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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

June 29, 2006 | Link to this story

CSX: Clean Up Your Mess!

Category: default || By jt3y

These pictures illustrate the dangerous conditions at the River Road grade crossing in Port Vue --- caused apparently by a CSX railroad repair project that was never completed.

After a week, CSX still hasn't responded to our question, so the Almanac is going to the state PUC.

Motorists from McKeesport, Liberty and Port Vue have been dodging this mess for more than a month. Some laborers were at the crossing this week, leading to hope that the damage might finally be repaired --- no such luck, as these photos, taken a few hours ago, illustrate.

Please, CSX: Fix your damned crossing!

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June 28, 2006 | Link to this story

Fuzzy Logic

Category: default || By jt3y

I didn't mention it at the time, because it had nothing to do with Our Fair City or the Mon-Yough area, but parts of our region are apparently still recovering from Anthrocon.

This is a national convention of people who collect art, comic books, stories, videos ("murals, postcards, neckties, samplers, stained glass windows, tattoos!") featuring anthropomorphic (walking, talking, or otherwise acting like people) animals.

At its basic level, this amounts to an enthusiasm for Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons and anime, much like people might be engrossed in fantasy baseball, or "Star Trek."

But as with every hobby, some folks go to extremes; there's a whole subculture of people who are turned on by anthro porn. And no, the Almanac does not intend to link to any of those sites.

(I'm reminded of Garth's comment to Wayne in "Wayne's World": "Did you ever find Bugs Bunny attractive when he'd put on a dress and play a girl bunny?")

In between, there are folks who like to dress up in "fursuits" and walk around costumed completely or partially as their favorite animals, and to his dismay, Officer Jim, Alert Reader and Sometime Guest Almanacker, found some video shot in Picksberg and the rest of the Greater McKeesport area. He writes:

Oh. My. I just ... I can't possibly describe how ... there are no words that can convey just how creeped out watching this clip made me feel. I must now go wash out my memory.

To tell you the truth, Officer Jim, maybe five years of working in Oakland, and four years of school there, numbed me, but this barely nudges my Weird-o-Meter. In my lifetime, I've seen:

  • Grown men get into screaming fights over whose toy trains are allowed to run where;

  • PhD candidates roll dice to determine whether their dragon will be slain by an "orc"; and,

  • People lighting candles on top of skulls to summon spirits from the netherworld to bless their new year.

Also, I've seen the Pirates play what is charitably called "baseball." Talk about real horror shows.

And let's face it: In McKeesport over the last few years, we've had a person critically wounded when an amateur surgeon performed a castration on their dining room table; a girl who was allegedly locked in a bedroom for almost 10 years by a school security guard; and someone microwaving a fake penis in a convenience store at the corner of Walnut and Fifth.

So, dressing up as an animal and walking around the Golden Triangle may be odd, but on a weirdness scale of 1 to 10, with Perry Como being a "1" and Michael Jackson being a "10," this is no more than a "6," along with people who go to Star Trek conventions dressed as Lt. Worf. Shriners riding around in little cars might be a "2" or a "3." Mimes would be a "4" or "5."

. . .

One curious thing I did notice: All of these fursuiters seem to pick totem animals like wolves, dogs, foxes, lions, tigers, horses, zebras, etc. --- in other words, creatures known for their beauty, or their cunning, or their nobility.

No one ever seems to want to dress up as a stink bug, a sewer rat, or a leech.

. . .

In other business, don't ask me how I stumbled onto this, but I did, and it's just in time for Independence Day (the day, not the movie).

First, I thought Cracked magazine (actually Cracked mazagine if I remember correctly) had gone out of business, but apparently it's back.

Second, maybe I need to grow up, because I thought it was funny: "What if Fox News Was Around During the American Revolution?"

. . .

Finally, apropos of Friday's Almanac, Dave Copeland offers helpful hints for shaving one's head. Look, I give you guys (that is, yinz) who shave your heads a lot of credit. I just have no intention of doing it any time soon.

I'm just convinced that if I shave my head, although I'll be trying to look like this:

... instead, I'll look like this:

On the other hand, if a convention of people who like to dress up like their favorite Muppets comes to town, I'll be like a god to them.

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June 27, 2006 | Link to this story

But I Knows What I Likes

Category: default || By jt3y

Why don't I read Tunesmith & Anthony more often? Maybe I'm not too bright.

If I did, I would have learned last week that the sculptor who crafted the controversial "Hunky-Steelworker" statue for the Three Rivers Arts Festival has died at the age of 65 --- the result of a tragic accident in his studio.

A commission on which he was working --- a 30-foot-tall statue of a horse, to be installed at the Denver airport --- fell on top of him.

The artist, Luis Jimenez, who no doubt knew a thing or two about being a minority himself, said at the time he thought that "Hunky" was a term of endearment. Er, well, no. (Especially since the most common modifications of the word "hunky" were "dumb" and "stubborn.")

But it was a common enough term around these parts in the early part of the 20th century, and if art does imitate life, then it should have been allowed to stay on the statue. Or so I thought at the time.

Also, it was probably a bit much to coerce Jimenez into bowdlerizing his word, but Pittsburghers did. He took a chisel to the statue and knocked the word "hunky" off of it. It was a major tempest in a halushki pot back in 1990, and one of the earliest signs that we Picksbergers were becoming a tad hyper-sensitive about our image.

. . .

Finally, remember that River Road grade crossing? Still no answer from CSX. Tonight, I'm going down to check and see if it was repaired. If not, I'm complaining to the state Public Utility Commission.

