Tube City Online

Filed Under: default || By jt3y

April 28, 2006 | Link to this story

Electoral Dysfunction

Category: default || By jt3y

The Post-Gazette has endorsed state Rep. Marc Gergely for the Democratic nomination for re-election to the 35th District seat, calling George Matta's campaign one of "lies and deception."

I didn't realize this --- shame on me --- but Matta's billboards and literature claim that Gergely took a "34 percent pay raise." The P-G correctly notes that Gergely's pay raise (which he voted against, but took anyway) was only 16 percent.

And the P-G, like the Almanac last Wednesday, calls "bushwah" on Matta's claim that he's the "reform-minded and independent" candidate. Matta, notes the P-G, "was one of the party leadership's outspoken foes of the row-office reform approved by voters in 2004."

The P-G also says that Matta has fabricated the newspaper clipping shown in a TV commercial he's running (I haven't seen it). According to the P-G, the supposed headline about Marc Gergely is a complete phony.

And, according to the newspaper, Matta is also grossly distorting the amount of money that he accuses Gergely of "taking": It wasn't "taken," but was actually "legitimate expenses incurred by running a legislative office," including payments for office furniture, supplies, and rent.

"Under that twisted logic, how much money has George Matta 'taken' to operate the clerk of courts office?" editorializes the P-G, which concludes that Matta's advertising is "dim-witted" and that his "campaign mastermind" should resign.

Uh, ouch.

Matta, incidentally, has one of his billboards on the Dravosburg end of the Mansfield Bridge, and had a bunch of signs at the top of Dravosburg Hill, near Bettis Laboratory, last time I looked. That's nice attention to detail: Someone might want to tell him --- or his campaign workers --- that Dravosburg isn't in the 35th District.


Meanwhile, state Rep. Ken Ruffing, running for the Democratic nomination against perennial candidate C.L. "Jay" Jabbour and newcomer William C. Kortz II of Dravosburg, tells the newspaper he regrets voting for that pay raise.

Ruffing adds: "I don't want to be held accountable on that one vote. Judge me by my record."

Sure thing, Mr. Ruffing. What the heck is your record?


Hey! Come to think of it, which legislators from the Mon-Yough area besides Mr. Ruffing voted for a pay raise? Let me see ... oh, yeah! I remember!

Voting "yes":
Paul Costa, Democrat, Wilkins Twp.; Pete Daley, Democrat, Coal Center; Joe Markosek, Democrat, Monroeville; Ken Ruffing, Democrat, West Mifflin

Voting "no":
Jim Casorio, Democrat, Irwin; Marc Gergely, Democrat, White Oak; David Levdansky, Democrat, Elizabeth; Harry Readshaw, Democrat, Carrick

Did not vote:
Ted Harhai, Democrat, Monessen

Just remember, folks: Judge them on their records!


What's New: Appropos of the Almanac I'm writing for Monday, I've added a new story to Tube City Online's "History section."

Hi-Way Tux was a landmark on Route 30 near Irwin for more than two generations. The story is re-written from notes and interviews I did when the store closed a little more than five years ago.


To Do This Weekend: North Huntingdon Township holds its spring wildflower tour from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Saturday in Braddock's Trail Park. The tour is free and the guides are Norwin school superintendent John Boylan and local nature photographer Warren Gardner.

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April 27, 2006 | Link to this story

In Any Language, This Is Pointless

Category: default || By jt3y

It's more demographic fun from the Tube City Almanac, the Mon-Yough area's leading source of useless, but mildly interesting, data!

Earlier this week, we talked about religions in Pennsylvania. Now, thanks to the Modern Language Association, we're going to see what languages people are speaking. (Tube City hard hat tip to Penn State professor Michael Berube's "Web" "Log", where I learned of the MLA language maps in the context of a funny but pointed political essay.)

In Our Fair City, according to MLA's analysis of U.S. Census data, English speakers are by far the majority (there's no breakout for "Pittsburghese"), with 23,031 people reporting that their first language is English.

But 441 McKeesporters say their first language (the one they speak most often at home) is Spanish; 146, Italian; 110, German; 108, Serbo-Croatian; 93, Polish; 76, Greek; 74, "other Slavic languages"; 68, French; 55, Hungarian; 37, Russian; 31, French Creole; 27, Arabic; 23, African languages; 23, Japanese; 13, Korean; 9, Vietnamese; 6, Scandinavian; and 6, Portuguese (!).

International Village, indeed. Portuguese?

I have a feeling that Census data from 50, 75 and 100 years ago in McKeesport would show many of the same languages in use (I don't have that data handy, obviously), but with many more people speaking Greek, Polish, Italian, Hungarian and other Eastern and Central European languages.

We also would have had many more people speaking Scandinavian languages, particularly Swedish: Not for nothing does McKeesport have a street named for "The Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind.

All right, how about some suburbs? Say, West Mifflin?

According to MLA, 20,026 people report English is their primary language at home (again, the number of people saying "jagoff," "jumbo," and "yinz" isn't counted --- a shocking slight against the Mon-Yough area, and I intend to write my congressman).

People speaking "other Slavic languages" at home are the next largest number at 188, followed by Spanish speakers (93), French (90, and you didn't even know West Mifflin had a "French Quarter"), Italian (77), Serbo-Croatian (56), Polish (36), Korean (21), Russian (18), German (18), Urdu (!!) (17), Japanese (12), Greek (10), Vietnamese (7) and Hungarian (6, and it's nice to see there are still a few of my grandfathers' countrymen hanging around Titan Country).

