few witnesses, and like I said, the Prince liked the Mon Valley hospitality years ago," Mike said. "So the guys from the department and their wives are all comin' --- no sweatpants, I told 'em, strictly dress uniforms --- and I invited the Women's Welsh Club and the St. David's Society and the St. Andrew's Society. I asked the guy if I should invite the Ancient Order of Hibernians, too, but he said I better not."

"What are you servin'?" I said.

"They ain't stayin' for dinner, which is a shame," Mike said. "We got a deluxe package with Conrad Catering, you get fried chicken, rigatoni, stuffed cabbage, halushki, cole slaw, potato salad, the whole thing. But we're just gonna get some scones and tea cakes. You think Giant Eagle has them?"

"Better check Sam's Club, you might get a better price."

"Good point," Mike said. "We need a bunch of streamers, too. British colors are red, white and blue, right? So that's OK. You gotta promise me, you're not gonna tell nobody until Friday, right? Don't even write about it on your stupid web thing."

"No one reads my web thing anyway," I said, "but my lips are sealed."

"Boy, this is really gonna put our fire hall on the maps," Mike said. When I left, he was trying to figure out how to fit "WELCOME HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS CHARLES THE PRINCE OF WALES" onto the marquee out front.

Well, as it turns out, I can write about it now, because Mike called me last night and said the deal was off.

"The queen found out and had a conniption fit," Mike said. "So they're going back to their original plans to have the wedding in England. And besides, it looks like it's getting postponed for a day because of the pope's funeral, and I told the embassy we need the hall Saturday for the Krupinskis' wedding anniversary."

"You must be disappointed," I said.

"You don't know the half of it," Mike said. "I even went up to Sam's Club like you said."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. I can use up the streamers, but what the hell am I supposed to do with forty cases of scones?"

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April 01, 2005 | Link to this story

There Went the April Fool

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