Tube City Almanac: Art Critic by day, Railroad Crossing Vigilante by night!

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June 23, 2006 | Link to this story

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain

Category: default || By jt3y

After reading yesterday's Almanac, former colleague and Alert Reader Vince sent along this photo of him meeting former U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant while in elementary school.

"I'm the one in the pink shirt," Vince says. "I have lots and lots of hair!"

Like your Almanac editor, and Jim Traficant, Vince is now somewhat follically challenged, though he's had the courage to shave the rest off. Another former colleague, Dave Copeland, did the same thing, and he looks pretty good.

I keep clinging to the notion that if I only have the rest of my hair cut really, really short, no one will notice that my hairline starts about six inches above my eyebrows.

Also, I fear that if I shave my head, I'll look like a giant thumb.

I don't intend to go the Rudy Giuliani route --- parting my hair at my neck and combing it over. Nor will I emulate Traficant and put a remnant on my head. But I am going to cling to my remaining follicles until the bitter end.

In local news, the former McCrory five-and-10 store on West Main Street in Mon City burned down yesterday morning after apparently being struck by lightning. I lived for about a year directly across the street, above what is now a pizza shop, while I worked for the Observer-Reporter.

Monongahela is a great city, by the way --- one of the undiscovered little gems in the Mon-Yough area. A wonderful waterfront, an honest-to-goodness main street that you can walk, a good little town park with a gazebo. I love living near Our Fair City, in neighboring North Bittyburg, but if I worked south of Picksberg, I could easily see living in Mon City. (Irwin and West Newton would also be high on my list.)

And Mon City, for all of its other charms, also holds a rare distinction: It's one of the few communities I can think of where Fourth Avenue intersects Fourth Street. (You could, as they say, look it up.)

I actually looked at an apartment above the McCrory building, but not for long. The realtor gave me a key and sent me down alone. I opened the outside door to find a pile of moldy mail and spiderwebs covering the stairway to the second floor. I instantly knew I wouldn't moving there, but I decided, for giggles, to continue upstairs and check out the apartment.

The kitchen had last been updated in Franklin Roosevelt's second term and most of the paint had peeled from the walls and ceilings; little chips and flakes littered every horizontal surface. The windows, which offered a lovely view of the railroad tracks, were decorated with about 200 dead bugs in various states of decomposition.

I returned to the real estate office and gave the lady the key.

"It's a nice old building, isn't it?" she said.

"Well," I said, biting my cheek, "it's interesting. It needs a lot of work, though. A lot of work. It needs to be completely cleaned and repainted, for one thing."

"We might be willing to make a deal," she said. "In fact, you seem like a nice guy. I'll bet we could let it go for $300 a month, plus utilities."

I politely declined. But considering what I was being paid at the time by the newspaper, I might have moved there --- if the landlord had paid me $300 a month.

Anyway, I have no idea what the upstairs of the old McCrory building looks like after this massive fire, but based on Scott Beveridge's report in the O-R, I don't think a coat of paint is going to do the trick now.

Maybe some other time, I'll tell you about the apartment that I did end up renting --- the one across the street from McCrory's. Particularly about the night they installed new pizza ovens downstairs and decided to "test them out."

I toured U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works a few years ago, and let me tell you, there was less smoke there than in my living room that night.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Speaking of the Monongahela area, you can see the stars come out at Mingo Creek County Park, Route 88 near Finleyville, when the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh hosts "Summerfest" at the new Mingo Creek Park Observatory. Visitors can use the observatory's two giant telescopes, one 24 inches, one 10 inches. Campers will also be setting up additional telescopes nearby to observe the "new moon." And, I suspect, they'll be leading a sing-along of "Rain, Rain Go Away." Many events are planned tonight, tomorrow and Sunday, and food is available. Call (724) 348-6150. ... Closer to home, the McKeesport City Carnival wraps up tomorrow night at Helen Richey Field, Renziehausen Park. Ride all night for $10. Visit the recreation committee's website for details.

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June 22, 2006 | Link to this story

Goodness, Gracious, Great Rugs of Fire!

Category: default || By jt3y

I don't often write by name about friends, but forgive me --- this was too good not to share.

When my friend Meghan Holohan (and my new friend, her new hubby, Jarod Boulden) got married, I did something I often do, because I'm sick in the head --- I got them a gag wedding gift.

No, nothing vulgar ... my Victorian-era sense of propriety forbids it. But Meghan, a writer of no mean talent, was fascinated by the downfall of flamboyant Youngstown congressman Jim Traficant, and even tried to interview Jimmy before they sent him up the river. (He never responded. Maybe he was busy combing out his toupees before putting them into storage ... or do you get to wear a rug in the joint?)

Anyway, along with a conventional-type wedding present, I enclosed his 'n hers "Free Traficant" T-shirts.

I always wonder when I do something like that, because some people treat their wedding day as a sacred moment, that must be absolutely, entirely, 100 percent perfect, and no levity of any kind is permitted.

That, happily, is not Meghan and Jarod. Not only did they get a kick out of them ... they wore the T-shirts on their honeymoon to the Bonnaroo art and music festival in Manchester, Tenn., and to some other landmarks in and around Memphis.

Meghan has sent me photos, and with her permission, I'm posting 'em.