Urdu, incidentally, is a language primarily spoken in Pakistan and parts of India. So why can't I get a decent curry in West Mifflin, hmm?

In North Versailles Township, according to MLA, you'll find 16 French-speaking residents who wince every time they hear someone say "ver-SALES."

You'll also find 65 people who speak Spanish at home, 55 speaking "other Slavic languages," 50 speaking Korean, 50 speaking Serbo-Croatian, 43 speaking Polish, 29 speaking Italian, 28 speaking Hindi, 14 speaking German, 11 speaking Hungarian, seven speaking Greek and five speaking Arabic. Oh, and 10,048 who only speak English.

And finally, let's look at South Versailles Township, also known as Coulter, where 151 persons report speaking English as their primary language at home, and only one person reports speaking another language --- Italian --- though since he's the only one in the 15028 ZIP code who can speak Italian, I have no idea who he's talking to. Maybe he makes a lot of phone calls to the 29 Italian speakers in North Versailles.

In any event, if you see that man, tell him "buon giorno" for me.

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April 25, 2006 | Link to this story

A Prayer of Thanks For Demographers

Category: default || By jt3y

And now, for something completely different: Maps showing the concentration of various religious groups, county by county, across the United States. They've been compiled by the Valapariso University Department of Geography and Meteorology. (Presumably, if you're praying for rain, they count you twice.)

To no one's surprise --- at least if you've seen all of the churches around here --- more than 50 percent of people in Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties consider themselves religious. (Less than 50 percent in Fayette or Greene counties make the same claim --- heathens.)

In fact, the most religious parts of Pennsylvania are the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas --- the parts of the Commonwealth traditionally considered "liberal" or "Democratic." The "T" --- the center and northern parts of the state, traditionally considered "conservative" or "Republican" --- are comparatively less religious.

Roman Catholicism is the leading religion in most Pennsylvania counties (a papist plurality?), with several counties reporting more Methodists than any other faith, and three claiming a Lutheran majority. (Paging Garrison Keillor.) The best place to find a potluck supper, of course, is still the Upper Midwest.

And if you're looking for Baptists, you go through St. Louie and Joplin, Missouri, then take a sharp left: You can't miss 'em.

On the other hand, you're hard-pressed to find a Unitarian around here, with many counties reporting no Unitarians, and all of the remainder reporting fewer than 1 percent. There are even fewer Muslims in the Keystone State, and not many Quakers in the Quaker State, either.


In other news, gas prices are still under $3 in the Mon-Yough area, at least as of this morning. OK, one-tenth of a cent under $3, but still. The Mon-Yough Gas Gauge --- a copyrighted, award-seeking feature of Tube City Online, a division of Tube City Omnimedia --- is at $2.961 as of Sunday, up 18.5 cents from the week before.

Which reminds me of one of my all-time favorite gags from "The Simpsons." Neighbor Ned Flanders is lost in the countryside somewhere and doesn't know how to get back, so he stops at a pay phone.

"I'm not sure where I am, but the gasoline is a dollar forty-nine and eight-tenths," he says.

To which someone replies, "Donny's Discount Gas!"

So, why do they still price gas in 9/10ths of a cent, anyway? Opinions vary. A story from the Washington Post concludes that it's just to make the gasoline seem cheaper.

There's circumstantial evidence that it first began in the 1930s, when the federal government put a fractional tax on each gallon of gas; station owners started posting the decimal behind the price to show consumers the impact of the tax. Then, other station owners started shaving tenths of a cent off of their prices.

But that made a lot more sense (or is that "cents"?) when gasoline was 25 cents a gallon or so --- the fractional cent was a much larger proportion of the actual price. Why are we still clinging to this? You don't buy anything else in fractional cents. At least one gas station owner in California is dropping the practice altogether. Bully for him.

Then again, a state senator from Minnesota is trying to outlaw the practice, which seems like using a hammer to kill a fly.

Maybe the next time I stop at the gas station, I'll ask for $20 and 9/10ths worth of gasoline. Odds are I'll get a punch in the nose, but it will be worth it. I think everyone else should do the same thing: We'll start a movement!


Meanwhile, gas prices at Doneldo's II Citgo near the Duquesne Village Shopping Center in West Mifflin are still at 89 cents for regular, 99 cents for high-test and $1.09 for premium!

It's a pity the place has been closed for at least seven or eight years, which is the last time anyone changed the numbers on the sign. Every time I drive pass, it's like getting a glimpse of Brigadoon, or maybe Shangri-La.

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April 24, 2006 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

I was listening to Ben E. King's "Stand By Me," and thinking about all of the people who made that classic recording possible.

There's King, of course, who wrote the song, and whose magnificent vocal performance sent it straight to the top 10 charts in 1961.

But the recording itself is also a minor masterpiece. Credit Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who produced it; Stan Applebaum, who arranged it; and all of the musicians (especially in the string section) who performed on it. Then there were the mixing engineers, the people who placed the mikes, even the mastering technicians who made the final copies for distribution.

They truly made magic happen during that Oct. 27, 1960 session at Bell Sound Studios in New York City.

And then, I was thinking about what they all would have said on Oct. 27, 1960, if I had told them that some day, I would be listening to their carefully crafted melody being fed by a lousy amplifier into a dry-rotted PA speaker in the ceiling of a crowded fast food restaurant in Pittsburgh during the lunch rush, with the employees screaming over the din of the customers.

My guess is they'd have said "to hell with this" and gone home.


