Filed Under: default || By jt3y
Category: default || By jt3y
In memory of the late Don Martin, feel free to go ape today!
George W. Bush will be delivering his 2006 State of the Union address on National Gorilla Suit Day. I think it would be a nice gesture of respect to the holiday if he addressed the joint Houses of Congress wearing a gorilla suit.
And it would be a nice gesture of respect to the country if he announced that he's going to deliver all the funding that was promised to the states devastated by Hurricane Katrina, if he'd pledge to turn over all the records of Jack Abramoff's dealings with the White House, if he'd admit that his revamp of the Medicare prescription drug plan has been an utter disaster that needs drastic repair, if he'd forget his silly notion of medical savings plans that will only destroy health care further, if he'd promise that all our troops fighting overseas will immediately get body armor and better medical care, if he'd clearly define what has to be achieved before most of them can be brought home, and if he'd fire everyone in his administration who has proven to be incompetent.
Of all these gestures, I'm guessing the gorilla suit is the most likely.
Category: default || By jt3y
A tip of the Tube City hard hat to Woy over at Grabass, who linked to the Almanac last week at the suggestion of Alert Reader Arden.
Writes Woy, "I'm hoping the addition of this quality blog entices Tube City to come to Blogfest 6."
Apparently I'm becoming a real underground success story. In another 25 years I'll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight.
I suppose I could quote Groucho Marx's quip about not belonging to any club that would have me as a member, but that would unfairly malign the people who attend the "blogfests."
I'm not sure why people are so eager to meet me. Believe me, I'm welcome anywhere once, but second invites are rare.
Take the last social gathering I attended. I spent the entire time sitting in the corner, shouting obscenities, my damp gabardine pants hitched up to my armpits, trying to smooth down my combover with one hand while using the other hand to whack people with my cane. Grandma says that's the last time I'm allowed to attend her birthday party.
The fact is that the home only allows me a certain number of unescorted visits off of the grounds, and unfortunately, I use those on trips to the methadone clinic and to buy Hummel figurines. But maybe some day.
Category: default || By jt3y
I'm thinking about putting on my best dirty trenchcoat, hiding in an alley, and calling out to people like Sheldon Leonard: "Psst. Hey, buddy? C'mere. Wanna buy some cold tablets? I got Sudafed, Contac, Dimetapp, store brands. Good stuff."
Betcha I get more than a few customers, at least until my friendly neighborhood narco agent swoops down from a helicopter and busts me.
Hay fever, my friends, has driven me to contemplate a life of crime. I've had sinus problems for as long as I can remember, and none of the big nationally-advertised prescription medications --- Allegra, Clairton ... er, I mean, Claritin, Flonase, Zyrtec, Alavert --- have done anything for me. Instead of draining my sinuses, they pack 'em up, so that after a week or so, my head is thumping like the floors of Heinz Field during a Steelers rally.
Finally, in frustration, I asked my druggist two years ago what I should do. "A lot of people have luck with pseudoephedrine," he said, handing me a package of Contac.
Contac? Good ol' Contac? Get out of dodge. Surely there were better products available than Contac, which came out in the '60s, I think.
Glory, hallelujah, was I wrong. My nose unstuffed, my head cleared, and my eyes stopped watering. So I started taking two Contac tablets --- one in the morning, one at night --- every day.
And then about a year ago, I ran out, needed them in a hurry, and I stopped into a big chain drugstore near my office. They didn't have Contac, or Dimetapp, or Sudafed, or anything else containing pseudoephedrine. I ended up snuffling my way through the rest of the day until I could get to my regular pharmacist.
A few months later, I was back in the same drugstore and saw that the brands were back on the shelves --- not the products themselves, just the brand names, printed on little plastic tickets. To buy a box of Contac or Dimetapp, you have to take the little plastic ticket to a pharmacist.
You see, addicts have been synthesizing crystal methamphetamine from cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine, so Pennsylvania --- like more than two dozen other states --- is trying to further restrict over the counter sales.
On the surface, this wouldn't seem to be that big of a deal. It didn't to me, since I usually buy my fix ... er, medicine ... from my friendly neighborhood druggist. His store is small enough that everything is behind the counter --- there's no ticket system. And he sees me on a regular basis, so he knows I'm not an addict. (OK, I'm addicted to these. But that's it! Honest! And I can quit any time I want!)
But buying the damned pills from anyone else is a real pain in the keister.
Take a certain large retail chain whose name I will not mention, but whose obnoxious TV commercials feature a bull terrier dog with a bull's eye painted on his face.
When I purchased a 10-pack of cold tablets there, the pharmacy employee made a copy of my driver's license, demanded my phone number, and made me sign a paper certifying that I wasn't going to go home and cook up a batch of meth with them. Personally, I don't want that large retail chain having my name, address, driver's license number and phone number. It's none of them damned business ... and who knows what else they're going to do with the information?
Or take the certain large chain drugstore near my office. Go ahead and take the ticket up to the pharmacist. You'll go through a similar inquiry, and have to fill out a form, and then answer questions. I think I'd have less trouble trying to fill a prescription for codeine that was written out on "Hello Kitty" stationery.
Something else bothers me: I'm usually dressed like a sober, responsible citizen, often in a suit and tie. What happens to some poor guy who drives a garbage truck ... or Lord forbid, is a minority ... when he tries to buy some cold tablets? If I'm already getting the third degree, I'll bet he's getting the fourth or fifth degree.
It amazes me that I could buy any number of harmful products --- razor blades, cigarettes, cans of lighter fluid, lye, carbolic acid, copies of the National Enquirer --- in the very same stores without having to fill out forms or ask for permission. Everything except the cigarettes are right there on the shelf, and could do a lot more damage to my health, or someone else's, than cold tablets.
I suppose I wouldn't mind a little inconvenience, if this rigamarole was actually keeping crystal meth off of the streets of Our Fair City and its environs. But Alert Reader Jonathan sent me a link to a New York Times story that indicates that the lack of home-grown hillbilly crank is fueling imports of much more potent meth from Mexico:
"Our burglaries have just skyrocketed," said Jerry Furness, who represents Buchanan County, 150 miles northeast of Des Moines, on the Iowa drug task force. "The state asks how the decrease in meth labs has reduced danger to citizens, and it has, as far as potential explosions. But we've had a lot of burglaries where the occupants are home at the time, and that's probably more of a risk. So it's kind of evening out."