Here's Mr. Boulden at Bonnaroo looking decidedly like a Vince Gill fan:

And here he is outside a Beale Street cafe with, inexplicably, a goat used as part of a sculpture:

Finally, here's Mrs. Boulden at the historic Memphis Recording Service, aka "Sun Records," on Union Avenue, where Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and other legends of early rock and roll cut their first sides under the watchful eyes of Sam Phillips. Meghan doesn't quite have the Elvis lip-curl/sneer down pat, but I think she's got the pose OK:

Jarod and Meghan decided not to wear the T-shirts to some other Memphis landmarks, like the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I tend to agree with their decision, though Mr. Traficant's supporters do regard him as a political prisoner of sorts. He is, after all, in jail for allegedly freeing campaign funds from their bondage.

In any event, I'm glad that they were able to spread the word about Mr. Traficant's predicament to the good people of the Volunteer State. I can only hope that he blesses Meghan and Jared with a long and happy marriage.

It was also probably fortunate that they wore those T-shirts on their honeymoon, and not their wedding night.

No offense, but staring at that face would dampen my ... er ... ardor.

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June 20, 2006 | Link to this story

Around The Town

Category: default || By jt3y

Great hoppin' horny-toads, would it kill CSX Railroad to fix the River Road grade crossing under the 15th Avenue Bridge in Port Vue? Motorists heading southbound over that crossing --- which was never the picture of smooth driving anyway --- are getting a nasty surprise.

Apparently the railroad pulled the crossing up to replace either rails or ties or both. Part of the paving in the southbound lane is now missing and is instead packed with ballast --- that's the crushed stone that supports railroad tracks.

But the ballast is getting pushed down below the level of the rails, which means that if you stay in your lane, you get a big jolt --- kapow! --- as your passenger side wheels go over them.

Eventually, I fear someone is going to either rip the undercarriage out of their car, or get hung up on the tracks and be struck by a train. (Besides this clown, I mean.)

That crossing is already a pain in the keister because the gates have a bad habit of malfunctioning and getting stuck in a "fail-safe" position --- one up, one down, lights blinking. I've reported it at least twice myself.

Well, Tube City Almanac decided to take action for you. I've got an email into a spokesman at CSX to find out when the crossing is being fixed, and when (if?) I get an answer, I'll let you know.

And yes, I'm sure an $8.6 billion railroad trembles at the thought of having a mediocre, poorly sourced webpage mad at it!

. . .

P.S.: If you've got a railroad crossing problem, you can also go to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's website and file a complaint.

. . .

The Post-Gazette has a lovely "slideshow" on its website about what it calls "The Jewel of McKeesport" --- no, not the Viking Lounge, the Arboretum (and the rose gardens in particular) in Renziehausen Park. Created in 1938, the Arboretum is maintained by the Garden Club of McKeesport and the Pittsburgh Rose Society.

According to, the Renzie Arboretum is considered one of the "great gardens" of Pennsylvania, with more than 1,200 roses arranged in 28 beds, plus three additional raised rose beds of 300 bushes. It's also one of only 130 public rose gardens in the U.S. accredited by a non-profit organization of rose enthusiasts and growers, All-America Rose Selections.

That organization named one of the Rose Society's members, John Consigliero, "Evaluator of the Year" in 2002 for his work on the Arboretum, according to the society's website.

Though you can visit the arboretum any time during daylight hours this summer, I think the Rose Society has a public show and picnic each year around July, but unfortunately, the website hasn't been updated for a while ... you may want to watch the papers for an announcement. (Or maybe some horticulture buff will email this website if he or she knows the details ... hint, hint, hint.)

. . .

Finally, since I bolloxed this up a few weeks ago, I'll try to get it right this time ... the McKeesport City Carnival starts at 6 tonight at Renzie and runs through Saturday. "Ride all night" passes are only $10. Visit the Recreation Committee's website for details.

And the fourth public "lunch on the lawn" of this summer will be held tomorrow starting at 11 a.m. at Kelly Park, located on Walnut Street, Downtown, between Shaw and Sixth avenues.

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June 16, 2006 | Link to this story

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Category: default || By jt3y

Well, I shot off my mouth a few days ago wondering why Barry Stein, the developer renovating Midtown Plaza Mall, hadn't done anything else with the structure for about a year --- leaving a big ugly rubble-strewn complex on Fifth Avenue, Downtown.

(Actually, that's not fair --- Midtown Plaza was both "big" and "ugly" long before Stein came to town.)

Ann Belser set me straight in Thursday's Post-Gazette ... Stein has been waiting for the city, which controls the parking garage above the mall, to repair structural problems in the concrete deck that cause leaks in the stores.

Well, it looks as if city council has approved a $1 million contract to renovate the garage, which should (fingers crossed here) allow Stein to move forward with the rest of the complex.

With all of the people working over at EchoStar's call center now, it escapes me why there isn't more retail activity going on Downtown again. We've got a captive audience.

I hope a new, less ugly Midtown Plaza sparks some of that activity.

And apologies to Mr. Stein if I implied that he was dragging his feet on this issue, but I desperately want to see something going on down there.

. . .

If you didn't read Mayor Brewster's "state of the city" address, as recounted in Thursday night's Daily News, get thee to a library (or the News lobby and lay your hands on a copy.

I'd link to it, but, well, you know ... it's subscribers only. I especially agree with his comments about the need to change generations of bad habits that are trashing many city neighborhoods. (To quote "The Simpsons": "Put your garbage in a garbage can, people! Don't just throw it out the window! I can't stress that enough!")

Maybe the folks who administer the city's website will put the entire thing online (he wrote, dropping a not-at-all-subtle hint), because it deserves a wider audience.