How did a Comic Strip Aficionado such as myself miss the fact that a popular web cartoonist is based right up the Youghiogheny River in Dawson? (Especially considering that he was mentioned last year in Gene Weingarten's chat on the Washington Post website. I read Weingarten's weekly chat transcripts religiously. Meaning, presumably, I cross myself and genuflect first.)

Anyway, in addition to comic book illustration and commercial graphic work, D.J. Coffman also draws the five times a week comic, "Yirmumah." (Warning: Some language and situations are not suitable for the easily offended.)

And the setting? Fayette-Nam, natch.


Speaking of just up the river --- but this time, the Monongahela --- here's an item of note from the Magic City, Charleroi.

You know, I've been assigned a lot of stories based on flimsy topics, so I can sympathize with the author of this front page story in Saturday's Valley Independent. It involves Charleroi Mayor Frank Paterra:

According to the mayor, his vehicle broke down as he left the borough building Thursday afternoon. He had it towed to L&M Motors in Speers, where a 1985 Camry also owned by Paterra was parked. The second car was there because it needs a new alternator, Paterra said.

The mayor did not have a ride back to Charleroi, so he drove the Camry back to Charleroi, parking it along side the borough building.

Paterra admitted that the Camry has a license plate with a registration that expired in February.

That was a Front. Page. Story.

The space might have been better left blank. Perhaps a crayon could have been supplied with each paper so that readers could doodle.


And finally, you thought mine subsidence in Western Pennsylvania was bad:

A giant sinkhole that swallowed an Alta man in his living room Friday night was still growing Sunday, delaying rescuers from recovering the body until late in the day. ...

The Alta area was heavily mined for gold in the late 1800s. A mine collapse is one likely cause of the tragedy, but officials say they can't explain it yet. A team of 100 people was investigating the site Sunday, including numerous geologists brought in to determine if the hole was safe enough to resume a recovery effort. (Sacramento Bee)

On the other hand, sometimes I wish a sinkhole would open in my basement and swallow some of the junk down there.

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April 20, 2006 | Link to this story

Hello, I'm Johnny Crash

Category: default || By jt3y

Gas station alert: The Sunoco in Lincoln Place was at $2.959 as of last night. Ye gods and little fishes.

How high's the gas price, mama?
It's two-ninety-five and risin'.
How high's the gas price, papa?
She says it's two-ninety-five and risin'.

Well, our SUV is down to fumes,
Can't buy the fuel that it consumes,
The malls are silent as the tombs,
Two-ninety-five and risin'.

How high's the gas price, mama?
It's three bucks high and risin'.
How high's the gas price, papa?
She says it's three bucks high and risin'.

No vacation this year, 'cause we can't fly,
Now our other car is runnin' dry,
We'll just sit an' watch the world go by,
Three bucks high and risin'.

How high's the gas price, mama?
It's three-fifteen and risin'.
How high's the gas price, papa?
She says, three-fifteen and risin'.

I'd buy a bike, but I'm too poor,
To take a trip to the Wal-Mart store,
And the bill collectors are at my door,
It's three-fifteen and risin'.

How high's the gas price, mama?
It's three-thirty-two and risin'.
How high's the gas price, papa?
She says it's three-thirty-two and risin'.

Now grocery prices are out of sight,
'Cause rubber and plastic supplies are tight,
If you think this is bad, just hold tight,
It's three-thirty-two and risin'.

How high's the gas price, mama?
It's three-forty-five and risin'.
How high's the gas price, papa?
She says it's three-forty-five and risin'.

Can't go to work 'cause I got no car,
Depression don't seem very far,
And our President ain't no F.D.R.,
And it's three-forty-five and risin'.
Well, it's three-forty-five and risin'.

Thank you! Thank you! Groupies always welcome!


News flash: Despite the fact that a "property tax reform" (I use the term loosely) bill is being delayed while the state House and Senate thumb-wrestle, "Fast Eddie" Rendell tells KDKA Radio he expects it to be complete within two weeks.

Coincidentally, the state primary elections are on May 16. What are the odds, you think?

And asks Alert Reader Jonathan: What are the odds that the bill will primarily benefit older Pennsylvanians? You know, the ones most likely to vote?

In fact, I expect it to come with a rider obligating the Commonwealth to provide a free cable TV channel showing nothing but "Matlock," "Wheel of Fortune" and state lottery results.

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April 19, 2006 | Link to this story

Column As I See ’Em

Category: default || By jt3y

With the state primary election fast approaching, you're asking, "Gee, I'd like to vote, but I don't remember which of our local state legislators voted for that huge pay raise. Could you help me out, Mr. Almanac person?"

That's a good question, hypothetical straw man I just introduced to make a point. Here's a reminder of which of your state representatives thought they deserved a minimum of $81,000 per year --- more than many engineers, scientists and doctors.

And just remember: They work, on average, 77 days per year.

Voting "yes":
Paul Costa, Democrat, Wilkins Twp.; Pete Daley, Democrat, Coal Center; Joe Markosek, Democrat, Monroeville; Ken Ruffing, Democrat, West Mifflin

Voting "no":
Jim Casorio, Democrat, Irwin; Marc Gergely, Democrat, White Oak; David Levdansky, Democrat, Elizabeth; Harry Readshaw, Democrat, Carrick

Did not vote:
Ted Harhai, Democrat, Monessen.


By the way: I see from George Matta's signs that he's running as an "independent voice" for the Mon Valley. (Matta is opposing Gergely for the Democratic nomination in the district that includes parts of Our Fair City, White Oak, Duquesne and Munhall.)

