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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

May 29, 2006 | Link to this story

Pedant’s Corner

Category: default || By jt3y

I keep hearing commercials that say that Memorial Day is "the official start of summer."

No, consarn it, it isn't. It may be the "unofficial" start of summer, but the official start of summer is, was, and always will be June 20 (the first complete day of summer is June 21).

No wonder children are getting such poor educations --- they're being made functionally illiterate by boneheaded advertising copywriters. (And rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?)

Memorial Day, of course, commemorates the sacrifices of our brave men and women to defend our right to a three-day holiday and zero percent financing on a Chevrolet. Or at least that's what you'd think the holiday means. It's not just "the official start of summer" (he said, grinding his teeth).

In fact, you can read about the history of Memorial Day, which was originally called "Decoration Day."

Believe it or not, legend has it that the holiday was created not far from here --- in Boalsburg, Centre County, near present-day State College. The story goes that in October 1864, the mother of a soldier who had been killed at Gettysburg went to the cemetery to decorate her son's grave. There, she met another mother who was doing the same thing.

They resolved to hold a community-wide observance the following year on July 4, and response was overwhelming. According to the legend, the custom spread from there.

Most others credit Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the Union Army, with creating the holiday in 1868 when he issued an order directing soldiers' graves to be decorated at Arlington National Cemetery every May 30.

The custom spread across the country during the 1870s, and by 1890, all of the Northern states were commemorating the deaths of soldiers, sailors and marines on Decoration Day --- the South, naturally, refused to participate in a holiday to honor Yankee scoundrels.

So, that's what Memorial Day is supposed to mean. It's not just a day off, nor is it rightly a holiday for all veterans (that's what Nov. 11 is for), or even a holiday for all people who have died.

I could write more, but as with so many things, Johnny Cash said it better, and certainly with more eloquence and power than I could ever muster.

So now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go clobber the guy in my neighborhood who keeps shooting off fireworks. The "official start of summer" stuff is bad enough, but fireworks?

For crying out loud, that's Independence Day, you blockhead. Next he'll be hanging Christmas lights and trick-or-treating.

. . .

In other business, huzzah, huzzah, huzzah, to the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat for telling it like it is about the Mon-Fayette Expressway (or as he calls it, the "Mo-Fo Excessway").

I've written about this before. The Mo-Fo is too much, too late, and it's already wrecking communities like Braddock, where property owners refuse to repair or develop their real estate --- they're waiting for the magical Turnpike money to come through.

Some money quotes from the ADB:

I'm not interested in creating a "Cranberry South" that will detract much needed revenue and resources from communities that need them more. I do not believe that the State and Local Governments should be active participants in facilitating sprawl or unsustainable development.

OK, the primary reason, or so I've been told, that the Mon-Fayette has to be built is that so many of the old, disused mill sites could be more readily used if they had better access to transportation, i.e., tractor trailers are necessary to access any light industrial sites that could be developed. That's a fair assessment, and it could have been much more useful in, say, 1970 ... however, that does not preclude an expansion or reengineering of existing roads and highways to better accommodate these transportation and shipping needs.

If your big concern is the flow of commuters from the Steel Valley to Downtown Pittsburgh, you could always regulate the flow by installing some sort of Light Rail or mass transportation system along the existing CSX lines... although, I suppose that that would pose problems of its own... but it beats the hell out of the North Shore Connector!

The problem remains that the Turnpike Commission is in charge of this project. All they know how to do, naturally, is build turnpikes.

And as previously stated here: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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May 26, 2006 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

There was a time when I was a kid that editorials in the Daily News had all of the excitement level of a bucket of wallpaper paste.

But over the last few years, the News' editorials have become more local --- exactly as a local newspaper's editorials should be --- and more willing to take sides and argue positions. They've become one of the first things I read (after I check the obituaries to see if my name is there).

Last night's leader, "It's Time To Pull The Plug," is typical of the quality (I was also going to say "spunk," but like Lou Grant, I hate "spunk"), and I found myself saying "amen" at the end:

There is an old saying, "the surgery was a success, but the patient died." That doesn't quite describe Duquesne City School District's 2006-07 budget, but it comes close. ...

Even if millage stays at 21.1, it's cold comfort when one sees the cutting of seven teaching and 12 support staff jobs ...

We realize the pride that goes with having local schools. We remember the angst in such towns as Homestead and Munhall during the school mergers of a generation ago.

But there comes a time when the life support has gone too long and pulling the plug is a foregone conclusion. That time has come for Duquesne City School District.

The editorial goes on to acknowledge that the neighboring districts don't want to take Duquesne's students (you know what the Almanac thinks about that --- it smells, bad), but points out that mergers in Steel Valley and Woodland Hills worked, "and a Duquesne merger with someone ... can work, too."

I'd like to link to it, but it's not available to non-subscribers. If you can get a copy of last night's paper, you should.

. . .

Another editorial on Tuesday about the sale of Rolling Rock's brand name, and the possible closure of Latrobe Brewing Co., was good as well:

"Since (Anheuser-Busch) does not seem to care about Rolling Rock's hometown, perhaps it is time people stopped caring about Budweiser, Bud Light and other brands Busch touts, in favor of a beer still brewed in Western Pennsylvania (and there still are several). We also suggest that for Rolling Rock after production ends in Latrobe ... We sort of wish, however, that Busch could find in Latrobe what others have found there --- including, by the way, the training camp of the Steelers, one of the pro football teams whose games the various Busch brands sponsor."

. . .

Meanwhile, Mike Madison, aka Pittsblog, also checked in on the Latrobe Brewing Co. deal, though I'm still not sure exactly what the heck he meant by this:

And -- the worst news of all -- Rolling Rock is leaving Latrobe. InBev, RR's corporate owner, is selling the brand to Anheuser-Busch. The hard working folks in Latrobe say that they're going to hold their breath until IB and AB change their minds.

"Hold their breath"! Ha ha ha! Funny! Like they're children! So, does this suggest that they shouldn't be upset? Or that their jobs aren't worth saving? Or that they should just lie down and accept whatever fate corporate America dictates for them?

Oh, I see: He's searching for "an entrepreneurial link." Yeah, maybe some $35,000 a year beer truck driver can put a mortgage on his two-bedroom ranch house in Unity Township and buy Latrobe Brewing Co.

I suppose we could muster more sympathy for Rolling Rock employees if only they had really important jobs. Like, say, tenured positions as law professors.

. . .

From the "How's That Again" file comes word of McKeesport Area School District's settlement this week with a teacher whom investigators claim had sex with another teacher inside Cornell school.

According to the Post-Gazette, under terms of the agreement, the teacher will be paid for 98 unused sick and personal days, compensation for a 24-day leave of absence, and health insurance worth $10,305. (They'll also receive a year's supply of Rice-a-Roni, a case of Turtle Wax, and a copy of the home game!)

The total cost to district taxpayers is $58,000.