. . .

News You May Have Missed: The Pennsylvania Turnpike is considering corporate sponsorship on "57 toll plazas, 157 state vehicles and more than 1,000 emergency call boxes," according to Jerome Sherman in the Post-Gazette last week.

Do we really need more corporate sponsorship of anything? It already seems like every square inch of the damned landscape is covered in someone's logo.

Take downtown Picksberg --- it was fun when the first corporate logo went on top of one of the skyscrapers in the Golden Triangle. Now, the skyline looks like McKnight Road on a Friday night.

Thursday, the New York Daily News (no relation to the McKeesport one, its motto is "More Than a Newspaper --- Youse Gotta Problem Wit Dat?") reported that the Big Apple is cracking down on giant advertisements (especially those that wrap around buildings) and fining violators.

But Pennsylvania --- always 10 years behind everyone else --- wants to go the other direction, and to prop up the bloated Turnpike Commission bureaucracy, no less.

I wish I had some money. I'd buy a toll plaza and rename it "The Next Time Try The Train Interchange."

. . .

Speaking of Signs: I saw a sign on a business down in Hazelwood yesterday that said "Shut Up Murtha."

I suppose that's more concise than sticking your fingers in your ears and singing, "la-la-la-la-la."

. . .

To Do This Weekend: It's soap-box derby weekend in Renzie Park! The annual Greater Pittsburgh Soap Box Derby gets underway at 9 a.m. Sunday on Eden Park Boulevard. The winners will represent the region in the 68th annual All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. (Expect some traffic restrictions on Hartman Street and around Penn State McKeesport Campus.) WWSW-FM (94.5) will be on hand from 10 a.m. to noon with the "3WS Sports Challenge." Call (412) 462-1957. ... McKeesport Little Theater's "junior theater" presents "Bugsy Malone Jr.," a musical comedy about two wannabe gangsters and a boxer. A spaghetti dinner will be held Saturday evening at a cost of $6 for adults and $4 for children. Discount coupons are available at MLT's website. Showtimes are 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Father's Day Sunday; call (412) 673-1100.

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June 15, 2006 | Link to this story

The Fickle Finger of Flippancy

Category: default || By jt3y

And now, the Fay-West Area Association of Tar Paper Shack Architects presents that occasional Tube City Almanac feature called ... "Good Government is On The March!"

(MUSIC: "March of Time" theme UP, ESTABLISH and UNDER.)

. . .

Our first example comes from the Post-Gazette (via Pittsburgh Dish) and concerns a council meeting in scenic Canonsburg, Washington County, hometown of Bobby Vinton, The Four Coins, and Perry Como, who was immortalized several years ago with a statue that depicts him eating an ice-cream cone.

It seems that two councilmen voted against waiving a building permit for Habitat For Humanity, the charity which constructs houses for low-income families.

"Really, they're a worldwide money-making cult, as far as I'm concerned," Councilman Daniel Caruso Jr. said.

That's right: Former President Jimmy Carter, a deacon in the Baptist Church and a devout born-again Christian, is a volunteer for a money-making cult. Alert Fox News!

Another councilman, Dennis D'Orazio, said the group didn't deserve any "special favors."

Now, a building permit in Canonsburg, according to the borough's website, costs a minimum of $25, or 0.4 percent of the cost of construction.

For the sake of this argument, let's say that this house would be valued at the Canonsburg median value (according to the 2000 U.S. Census) of $76,400.

At that rate, these two upright Christian (I presume) men wanted to deny a "special favor" to Habitat For Humanity of ... $305.60.

I think that's about what Sarris Candies sells in ice cream in 20 minutes at this time of year.

Tube City Almanac applauds Councilmen Caruso and D'Orazio for their diligent efforts to stamp out rampant kindness in Canonsburg, and look forward to their upcoming attempts to stop Boy Scouts from helping little old ladies across the street ("let them stay on their own side") and the Salvation Army from providing free coffee for disaster victims ("we have stores in this town that sell coffee").

. . .

Before we get to our other example of Good Government ... On The March, we would like to pause and pay tribute to Dr. Stanley Denton, a new member of the state Board of Control governing the Duquesne City School District.

According to the June 7 Daily News, Dr. Denton is discouraging residents from sending their children to charter schools or private schools, because, he says, the Duquesne City School District "will become the jewel of the Mon Valley."

That's the same Duquesne City School District that is running a $3.3 million dollar deficit next year, despite laying off seven teachers, the school librarian (there is no library in Duquesne, by the way), the guidance counselor, and the school psychologist; and eliminating all foreign language, art and music classes, having already cancelled all extra-curricular activities except for football and basketball.

We admire Dr. Stanley Denton's optimism, though we suspect that he would have kept selling those "I (Heart) The Titanic!" T-shirts even as the band was playing "Nearer My God To Thee."

. . .

Now, a reminder to our readers that opinions expressed here are those --- and only those --- of the editor, and do not reflect opinions of his employers or the staff of the Fay-West Area Association of Tar Paper Shack Architects.

With that in mind, we'd like to pause and recognize the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which last year created a "House Select Committee on Academic Freedom" to investigate incidents of alleged bias by college professors.

Obviously, there must be a need for these investigations. As Penn State professor Michael Berube points out, at his university, there have been 13 such complaints about alleged "bias" filed against professors over the past five years.

That's about two or three complaints per year at a university system with 80,000 students and 8,000 faculty members.