No offense to Mr. Matta, but as far as I'm aware, he's been involved in party politics for at least 15 years. He's the endorsed Democrat. He's the former mayor of Duquesne and the current Allegheny County Clerk of Courts (a longtime bastion of Democratic patronage). And I say that as a registered Democrat.

George Matta running as an "independent voice" is like Colonel Sanders being called a "vegetarian" because he sometimes ate corn.

Also, there's a Matta billboard near UPMC McKeesport Hospital that Matta is slapping Gergely for taking the pay raise even though he didn't vote for it. Well, it's a fair cop, guv'nor.

The "leadership" of the state General Assembly was brilliant in ramming that pay raise through. They handed every single person who wanted to run for the Legislature a perfect club with which to beat the incumbents over the head.

It might have been the smartest political move since Napoleon Bonaparte said, "Gee, it doesn't get that cold in Russia, does it?"


A quick check of the Mon-Yough Gas Gauge indicates that since March 4, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline around Our Fair City is up 54.2 cents per gallon.

That should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who drives a car or lives near a gas station, of course, but even still, it's kind of startling that in a little more than a month, it's jumped more than 50 cents.

Actually, it's jumped more than that. I've been trying to update it each Saturday, but at least two gas stations I pass each day have raised their prices twice this week. One was selling 87 octane gas at $2.799 on Saturday, but it's up to $2.899 as of this morning: It jumped six cents on Monday and four more cents either last night or this morning.

I don't really have time to make a survey more often, but if you want to report prices, feel free to visit the Gas Gauge and leave your observations in the "comments" section. (Don't feel bad if you don't know the name of the station, just describe it as best you can: "BP near Century III Mall," for instance.)

Also, I realize that the Mon-Yough Gas Gauge is not a scientific survey --- among other things, I don't survey the same stations each week, I pick them depending on where I have to travel Saturday --- but I suspect it's a reasonable guess.


Incidentally, there is no truth to the rumor that our mascot, the Tube City Tiger (does he have a name?), was so enraged by the cost of filling up his car (I think it's a GTO) that he mauled an attendant at an Exxon station.

First of all, it was a BP station, and second, it wasn't a "mauling." He just took a taste. ("Like chicken," he says.)

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April 17, 2006 | Link to this story

There's One For You, 19 For Me

Category: default || By jt3y

Did you file your state income taxes online? Holy cow, it's painless. I know the state gets a lot of grief (and rightfully so) for a lot of things, but filing your PA-40 form online isn't one of them.

I was skeptical that this supposed "advance" was really an improvement, but I'm not after this weekend. It could only be easier if they actually sent a state employee to your house to move your fingers on the keyboard --- and don't think that some state employee union isn't working on that idea. Not only do they fill out the form for you, they automatically do all of the math.

Emboldened, I decided that instead of sending in my paper form, I'd use the IRS's website. Surely if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's online service was good, then the federal government's version must be 50 times better, right? Possibly accompanied by pleasant music and photos of puppies and kittens cavorting in a field under a rainbow.

Ha ha ha ha! Fat chance, or as they say in Latin, nullo modo.

I went to the IRS website, only to find that you have to pick from a list of private third-party providers, all of whom have names like "FREE-BIG-BUCK$-$SAVE-MONEY-ONLINE.COM."

Now, I don't know much about personal finance, but I remember what my grandpa once said: "Try not to give your social security number and personal information to companies that sound like they should be selling black-market Viagra via bulk email."

So I took my chances with the paper forms, which was a little bit risky, since I took an itemized deduction this year for the first time, which required me a few weeks ago to round up a year's worth of check stubs from in my desk, in the trunk of the car, under the couch cushions, in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, etc. I was very conservative in my deductions, but I still live in mortal fear of the IRS. (Which, of course, is exactly what they want, right?)

And maybe I have reason to be scared. In checking my math, I realized that I had made several stupid errors --- I have this bad tendency, when adding a column of numbers, to suddenly subtract one instead, or vice versa. The medical term for this neurological condition is called "being a twit."

I went from a $2.88 refund to owing the government $13.12. I was afraid that if I checked my math a third time, things might get even worse, so I quit while I was ahead and sent the form.

Finally, of course, there's the Borough of North Bittyburg's tax forms, which were discussed in nauseating length at the Almanac last year.

Anyway, if you're still sweating out your taxes today, you have my sympathy. And just think ... in less than eight months, you get the chance to start the process all over again!

If that doesn't make you want to tie a copy of the federal tax code around your neck and leap off the Mansfield Bridge, I don't know what will.

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April 14, 2006 | Link to this story

Your Easter To-Do List

Category: default || By jt3y

There's plenty to do this Easter weekend. In my case, it's time to finish the taxes. I keep saying I'm going to do it, and then I get home, and look at the pile of paperwork, and groan.

Now, all things considered, it shouldn't be that hard for me. I already did a pencil draft of my federal taxes several weeks ago to see if I was getting a refund --- and since I ain't gettin' squat, I figure they can wait until the day they're due (which is Monday, April 17, this year).

(Speaking of which: The main post office on Walnut Street will not have special hours on Monday. According to the post office, the last pickup of mail Downtown is at 9 p.m., so don't plan to put things off until midnight. West Mifflin's last pickup is at 4:30 p.m., and Monroeville closes at 7 p.m., according to clerks at those offices.)

I suppose you could always electronically file an extension on your federal taxes, of course, but aren't you just postponing the inevitable?

Anyway, it's not the federal tax forms that I find most onerous. The ones I can't stand doing are the local wage tax forms. If I was ever interested in running for office, the fact that I'm habitually late with my quarterly wage tax payments would probably disqualify me. Well, that and my side business running cockfights.