I can understand District Solicitor Jack Cambest's argument that litigating the case would likely cost the school system even more money. But it still seems as if someone's being rewarded for what the district alleges has been very bad behavior.

. . .

Finally, I forgot to mention the classy way that state Rep. Ken Ruffing and legislative candidate George Matta II handled their defeats in the Democratic primary on May 16.

According to the Daily News, Ruffing refused to allow a reporter and a photographer to cover his election night party. (Other defeated candidates, including Matta and Jay Jabbour, allowed reporters to cover their events.)

And Rep. Ruffing would not make any comment on his defeat. (Gee, and I was so looking forward to finding out to which charity he donated his pay raise!)

Meanwhile, Matta took the opportunity to blame the public for being too stupid to vote for him: "The voters apparently like the economic development around here," he said. "They said that the schools are OK. That makes me sad."

It brings to mind the words of California politician and prankster Dick Tuck upon losing a state senate primary: "The people have spoken ... the bastards."

. . .

To Do This Weekend: The McKeesport City Carnival continues through tomorrow night at Helen Richey Field along Eden Park Boulevard in Renziehausen Park. Rides, games and refreshment booths open at 6 p.m., and ride passes cost $10. Call (412) 675-5068 ... The Harold Betters Quartet plays Johnny's Restaurant in Wilmerding at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 824-6642.

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May 24, 2006 | Link to this story

Let’s Pick a Page From Piqua’s Playbook

Category: default || By jt3y

As mentioned yesterday, last week I was in Dayton, Ohio, for "Hamvention," and because good hotel rooms in the city are damned near impossible to find at any price during that annual international geek-out, I usually wind up staying in one of the neighboring communities. (Last year was an exception --- I had a room in downtown Dayton for the first, and last, time.)

I try to pick a different town to stay in every year, and this time, I chose Piqua (pronounced "pik-WAH"), about a half-hour north of Dayton, primarily because they had a street fair on Friday night, and I figured it would be a cheap way to kill an evening. It was.

Among other things, I got to walk through some of the restored buildings downtown, which have been reconstructed through a partnership between the city and local business owners called "Mainstreet Piqua Inc." Parts of the downtown area are still pretty seedy, but building by building, the main streets are starting to come back. The "before and after" pictures on display were startling.

The next project the city plans to tackle is the Fort Piqua Hotel, a big old gothic five-story pile of a building right at one of the city's major intersections. Right now, it's boarded up and deteriorating, having been mostly vacant for nearly 20 years, but the city envisions it as the new home of the public library, commercial offices and stores.

They also want to restore the hotel ballroom for use by community groups, and I suppose for weddings and other occasions. Having seen the other successes in Piqua, I have no doubt they'll make it happen.

. . .

I couldn't help but think of the Penn-McKee Hotel when I looked at the Fort Piqua Hotel. The Penn-McKee is about 40 years newer, in the same or better physical condition as the Fort Piqua, and perhaps even more eminently developable --- for one thing, unlike the Fort Piqua, it's got plenty of parking nearby. It also has the Palisades and the McKees Point Marina to generate traffic. Why is there no community plan for saving this asset?

Or what about the old Eagles on Market Street, currently slated for demolition --- and which has just been named one of the most endangered local landmarks by a group of historic preservationists?

If we tear down the Eagles --- a mansion built in the 1880s --- what's going to take its place? Another weedy vacant lot, like the one where the Memorial Theater once stood. That lot at the corner of Market and Fifth has been "available for development" for more than 20 years now.

. . .

Meanwhile, back at the Piqua "Taste of the Arts" street fair, young and old, black and white, were gathered Friday night to eat, shop and listen to music. Little kids drew pictures on the sidewalks with chalk, teen-agers huddled in doorways and made out, young couples pushed babies in strollers.

At one of the street, a Frank Sinatra impersonator was holding court, backed by a big band combo. At the other, a folk guitarist was improvising songs to the amusement of the bystanders. Parking was almost impossible; Piqua has about 20,000 residents, and it seemed like half of them were downtown.

As I munched an ice-cream cone, I couldn't help but wonder why groups like the Mon-Yough Chamber of Commerce (excuse me, the "Regional Business Alliance"), the Downtown McKeesport Association, and others aren't working in a public-private partnership similar to Mainstreet Piqua.

. . .

As far as I can tell, many of our regional business leaders scraped McKeesport from their feet several years ago and haven't looked back. Despite McKeesport's location at the center of the Mon Valley, their world revolves around the strip malls and sprawl of White Oak and West Mifflin. More's the pity.

Oh, sure, there are "events" staged in the city from time to time, like the "Salute to Santa" parade, or the annual Good Neighbor Fair on Fifth Avenue, but there's no long-term community effort to plan the city's future, and then carry out that plan.

How come Piqua can work together on development, and we can't?

Piqua's population is only a few thousand less than Our Fair City's. A major employer, Aerovent Corp., left town several years ago. Piqua has several big shopping malls on its outskirts which undoubtedly hurt its downtown business district, and it's near Cincinnati and Columbus, which have probably drained some of its young people away.

Sure, being out in the country, Piqua doesn't have the kind of urban problems (absentee landlords, for instance) that Mon Valley cities have, but it also isn't part of a major metropolitan area, nor does it have anything like the suburban population base around McKeesport. It also doesn't have things like a symphony orchestra, a major regional library and city park, and civic institutions like the YMCA.

In other words, McKeesport has bigger challenges than Piqua --- but it also has bigger opportunities.

. . .

If a private-public partnership can rebuild downtown Piqua, nothing should be stopping us in McKeesport. It would be nice to see some real bricks-and-mortar action out of our regional chambers of commerce and business associations.

Luncheons are nice, but seeing some positive redevelopment activity would be nicer in the long term.

After all, if we got some decent restaurants open downtown, along with some retail activity, working-class residential housing, and some nightlife, I could buy my own damned lunch.

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May 23, 2006 | Link to this story

From The Glass-Lined Tanks of Old Dayton

Category: default || By jt3y

Last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio, which is to amateur radio buffs what Woodstock was to rock fans --- a chance for a very large group of people to act in unsanitary and anti-social ways.

Er, let me try again.

Hamvention is advertised as the world's largest amateur radio trade show and convention, and I have no reason to doubt that. Practically every major international electronics hobby company in the world (Kenwood, Icom, Alinco) has an exhibit, while many government and public-service groups (the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the National Weather Service) put on demonstrations. High-tech companies show up to recruit personnel as well.

Outside, there's an enormous radio and computer flea market that has to be seen to be believed --- everything from 1920s handmade radio sets to World War II spy gear to brand new satellite receivers are on sale.

But it does attract a certain odd element. And while I could mock that element, these guys are doing a much better job, frankly. (Warning: Some content marginally not safe for work.)