With this epidemic underway, it's a good thing we have a committee schlepping around to conduct hearings that one of its own members calls "a colossal waste of time."

Thus, in the spirit of the late U.S. Sen. William Proxmire's "Golden Fleece Awards," we would like to present the committee with the "Emperor Nero Golden Fiddle Award." It looks lovely on the side of a molehill.

. . .

Finally, we award our other place of honor this time to a modern, efficient law-enforcement officer ... former West Mifflin police Chief Frank Diener.

Indeed, a state police affidavit alleges that with ruthless efficiency, Chief Diener eliminated thousands of dollars of unnecessary and unneeded equipment from the borough, including:

  • A video poker machine
  • A storage trailer
  • Two computers
  • Shredding machines
  • A skid-loader valued at $21,000
  • A pistol belonging to a dead police officer
  • $10,000 in tools
  • A power generator

We are sure that Chief Diener's efforts to clear out the grounds of the police station resulted in a cleaner working environment for officers and residents alike.

But is the county congratulating him? No! They're charging him with 19 counts of theft, obstruction of justice, and related offenses.

This comes after the federal government's decision to charge Chief Diener with drug possession and delivery after he gave away 25 grams of cocaine and 387 grams of marijuana so that they wouldn't be found during an FBI search of his home.

It turns out that the drugs had been removed from the evidence locker at the police station --- no doubt because it was becoming too crowded. Well, no wonder he gave the drugs away ... having made such an effort to clean the police station, he didn't want the FBI to think his house was messy!

. . .

In all seriousness: Chief Diener's efforts make the work of all of the honest, hard-working police officers in West Mifflin and surrounding communities --- and most of them are honest and hard-working --- just a little bit harder.

And he's added to the climate of distrust that separates average citizens from the people who put their lives on the line to protect them.

We feel bad for all of the police officers who are going to be looked at with suspicion for years to come as a result of Chief Diener's actions --- they don't deserve it.

We also sympathize with his family: Though some people are no doubt outraged that Diener appears to still be eligible for his $42,000 annual pension, that money is going to be cold comfort and seems like a lousy trade-off for one's reputation and self-respect.

. . .

Until next time ... remember that around the region and around the state, "Good Government is On The March!"

(MUSIC: "March of Time" theme UP and OUT.)

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June 14, 2006 | Link to this story

Gimme a Knife --- Iíll Spite You Good, Face!

Category: default || By jt3y

Where was I when I was so rudely interrupted?

I ended Thursday's Almanac with a promise to continue my ruminations on regionalism, the decline of Downtown, etc., etc., etc., "tomorrow."

And then no Almanac appeared on Friday. Obviously, there are elastic definitions of "tomorrow" in Almanacland.

Mea culpa. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were extremely busy --- my best friend got married (and won't his wife be surprised ... ha!), and I helped with the preparations. Thursday night and Friday thus got away from me, and I didn't have time to write.

That means I also forgot to remind you about the Renzie Park fishing derby. Mea maxima culpa.

Incidentally, you may remember my rant about the tuxedo store a few months ago. I would just like to report that despite their high price, they came through with wonderful quality clothes and excellent service.

I would like to report that, but the fact is the clothes fit like feedsacks and were made of material of roughly the same quality. My "tuxedo shirt" had frayed cuffs and a gray collar, and the groom's tuxedo pants were broken.

They also forgot to put the vest back in the package, which necessitated a high-speed run by myself and one of the groomsmen back to the tuxedo shop 45 minutes before the ceremony. At which point they gave us a vest that didn't fit.

Are they getting one of my patented Indignant Complaint Letters? Oh, yes, they are. I don't have a reputation as the biggest crank in the Mon-Yough area for nothing.

To avoid litigation, I won't mention this tuxedo chain's name. But it's named after a huge Glenn Miller hit of 1940, and I ain't talking about "In The Mood."

. . .

Anyway, the wind kind of came out of my sails on the Downtown rant. I was going to get into a big rant about metropolitanism, and this balkanization of our communities, and why we need more cooperation among governments, "(and blah, blah, blah)," to quote Simon and Garfunkel.

But how many times do people around here need to be told this before it sinks in? A thousand times? A million? It doesn't matter --- they're not listening.

  • You can explain to them that their taxes are high, in part, because we have so many separate government agencies and municipalities duplicating the same services: They don't care.

  • You can explain to them that businesses don't want to locate here because of the bizarre taxation and municipal structures: They don't care.

  • You can explain to them the benefits of having a streamlined, unified zoning and planning system: They don't care.

The people around here don't want intergovernmental cooperation, period. I used to think that you could reason with them, but lately, I've decided that because so many of us are descended from Eastern European peasant stock, obstinacy is just ingrained.

We're pig-headed and stubborn, and even if things don't work, we like 'em just the way they are.

. . .

The Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review provided two object lessons last week, one from the Mon-Yough area, another from Pittsburgh.

In the first, Marge Smykla reported on a recent council meeting where residents and officials in Dravosburg Borough reviewed the results of the decision to contract out police service to Our Fair City.

  • They concluded that the McKeesport police (because they have a detective bureau) have been able to clear cases and solve crimes that the tiny Dravosburg force couldn't.

  • They admitted that response times haven't increased.

  • They acknowledged that McKeesport has provided very visible traffic enforcement.

But many Dravosburg residents at the council meeting, according to Marge Smykla in the P-G, want their borough police back, even if it requires a 4-mill tax increase.

See, the mayor wants to be notified any time a crime is committed. No offense, but the last mayor of Dravosburg went up on criminal charges for meddling in the police department's business.