Shocking --- restricting access to something only drove the price higher, and increased the seriousness of crime! Gee, that's never happened before.
The Times says that "in many of the states with recent pseudoephedrine restrictions, frustration with the stubborn rate of addiction has moved the discussion from enforcement to treatment and demand reduction. That discussion, officials say, will be much tougher."
Well, duh, again.
In the meantime, our elected representatives in the U.S. Congress are preparing to create federal laws restricting the sale of over-the-counter cold medicines with pseudoephedrine, despite the fact that such restrictions on the state level aren't keeping the bad guys from getting meth. And lest you think I'm picking on Republicans, this is bipartisan hackery --- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, is one of the people pushing such legislation.
(Feinstein's office helpfully suggests that the drug companies can "reformulate their cold medicines without using pseudoephedrine." Genius logic there. Well, my sinuses and I would like to point out that if something else worked as well, they wouldn't have to sell pseudoephedrine, would they? Aspirin works for some people; acetaminophen works for others. We don't take one or the other off the market and tell the people who need it, "Tough luck.")
To me, this is a symptom of the paranoia that is running amok in this country --- the paranoia that leads the feds to start tapping phone calls without warrants or probable cause, and half the country thinks that's "OK"; the paranoia that has led us to line up, like sheep in pens, at the airport so that harassed civil servants can investigate our underwear, while the government fails to take the concrete actions necessary to actually make travel safer.
And instead of sealing the border against drug trafficking ... or investing money and time into effective treatment centers ... we're taking legal, effective medications with safe uses off the market.
I'm not saying that there's any maliciousness at work. But to quote the late, great Mike Royko: "For every honest, inoffensive, harmless citizen, there is a bureaucrat waiting for a chance to goof him up."
In the name of safety, the bureaucrats are goofing up more people than ever these days. I keep waiting for the pendulum to swing back the other way ... and I guess I may have to keep waiting.
Until then, does anyone know one of these Mexican drug mules? Mind you, I don't want anything except advice.
I figure that if they have so little trouble bringing crystal meth into the United States, maybe they can suggest some ways that I can buy a package of Dimetapp without submitting to a body cavity search.
Elsewhere in the News: Au revoir, le magnifique. No wonder he's had so many health problems --- he's been carrying a hockey team on his back for 20 years.
Category: default || By jt3y
The downside, of course, is that we have to listen to "Here We Go" by The Fan Club for another two weeks.
Category: default || By jt3y
A federal grand jury this morning handed up an 84-count indictment against Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, alleging he used his office as coroner to conduct private pathology business and used public employees to perform some of that work.
The indictment also accuses Dr. Wecht of falsely billing several private clients for such items as transportation to and from the Pittsburgh airport when he was, in fact, driven there by county employees.
The indictment accuses him of mail and wire fraud; theft of honest services; and theft from an organization that receives federal funds. (Post-Gazette)
Category: default || By jt3y
Well, it seems that Denver columnist Bill Johnson, frightened by the howls of protest from angry Stiller fans over his thinly-sourced screed in the Rocky Mountain News this week, has recanted. Sort of:
The people here, I will admit, are some of the nicest folks I have encountered in a decade. And even they will acknowledge --- if they are the slightest bit liquored-up --- what your eyes are screaming at you: The place is kind of grimy and, well, kind of ugly.
So what if you have a corrugated-steel lumber mill from the 19th century plopped right in the middle of the old neighborhood. In Denver, it would now be resting for eternity in a landfill. Here, they rip out just enough from the inside to turn it into gleaming, not-too-cheap condos, restaurants and office space.
The place where I ate breakfast, with its thick wood paneling, was a firehouse back in the 1800s. The old railroad station up the street? Today, it houses fancy cheese and wine shops, linen-tablecloth restaurants and boutiques.
"Hey Bill, How are things up on BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN?? Nice and Clean?!?!?!?" "Bill Johnson is a moron!" "Mr. Johnson, you might want to look in the mirror before you call anybody butt-ugly. You are no prize pig yourself." "The light reflecting of your big a-- forehead looks metal gray in your picture." "I thiink (sic) you are butt ugly Bill Johnson." "Such a closed mind for such a big head." "You have some nerve calling The Burgh 'ugly' -- you look like a cracked-out Flip Wilson..."
Category: default || By jt3y
It's become a tradition as beloved as income taxes: Before any pro football playoff game, the newspaper columnists in each city have to trash-talk the opposing team's hometown. Hilarity and boffo larfs ensue. And if you believe that, I have a lifetime subscription to the Jeannette News-Dispatch that I'd like to sell you.
The Post-Gazette used to crank out these things every week while the Steelers were in the playoffs. In fact, on at least one day during each playoff week, they used to devote most of a sports section to "trash talk," and it was as funny as a sucking chest wound. They may still be doing it, and they're probably just as idiotic as ever, but if they are, I haven't noticed them.
Maybe it's merely an indication of how coarse our culture has become, but to me, pieces like these also prove that many newspaper managers are as tone-deaf as Wal-Mart guitars, and I say this because I no longer entertain any notion that I'll ever be allowed within 500 feet of a newspaper job again.
So when Mike Madison of Pittsblog pointed out that a columnist for the Denver Rocky Mountain News had written one of these stupid things about Picksberg (a city of some size north of Our Fair City), I groaned, but I drifted over to read it.
At the very least, I thought the Denver column might be good for a sick laugh. Alas, I didn't think it would be full of obvious fabrications. Mr. Bill Johnson of the Rocky Mountain News, you're full of baloney. (Or "jumbo" as we "frothing at the mouth" Steeler fans might say.)
I won't bother dissecting Mr. Johnson's entire column, which ran in Wednesday's paper. But I will say that Mr. Johnson is (a.) a fabulist, (b.) a lazy writer or (c.) a sloppy reporter. He can take his pick or mix 'n match 'em, for all I care.
In any event, I hope he didn't ask the Rocky for reimbursement for his trip to Picksberg, because I'm not sure he made it out of the airport. If he did, he didn't do much work.