I also paid social calls on WMKV-FM (89.3), a non-commercial station outside of Cincinnati that's operated by a retirement community, and which has a library of more than 100,000 big band and jazz records; and WULM (1600), located in Springfield, about a half-hour east of Dayton, which is rather unique in being an oldies station owned and operated by a church.

More about them, perhaps, another time. But if you like big band music, or oldies, both stations are streaming.


One thing we have that Western Ohio doesn't seem to have --- other than hills and mountains --- are local breweries.

In most bars in this region, you have a choice of four brands of beer brewed within easy driving distance --- Iron City, Penn Pilsner, Stoney's and Rolling Rock --- and at least two more if you count Erie (Erie Brewing Co.) and St. Mary's (Straub) as part of Western Pennsylvania.

(OK, some of Penn Pilsner's product is brewed under contract in Maryland, and Stoney's is now made at Pittsburgh Brewing, not in Smithton. But they're still separately owned, with distinct brands and tastes, for better or worse.)

There are no regional breweries in Ohio, unless you count the old Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. in Cincinnati, now owned by the makers of Samuel Adams beer, though there are some brewpubs and microbreweries around.

At the local watering hole in Piqua, Ohio, where I ate dinner Friday night, the only beer on tap was Blue Moon --- a Coors product --- and most people were drinking either Miller Lite or Michelob.

I guess those are kind of local products for Western Ohio, since Miller and Anheuser-Busch operate plants in Trenton and Columbus, respectively. Still, it's kind of a sad state of affairs when an area settled by the Germans, the Scots and the English doesn't have a beer it can call its own.

What a shock it was to come home and find out that Latrobe Brewing Co. is in danger of closing, and that the "Rolling Rock" brand name is being sold to Anheuser-Busch. You might as well move the Steelers to Portland, Oregon, and replace the Cathedral of Learning with a Jiffy Lube.


For the life of me, I can't figure out what advantage this offers Anheuser-Busch. Rolling Rock has developed a national following, but (no offense, Rock drinkers) it doesn't taste that much different from any other good American pilsner beer.

I suspect much of the devotion to Rolling Rock has to do with the "romance" of it being brewed in Latrobe, Pa. Take Rolling Rock out of Latrobe, and it becomes just another beer --- better than some, maybe, but not very distinct.

I have a feeling that if (when) this sale goes through, Rolling Rock is going to be quickly lost amid Anheuser-Busch's other brands, and will fade away like Schmidt's, Rheingold, Hamm's and dozens of other once noteworthy regional beers that are now discount brands owned by big companies.

In my experience, Rolling Rock's most devoted partisans are Westmoreland County residents who have always viewed the beer as their "hometown product," along with displaced Pittsburghers, who enjoy feeling a connection to the area. If Rolling Rock isn't brewed in Western Pennsylvania any more, what reason do they have to choose it over Yuengling --- or Miller, for that matter? (I'm a Straub man, myself.)

Barring a last minute reprieve, I suspect that Rolling Rock sales are going to tank (no pun intended) throughout Western Pennsylvania, and the beer will be on the slow slide to oblivion.

If that happens, Rolling Rock fans will have plenty of people with whom to commiserate: Former drinkers of Tube City, Fort Pitt and Duquesne will feel your pain.

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May 18, 2006 | Link to this story

How Now, Democrats?

Category: default || By jt3y

When I went to bed late Tuesday night, Bob Casey Jr. had 80 percent of the votes for the Democratic nomination.

No way that can hold, I thought before I went to sleep. Fidel Castro doesn't get those kinds of numbers when he's up for office. Casey will win, but at least one of his opponents is going to get into double digits, I thought as I went to bed.

Wrong again!

The question now is: Will the left-wing of the party, which views Bob Casey Jr. as too Catholic, too conservative, and perhaps most of all, too dull, support him in the fall? Or will they pout and sit on their hands --- thus helping deliver the election to the junior senator from Penn Hills, Virginia, Rick Santorum (R-Inquisition)?

We've seen this before, and it may be the defining difference between Republicans and Democrats. Given a candidate they don't particularly like (say, Arlen Specter) conservative Republicans whine and complain, but come Election Day, they dutifully go to the polls and pull the lever ... er, touch the screen ... for the party's man.

Liberal Democrats like to stand on principle. They stay home, or they vote for a third-party candidate, or they attack the party's standard-bearer. Then, when the Democrat loses, they sit back smugly and say, "See? We told you he wasn't electable. You should have picked our guy instead." It's a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.

Too many Democratic "victories" on the national stage over the last decade have been "moral" ones. In other walks of life, they don't call those "moral victories." They call it "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Some boil it down to an even simpler term: "Stupid."

Remember the 2000 presidential election? When the left said that there was "no difference" between Al Gore and George W. Bush? When a lot of liberals stayed home, or voted for Ralph Nader in protest?

Do you think President Gore would have named John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Donald Rumsfeld to be Secretary of Defense? Would have cut taxes at the same time he was ramping up massive federal spending increases? Would have ... well, you get my drift. Of course there was a difference. Maybe it was a difference of a few degrees on many issues --- but politics, like life, is often about the subtleties.

John McIntire was right a few months ago when he wrote that "when (Casey) gives his stump speech, there's more charisma coming from the stump." And I found Casey's stealth campaign arrogant. He knew he had it buttoned up: Why bother breaking a sweat?

Why bother? Because you missed a wonderful chance to define the race, and the issues, on your terms when people were marginally interested. Now, you'll have to wait until September or October to get their attention again.

Santorum is weak right now, and he apparently has a strong taste for his own feet, but he's a very, very good campaigner, and the conservative Republican base loves him. The Christian right is going to put on a full-court grass-roots effort to re-elect him.

And Santorum is also folksy and charming enough (admittedly, in a Jim Nabors sort-of way) to appeal to many moderates. Casey is going to have to bring his A-game to beat him --- and he's going to need the support of the entire party.

You may not like the fact that Casey is anti-abortion, but on nearly every other traditional Democratic issue --- fair wage and labor practices, civil rights, community development, health and welfare --- he's far better than Santorum.

And I haven't heard anyone say he's not competent to be a U.S. senator. (I frankly think he's done a good job in his state positions, though they're jobs that require an administrator, not a visionary leader.)

Or is the Democratic Party only about abortion now? Is it --- to put it bluntly --- the "baby-killing" party? Because that's sure what the far right is trying to paint it as. Sometimes, I think they're onto something; abortion certainly seems to be one of the few issues that energize the left these days.

Now, I'll concede that there have to be more charismatic candidates around than Bob Casey Jr. The Democratic Party could do better.

But working-class Pennsylvanians could do much worse. Arguably, they have with Rick Santorum.

And imagine how Santorum might look in two years if he's re-elected to the Senate this year. Just how does "Vice President Rick Santorum" sound to you?

So, how now, Democrats? Are you going to take a powder on Casey? Or are you going to suck it up and move forward?

Because if you're not, you might as well just make a donation to Rick Santorum's re-election committee. At least there won't be any doubt as to where you stand.