And one resident says that without a police department, Dravosburg "don't have any identity at all anymore."

Sure it does. It's that tiny borough that people pass through on their way from one side of West Mifflin to the other.

If the only identity Dravosburg had was a few squad cars with "Dravosburg" painted on the side, then perhaps "Dravosburg" doesn't have any reason for being.

But that's just me. I could be wrong.

. . .

The Trib's lesson in mulishness came Sunday, in a story by David M. Brown about the centennial of the merger of Allegheny City into the City of Pittsburgh.

It's been told many times before; state law, at the time, allowed two municipalities to merge if a majority of both communities approved the merger --- not a majority of each community. Since Pittsburgh's population was three times that of Allegheny City's, it didn't matter that Allegheny residents voted against consolidation --- the merger sailed through.

Now, most people would have long ago let this matter drop. Not some residents of Pittsburgh's North Side. One, aged 89, "longs to carry old Allegheny City's flag across (the) Clemente Bridge to announce secession," Brown writes.

In the unlikely event of Allegheny's secession, then what would happen? Would we set up another police department, another fire department, another city council, school board, municipal authority, etc., etc., etc?

Why don't we just abandon the entire region and turn it back over to the Delawares and Shawnees? Heck, they had large regional governments back in the 1600s and 1700s. Could they really do a worse job?

. . .

I had drinks last night with a friend and Alert Reader who's leaving the area, along with his lovely wife, for work reasons.

He's convinced that there is a Ring of Stupidity, centered at Downtown Pittsburgh, and stretching roughly to Butler, Youngstown, Waynesburg and Greensburg. This natural force, perhaps caused by steel mill pollution, prevents people living within the ring from acting in their own self-interest.

You know, he might be onto something.

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June 12, 2006 | Link to this story

Steeler Threat Level: Orange

Category: default || By jt3y

The Office of Steelerland Security has issued the following statement:

Please attempt to remain calm in this moment of crisis. Residents are urged to shelter in place and monitor local 24-hour radio and TV coverage of today's tragic incident. Large-scale evacuations are not recommended at this time.

In the event that sheltering at home remains impossible, please proceed immediately to your nearest sports bar.

We do not expect the current emergency to last more than a week or so. But in the event that it does, all residents are strongly encouraged to take preventative measures to stave off anxiety and stress disorders.

Breathing into a paper bag may help. You may also wish to lie down in a dark, quiet room with a damp Terrible Towel on your head.

Under no circumstances should you watch your highlights DVD from last season.

If you are unable to sleep for extended periods, either seek professional assistance or watch a Pirates game.

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June 08, 2006 | Link to this story

The Noise and the Hurry Seems to Help

Category: default || By jt3y

Tuesday afternoon, I went Downtown (the lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, etc.) to get a tire fixed, go to the bank, and shoot some pictures at the RIDC industrial park, and naturally, my mind got to wondering.

. . .

I am grateful for Pittsburgh developer Barry Stein's efforts to rehabilitate and rent out the Midtown Plaza Mall, which was one of the all-time worst things ever built in the Mon Valley. (I'm fairly certain it was built in part with taxpayer money, and as I believe P.J. O'Rourke has pointed out, the epitome of a public-works project is the public toilet. Which, incidentally, is what Midtown Plaza usually smelled like.)

And glory, hallelujah, was it a happy day when they finally pulled down the parking deck over Fifth Avenue. Yippie! Here comes the sun!

All that being said ... I don't mean to sound unkind, Mr. Stein, but when the heck are you going to finish? Other than the handful of businesses rented out along Lysle Boulevard, I haven't seen much progress for more than a year. Midtown Plaza still has rusty steel beams, broken siding and half-demolished pieces of concrete hanging out everywhere.

I realize that they may be waiting for additional tenants before they finish the work, but is it too much to ask that the wreckage be cleaned up? And maybe a fresh coat of paint be used to cover some of the demolition scars?

Midtown Plaza is on Downtown's two main streets, after all, and they may not be much right now, but we like 'em.

. . .

By the way: When I was walking around Tuesday afternoon, I saw someone barbecuing ribs and chicken in front of the bar on Sinclair Street near Lysle. They also had some tables with umbrellas set up so that people could sit and eat.

I didn't have time to stop, but boy, did it smell good. That kind of activity doesn't cost much, but makes life a little bit more pleasant --- and we can use more of it Downtown, in my never-humble opinion.

. . .

In the comments to Friday's Almanac, Alert Reader Terry wrote:

McKeesport has itself to blame the the downtown area being dead. Any time you expend large sums of tax payer money to bypass a business district (Lysle Boulevard) and inhibit access to the remaing business with 50-plus traffic signals, you in essence commit suicide. Now our tax money is going to be infused into a corpse (Fifth Avenue). No doubt, upon completion, the politicians attending the wake will be expounding its resurrection.

There's truth to this, although Lysle Boulevard was built in the 1930s, long before Downtown began to decline. Some blame can be laid on the people who ran the city Parking Authority in the 1960s, who made it difficult, if not impossible, for private business owners in McKeesport to open surface lots. The authority preferred to force people to pay to park in its garages.

Well, there's no trouble finding a spot in those garages now!

On the other hand ... it's arguable that the Downtown's days as a shopping district were numbered once the malls opened --- especially Century III, but Greengate and Monroeville also drew some shoppers who otherwise would have gone to McKeesport. That was a national trend, not a local one.