In fact, he seemed to spend most of his time in bars, where he learned --- to his surprise --- that people seemed to be drinking and talking about sports.
Now, that's what you call your A-1, hard-hitting journalism, right there. In future columns, perhaps Mr. Johnson can report that people in swimming pools are wet, or that people at the mall are "usually shopping for goods and services."
But if we're going to find fault with every little sentence, well, we'll be here all day, and I don't have the time or the inclination to bother. So let's pick apart some of the more obvious clinkers in Mr. Johnson's masterpiece.
Clinker No. 1: Mr. Johnson writes that: "On my way to the hotel, there is a man standing on a busy street corner, wearing a halter-top dress. He holds a sign in his hands that says: 'I BET AGAINST THE STEELERS.'"
This is a big boo-boo, Mr. Johnson, unless you flew into Allegheny County Airport and stayed, say, at the Large Hotel. That incident, as David Whipkey reported in Wednesday's Daily News, happened in West Elizabeth on Route 837.
There is no way in hell your rental car went through West Elizabeth on the way from Findlay Township to downtown Picksberg, unless you're one lousy driver. Maybe you saw the incident on the news, but you didn't even quote the sign correctly.
In any event, you didn't see it "on a busy street corner on the way to the hotel." You made that up. Naughty, naughty.
(And while we're on the subject, I've heard of a "halter top," but what the heck is a "halter-top dress," anyway? Perhaps the women wear those in Denver, Lord only knows.)
Clinker No. 2: Mr. Johnson claims that he was subject to "an unprovoked lecture" by a rental car clerk at the airport, whose "face (turned) red immediately upon seeing my Colorado driver's license." That doesn't even make sense.
If you were a rental car employee, would you harangue a customer? You'd get your rear-end fired. So unless you want to give up a name, Mr. Johnson, of either the company or the employee, I'm gonna have to call "bull" on that one, too.
It certainly is convenient, though, how the people in your column offer up perfect quotes to illustrate how stupid and ugly Picksberg is, which just happens to be the point (and I use that word loosely) at which you seem to be driving.
Clinker No. 3: Mr. Johnson writes: "I will tell you this, something I would never tell one of the locals. Pittsburgh is one butt-ugly town. It is precisely the type of town that would name its professional football team the Steelers. Old mills, long stilled, dot the town. Weeds spill from smokestacks. Across the Ohio River from where I write this rises downtown Pittsburgh, as dark and forbidding a skyline as you will ever encounter."
Now I know you're full of that stuff that comes out of the north end of a southbound bronco. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so if you think Picksberg has a lousy skyline (compared to what, Denver?), well, that's your opinion. Lots of people disagree. Personally, I like Our Fair City's skyline better (the sun glinting off of the steeples and the weeds on the roof of the Penn-McKee are particularly nice in the fall), but that's just me.
But objectively speaking, the only hotels on the Ohio River that would grant a view of downtown Picksberg are the new ones near PNC Park and Heinz Field. And from those, you're not going to see any "old mills, long stilled" with weeds spilling from smokestacks, Fibby McFibsalot.
Since you also apparently spent some time over on the South Side, you didn't see any "old mills, long stilled" over there, either. They were torn down to make way for the South Side Works, which may be a bland, boring and homogenized suburban-style shopping plaza, but it's definitely not an "old mill, long stilled."
(You wanna see old mills, we've got old mills down in the Mon-Yough area, sporty, but seeing them would have required real reporting that took you more than a few blocks from your hotel room.)
So, I'm guessing you cribbed your description from the moldy old clippings in the Rocky's library, or maybe from a Lexis-Nexis search. Or, perhaps American Movie Classics recently ran "Flashdance" and "Gung Ho" back to back as part of an "'80s Movie Weekend," how should I know? No matter: Your veracity average isn't so hot, if these examples are any indication.
By the way, I'm not sure what the crack about, "precisely the type of town that would name its professional football team the Steelers," is supposed to mean.
So they're named the "Steelers," as opposed to what? Something real creative like the "Rockies"? Or perhaps we could name one of our teams the "Avalanche," after those big piles of snow that come down off of mountains and crush people to death. Now that's a much more inspiring name. (See? That's how you talk trash, chump.)
There are guys in the third day of a four-day drunk, passed out behind the state store, who immediately upon awakening to use the men's room could come up with more pungent insults that the treacle you've larded into your column, Mr. Johnson.
There are plenty of real things to poke fun at in Western Pennsylvania, but again, you didn't bother doing any real work. You toured a few South Side bars and took a few badly-aimed cheap shots.
This column is a perfect example of why newspapers are running --- not sliding --- toward irrelevancy. Too many newspaper writers are lazy and reliant on tired old formulas, and they take obvious shortcuts. Maybe something like your column was funny 20 years ago, but now, it's just lame.
And they also don't seem to realize that their work is instantly available, via the Internet, for others to find those obvious shortcuts, and to poke fun at them. Like little old me, for instance.
According to Mr. Johnson's biography on the Rocky website, he "won the National Headliner Award's First Place for Columns in 1995 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary in 1993." He also was a faculty member at the University of Arizona.
Well, I haven't taught anyone anything since I was the senior patrol leader of my Boy Scout troop and held a knot-tying demonstration (I barely escaped with my fingers intact), so far be it from me to offer advice to an obvious writing expert.
Nevertheless, here's one tip: If you're going to sucker punch someone, you'd better make sure the first blow is hard, and true. You swung wild, and missed.
As for your Pulitzer nomination, it's too bad they don't have a category for "most egregious use of hackneyed cliches," Bill. You'd have that prize locked up.
But until someone gives you what you so richly deserve, why don't you take your column, soak it in that cat whiz that Coors calls "beer," and stick it? About a mile high up ought to do it, I think.
Category: default || By jt3y
An item of interest for Mssrs. Mellander and Mamula, fans of coffee 'n pie: Lenny's --- aka Irwin's Colonial Grille --- is re-opening soon.
Great googly-moogly! I didn't realize it was closed. I had breakfast at the Grille not long ago (it must have been longer than I thought, though) with retired Daily News city editor Don Fox. Apparently, Gary Santimeyer --- son of Grille founder and North Irwin Mayor Lenny Santimeyer --- put the restaurant up for sale when he opened a bed and breakfast in West Newton.