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May 17, 2006 | Link to this story

Anyone Else Need a Shower?

Category: default || By jt3y

I was talking with an informed source on Tuesday about the two hotly-contested Mon-Yough area state legislative races, for the Democratic nominations in the 35th and 38th districts.

My source --- a longtime observer of local politics in Pennsyltucky --- said he thought the Marc Gergely-George Matta fight was one of the "dirtiest races" he'd ever seen in the valley, if not the dirtiest race.

No, I said, it was one of the dirtiest races in our area where the dirtiness was out in the open. Mon Valley politics have often been nasty, but the really slimy things are usually done surreptitiously --- anonymous mailings, theft of campaign materials --- or as the result of back-room deals (running spoiler candidates, for instance).

So George Matta II should be congratulated for being very up front and candid with his methods. (Listen closely, and you can hear the sound of one hand, clapping.)

Not that Gergely's allies were as pure as the driven snow. I don't know who the "Coalition For The Mon Valley" is --- that's the group that set up the "Stop Matta" website --- but hiding in the shadows didn't help their credibility. (The Pennsylvania Department of State doesn't have them registered as a political committee, and there's no way online to find out if they're registered with the county. I suppose I could make a trip to the courthouse and poke around to ask some questions, and as soon as I start to be paid a salary from the Almanac, I'll get right on that.)

But Gergely's official advertising and campaign materials (at least the things I saw) were mostly positive and upbeat, if a little bit bland. They focused on his record, and on the issues in the district.

Matta's advertising was occasionally nasty, often misleading or plain wrong, and sometimes just funny.

Take Matta's campaign commercials. One of them talked about how as mayor, he had "improved Duquesne." Tell that to the people in Duquesne! I realize that the mayor of any third-class city in Pennsylvania has limited authority, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone (save Matta's allies) that would argue that Duquesne is getting better in measurable ways.

Another of Matta's ads carried the tagline, "Where he goes, good things grow." Ah, so he's kind of like fertilizer.

And Matta made an extremely bad tactical error when he tried to blunt the "Stop Matta" attacks: He ran ads that looked like the "Stop Matta" campaign's materials, which merely gave it more exposure.

Then, in the closing days of the campaign, Matta dragged a family squabble into the campaign and had Gergely's sister-in-law endorse attack ads in The Daily News and The Valley Mirror. That was embarrassing to everyone involved. It may have set a new low for nastiness in local politics.

Indeed, I'd call Matta's behavior at times positively Nixonesque. So I hope the Washington Post and the late, great editorial cartoonist Herb Block will forgive me if I parody "Herblock's" infamous 1954 cartoon of Nixon making a campaign appearance.

Gergely's challenge, assuming he's re-elected in November (no Republican filed to run), is to prove that he deserved the voters' trust, and to become a more pro-active legislator. Though I think he's been a good representative, I don't know if he's been producing the kind of legislative initiatives, and the regional leadership, that the Mon-Yough area needs.

State Sen. Sean Logan and state Rep. Jim Casorio grab headlines because they speak their mind and get out in front of issues in their communities. It wouldn't hurt for Marc Gergely and his staff to take a page from their playbooks. He needs to use his next term wisely, and to grow as a legislator. He needs to be someone who leads, rather than someone who reacts. If nothing else, Gergely is going to have to work twice as hard to overcome the negative advertising thrown at him this year.

As for George Matta, I've lost a fair deal of respect for him. Through his political and volunteer work, he's often been a very active and positive force for change in the Mon-Yough area, but his conduct during this campaign left a sour taste in my mouth. I suspect I'm not alone.


On the opposite side of the river, Ken Ruffing's loss of the Democratic nomination in the 38th District is surprising mainly for Bill Kortz's margin of victory.

I don't doubt that Ruffing campaigned sincerely and worked hard, but from the outside, his efforts seemed half-hearted and haphazard. His responses to the charges and counter-charges made by the press and his opponents were disorganized and petulant, and I couldn't believe he skipped his meeting with the Post-Gazette's editorial board.

Frankly, I was also astonished at how badly he answered questions about the pay raise money that he says he donated to autism research.

I will be interested to see if Kortz and his expected Republican opponent, Daniel Davis, take the high road and discuss the issues. From what I've read about both men, I have reason to hope that they will. The Mon-Yough area has seen enough mudslinging for this year.

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May 16, 2006 | Link to this story

Vote Early and Often

Category: default || By jt3y

Frankly, I think you have to vote for him. He already went out and bought the hat.

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that's the "Bill Hill" who used to own Hill's Restaurant on Main Street in New Eagle. And this concludes today's Trivia Corner for all of the Almanac's readers in Bunola, Pangburn Hollow and Gallatin-Sunnyside!

Anyway, this is a reminder for everyone to go out and exercise your right to vote for the candidate who least turns your stomach. If nothing else, you'll get a chance to try out the new iVotronic voting machines. Frankly, I thought it was easy, but it's a little bit discomfiting, and I still find the lack of a paper trail disturbing.

(By the way, I'd like to thank my former county councilman for not responding to the letter I sent him on this subject. Don't worry, I remembered you at the polls today.)

I can also confirm that there are no secret moves to increase your high score on the machine --- I tried. However, tapping the "confirm" button twice while holding your pinky and thumb exactly 2.56 cm apart in the upper right hand corner of the touch screen will give you a free game.

I was Democratic Voter No. 12 at North Bittyburg Borough's Ward 3, Precinct 1 as of 8 a.m., and when I asked the judge of elections if she expected it to be this slow all day, she sort of rolled her eyes. That bodes well for the incumbents, I'll bet, which means those pay-grabbing perk-hogs in the state Legislature are going to cruise to re-election.

The bad news: Crummy government will persist in Pennsylvania, at least until the last citizen not in public office moves away from the state. (There goes another one! I think he's leaving because we don't have a new arena for the Pens.)

The good news: I can continue to complain.

On second thought: There is no good news, at least for you.

"But Almanac guy," I hear you say, "I don't remember if my legislator voted for the pay raise or not?"

Luckily for you, Mr. or Ms. Average Mon-Yough Area Citizen, there's a convenient list for you to print out and take with you to the polls!

And if he's (they're all "he's" in our area) unopposed in the primary, I say write your own name in. Just don't use "white out" on the screen. It drives the poll workers nuts. (Take a permanent marker instead.)

Important Disclaimer: I do not endorse or recommend the use of permanent markers on touch-screen voting machines. That would obviously be a bad thing to do. I have no opinion on glitter pens, however. If you try one, make sure and email me when you're released from custody.

In reality, this page will explain everything you need to know about the voting machines. They're not quite as easy to use as the "M-T-O" machine at Sheetz, but they're easier than most drive-up ATMs.

(Update: I had misspelled the name of the machines Allegheny County has purchased. Mr. Grumpy corrected me. Mea culpa.)

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May 15, 2006 | Link to this story

Doesn’t This Make Them ‘High-Beemers’?