And though the city fathers did much to wreck Downtown in the 1960s in the name of "urban redevelopment," I'm reluctant to blame the current leadership. They can only do so much to correct the past damage.

. . .

One thing they can do, however, would be to keep the streets leading to and from Downtown clean and in good repair. The Jerome Avenue Bridge and its approaches are a mess. Many of the sidewalks Downtown are full of weeds, dirt and litter. There's plenty of dirt and debris at the east end of town, near the hospital, as well.

Even Gibson Way --- the main entrance to the McKees Point Marina --- is a mess. The marina is one of the jewels of the city. People should not be driving past piles of cinders, filter-tips and paper cups to get there.

However: I suspect there's a lack of money in the city budget for street sweeping and maintenance, which is yet another reason we need more regional government cooperation.

The exits from McKeesport are the entrances to North Versailles, Port Vue, White Oak, Glassport, etc. It seems to me those communities have a vested interest in making sure that they're clean and attractive --- why should the city front all of the cost?

. . .

And speaking of the marina: I saw lots of people down there Tuesday washing or repairing their boats. I'm not privy to the records of the people who keep their boats there, but I'll bet good money that more than half don't live in the city, either.

Before the people from White Oak, Glassport, etc., jump on me and start complaining, remember that I don't live within the city limits, either. But we all have a vested interest in its health. A clean, attractive McKeesport benefits all of the surrounding communities.

More on this tomorrow, I think. I know: You're quivering with excitement.

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June 06, 2006 | Link to this story

The Refrigerator of The Beast

Category: default || By jt3y

Since so many people have pointed out that my new refrigerator was being delivered on 06/06/06, I just wanted to verify for everyone that no other-worldly properties are appearing on film.

There were some very other-worldly things living behind the old Frigidaire, but nothing that some hot water and a mop wouldn't take care of.

In any event, I somehow doubt that the "mark of the beast" is "Kenmore Frost-Free."

Meanwhile: Almanac entries are likely to be light this week, because I'm very busy ... in part on a Very Special Update to Tube City Online that's been a long time coming.

In other TCO housekeeping news, the For Visitors section is finally getting a major update.

Also, there's a new item in the gift shop ... 1940s-style "Greetings From McKeesport" postcards!

(Try to restrain your enthusiasm.)

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June 02, 2006 | Link to this story

Oh, Ricky, You're So Fine

Category: default || By jt3y

If you didn't hear Slick Rick Santorum's interview with P.J. Maloney over KQV (1410), you missed a real treat. (Well, perhaps not if you're a Republican.)

Maloney keeps his cool while the junior senator from Penn Hills, Virginia, blows a gasket. The audio (apparently captured from the station's webstream) is currently making the rounds on the Internets.

(The fact that Santorum accuses Maloney of "being on (Casey's) side" is a hoot, if you realize that noted leftist Richard Mellon Scaife owns 51 percent of KQV. Curse you, liberal media!)

Last week, the Post-Gazette blasted Sen. Torquemada in an editorial that was rare by that newspaper's standards for both its vitriol and because it actually made a point:

Mr. Casey described Sen. Santorum's claims as "weird" and "bizarre." Actually, they are beyond weird and raise serious questions about the senator's ethics that go beyond the residency question. In a letter to Mr. Casey, he speaks of his "outrage" regarding the actions of the Casey campaign "which have put our six young children at a serious safety risk."

Though that suggestion is far-fetched to the point of absurdity, it would be a potential source of fear only if the senator actually lived in Penn Hills, but -- let us repeat one last time -- the Santorum family is at no risk because he doesn't live here anymore and the family is in Virginia most of the time. So what we have is the senator making untrue and outrageous comments while seeking to hide behind his wife and kids in order to get around an inconvenient fact.

This is funny, too: Video, from Pennsylvania Cable Network, of Santorum speaking to students about how he couldn't attend a Catholic high school back "when I was living in Pennsylvania." Oops.

KDKA-TV political analyst and CMU professor Jon Delano has a lengthy analysis of the whole situation at the webpage of Philly Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick.

I've felt that Bob Casey Jr.'s campaign for Senate has been desultory and ineffective so far. But perhaps I'm not giving him enough credit.

With Santorum's approval rating now the lowest in the U.S. Senate, and his re-election efforts taking on this frantic and bizarre tone, it's possible that he's just going to stomp himself to death like Rumplestiltskin.

. . .

Having no record to run on, but rather one to run away from, Santorum has resorted to name-calling, dirty tricks, and negative ads, along with my least-favorite campaign tactic ... refusing to call your opponent by his real name.

Santorum and his operatives are now referring to the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate as "Bobby Casey Jr."

This is the same juvenile silliness that Republicans use when they refer to the opposition as "the Democrat Party." They're saying: We hold you in such contempt that we can't even refer to you by your real name.

Item of interest: Bob Casey is 46. Rick Santorum is 48.

"Bobby Casey Jr."? Whatever you say, "Little Ricky."

. . .

Correction, Not Perfection: Did I write last Friday that the McKeesport City Carnival was happening last week? Um. Oops. No, that's June, not May ... June 20 to 24, to be exact. Sorry 'bout that. Good thing no one relies on this page for accurate information ...

. . .

In Other Business: In the Post-Gazette, Ann Belser detailed the renovations that will soon be coming to Fifth Avenue between Water Street and Evans Street. Nearly a million dollars in work will be done to rebuild sidewalks, replace handicapped access ramps, upgrade street signs, and install new benches and trees.