Patti Dobranski of the Trib reports that most of the old employees are returning, including chef Bobby Van Ryn. The Grille specialized in comfort foods like homemade soup, ham barbecue, roast beef and some dynamite fried chicken. If Colonel Sanders had Lenny Santimeyer's recipe for fried chicken, he'd have made general.
Two features will be lost: The Grille will be a non-smoking restaurant, and the lottery machine won't return. (They're keeping the counter, though ... right? Right?)
I'm surprised a bed and breakfast didn't fly in West (by God) Newton. All roads lead to West Newton, and if you don't believe me, take a look at any local highway --- U.S. 30, Route 48, Route 51, I-70, Route 136 --- and chances are you'll see a sign pointing to West Newton.
This has lead Dr. Pica Pole, director of the Tube City Online Laboratories and Laundromat, to devise what he calls his "Grand Universal Unification Theory of West Newtondom," which postulates that West Newton is actually the center of the known universe. Specifically, the eastern corner of South Fourth Street and Vine Street.
Dr. Pole is planning to do additional research on this theory, just as soon as he finishes drying out.
Meanwhile, North Huntingdon Township commissioners are expected to vote Wednesday whether to allow a new commercial development near Norwin Hills Shopping Center, writes Marsha Forys in the Trib.
The commissioners are also expected to vote on revisions to the new Wal-Mart Supercenter shopping plaza, planned for along Barnes Lake Road.
And Tube City Omnimedia is taking reservations for helicopter rides between Jacktown Hill and Adamsburg, because once all of this retail malarkey is completed, you're not going to be able to use Route 30 any more.
By the way, our suggested detour around all that congestion?
You guessed it: It goes through West Newton.
From the "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Dept.," we read in the News that some veterans from Lincoln Borough are upset over recent additions and corrections to the war memorial there.
At the unveiling of the new tablets --- meant to add names that were omitted, as well as to recognize soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who served in Afghanistan and Iraq --- two vets waved plastic bags inscribed with the word, "shame," reports Raymond Pefferman.
A curator from the National Park Service has now stepped in to make recommendations to resolve the dispute.
Now, if Lincoln Borough's monument took up several acres of property on the National Mall in Washington (dee-cee, not pee-ay), I could understand the fuss. But we're talking about a brick monument at the fire hall, for goodness' sake.
True, the memorial is a little ... well, let's say "folksy" and "rustic." It won't make anyone forget the Washington Monument, and it isn't exactly built the way I would have done it. Yet I can't imagine that any disrespect was intended.
Couldn't this have been resolved with a handshake, and a promise by those upset to design something better? Lincoln Borough is not exactly New York City, and surely people could have worked together on this if residents weren't satisfied.
And surely they still can, right?
You can see a PowerPoint presentation of photos from Penn State McKeesport Campus' fall commencement at the PSM website. The keynote speaker was Veronica Montecinos, an associate professor of sociology at McKeesport Campus.
She's an expert on economics, politics and gender relations in Latin America, and a graduate of the Catholic University of Chile and the University of Pittsburgh. Montecinos is also collaborating on research about technology policy with the United Nations Institute for Social Development.
Finally, the McKeesport Recreation Board recently reminded the Almanac that it has a website. Upcoming events include an Easter egg hunt at Renziehausen Park on April 8 and the first day of trout fishing at Lake Emilie on April 15. That's convenient --- after doing your taxes, you can work out your frustration by drowning some worms.
To Do This Weekend: Penn State McKeesport Campus marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day at 7 p.m. Monday with a speech by civil rights activist and former Pittsburgh city councilman Sala Udin. The free event will be held in the Ostermayer Room of the new student union. (I still call it the Buck Union Building.) Call (412) 675-5010 or visit PSM's website ... Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club hosts a dance at The Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 678-6979 ... Bulgarian-Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center, 449 W. 8th Ave., West Homestead, is selling homemade soups this Saturday. Call (412) 461-6188.
Category: default || By jt3y
An item worth notice around these parts is one that's near and dear to my heart --- and my cholesterol, too, for that matter. Sam's has closed, hopefully to reopen. I was in on the next-to-last day for my next-to-last hot dogs with chili sauce and onions, and it was just as noisy, raucous and smoke-filled as ever.
Sam's holds a special place for me because my grandfather, during the Depression, worked for a time as a chauffeur for Sam Pandel, the eponymous founder. From what I can gather, Sam's (originally known as The Superior Restaurant) was initially a place of higher aspirations than a hot-dog joint.
A few days after Christmas, Pat Cloonan reported in the News that Sam's had been sold by caterer Phil Haughey to a Monroeville realtor who may try to resurrect a bit of that former glory:
"He has solid training in more conventional restaurants, Red Lobster, Pizza Oven. That's where his training has been, (with) years of management training under his belt," Haughey said.
Brentley might even tweak a recipe served more than 10 million times over more than eight decades.
"He's very interested in getting the original Sam's hot dog sauce," Haughey said, referring to the restaurant's chili sauce, served with mustard and onions on a steamed bun.
Category: default || By jt3y
Yes, it's an unusual Saturday Almanac, but these are unusual times in Mon-Yough country, as we'll see in a minute.
That "thud" you heard in the 11th Ward yesterday was the other shoe --- a G-man's brogan, no doubt --- falling hard on the offices of Capco Contracting. Owner Thomas Cousar, two Capco managers, and a fourth man are charged in what the Post-Gazette's Torsten Ove called "a complex scheme" to overbill the U.S. government for work relating to the reconstruction of the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Cousar and the Capco personnel are also charged with ripping off the companies that built PNC Park and the Petersen Events Center.
Federal prosecutor Mary Beth Buchanan says what the Post-Gazette calls "padded bills, falsified documents, tax fraud and kickbacks" cost the contractors and the taxpayers more than $1 million.
She said that the alleged Petersen Center and PNC Park frauds "cost the general contractors on those projects, but not the taxpayers," but that's a lot of hooey, it says here. If true, the extra costs no doubt helped drive up the price of both the Petersen Center and PNC Park, both of which relied in part on tax assistance to one degree or another --- the Petersen being owned by the University of Pittsburgh and PNC Park being owned by the Sports & Exhibition Authority.