Category: default || By jt3y

Well, this is really what the 10th Ward needed, if you ask me. Beemer's, the restaurant on West Fifth Avenue that was at one time Doneldo's (and I can't remember what was at that location before that), has converted itself into a "gentlemen's club."

And "gentlemen's club" is a euphemism for "strippers," just in case you thought a "gentlemen's club" was a place where men wearing top hats and monocles sipped dry martinis and discussed global politics.

At a gentlemen's club, the featured performers may, in fact, wear top hats and monocles, but there isn't any place for them to attach their pocket watches, if you get my drift.

Visitors entering (no jokes, please) Our Fair City from the west will now welcomed by a junkyard (excuse me, "a metal recycling center"), a dirty book store (an "adult novelties emporium") and a strip club (a "nudie bar").

Yeah, that'll help McKeesport's image.

On the other hand, we need more retail establishments in town, and there's a certain amount of synergy available between the dirty book store and the nudie bar. Maybe they should pass coupons for the book store out at Beemers ... "Stop on your way home and pick up something for later!" They could print them on Kleenex tissues.

Incidentally, I often stop for gas at the 7-Eleven station at the end of the Mansfield Bridge --- just across the street from the book store --- and I frequently see near-accidents at the store's driveway. If someone gets T-boned (again, please, no jokes) in front of the store, how do they explain that to the wife or girlfriend? ("I thought it was where the bible readings were being held! Honest!")

When I was a little kid, I asked what they sold at the "adult newsstand." I was told "out-of-town newspapers." To show you just how dumb I am, I believed that for a long, long time.

Well, they may sell something there called the "Filly Inquirer" there, but let me tell you, it don't have much of an editorial page. (But it does carry box scores. Bada-bing! Am I right?)

Anyway, I ate at Beemer's on a few occasions. I found the food a little pricey for the quality, and the menu fairly limited, and although the atmosphere was nice, it wasn't great. So I'm not surprised that the parking lot seemed empty many nights.

Now, far be it from me to tell anyone how to run their business (too late!), but perhaps someone should have addressed the prices, and the menu, before deciding to throw in the towel ... or the thong, as it were.

But since they're going down this road, let me make a modest suggestion to the proprietors, if they happen to read this.

Fellas, "Beemer's" doesn't really mean anything to your loyal clientele.

Why not rename your club something that harkens back to McKeesport's heritage?

A name that is appropriate to the industry you've chosen but reflective of McKeesport's glorious traditions?

A name which can't help but conjure up memories rich with history, nostalgia, passion and penicillin among several generations of McKeesporters?

Call it "Brick Alley," the name of McKeesport's notorious red-light district in the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s (as well as a pretty good novel by David Chacko set in said red-light district).

But wait! Oops! I just did a search on "Brick Alley" and "McKeesport" and found out it's the name of an aspiring hip-hop group. Their webpage is complete with a background of picture of Brick Alley its own self, and you can listen to some of their music.

Well, how about "National Tube: The Perfect Place to Erect Some Pipe"?


On second thought, maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.

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May 12, 2006 | Link to this story

People’s Building Changes Hands

Category: default || By jt3y

I was remiss in not noting several days ago that The People's Building has indeed changed hands, as scheduled ... but not at a sheriff's sale. It was pulled in advance at the request of the people holding the mortgage.

Pat Cloonan reports in The Daily News (no link available) that the idea continues to be converting the historic old office building into loft apartments, and that the state housing finance agency is involved.

The last time the building was sold, the transaction caused red flags to pop up all over the Almanac's radar screen. This deal appears to be a little bit better for the city, and the building. Cloonan reports that the deal was handled by Pacific Coast Investment Company of Seattle, Wash.

Among other things, Pacific Coast held some of the paper on the Phoenix Coyotes' arena in Arizona, and a check of some newspaper databases reveals that they also handled the sale of the Stambaugh Building in Youngstown and loaned money to Aliquippa Community Hospital, so it appears as if they're familiar with real estate in depressed communities. They've also helped develop some shopping centers.

As best as I can tell, Pacific Coast specializes in risky real-estate developments --- and the People's Building would qualify as one of those at this point. They offer loans --- often at higher than normal interest rates --- and then sell shares of the mortgage to investors.

On the one hand, they've got a track record. But on the other, they've had their hands slapped a few times by regulators --- once for allegedly selling insurance without the proper licenses, another time for failing to deposit investors' funds in a timely manner and for not disbursing them on schedule.

According to the Seattle office of the Better Business Bureau, Pacific Coast paid a $100,000 fine, plus costs, under the terms of a consent order with Washington regulators. The state noted that the company "self-reported" its problems and "changed its procedures" to prevent any further violations.

A major business database lists Pacific Coast's credit rating as "very good" as of October 2005 and "good" as of December 2005.

I'm still wary, but a little bit more hopeful, that the People's Building is going to have a useful life again. I sure hope someone justifies that faith ... soon.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Little Theater, Coursin Street at Bailie Avenue, presents Schmidt and Jones' musical "110 in The Shade," 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100. ... McKeesport Symphony Orchestra presents "Visions of Spring," 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. Call (412) 664-2854 ... Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club hosts dancing at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 366-2138.

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May 11, 2006 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: default || By jt3y

It's time for another installment of that occasional Tube City Almanac feature we like to call ... In The Mon Valley, Good Government Is On The March! (Cue: "March of Time" theme.)

According to Linda Metz of the Observer-Reporter, one teacher in the Ringgold School District (serving Donora, New Eagle, Mon City and the metropolitan Finleyville area) is suing another for slander.

The suit alleges that the defendant accused the plaintiff of "sexual misconduct" with a principal, an assistant principal, and a security guard during last year's high school prom.

Gee, that must have been some prom. Did they play Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher"?

In essence, the defendant heard rumors of alleged "hanky panky" and reported them to administrators. The administrators (according to the O-R) suspended the plaintiff from work.

Now, writes Metz, the attorney for the teacher being sued is arguing in Washington County Common Pleas Court that the district should be the real defendant for failing to investigate the rumors fully, and for failing to protect her identity.

Meanwhile, Ringgold's picnic at Kennywood (which was itself the topic of angry debate a few years ago ... yes, that's right, they couldn't agree on whether to have a picnic at Kennywood) is May 28. That should be a very interesting day. They're liable to be bopping one another with the Wack-a-Mole hammers in the arcade.

Ringgold needs to hire someone to test the coffee in the teacher's lounge. And maybe the water, too. Something strange is going on down there.

Nevertheless, today, in the Ringgold School District, Good Government is clearly ... on the march! ("March of Time" theme: Up and Out.)


In other business, it's another Almanac Speedtrap Alert, this one for people from the Mon-Yough area who drive to Downtown Picksberg using Irvine Street and Second Avenue through Glenwood and Hazelwood.