(OK, I made that last part up.)

On a happier note, tomorrow will be a busy day at Renziehausen Park. The annual Easter egg hunt had to be rescheduled after it rained last Saturday; it's set to kick off at 11 a.m. at the Jacob Woll Pavilion.

Only kids ages 12 and under are eligible to participate, so you big kids can just go to Dorothy's and buy your own darned candy.

Also tomorrow, it's the opening day of trout fishing season. At Lake Emilie, fishing will get underway at 8 a.m. for senior citizens, children and the handicapped. You can see photos of last year's festivities on the city's website.

If your children are inclined to either drown some worms or hunt some eggs tomorrow, visit the Rec Board's website. Just don't get confused --- last year, someone threw a little kid in the lake to look for candy, while someone else opened an Easter egg and found live bait.

(OK, I made that up, too.)

I suspect that local creeks, including Long Run and Jacks Run, will be busy as well.

This is also the last Friday for Lenten fish fries at local churches. The folks over at have collected a list of those in West Mifflin for your convenience. The churches and the Allegheny County federation of heart bypass surgeons thank you for your support.

Out in North Huntingdon Township, Norwin Christian Church on Barnes Lake Road is having an "Easter Eggstravaganza" with games, crafts and more from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. tomorrow. Take some bunny you love. Call (724) 863-2141.

And finally, they'll be hopping in North Versailles Township as well tomorrow, with an egg decorating contest, puppet show and party at the community center, located next to the municipal building on Greensburg Pike. Events start at 2 p.m., and upset stomachs from too much candy start at 4 p.m. Call (412) 823-1177.

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April 14, 2006 | Link to this story

In Your Easter Bonnet

Category: default || By jt3y

(Larger views of page 1 and page 2 are available.)

A happy and blessed Easter to you and yours from the Tube City Almanac!

And for those of you who are celebrating Pesach this week, I apologize for not having anything in the archives, but here's a little treat anyway.

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April 11, 2006 | Link to this story

Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Lack of Point

Category: default || By jt3y

I just received a spam email from "Corine" advertising some sort of enlargement potion. That's not unusual by itself, though I did enjoy the subject line: "Impotence Cyril." Maybe that's the real reason he was in the hospital this week.

Ha! I slay me. And as we open up the ol' mailbag, we find our first missive is from Alert Reader Jeff of Hempfield, who writes regarding my tongue-lashing of those among his neighbors who are upset at the idea of paying for state police protection:

Step back from the ledge of the People's Building, my boy. Hempfield long ago figured out that one way to attract new residents is to have no cops --- keeps the taxes down.

It apparently doesn't bother the retail sector, since Hempfield is the shopping capital of Westmoreland County.

As we Hempfieldians (Hempfieldians?) already know, we don't have much real crime --- robberies, assaults, burglaries, etc. So when we do, we have a professional police force handle it.

If we had local cops, they'd spend all their time chasing kids off of playgrounds, setting up bullsh-t speed traps to pay for themselves and harassing otherwise solid citizens who might have a beer or two too many at the Grapeville fire hall.

If Hempfield and Unity start police forces, PSP-Greensburg will have nothing to do --- like the utterly redundant PSP-Washington Boulevard.

P.S. If you want to think REALLY BIG, how's this: Disband Greensburg, South Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg PDs and start a regional department for those three, Hempfield and Unity.

Jeff, I know why Hempfield Township doesn't want to pay for police. Duh: After all, I just finished my 2005 borough wage tax statement and just received my 2006 real estate tax notice. Hey, I don't want to pay for 'em, either. Also, I don't wanna pay for gas, phone, electric, etc.

I also know that Hempfield is not a den of crime and sin.

It's just that I, like the other taxpaying residents of North Bittyburg Borough, a suburb of Our Fair City, happen to think that it is --- to use a legal term --- "a pile of crap" for Hempfield to still be feeding at the state's trough.

If my mortgage company and I have to write checks to North Bittyburg to the tune of $1,700 per year --- and something like 60 percent of our borough tax dollars go to pay for public safety --- then why should Hempfield's 40,000 residents still get a free ride?

And PSP Greensburg will have plenty to do, chasing speeders on Route 22 and keeping perverts from picking up 14-year-old girls at the McDonald's in Irwin. (But you're behind the times on the Washington Boulevard barracks, which closed more than a decade ago, if I remember correctly, after two generations of terrorizing 16-year-olds who had to take their driver's license tests.)

I like your idea of the regional police force, though. More communities should be looking in that direction. Since so many of our boroughs can only afford to have one, or perhaps two, police officers on duty at a time; and since many of those have only part-time police officers; a lot of borough PDs are already backing up their neighbors on a regular basis. Why not formalize the arrangement and create regional police --- and pay the officers one full-time wage instead of a bunch of part-time wages?

Alas, I think it's going to take a major disaster of either the natural or financial kind before we get more inter-governmental cooperation in the Mon-Yough area.


Alert Reader David enjoyed the Almanac's poke in the eye at the Penguins, and writes:

Jason, one of my light bulbs just burned out; do you think the government will fund a new house for us? My neighbor needs a new furnace. New homes, we want new homes! If we continue to fund freeloading mooches who are already rich, we won't have enough money to take care of our old, decrepit homes.

Speaking of freeloading mooches, did you hear Michael Keaton's comments about the Pirates at their home opener?

"I fear they will take advantage of the good will of the people who continue to show up. For my money, that's disrespectful. Look, I'd do it, too, if I were a businessman. But, at some point, you've got to win. I think fans have been gracious. And maybe not vocal enough. Maybe not vociferous enough with their displeasure. That's my opinion."