(Standard disclaimer: I do not speak for the University of Pittsburgh. They don't speak for me. Some days, I don't even speak for myself. But on other days, I do talk to myself. That's a story for another time.)
The government alleges that sometimes, Capco diverted supplies, including ceiling tiles and drywall, from the Pentagon job site to McKeesport, where they were reused in other projects. Other times, Capco was charging the feds for the cost of workers who were supposed to be at the Pentagon; instead, they were on Walnut Street, helping build, among other things, the (now-closed) Tube City Cafe.
Though the restaurant wasn't open for very long, I ate there several times, and it kind of turns my stomach to think that all of the old pictures and McKeesport memorabilia were hung on walls that were supposed to be replacing the ones taken out in Washington, D.C., when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building.
Sixty-four people, including the suspected terrorists, died on the plane, and 125 people died on the ground. And if the feds are to be believed, Mr. Cousar diverted money and material that was to be used to help bind up the wounds back to McKeesport to build ... a so-so restaurant.
Tube City Cafe, and Capco's offices next door, were raided by federal agents two years ago. The feds are now trying to seize Cousar's house in Monroeville and the Capco offices.
If I can be pedantic for a moment --- and I can be pedantic for a lot longer than that, believe me --- note that Cousar is from Monroeville these days. And yet all of the newspaper headlines call him a "McKeesport contractor." Let Monroeville take credit for him!
It wasn't that long ago that folks were lauding Cousar as a local success story. The county gave him a $400,000 loan in 2003 to build a new warehouse in the Third Ward, on the site of the old Tube City Brewing Co. Said Cousar at the time: "Having the opportunity to build the new Capco office in the 3rd Ward, one block away from my roots of Harrison Village, is a great endeavor. Walnut Street used to be a culturally diverse and dynamic business community. It has great potential to regain that vibrance and I’m proud that Capco can be involved.”
But construction work at the warehouse stopped when the federales busted in a few months later. The unfinished shell of the building sits there, still, another empty building amid all of the other empty and dilapidated buildings in the neighborhood.
If the indictment is accurate, then it doesn't look good for Cousar or Capco.
On the other hand, if there's any painting work that needs to be done at Allenwood Federal Penitentiary, I think the warden may soon be in luck.
By the way, although this is Tube City Online and the Tube City Almanac, I have absolutely no connection to Tube City Cafe. I did bid on a Pentagon contract recently, but was disqualified, on the dubious grounds that I was --- as they put it --- "an incompetent ninny."
Nostalgia note: The Capco offices were once the home of Gilbert Lumber, a nice hardware store and lumberyard I had the pleasure of dealing with numerous times when I was a kid. Like most of our local lumberyards, they were run out of business by the big chains --- first, Hechinger and Builder's Square, and now Lowe's and Home Depot. If the federal charges are accurate, then the guys currently running that building are a distinctly different breed from the people who ran Gilbert Lumber.
Meanwhile, the news remains weird out of Our Fair City's school district. The Trib and the News are both reporting that two teachers from Cornell Intermediate School have been accused of practicing some sexual education in a classroom there while two other teachers guarded the door.
(How do you get asked to do that favor? "Say, Bert, you don't have a class to teach seventh period, right? Maybe you can help me out ....")
Both of the teachers accused have been placed on paid leave and the district has hired an out-of-town attorney to conduct an investigation (I almost wrote "probe," a-huh-huh-huh-huh). The Picksberg TV news yakkers had a field day with this, naturally: "Teachers having sex in school! We'll have the shocking story, and the reaction, next at 11!" (Followed by a five-minute discussion of partly cloudy skies and a three-minute dissertation on Ben Roethlisberger's thumb.)
Hiring someone without ties to the district seems like the right move. Getting an outsider to conduct the inquiry should help insulate the district against charges that it's trying to sweep this under the rug --- assuming, that is, that the school board releases the findings, and we all know that school boards just love to be completely forthcoming with taxpayers.
Ah, right. I'll give 'em the benefit of the doubt and hope they continue to do the right thing. And since one of the alleged lookouts says he wasn't even working for the district when the supposed incident happened, I'll give the teachers the benefit of the doubt, too,
As long as they weren't diverting construction supplies from the site of one of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I might be able to tolerate teachers knocking boots in the cloakroom, but even I have my limits.
Category: default || By jt3y
Jonathan Barnes, who covers Our Fair City for the Post-Gazette, has been covering the Sago Mine disaster for the Reuters news agency. He's writing about his experiences at his blog, Barnestormin. If you want to read the stories behind the headlines, this is good stuff --- go read it.
(We can debate why Reuters and other print agencies aren't running in-depth pieces like these, instead of Jonathan having to publish them for free on his blog, but newspapers and wire services these days like to spend more time wringing their hands than fixing their problems. That's a discussion for another time, and besides, Dave Copeland is already having it.)
Dennis Roddy's piece in the P-G this morning packed an emotional wallop, too.
Category: default || By jt3y
"OK, wiseguy," I heard you say after yesterday's Almanac, "if you're so smart, what would you do with the People's Building?"
I'm glad you asked that, hypothetical straw man that I'm using to set up my argument.
It strikes me that Our Fair City is stuck with two white elephants (no, not the White Elephant) right now: The People's Building and the closed Lysle Boulevard parking garage.
The People's Building lost its primary reason for being when the doctors, lawyers and insurance agents that made up most of its tenants bought their own buildings out in White Oak and Versailles. (A soft real-estate market and low interest rates will do that.) Combine that with the lack of free on-street parking nearby, and a building like the People's Building has a tough time competing.
The Lysle garage was hit by several whammies --- first, some of its most reliable tenants were the employees of National Works, just across the railroad tracks. Some 7,000 men and women were employed at the plant in its heyday. With the mill's closure, and the demolition of most of the buildings for the RIDC Industrial Park, the employees of the remaining businesses can now be accommodated on-site. Second, the decline of the Downtown business district (coincident, if not directly caused by, the mill's decline) eliminated much of the need for parking. Third, the garage needs significant repairs that weren't cost effective to accommodate the handful of cars still using it --- especially when plenty of other parking capacity exists Downtown.