I don't know if any of this will make Downtown more attractive to small business owners, but I suppose it can't hurt. (What we really need is a program to encourage property owners to replace or repair their building facades and make their structures more rentable.)

I do take offense at Belser's comment that the renovations will "get rid of the street lights that look like lollipops." Hey, I kind of like the lollipops.

We represent the Lollipop Guild, and we'd like to welcome you to McKeesport-land! (Just please don't ask what turned the bricks yellow.)

. . .

Bob's Bar, a neighborhood tavern in Glassport, is celebrating its 50th anniversary, according to Margaret Smylka in the P-G. It used to be Chuck's Bar until Bob Wawrzeniak bought it in 1956.

Smylka writes that since 1977, Bob's Bar has raised $133,000 for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's Free Care Fund --- patrons toss their spare change into an awning, where it's collected and donated to the hospital each year.

. . .

The veteran's memorial in front of the North Huntingdon Town House continues to grow, writes Noele Creamer in the Tribune-Review.

Residents and businesses in the Norwin area have been buying engraved bricks in the plaza around the monument to pay for its upkeep. Originally, 6,000 bricks were available; Creamer reports that only 1,000 blanks remain. Through July 4, they're being "sold" at a discount price of $35.

To place an order for a memorial brick, visit the township's website or the Norwin Chamber of Commerce.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: The City of Monongahela hosts the "Fleatique on the Mon," tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with antiques and crafts at Chess Park on West Main Street and a flea market in the parking lot of the Noble J. Dick Aquatorium along the Monongahela River. Call (724) 258-5919 ... Zion Baptist Church, 1300 Locust St., celebrates the fourth pastoral anniversary of the Rev. Henry Billingsley with a series of events, including a concert at 4 p.m. Saturday by Deryek Tines and other musicians. Call (412) 664-9832.

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June 01, 2006 | Link to this story

The Icebox Cometh

Category: default || By jt3y

Last summer, when I returned from Florida, it became clear that my refrigerator was dying. The poor old Frigidaire would chug along endlessly until dragging its inside temperature down to a balmy 45 degrees, at which point its compressor would stop, exhausted, with a cough.

My regular repairman came out and told me it should be put down, but volunteered to tinker a little bit, and see if we could get a few more months together. Well, glory hallelujah, perhaps knowing that the end was near, the refrigerator rallied.

Sure, some people say it's because the humidity went down; others say that the minor adjustments the repairman made helped the compressor eek out a few more BTUs; but I know the real answer --- the refrigerator just didn't want to give up. It was going to fight.

But the time comes when all good refrigerators must finally surrender to their fates, and last week, I noticed with mounting horror that things inside the fridge were becoming decidedly un-refrigerated again. The milk was spoiling; the lettuce wilting.

And so, with great reluctance, born of infinite sorrow, deep guilt, and the sadness that comes with the thought of making payments for the next 12 months, I arranged to have a certain large department store chain deliver a new icebox.

Naturally, they can only promise that it will arrive "sometime Tuesday." Morning? Afternoon? Evening? They're not sure.

In any event, on Tuesday, I get to take a day off of work and wait for the new fridge to be delivered.

Oh, I'm sure there will be some tears shed (especially as I write the first check) when the old refrigerator goes away to that big kitchen in the sky. Sure, I'll tell the old refrigerator about Appliance Heaven, where newly departed Samsungs and Kenmores meet the Philcos and Kelvinators and Coldspots that went before them. I hope that comforts the Frigidaire in its final hours.

Myself, I'll take comfort from the fact that I can finally bring a damned frozen pizza home and ensure that it will stay frozen --- unlike the one that I cooked the other day, only to learn, to my utter disgust, that it had apparently defrosted, spoiled, and then refrozen at some point in the past.

If there's anything that smells worse than spoiled pizza cheese that's been heated up to 350 degrees, I don't want to know.

I mean, seriously: You didn't really think that I was getting all misty-eyed over this piece-of-junk refrigerator, did you? I'm liable to kick it a few times before they roll it out the door.

Well, OK, the stuff about me weeping every time I write the checks --- that is true. In fact, even as I write this, I feel a little pain in my wallet.

(Sniff.) Excuse me, I need just a minute.

. . .

I'm better now. In purchasing the new fridge, I ran head-first into a new trend I hadn't heard about --- larger appliances. According to the Wall Street Journal, more and more Americans, apparently unsatisfied with driving giant SUVs and using most of the world's energy, are now demanding restaurant-style appliances in the kitchens of their 14-bedroom McMansions:

The bigger-is-better trend is being driven in part by high-end manufacturers that are looking for a new way to distinguish themselves, especially since the commercial look --- such as stainless-steel finishes and double-door refrigerators --- has already trickled down into less-expensive brands. Gigantic refrigerators are riding the ďCostco effect,Ē or peopleís desire for more space to store the items they buy in bulk.

Indeed, it has trickled down to the standard appliances as well. I couldn't find a new refrigerator the same dimensions as the old one. All (except for the dorm and apartment style refrigerators) were a little bit wider and deeper. The new one is about three inches larger all the way around.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but when the fellow I bought the house from remodeled the kitchen a few years ago, he built the cabinets almost right up to the edge of the fridge.

Someone has suggested I take a chainsaw to the cabinets, which does have a certain folksy charm, but I'm thinking that rather than a problem, this might be an opportunity to live out the fantasy of bachelors everywhere.

Namely, maybe I should put the new fridge in the bathroom.

If only I could fit the TV set in there, I'd have the slob trifecta.

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