To quote Bill Cosby: "Rat on, rat on, rat on." Bully on Keaton for calling it like it is.


Alert Reader Rich from Seattle, Wash., writes:

I studied at Penn State McKeesport in 1978-1980. Wondering what happened to a store called Helmstadters --- I worked there as a delivery truck driver, the winter of 1978-79. I remember that it was founded in 1906, was still being run by the sons of the founder ("Mr. Richard" and "Mr. John") who were then in their 80's. I swept up the wood floors, took out the trash, changed light bulbs, etc. when there were no packages to deliver. One day, while I was washing the front windows, I heard a big THUD behind me --- a rusted out transformer the size of a gallon paint can had fallen out of the 30 foot high neon sign and crashed to the sidewalk! I don't think the neon sign had worked for decades.

Wondered what year the store closed (probably early 1980's) and what happened to the building? Their slogan was "You can always get it at Helmstadters," my college friends kidded me about that a bit.

Oddly enough, I recently interviewed a member of the Helmstadter family. Did you know the store was originally located down in the 300 block --- in fact, they had an annex on the second floor of the building that Murphy's was later located in? Or that they sold appliances and groceries at one time? I didn't, either.

Although "Mr. Richard" died in 1988, Helmstadter's actually closed only a few years ago ... maybe 1997 or 1998, maybe a little bit longer.

When I was a kid, Helmstadters was the place to go get Boy Scout items. They also did a fairly good trade in house hardware (blinds, screens, curtain rods), camping gear and kitchen items. Some of the rest of the merchandise was ancient, and I can't believe anyone ever bought that stuff.

Visiting the store was like going back in time --- pressed-tin ceilings, wooden floors, wooden counters. I also loved the big mechanical cash register with the exposed gears. I think the store finally closed because the family decided to retire, but as far as I know, they were still making a living --- they just decided it was time to close.


Meanwhile, from an Air Force base somewhere in Korea (the Almanac gets around), Alert Reader Sgt. Don is trying to find information on the old "Dynasty" night club:

The memories were great; it was high schools from all over could come and have fun and make friends. Know this is going to be kind of tough, but any help would be greatly appreciated. I have seemed to hit road blocks left and right. I am trying to find out where I could get the blueprints for the club/banquet hall. The owner of the club was a substitute at the high school. Anything you could find out would be great. When I get back in town from Korea I will have to look you up and take you to lunch. ... You are the kind of person that is good for the soul, (for) bringing back those old memories to pass on to your children and grand children.

I think "Dynasty" was the club on Lincoln Way in White Oak, near the White Oak borough building, correct? It had previously been "2002," "The White Elephant," and way, way back, "Hotel Belvedere." Unfortunately, it burned to the ground a few years ago. (Well, maybe more than a few years ago.)

I've put out requests before for information on the "Elephant," but haven't gotten much.

My first reaction is that blueprints probably don't exist any more. And the building was modernized and remodeled so many times over the years (the layers of renovations were a factor, as I understand it, in the fire that destroyed the building) that accurate blueprints probably never existed. If they're anywhere, there might be a very basic floorplan on file at the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds office. (That doesn't help you much in Korea, I know.)

So, I'll throw the question out, and see if anyone can help. I have the Sarge's email address --- if you have some information, contact me.

And Sgt. Don: I'll buy the lunch, as a "thank you" for serving --- keep 'em flying!


Finally, as further proof of our international appeal (or lack thereof), we received the following comments from "Holly" in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Holly was perturbed by an Almanac I wrote back in April 2004 about rudeness, and which compared manners in the U.S. with those in Canada.

Well, after nearly two years, Holly felt moved to reply. Now, I realize that it takes time to digest the finely polished pearls of wit at the Almanac, but two years seems a little excessive. Do they receive the Internet by packet boat in British Columbia? She writes:

After reading your article: "Don't Call Me Rude, You Jerk," I have come to a startling revelation: you ARE rude, you jerk!

(Editor's note: It ain't that startling, believe me. Others have reached the same conclusion)

I (and here I speak for all Canadians) am not a dweeb, although I will take credit for being "peaceful, polite, and civic-minded" (except, of course when offended by the anti-loyal, separatist American). "And how smart can you be if you live in Canada?" Well let's see... smart enough to invent basketball, the telephone, insulin, the light bulb (we sold the patent to Thomas Edison), the television and standard time.

Smart enough to have multiple Nobel Prize winners, sports legends (like Wayne Gretzky and Steve Nash), and be the home of even American-grown stars like John Travolta and Meg Ryan.

Plus, you stated that the Macleans poll showed that 77 percent of Canadians think that society has become less civil. Well I have that same Macleans article in my warm, un-mittened hands, and it says nothing of the sort, stating that 65 percent of Canadians expect public manners to deteriorate over the next decade, and that 61 percent of AMERICANS think that incivility has worsened in recent years. So, in summary, GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!! Why don't you come to Canada and see how "dweeb-ish" we really are!

Well, I don't know why I'm responding to this, but I am. Alert Condi Rice: We have an international incident brewing.

Holly, you may want to get a copy of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary ($40.16 CDN at Chapters) and check out the entry on "sarcasm." For some examples in the wild, try watching Rick Mercer.

I just checked that poll again, and I was correct: 77 percent of Canadians think society is becoming less civil. I suspect that only 61 percent of Americans think that incivility has worsened simply because we didn't have very far to drop.