Now, the Almanac is on record as thinking the garage should be purchased by or given to Port Authority Transit for use as a park-and-ride ... I figure that rehabbing the old girl has to be cheaper than the $21 million PAT spent to build a garage in South Hills Village.
Since we have a big empty office building across Lysle Boulevard, let's go further.
One of the things that chased the doctors, lawyers, insurance agents and other tenants out of the People's Building was parking --- or at least that's one of the excuses. Well, here's a parking garage catty-corner across the street.
But wait --- decades of parking at malls and shopping centers have conditioned Americans, frankly, to feel that they shouldn't have to walk more than a hundred feet, or get their tootsies wet, when they go from their car to an office or store. They certainly don't want to cross a state highway.
So, let's take a page from The Waterfront in Homestead, and from any number of cities (Rochester, N.Y., for instance) and connect the garage to the People's Building with a spiffy looking pedestrian bridge. I'm thinking of something that's mostly glass, but trimmed in Russian iron and circular steel products, to celebrate the city's heritage. And a nice, polished metal sign that said, "Welcome to McKeesport" would be a handsome gateway to motorists passing through OFC to boot.
And let's put a bridge and staircase from the other side of the garage, too, across the CSX railroad tracks and into the RIDC park.
Renovating the garage has to be at least a $3 million project, I'm guessing, at least. Maybe more. Assuming that it's free to park-and-ride customers, then it ought to be divided between the city Redevelopment Authority, the RIDC, and the Port Authority. And it seems to me that since the federal and state governments are so big these days on "inter-government cooperation," then there ought to be grant money available for something like this. Possibly private grants, too.
Now, there are some problems to overcome. For instance, the People's Building is not directly across the street from the garage, the pedestrian bridge would have to "dog leg." Air rights would have to be negotiated with the owners of the building that houses CVS drug store. Permission would have to be gained from PennDOT, because Lysle Boulevard is a state highway. And I have no idea what the bridge would cost.
Still, I have to imagine that all this could be worked out, if someone had the will. It'd be a hell of a lot easier than building the Mon-Fayette Expressway, or maglev trains, and look how much energy we're expending on those. (And as we'll see soon, it will have a better, and quicker, payoff to the city than either of those.)
So, once we get people from their cars to the People's Building, what are they going to find? The same old cramped, 1900s vintage offices?
Not on your autographed photo of George H. Lysle. First, the elevator is going to be upgraded to comply with modern standards for handicapped accessiblity. Maybe we're even going to install a freight elevator.
It may be worth demolishing the empty retail space next to the People's Building (formerly Ruben's Furniture, and most recently a D&K store) to put the freight entrance there, and give trucks a place to unload.
Next, heavy-duty high-speed Internet capability is going to be brought to the building by one of the big network providers, because they're going to be promised an exclusive contract to serve the tenants. Internet and phone cables are going to be pulled up through the elevator shaft.
A generator and an uninterruptible power supply is going to be installed down in the basement, where the bank vault used to be, and special electrical outlets are going to be installed throughout the building.
Then, starting floor by floor (in order to conserve capital), the old wooden and glass office partitions are going to be removed (carefully), and the floors are going to be brought up to modern standards. (We're going to save those partitions, because some tenants are going to want them to lend an appropriate "vintage" atmosphere to their offices.) That's going to include spiffy new windows, forced air heat and cooling for each floor, along with new fluorescent lights and vinyl tile and carpet.
Now, we've got an office building perfectly suited for use by any company, office, organization or firm that needs reliable computer service (practically everyone these days) but doesn't need to be in downtown Picksberg.
Such renovations are going to cost millions of dollars, of course --- $1 million a floor, I'll bet --- but even with those costs built in, the rent is still going to be considerably cheaper than rent in Picksberg. The rent will probably be less than constructing a new building out in Monroeville or something like that, and thus ideal for start-up companies.
To serve our new tenants, the first floor is going to house some type of retail operation that caters to small businesses. Maybe Kinko's or The UPS Store. Maybe a Sir Speedy printing franchise ... or perhaps a local printer. And on the mezzanine, we put a snack room with vending machines, in hopes that (eventually) a small restaurant or lunch cart moves in.
Finally, access to the upper floors of the building will be by key card only. And we'll stick a guard at the parking garage walkway at least 14 hours a day, mainly in the afternoon and overnight. That makes the building secure, and helps mitigate against the lingering perception that Downtown is "unsafe."
Is there a certain amount of risk to all of this? Of course. Would it take a lot of work by the area's politicians, banks and funding organizations? Absolutely.
The alternatives are to allow a big, empty building to continue to sit at one of the busiest intersections in town. Or worse --- to tear down a 100-year-old landmark, and leave the city with another empty lot Downtown. The existing empty lots don't seem to be too marketable ... the lot where the Memorial Theater used to stand has now been empty for 20 years.
The benefits? Well, you'd increase the value of the building, thus generating property taxes for the city. You'd fill it with people who pay occupational privilege taxes to the city. Assuming that part of the Lysle Boulevard garage remains paid parking, you'd make it a revenue-generating asset again, instead of a liability.
And if you have several 100 people working the People's Building, and parking in the Lysle garage to take the bus, you wouldn't have so many empty storefronts along Fifth Avenue ... you'd need the kinds of small businesses that spring up near office buildings. Fast food restaurants, card stores, clothing shops, and the like. You'd also raise the value of all of the surrounding buildings.
Am I crazy? Possibly, but I don't think this proposal is proof of it. Your comments, criticisms, and catcalls or welcome. And if anyone from the city, RIDC or the Downtown McKeesport Association happens to see this, and thinks that all or part of it is worthwhile, feel free to adapt the ideas as you see fit. I won't even ask for any money or credit.
A couple of rides on the new elevator would be nice, though.
To Do This Weekend: The ArtSpace 303 gallery, 303 E. Eighth Ave., Homestead, hosts "The Inside of Numbers," a sculpture installation by artist Sarah Walko. The show opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Saturday and continues through Jan. 28. Call (412) 326-0100 ... St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, 1907 Eden Park Blvd., hosts the Ukrainian Cultural Trust Choir at 3 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 678-2206.
Category: default || By jt3y
There was an upbeat story in The Daily News on Saturday about changes coming to Fifth Avenue in Our Fair City. According to the piece, by Pat Cloonan, Mayor James Brewster and City Adminstrator Dennis Pittman continue waging a relentless war of common sense in the city.