During morning and evening rush hours, city police have been stationing a motorcycle cop on the "racetrack" stretch between Hazelwood and the B&O railroad underpass, where the speed limit is 25 miles an hour but most traffic is moving a lot faster. Since practically everyone is speeding, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

I've also seen them pull a clever little trick that I think they learned from the state police. They'll park a marked squad car in plain view on Irvine Street. Traffic slows down near the cop car, and then speeds back up again --- just in time for another officer, in either a squad car or on a motorcycle, parked a quarter-mile down the road, to nail the speeders.

Now, some people call that a "speed trap." Me, I call it a "motorist-derived revenue enhancement measure."


Finally, the Quote of the Day comes from Ryan Kish's front page account in last night's Daily News of the trial of the man accused of shooting Shelton Flowers to death at the Loews Waterfront movie theater in West Homestead.

Kish writes that a prosecution witness testified that he heard "four or five" gunshots from at least two different weapons as he left the men's room.

Assistant District Attorney Stephie Kapourales asked the witness if he was sure that he heard two different weapons.

To which, Kish reports, the witness responded: "I'm from Braddock, ma'am. I know gunshots."

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May 10, 2006 | Link to this story

Lookee, Lookee, Lookee: Artifice Cookie!

Category: default || By jt3y

The Post-Gazette editorial board put a hurt this week on incumbent state Rep. Ken Ruffing, a Democrat from West Mifflin ... or is it actually Brigadoon? After all, it seems like he only surfaces around election day, and then disappears back into the moors for two years.

Not only did the P-G endorse Bill Kortz (one of the "PA Clean Sweep" candidates) for the Democratic nomination, it also pointed out Ruffing's habit of vanishing into the mists whenever the villagers ask too many questions:

He voted for the 16 percent to 34 percent pay raise and took it. Then he voted to repeal it. He said he donated the raise to an autism-awareness organization, but he did not return a reporter's phone calls when asked for documentation on which group received the money. The incumbent also did not attend his interview with the Post-Gazette editorial board, although he said earlier that he would.

"Any legislator who refuses to answer questions about his record should not be rewarded with another term," the paper declares.

Meanwhile, WTAE-TV alleges that when Ruffing does answer questions, his answers aren't reliable.

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee sent out a mailing that features a picture of a slovenly man, sitting on the couch, watching TV. The text makes reference to a WTAE-TV news report that found Ruffing was actually at home when he was supposedly voting on a property tax reform bill in Harrisburg.

I didn't see the report when it first ran back in November, so I decided to go watch it. It's both amusing, and kind of sad.

Reporter Paul Van Osdol asks Ruffing if he was in Harrisburg for the vote. "I was there for the first day of the special session," Ruffing says. When Van Osdol tells him that no, WTAE has video of him, in West Mifflin, checking his mail that day, Ruffing petulantly replies, "Do you have it on tape? Fine. Well, then run it."

Of course, the transcript of Van Osdol's report makes at least one serious mistake (it calls Ruffing a "U.S. representative"), and as you Alert Readers know, no one is perfect, including the Almanac's editor. Maybe Ruffing just misspoke.

But his flip answer sure sounds like that of a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar, trying to act tough: "Sure, you caught me, but they were just cookies."

Yeah? Well, they're the taxpayers' cookies, and if you don't think you owe the taxpayers some answers, then perhaps you've had enough.


In addition to Kortz, Ruffing is also being challenged by C.L. "Jay" Jabbour, longtime bęte noire of former state representative and current West Mifflin Councilman Richard Olasz Sr.

Jabbour (who most recently served on county council, but resigned to run for the legislature) probably has the best name recognition in the district after Ruffing, simply because of his longevity.

But Kortz is the only candidate who appears to have a campaign website, so I'll link to it.

He also has a blog, but it appears he doesn't quite know what to do with it. As of this Almanac's writing, the last (and only) message on Kortz's blog is dated March 5. It reads (and I quote):

"Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!"

Of course, his constituents don't appear to know what to do with it, either. The last (and only) comment as of this writing? "Hi, this is a comment. To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them."


Well, we may not be computer savvy at times, but we sho' nuff love us some dirty tricks in the Mon-Yough area.

While there is a website called, one look will tell you it isn't run by Ruffing. In fact, it's not clear who's running the website ... it's registered through an anonymous service in Arizona called "Domains By Proxy."

The very same service is also the registered agent for the website.

Perhaps the allegations on those websites are accurate and fair. But it's awfully hard to judge their credibility when the people making the accusations hide behind anonymous Internet proxies.


In Other Business ... Alert Reader Jeff of Hempfield Township, who says "fooey" to my argument that deadbeats (like those in Hempfield) should have to pay for police protection like everybody else, passes along a poll by the Pennsylvania Economy League in which residents were asked about that very issue:

Despite pressure to control state spending and keep taxes down, there wasn’t much public support for requiring local communities relying on state police for protection to pay for this service. The poll found under a third (29%) said local communities should pay. Close to two-thirds (63%) said state government should continue to provide this service for free.

I would like to see how the question was phrased, and how many people knew the background of the issue. I don't think many people in urban areas of the state realize that large, suburban communities like Hempfield in Westmoreland County and Canton Township in Washington County are not paying for local police coverage. If they did, I think they'd be just as perturbed as I am.

But I suspect that the only people who really have strong opinions are people who live in places with police departments --- like Greensburg and North Huntingdon --- that abut communities sponging the state police. And since they're not much of a voting bloc, this issue is clearly a non-starter.

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May 05, 2006 | Link to this story

Blue & White and Red All Over

Category: default || By jt3y

A tipster has whispered a disquieting rumor to the Almanac: Penn State McKeesport Campus might not be for very much longer. That is to say, "McKeesport Campus."

Rumor has it, according to this source, that the university's board of trustees is mulling a decision to rename the campus "Penn State Allegheny."

The idea? Why, to distance the campus from Our Fair City!

(Gee, thanks. With friends like these ...)

I've been trying to tell the Tube City Tiger that this might just be a trial balloon that someone is floating, but he still spent most of the night growling at his poster of Joe Paterno.


As it turns out, PSM's student newspaper, The McKeesport Collegian, had a front page story about this very topic.

Students in a public relations class were asked to analyze the last six months of media coverage "trying to determine whether or not the name McKeesport has given the campus 'a bad rep.'" The coverage is being categorized as "positive" or "negative," though the Collegian story doesn't indicate what the tally was.

(Given that the period would include both the Tanya Kach case and the now notorious Whizzinator microwave incident, I have a feeling the tally would go against Our Fair City.)

The Collegian reports that the information is being sent to Penn State President Graham Spanier, who will determine "whether or not Penn State McKeesport should become Penn State Allegheny" or some other name.

(This is an ideal place for the Almanac to remind you, our Alert Reader, that opinions expressed in the Almanac are not those of the editor's employers or of any group for which the editor does work. In fact, sometimes, the editor is not sure they're his opinions, either.)