Also, I take a back seat (in a McLaughlin Buick, no less) to no one in my admiration for Canada's contributions to science, technology and culture, so I have to protest when the best defense of your fair country that you can muster is that John Travolta and Meg Ryan now live there.

Good grief! Mordecai Richler is spinning in his grave, while in that great darkroom in the sky, Yousuf Karsh is smashing his cameras in despair. Leonard Cohen is weeping. William Shatner ... well, Lord only knows what he's doing.

So, if you're speaking for all Canadians, then on behalf of myself, my relatives in Ontario, the Almanac, and the South Wilmerding auxiliary police, I demand an immediate apology, or else it's war, I tells ya!

I choose the weapons to be doughnuts at 10 paces: Your Tim Hortons vs. our Dunkin' Donuts, and may the best crullers win!

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April 07, 2006 | Link to this story

Get Out Of Town!

Category: default || By jt3y

Alert Reader Arden notes that the Tanya Kach case made the "Overheard in Pittsburgh" blog:

Point Brugge Café, Point Breeze:

Guy: Only in McKeesport can you be abducted in McKeesport and stay in McKeesport!

Well, truthfully, why would you need to leave Our Fair City for any reason?

Other than to catch a train or a bus.

Or eat in a Mexican restaurant.

Or buy a new suit or shoes.

Or ... eh, we could go on for a while, so I'd better stop before I get depressed.

All kidding aside (were we?), I'm always amazed by the number of Mon-Yough residents I meet who've never been to Picksberg (except, perhaps, to a Stiller game), have never seen the Carnegie Museums, have never even been to Cranberry Township, for goodness' sake.

I know a few people who get nosebleeds if they're more than five miles from, say, Glassport. I know others who complain incessantly if they have to go to Pittsburgh International Airport or Washington County, as if they're outposts at the far reaches of the solar system. I have friends who can't find addresses on the opposite side of their own boroughs or townships because they rarely leave their neighborhoods.

What accounts for this insularity? There's nothing wrong with hometown pride (which is hardly in short supply at the Almanac and the rest of Tube City Online), but there's also nothing wrong with getting out to see the rest of the big, wide world. In fact, it's hard to understand your own world without seeing how other people live.

Sometimes I think that World War II was a good thing, because at the very least it forced our grandparents' generation to get out of their hometowns, work and live with people from other parts of the world, and see that there was more to life that what could be defined by the borders of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers.

Personally, I love to explore --- on foot, in a car, on a train, in a plane --- and I only wish I had the time and money to travel more. Locally, there probably aren't many communities in the 412 and 724 area codes that I haven't seen at least once. There's no place like home, but seeing someplace else can make you appreciate home a little bit more --- and maybe give you some ideas for improving your surroundings.

And as for Point Breeze guy, eh, I've seen your neighborhood. No offense, but I wouldn't brag too much.


Meanwhile, fill-in Post-Gazette "Morning File" colyumist Bill Toland is out to make amends with several local blogs that claim they're not getting their proper respect from the news media ---, run by a Caketown coffee shop, and Jonathan Barnes' "Barnestormin."

Interesting, isn't it, that while many bloggers claim that the mainstream media is dying, they "cry for attention" (Toland's words) when they don't get mentioned by the mainstream media?

Personally, I couldn't care less if this "blog" gets mentioned in any publication. Besides, I hate calling this a "blog." It's like a newspaper column, only without any coupons printed on the back.

And it's sure not a "cry for attention." It may, however, be a "cry for help."


Found On The Internet While Looking For Other Things:

  • Anyone who's worked in customer service will appreciate "Behind The Counter", the regular journal of a Wal-Mart employee somewhere in Florida.

  • In honor of the late Morgantown, W.Va., native Don Knotts, who very much got out of his own neighborhood, here's The Onion A.V. Club's list of the 20 best "wonderfully irrelevant" Andy Griffith Show conversations.

  • The Stiller Who Would Be Governor gets profiled by The Washington Post. Some people say that Lynn Swann has absolutely no idea what he would do if elected --- and that may be true, but others might say that Ed Rendell doesn't either. Unfortunately, he's been in office for more than three years.

  • Remember those ads in the back of comic books for Grit, "America's Family Weekly Newspaper" or "Weekly Family Newspaper" or "One of American's Weekest Newspapers"? I can't remember the exact slogan, but I do know they promised wealth and prizes if you took up a Grit route in your neighborhood. Well, I never met anyone who actually read Grit (maybe if I'd taken a route of my own, I'd be rich right now), but it's still in business.

  • ...

    Next Week: We answer your letters. Assuming the one that's ticking hasn't gone off by then.


    To Do This Weekend: Penn State McKeesport Campus hosts a spring open house for high school juniors from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Ostermayer Room of the Student Community Center. The agenda includes a welcome from the chancellor, an Admissions presentation, talks from current students, tours and a free lunch. Call (412) 675-9010. Walk-ins are welcome ... McKeesport Recreation Board hosts an Easter Egg Hunt for kids 12 and under at Jacob Woll Pavilion, Renziehausen Park, starting at 12 noon Saturday. (Rain date April 15.) Call (412) 675-5068. ... Salsa Pittsburgh starts its "Spring Salsa Spectacular" dance tonight at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street. Events begin at 8:30, and there will be lessons as well as performances by two Latin bands. Call (412) 881-9237.

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    April 05, 2006 | Link to this story

    Curiouser and Curiouser

    Category: default || By jt3y

    Well, we knew the Tanya Kach case was going to get stranger as more details emerged. Claims and counter-claims are now flying back and forth, and it's hard to know who to believe.