Among other things expected to transpire:
It looks like the vacant Penn-McKee Hotel could get a new lease on life after all. The registered owner, See Bee Inc. (as Tube City Almanac has reported, the tax bills go to E.L. Kemp), is near a sale or lease agreement with someone else. No word on what the building would be used for, but it seems ideal for senior-citizen housing, with possibly some light retail on the first floor. I would think its proximity to the McKees Point Marina and the Palisades would bode well.
Fifth Avenue is finally, finally being converted back to two-way traffic, pending conversion of traffic lights and approval from PennDOT. The city went through a mania in the '60s of converting streets to one-way in hopes of easing congestion in the business district. (Personally, at this point, I'd like to see a little congestion in the business district; to paraphrase the words of Yogi Berra, Downtown has apparently gotten so crowded that nobody goes there any more.)
Developer Barry Stein, who bought the Midtown Plaza Mall a few years ago and finally let sunshine beam down on Fifth Avenue again after decades of darkness, says two more stores are going to open along Lysle Boulevard. And he's purchasing the building that houses Thee Record Warehouse. The venerable record store is regrettably going out of business several years after the death of its co-founder, Dave Raymer. Stein tells Cloonan that he has plans for the building, which once housed The Canopy, but he's not going to discuss them yet.
And then there's The People's Building, formerly the People's Union Bank Building. The city treasurer's office has recently moved out of the first floor and back into the Municipal Building at Lysle and Market. All city offices are slated to move down to the former McKeesport National Bank Building once Sky Bank completes construction of its new office near McKeesport Hospital. It's nice to see that the old National Bank building (a registered historic landmark) will get a new tenant.
So where does that leave the People's Building, a venerable landmark in its own right, now a century old? (The late Mayor Joe Bendel once told me that "every Navy needs a battleship, and the People's Building is McKeesport's battleship.") According to the News, the new owner is being identified as "California-based Regis Possino." Possino is proposing that the upper floors be converted into housing, while the lower floors remain office and retail space.
Now, as I turned this around and around in my head, it just didn't seem right. I bow to no one in my affection for the city, and I feel Downtown is perfectly safe. But the perception among former McKeesporters is that Downtown is dangerous. I think that's baloney, but that's how it is.
So I question turning the People's Building into housing. It's perfectly suited for back office space for a growing company, or as a small business incubator (like the old Montgomery Ward building on Fifth Avenue near Huey Street), but I strongly doubt you'd get anyone to buy a condo or rent an apartment there. At least for a few years, until you were able to get Fifth Avenue scrubbed up and occupied by some businesses.
Anyway, I decided to see what other real estate projects Mr. Possino has been involved in. Maybe, I thought, he has a history of redeveloping old downtown properties.
Well, not exactly, though I did find a number of newspaper articles about him. If they're accurate, they don't paint a flattering picture.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls Mr. Possino "a disbarred lawyer with separate convictions for drug dealing and fraud" ("Firm's operations could trouble voters," Aug. 13, 2005).
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Possino sold 350 pounds of marijuana to undercover police officers in 1978; he lost his license to practice in 1984, and has admitted that his ineffective defense of a woman accused of murder led to her conviction ("Fighting back for her life," June 9, 2002).
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2000 that Possino was involved in what the newspaper called "fluctations" of the stock of a number of Internet companies, but it stopped short of accusing him of any wrongdoing ("Heard on the street," May 26, 2000, no public link available).
A Canadian trade publication, Stockwatch Canada, calls Possino "one of those colourful characters who suffer misfortune after misfortune, but keep bouncing back in big-league cases" and a "major behind-the-scenes player" in the General Commerce Bank of Austria ("SEC target Switzer rolls L-Air down the runway," Feb. 19, 2003).
According to the Sunday Mail of London, General Commerce Bank was implicated in 2001 "in an international fraud to ramp the prices of low-value stocks. Broking firms in Bangkok were raided and 81 people were arrested. Days later, General Commerce Bank collapsed into insolvency" ("The long trail of deceit," Jan. 27, 2002).
Now --- in all due fairness to Mr. Possino, this is a lot of "guilt by association." He hasn't been arrested. Corporations in which he's been involved have been in trouble, but as far as I can tell, he has not been charged, sued or indicted. And a marijuana-peddling conviction 27 years ago does not mean that he hasn't gone straight since then. (His willingness to speak out on behalf of the California convict speaks in his favor, I'd say.)
Also, Pittman is quoted in the News as saying Possino is "very upbeat" about the People's Building, and that he wants "to be a part of the community."
I'm willing to take Possino at his word (provided he backs his words up with activity, of course).
Still, I think city officials have plenty of reasons to be cautious. Recall that the city Redevelopment Authority sold the People's Building in 2002 to a Nevada company called Strong Partners Inc. That company then immediately re-sold the building to Geneva Equities of Santa Monica, Calif., for $2 million.
Strong, as it turned out, was a subsidiary of Geneva Equities, the president of which --- until recently --- was Possino, according to Stockwatch. In 2004, Geneva defaulted on the loan it used to buy the building. At one point, according to the same Post-Gazette story by Jonathan Barnes, Geneva wanted to donate the People's Building to "an Indian tribe to start a casino."
(Geneva is still getting the tax bills, according to the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds, so they are apparently still the legal owner.)
I wish Possino and his partners all the best in the world. I certainly hope they succeed either in redeveloping the People's Building, or selling it soon to someone who will.
But I suggest the city watch this situation very closely, and if public money is pledged to redevelop the building, I certainly hope they scrutinize any financial arrangements carefully. The picture of Possino's past activities painted by the media reports, if accurate, is not encouraging, and extreme caution and diligence are warranted.
There's plenty at stake --- including the ownership and future of one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. I spoke out, loudly, when Integra Bank threatened to tear the People's Building down. I want it to be put to a good, revenue-generating use.
I'm hopeful but extremely wary about Possino's involvement. I trust city officials are wary as well.
Category: default || By jt3y
Over the holidays, I decided to use one of my days off to go to the movies. Specifically, to see George Clooney's biopic of Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck, since I already have practically every book ever written about the Murrow/Friendly era at CBS.