Now, the argument for renaming the campus goes like this: If the name "McKeesport" is associated with decline and crime, then prospective students will be less likely to consider PSM. (About 800 students are currently enrolled there.)

A PSM professor, Dr. Delia Conti, voiced a slightly different concern at Penn State's faculty senate meeting back in December.

"I have a houseful of seniors, and they talk about Penn State (University Park) or Penn State Erie," Professor Conti told Spanier. "They never talk about Penn State McKeesport, Penn State New Kensington, Penn State Beaver, Penn State Fayette. They go to Erie, not because of the beautiful city or the weather, but because there are four thousand students.

"Why not make the bold move and have a Penn State Pittsburgh? I know it would take a lot but it is not hard to figure out why students are picking (State College) and Erie, and not McKeesport."

Spanier said that the university is "looking very broadly" at the question, and some sort of change in how Penn State markets its southwestern Pennsylvania campuses "is conceptually consistent with the kinds of issues that are on the table."

Penn State is "not really thinking about changing anybody's name right now," Spanier said. "I do not want to get people nervous about that."


Well, too late, at least for the Almanac's hyper-sensitive McKeesport Anti-Defamation Detector. With our tipster's report, and the Collegian story, the alarm went straight to Code Orange.

Sure, I'm more than a decade removed from choosing my own college experience, but I understand that teen-agers are apt to chose a school for any number of superficial factors:

  • Does the college have a neat website?

  • Does it have good sports teams?

  • Are the students of the opposite sex "cute" or "cool"?

If Penn State McKeesport, or New Ken or Beaver, are at disadvantages, it's because they're suburban campuses.

Unlike Oakland or State College, you can't walk off campus and find a coffee house or a wild party. There are no bars nearby (moms and dads probably appreciate that more than the students) or fraternity and sorority houses. And of course, there are no major conference sports on campus.


Any student who wants the "rah-rah" big school experience is going to be disappointed at McKeesport Campus, and desperate to transfer to University Park. They're going to be dragged kicking and screaming to any suburban campus --- no matter what you call it.

Conti's comments back in December make that clear --- students go to Erie not because it's called "Penn State Erie," but because there are 4,000 students on campus.

You can call "Penn State McKeesport" anything you like, including a "meatball hoagie," but when prospective students make their first campus visit, they're going to realize that Eden Park Boulevard is not exactly Beaver Avenue in State College in terms of student life.

On the other hand, a lot of students specifically want to attend a small, suburban college because they're afraid of being lost on a big, urban campus, and because they want personal attention from the faculty and staff.


If the marketing value of a name change is dubious, the disadvantages are clear --- at least for the Mon-Yough area.

Taking the name "McKeesport" off of our regional campus would send a terrible message to the outside world about the city's future just as Mayor Brewster is trying to get his "McKeesport Renaissance" into high gear.

And Penn State McKeesport's 10,000 alumni might take it as a signal that they aren't important, or that their heritage has somehow been marginalized.

It also would be deeply unfair to all of the McKeesporters --- the Shaws, the Bucks, and hundreds of less prominent, but no less important families --- who donated money and time to bring Penn State to our area in the 1940s and '50s, and to keep it here since then.

Take, for example, the Crawford Trust, named for the founder of McKeesport Tin Plate Company. Since 1971, it's donated nearly a half-million dollars to Penn State McKeesport.

People in "Pittsburgh" or "Allegheny" didn't raise the money to bring the campus here --- McKeesporters and residents of the surrounding communities did.

(I also wonder how many Mon-Yough residents are Penn State sports fans specifically because they view the university as "their" school, even if they didn't attend it.)


Anyone who knows Penn State's reputation --- and who has seen the generous investments in recent years, both in money and in "brain power" at the McKeesport Campus --- should have no question that the campus provides excellent educational value.

The university is already marketing its Western Pennsylvania campuses under the banner "Penn State Pittsburgh." In this writer's opinion, that's a smart move. It enables students from Philadelphia or Scranton, who don't know where New Kensington and McKeesport are, to place the campuses geographically.

For that matter, since Penn State McKeesport now has students from more than 20 states and several foreign countries, grouping the five Western Pennsylvania "commonwealth campuses" under the "Penn State Pittsburgh" banner helps students in Zanesville and Zaire find them as well.

But marketing the campuses as "Penn State Pittsburgh" is one thing.

Dumping the name "McKeesport" from our local campus would be quite another.

McKeesport has always been proud of Penn State.

Please, Penn State: Be proud of McKeesport, too.


To Do This Weekend: Kennywood's open! If you feel like riding, just jump in your car! The roller-coaster capital is right where you are! And so forth. Call (412) 461-0500 or visit Kennywood's website. ... Port Vue Pub, 305 Laredo St., presents Matt Tichon on Saturday. Call (412) 664-0399 ... Charleroi Art & History Center hosts its second-annual regional art contest. The opening reception is tonight. Call (724) 483-4060. ... The Harold Betters Quintet plays the Boston Waterfront, 2422 Saint David Drive, Elizabeth Township, tomorrow night. Call (412) 751-8112.

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May 04, 2006 | Link to this story

Kennywood’s Open

Category: default || By jt3y

Kennywood opens for the season on Saturday. The big new ride this summer is called the "Vomitron" ... er, I mean, the "Swingshot."

A teen-ager who tried the ride told the Daily News on Wednesday that "you feel like you're going to fall, but you don't."

In fact, sources tell the Almanac that as originally delivered to Kennywood, the ride did drop people five stories onto the pavement, but the test riders interviewed afterward all said they would "definitely not" recommend it to their friends.

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May 03, 2006 | Link to this story

I'm Clueless --- Fly Me to McKeesport

Category: default || By jt3y

On a regular basis, people find this little backwater on the Internet via a Google search and email me asking for advice about the Mon-Yough area. Those people are taking their lives into their hands; I wouldn't even take my own advice.

Anyway, sometimes I feel like the Greater McKeesport Convention and Visitors Bureau, a job for which I am not qualified, and I worry that I give out a lot of terrible information.

"You want to stay in a spooky old house overnight? Sure, we've got lots of spooky old houses. Will you be requiring an axe-wielding maniac, or will you be turning on one another in a murder-suicide pact?"

I received an email earlier this week from someone in Washington, D.C., who asked:

I am (last minute) planning on getting up from D.C. to McKeesport on Thursday first thing to ride back to DC. The closest interstate one-way car rental I could get was to Hertz's Pleasant Hills location (47 Clairton Blvd.) I'm thinking of dumping the bikes in McKeesport, dropping the truck off at Clairton Blvd., and then getting a cab back to McKeesport ... to save riding through rush hour traffic from the Hertz location. Total is $100-plus.

Does this sound moderately sensible? Should I be riding the 5 miles from Pleasant Hills to McKeesport?

Thanks so much if you have any info that might help. We are looking forward to breakfast in your home town.