    But in stories last week by Jonathan Silver and others in the Post-Gazette, you could almost see the defense strategy emerging for her accused abductor, Thomas Hose:

    • According to Silver, Kach had a reputation for being "sassy" and "argumentative," and was "reputed to have a penchant for older men."

    • Contradictory reports in the same story paint the victim as both "naive" about the outside world, yet aware that she was listed on Web sites for missing children.

    • Another man who was investigated in connection with Kach's disappearance in 1996 claims that he told police that she had "the biggest crush" on Hose.

    • "For a woman said to have been hidden and held against her will for nearly a decade, Tanya Kach was visible to many in her neighborhood and downtown McKeesport during the past 10 months," wrote Silver and Cindi Lash in a story for the P-G on Saturday.

    • Silver and Lash say Kach went shopping at the Foodland on Fifth Avenue and the drug store at the corner of Versailles Avenue and Evans Street, attended high school games with Hose, got her nails down at a nearby salon and talked to the mailman.

    • And Kach's attorney now claims that former mayoral candidate Bob Sokol (ex-husband of the hairdresser accused of altering Kach's appearance to conceal her identity) sometimes drove Kach and Hose around.

    I hate to make light of this tragedy, which is touching dozens of people and has the potential to ruin several lives, but I suspect it's moving into the realm of farce for many people.

    I was originally thinking that this was a Lifetime Movie Event, but now, I'm not so sure. I think it could easily go on a network now. Maybe we should work on the casting next. (I'm thinking Perry King and Britney Spears in her first dramatic role.)

    I can also imagine the liability suits that might soon be flying back and forth. Hose will be sued for allegedly holding Kach; the school district will be sued for employing Hose; the hairdresser will be sued in connection with her alleged role; and maybe Foodland will be sued for not stocking, "Help! I'm being held hostage" greeting cards.


    Eh, look on the bright side. Lots of good things are happening, too. Despite the cold weather of the last few days, spring is upon us, and the daffodils and tulips are starting to come out.

    And the trees are budding in Renzie Park, where the kids will be hunting Easter eggs this Saturday, and catching trout in Lake Emilie the following Saturday. The first "lunch on the lawn" event of the year is only about a month away at Kelly Park across from the Masonic Temple. Things could be worse.


    In other local news: The tiny Ardara post office along Route 993 in North Huntingdon Township is indefinitely closed after someone tried to make it a drive-through last Thursday.

    According to Paul Paterra in the Trib, a car collided with a school bus and then took out three of the four support poles holding up the front of the post office. No one was seriously hurt, but post-office boxes have been moved to the Larimer post office, also on Route 993.


    Finally, I was saddened to learn of the death of a former supervisor of mine, Dave Miller, recently retired from the Tribune-Review as a news editor. Another former colleague, Jen Reeger, turned in a fine tribute that must have been hard to write, since she also worked for Dave for several years.

    You meet a lot of really cynical, unhappy people in the news business, but I don't think I ever heard Dave say an unkind word about anyone, or ever be cruel or nasty with a reporter.

    Despite something like 40 years in the news business when I first met him, Dave was also still very, very capable of getting excited when you pitched a good local story to him --- and he asked great questions. My last week at the paper was the week of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and Dave put in hours as long as anyone's.

    I wasn't able to make it to the funeral home yesterday afternoon, but my deepest sympathies go out to his wife. Requiescat in pace, Dave.

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    April 03, 2006 | Link to this story


    Category: default || By jt3y

    (In a break from our usual format, we have asked the Rev. Paul Lloyd Waner, pastor of St. Honus of Carnegie Church in Coulter, to offer an inspirational message on behalf of a local charity case.)

    My dear brothers and sisters, peace be with you.

    Spring has finally arrived, and like it, each Lenten season brings with it the hope of renewal and new life. The Church calls upon each one of us to consider some sort of sacrifice that may bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven, and this explains, perhaps, why so many of us have remained faithful to His Pittsburgh Pirates.

    But it seems to me that 13 seasons is a great deal of penance, even for those who most sincerely seek the blessings of His grace.

    Because we know that our reward is not of this earth, we are joyous despite our place, year after year, at the bottom of His standings. As we read in Mark 10:31, "many that are first shall be last, and the last, first."

    Yet it is also written in Murtaugh's First Letter to the Forbesfieldians that it is better to win more games than we lose. And though on the journey of life, we will always sin and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), it is also written that "there should be joy in the chase, zest in the pursuit" (Rickey 12:20). Thus we must strive ever to at least break .500.

    And so we offer the following petition this morning.

    Oh, Heavenly Father:

    We ask that You watch over our Pittsburgh Pirates, among Your most humble servants in the majors for lo these many years. As You led Your people out of the desert, so we ask that the Pirates be led out of the cellar of the National League.

    Make straight the flight of the ball, lest Thine pitchers load up the bases with walks. Guide Thine fielders' arms not into foolish throwing errors, and remove the scales from their eyes, lest they bobble easy pop flies.

    As we seek greater Communion with You, so shall our bats seek greater Communion with the ball. Make clear the base paths, lest our runners be trapped between First and Second.

    Oh Lord, we know that it says in Matthew 4:7 that we shall not put You to the test, so we ask not that Thou leadeth Thine Pirates to the World Series, though if that be Thy will, then Thy will be done. Rather, we beseech You only that they not stinketh out loud again this season.


    (Next time: The Rev. Anthony Esposito, pastor of Badger Bob Church of Christ in Munhall Gardens, offers a eulogy for the Pittsburgh Penguins.)

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    Posted at 07:18 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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