(On the one occasion when I actually had an "office" as a reporter --- something like Les Nessman's "office," to tell the truth --- I had a framed picture of Murrow on the wall. I thought it would help inspire me and my co-workers to work as hard and as ethically as Murrow ... until someone asked me if it was a picture of my grandfather. It turns out they didn't know who Murrow was. Sic transit gloria mundi, Ed.)
Unfortunately, Good Night was only playing at one movie house in the area, which for the purposes of this Almanac I will call the "Hamster Hill 5," because I don't want to get my keister sued. The reason why will become apparent in a few minutes.
The Hamster Hill 5 is owned by a company that likes to portray itself as the only movie theater chain in the Pittsburgh area that shows "artsy" pictures, and that's true --- to a point. But it shows darn few of them, and it usually shows them on dimly-lit screens in theaters that are, to use a favorite phrase of my friend, the late Larry Slaugh, "upholstered toilets."
The Hamster Hill 5 is no exception. The carpets and upholstery at Hamster Hill were installed at least two owners ago, and so were the candy and popcorn, while the lobby decorations consist of several broken video games from the 1980s, and the entire theater smells like the inside of a wino's raincoat. (Or rather, um, at least what I imagine the inside of a wino's raincoat smells like. Sure, that's it.)
Anyway, a check on the Internet revealed that Good Night was showing at a 12:25 matinee at the Hamster Hill 5, which would save me several dollars off of an evening showing, so I drove into Picksberg to see it. The city neighborhood where the theater is located is notoriously hard to park in, but I did find a space, and I got to the ticket window at 12:30. (Since the previews usually eat up five to 10 minutes, I assumed I was OK.)
"One for Good Night," I said.
"Oh, I'm sorry," the lady said. "That movie already was supposed to start."
"Well, that's OK," I said. "I'm sure I didn't miss much."
"No," she said, "it was supposed to start at 12:25, but since no one was here, we didn't start it."
"Can't you just start it now?" I said.
"Oh, no, that would throw our whole schedule off."
Steam curled from under my collar, but I stayed civil. "When is the next show?" I asked.
"I might as well buy one ticket for 2:45, then," I said.
I went into the office for a little while, did some work, and then went back to the Hamster Hill 5 at 2:35. That gave me plenty of time to stop and buy a small Diet Pepsi (warm, and flat, $3) before the show, and I opened the door to the auditorium as the previews started.
Now, you know how some theaters have "Dolby surround sound"? This one had surround sound, all right --- that of 1,000 flatulent elks being dragged around a gravel parking lot by riding lawnmowers at full throttle. The previews were playing, but all we could hear was an ear-splitting "R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R!" If we had just had picture and no sound, it would have been tolerable, but this was torture.
I turned around, exited the auditorium, and went to the projection booth: It was filthy and no one was in sight. Another patron walked over to complain to the ticket seller.
"Are you sure the sound isn't supposed to be like that?" the ticket seller said, clearly unmotivated to do anything. Once we assured her that we weren't seeing The Flatulent Elk on a Lawnmower in a Gravel Parking Lot Story (which I understand Adam Sandler has optioned for a scheduled Christmas 2007 release), she promised to call the projectionist.
Time passed. The previews ended. The ticket seller lifted not a finger, so far as we could tell. The auditorium emptied, and people began milling around in the lobby, complaining to the candy-counter clerk and the ticket seller.
She promised that the projectionist was on his way. I sipped my Diet Pepsi and watched, through the smeary little window in the door to the auditorium, as the opening credits rolled on Good Luck.
More time passed. The complaints became more vocal. The projectionist is coming, the ticket seller said again. "Where the hell is he coming from?" someone yelled. Someone else demanded to see the manager. "He is the manager," she said.
After about 10 minutes, someone came ambling down the hallway, entered the projection booth, and yelled an obscenity. Suddenly the noise ended and the sound cleared up. And then he stopped the movie.
The ticket seller walked up the stairs to the booth, and they conferred quietly. Then she came back down.
"You can all have a pass to another movie," she said.
"We don't want to see another movie," someone in the crowd said. "We want to see this movie. Just re-start it."
"We can't," she said, "it would throw off our schedule."
This place is great with schedules, I thought. Sure, they never actually show anyone any movies, but they do maintain their schedules.
"How much longer is this movie here?" I asked.
"Tomorrow is the last day." I had to work the following day.
That Good Night is a black-and-white film set at CBS in the 1950s was appropriate, because I was now ready to do a full-blown Jackie Gleason-style rant --- slam my hand on the counter and start threatening to send people to the moon. I'd now killed most of a sunny day; paid to park; paid three bucks for a flat, warm Diet Pepsi; and returned twice only to be told that because of the incompetence and general laziness of the theater employees, I wasn't going to see the movie.
"I'd like my money back," I said.
"But the passes are good for six months," she said.
Now, can you imagine wanting to see anything else at the Hamster Hill 5 at this point? I can't. If Jesus Christ himself were appearing in Auditorium 4 at 12:25, 2:30, 4:45, 7:15 and 9:40, I think I'd wait for the DVD.
"My money back, please," I said.
So I exited the theater, five bucks and half a flat Diet Pepsi in hand, just as students were being dismissed from the high school up the block, which meant that traffic had come to a virtual standstill.
(Incidentally, the same chain that owns the Hamster Hill 5 recently closed one of its other theaters --- and one of its nicer ones, though it had the same surly management and the same half-comatose employees. Word is that the theater, built in the '30s, is going to be demolished for an office building. Because Lord knows that Western Pennsylvania doesn't have enough half-empty office buildings. Way to support "artsy" films, fellas.)
I suppose I can catch Good Night, and Good Luck on DVD in a few months. Still, I think there's something to be said for seeing a movie on a big screen with a live audience.
But if that movie is at the Hamster Hill 5 --- or any of the remaining theaters owned by the same company --- the something I'm going to say is, "no, thanks."
Category: default || By jt3y
A little New Year's greeting, courtesy of the late Cy Hungerford, longtime editorial cartoonist for the Post-Gazette. This graphic appeared on the front page of the P-G for Jan. 1, 1966. (Apologies for the quality --- it's taken from the microfilm at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.)