Here's my response. Hopefully, I haven't sent this guy to his doom. I'm posting it here for anyone else using the Youghiogheny River Trail:

There is nothing inherently unsafe about riding from Pleasant Hills to McKeesport on a bike --- however, "Clairton Boulevard" is actually a busy four-lane divided highway. There are also several large shopping malls nearby. And, there are some pretty substantial "hills" (outsiders call them "mountains") to traverse.

So, a bike ride would be a bad idea, and you are probably smart to dump the bikes in the city and then return the truck.

Just make sure you put 'em someplace safe. Check down at the marina office on the riverfront --- I think there's a bike rack nearby.

Also, make sure to call for a cab reservation well in advance --- Pittsburgh cabs are notoriously hard to get, unlike other cities (like DC or Boston) where you can get 'em anywhere. Yellow Cab is your best bet in Pleasant Hills. Checker also serves that area, I think.

As for breakfast, Eat 'n Park on Route 148 downtown would be your most reliable bet (think Friendly's or Perkins). I believe Woody's Little Italy in Versailles, Pa. (just across the Route 48 bridge from the bike trail) also serves breakfast, and it's probably good. There's also a place in Boston, Pa. (adjacent to the bike trail) called Boston Diner --- I haven't been there in some time, but last time I was, they had a good, and cheap, breakfast menu.

I've asked the guy for a trip report when he gets home, so if he writes back, I'll post his comments in the Almanac.

Otherwise, I expect to hear from the executors of his estate any day now.

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May 01, 2006 | Link to this story

The Wedding Bill Blues

Category: default || By jt3y

As I may have mentioned before, I am dangerously close to becoming an old coot, if in fact, that particular white-belt-and-shoes-to-match bridge hasn't been crossed already.

The latest sign that I am utterly and inexorably out of touch with modern American culture came last week at a large chain of tuxedo rental places.

A good friend is getting married (well, he may not be a "good friend" if he and his bride see this), and I've been asked to be part of the wedding party, which requires me to rent a monkey suit.

(Actually, it would be quite a different --- and in my opinion, better --- wedding if the bridal party wore genuine monkey suits. But no one asked me.)


Time was when you could rent a tux at Kadar's or David Israel's or Hi-Way Tux Shop ("VAlley 3-8042"), and be fitted by someone who actually looked like they had worn formal clothes at some point in their life.

Alas, the staff at this place (chosen by my friend and the bride because the groom's tux is free) was barely old enough to shave, let alone tie a necktie without mom's help. "Customer service" were vague words they had heard only once, briefly, in between personal cell phone calls.

And, it's prom time, which means that the rest of the customers in the joint were (like the staff) also 17-something. Everyone in the place was staring at me as if I was their dad, or possibly a narc. (I had just come from work and was wearing a suit and tie.)


Finally, someone who looked like she remembered the first George Bush took pity and took my measurements. The bride and groom wanted everyone to rent shoes as well, she said. Fine. They turned out to be plain black loafers of that really phony-looking shiny leatherette favored by high-school marching bands. And naturally, they didn't have them in my size.

(I take a triple-E shoe, and you know what they say about a guy with big feet. That's right: He pays more for shoes.)

Then she showed me the tux. "Is this OK?"

"Well, since it's what everyone else is wearing, I don't think I have much choice." She laughed.


The tux jacket was a plain single-breasted business suit cut --- no tails, and not a cutaway. The men in the wedding party won't be wearing bowties, just plain silk neckties. The shirts don't even have French cuffs. Total damage, $92.

So, I'm paying almost $100 to rent a plain black suit for one night (for less than $200, I could buy the same damned suit off the rack at Berks), plus I have to take a pair of uncomfortable shoes that aren't as nice looking as the black leather Florsheims I wore into the store. And they've got to be back before 12 noon the day after the wedding, or they'll ding me for another day's rental.

At least I don't have to worry that I'll look like a goober (any more than usual). But if I'm out 92 clams for a tuxedo, I think I should at least be getting the whole shebang --- ruffled shirt, cummerbund, maybe a powder-blue jacket with shiny black lapels or a red crushed-velvet job. Maybe I'll rent one of those for the reception.


Don't get me wrong --- my friend's a great guy, his bride is wonderful, too, and I'm honored as all get out to stand around and try not to make an idiot of myself at their wedding. But if you're a grumpy grouse (and I'm single, or does that go without saying?) like me, some of the preparations start to seem a bit silly, or at least way overpriced.

Take the food at the wedding reception. Back in my kidhood, Mon Valley wedding receptions were held at the fire hall, and featured the classic menu of "riggy, piggy, chicky" with a cookie table. My friend's wedding --- like all of the ones I've been to recently --- is being held at a banquet facility that specializes in weddings, and it's going to cost the bride and groom a couple of double sawbucks for each person who attends.

And frankly, my friend and his bride are doing things sensibly and conservatively, compared to some other recent weddings I've seen.


In a stunning coincidence, I arrived home from the tuxedo shop to read in the Christian Science Monitor that weddings are now a $120 billion per year industry in this country:

Nuptial sticker shock has become a sobering fact of life for many brides and grooms as wedding bells produce ever-larger wedding bills. More than a quarter of engaged couples now pay for everything themselves. With weddings averaging $23,000, some newlyweds remain indebted for years. Some must even seek credit counseling.

And just who do you think is pushing these spiraling costs? Why, florists, caterers and tuxedo rental shops, writer Kamy Wicoff tells the Monitor. "They imply that if you're looking at cutting costs or not doing things 'right' --- which is code for 'expensively' --- your priorities aren't straight," she says.

Increasingly elaborate weddings are self-perpetuating: If you see your friends spending five grand on flowers, well, you don't want to look like some cheap yobbo when you get married, so you spend six grand. Your friends see this, and when they get married, they spend seven grand to outdo your wedding. And so on.


I mean, seriously: Twenty-three grand? I know I'm an old poop, but the wedding and the reception take a total of what, four hours? Maybe five?

The couple is going to spend (Lord willing) the rest of their lives together. So wouldn't that $23,000 be better spent on a smaller, less ostentatious reception ... and a kick-ass honeymoon that lasts a week or two? I mean, if you're spending that kind of money, make the memories last. Crossing the Atlantic on the most luxurious cruise ship in the world --- Cunard's Queen Mary 2 --- would cost only about $1,300 per person, plus return airfare.

That would beat the hell out of spending the same money for two hours in a banquet hall on the Parkway, wouldn't it? Or, on a practical level, wouldn't that money make one heckuva down payment on a dream house?

(This all, probably, explains why I'm not married.)

Anyway: I'm looking forward to my friend's wedding. I'm also looking forward to them having a long, happy marriage, because I think they're both swell people.

But the morning after the reception, before I take back this tux, I am going to be very, very busy. I intend to paint my living room, change the oil in my car, and cut the grass, all before 12 noon.

Because if I have to pay $92, I am going to beat the living crap out of this tuxedo.

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