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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

August 30, 2006 | Link to this story

Next Time, I Call Reddy Kilowatt

Category: default || By jt3y

Regular readers of the Almanac may recall the problems I had with the gas company a few weeks ago.

Well, I arrived home shortly after that Almanac appeared to find a letter in my mailbox from the gas company's customer "service" department, which revealed that they would be replacing the gas mains on our street. This would require digging up our front yards and driveways.

Also, vehicles were not going to be allowed to park on the street.

Also, they were going to have to interrupt the gas service. We would have to be home on the day they did that ... but, of course, they couldn't tell us which day that might be.

Oh, and by the way: If they found any leaks on my side of the shut-off valve, I could expect to have my gas turned off until the line was replaced, though they would gladly install a temporary gas connection at a cost of $200 for 72 hours.

Well, who wants a gas main leak in their neighborhood anyway, right? And it couldn't take too long to replace a gas main on my little street in North Bittyburg. What's a little inconvenience for a few days?

A few days --- ha!

Work started the first week of August. As of Tuesday night, there are still piles of dirt, blinking emergency barricades and construction vehicles all over our street.

At one point, they had piled all of the excavated dirt in a big heap on the street in front of my house. A heavy rainstorm two Saturdays ago turned the entire street into a mudslide. The good news is that the people at the bottom of the hill got an excellent load of free topsoil.

This past Friday night, I arrived home at about 11 o'clock to find that the gas had been shut off at 4:30 p.m. when the new line was connected --- and, of course, since I wasn't home, they didn't turn it back on.

You see, the gas company, like most utilities, operates under the quaint notion that each household has a man, a woman, and 2.5 children. The woman stays home all day, baking bread and scrubbing floors (in pearls and heels) while dad goes off to his office and reads files. At night, they gather around the Philco and listen to Fred Allen.

And during the day, naturally, mom is available to let the gas company man into the house.

Either that, or the utilities think that all people have the kinds of jobs that allow us to sit at home all day and wait for utility company employees to drop by. I'm not sure what kinds of jobs those are. (Utility company executive jobs, I suspect.)

Anyway, Friday night I went to bed, because Saturday I had to go out of town. On Sunday I worked for 15 hours. On Monday I had to leave the house at 5 a.m. and got home at about 7 p.m., with just enough energy to fall asleep. This didn't leave me much time to sit around waiting for the gas company to come back.

Remarkably, the hot water tank retained enough heat to allow me to take a warm shower on Sunday and a tepid one on Monday. But Tuesday morning ... ee-yow.

I don't remember the last time I had a cold shower --- it might have been when we used to go to Blue Dell Swimming Pool when I was a kid --- but jeez laweez. Shaving in cold water is no treat, either.

As an indication of how addled I am first thing in the morning, I briefly considered warming up some shaving water on the stove ... the gas stove. Uh, right.

To the great credit of the gas company (or at least its blue-collar employees), they sent someone out Tuesday evening about a half-hour after I called. A few minutes of fiddling with the meter, and a few more inside the house, and we were ... you'll pardon the expression ... "cooking with gas" again.

And, remember my original complaint about the gas meter --- or, more specifically, how it hadn't been read in more than two years? (I called to have it updated to an "automatic reading," but was told that it couldn't be because of a "broken screw.")

Well, I've got one of those swell new electronic meters. My next-door neighbor, who works for North Bittyburg's water authority, tells me that the job of converting old gas meters over to the automatic ones was subcontracted out to a private company. That makes me suspect that the "broken screw" was "broken" by the contractor, who left without telling anyone. (The guys playing in the mud on my street are private contractors, too, not company employees.)

All's well that end's well, I suppose. (Or is it "all's well that's gas well"?)

And I suspect I won't have any problems with the gas company for years to come --- it's one of those utilities that rarely, if ever, goes out. If the cable company, for instance, also supplied natural gas, your stove would occasionally explode for no apparent reason, and your hot water tank would sometimes dispense carbolic acid.

But you'll forgive me if I start stockpiling charcoal and lighter fluid ... just in case.

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August 29, 2006 | Link to this story

That Old Mon Valley Charm

Category: default || By jt3y

The Almanac has often pointed out that the Mon-Yough area is no need of its own "Mensa" chapter any time soon.

But we've also got a few people who are just as ... shall we say ... gifted with the "social graces" as they are brilliant.

Take our first examples today, a 19-year-old from Elizabeth and an 18-year-old boy from Forward. Apparently bored with conventional teen-age boy pursuits, such as ...

  • watching girls,

  • thinking about girls,

  • and trying to get girls to acknowledge your existence without gagging

... they decided to run amok.

How, you ask? Drinking beer until they got sick? Drag racing down Route 51? Shooting off fireworks? Shooting off fireworks while drinking beer, getting sick, and drag racing down Route 51?

Nah, that's sissy stuff.

According to Forward Township police and Chris Buckley in the Valley Independent, they hijacked a road excavator at a construction site. Police allege that one of the boys then plowed up utility poles and water lines, knocking out power, cable and water service to residents on River Hill Road and Malerie Lane.

Laughing yet? Me neither.

Neither is PennDOT. This little joy ride is going to delay the reopening of River Hill Road by several days, and it also damaged the road excavator, ripping the tracks off of it. I'd expect it's also going to cost the utility companies a couple of thousand dollars at least.

You may be shocked to learn that police allege this dynamic duo was drinking wine "for about an hour" before the damage occurred. What? Alcohol was involved? What a surprise!

And just to get back to my original thesis --- that we're turning out a lot of Nobel Prize candidates in the Mon Valley --- police say they tracked down one of the boys because he drove his mom's SUV to the construction site and left it there when he fled the scene.

Genius like that gives me faith in the bright, shining promise of Pennsylvania's youth.

Meanwhile, over in Jeannette, my old colleague and cow-orker Paul Paterra reported in the Tribune-Review about a sweet, kind, little old lady who called the cops on her 14-year-old next-door neighbor because of the horrible thing he did to her.

He meowed at her.


According to Paul's story in the Trib, the lady began complaining to police after the kid's pet cat --- as cats do --- kept getting loose and running through her yard.

The boy's mother finally gave the cat away "to keep the peace in the neighborhood."

Now, if you were 14 years old, and your neighbor made you get rid of your cat, would you be mad?

Darn tootin'.

So, whenever the lady walked past his porch, he meowed at her.

Personally, I'd have done more than meowed at her, so I applaud this kid's restraint. He could teach the brain surgeons in the road excavator incident a thing or two.

Anyway, the lady called the cops, and the cops cited the kid for harassment. His defense attorney says the police are "wasting the court's time," and I tend to agree.

But put yourself in the cop's place: If you had somebody calling the station every 20 minutes, complaining that the neighbor kid is meowing, I suspect you'd issue a citation, too, just to get her off of your back.

The district magistrate hasn't made a decision yet. I think he ought to fine the kid a ball of yarn, and make him pay one saucer of milk to the lady as restitution. I think she'd enjoy it. She's been plenty catty so far.

I hope the judge doesn't send him to juvenile detention, that's all. I can just see him --- like Arlo Guthrie in "Alice's Restaurant" --- sittin' on that Group W bench with all of them mother stabbers and father rapers:

"What you in for, kid?"

"Meowing at old ladies."

On the other hand, he's likely to meet people in the clink who are 10 times nicer than his next-door neighbor, so juvie hall has got that going for it.

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August 25, 2006 | Link to this story

Knock Down, Drug Out

Category: default || By jt3y

I don't mean to turn the Almanac into a running commentary on retail stores (Alert Reader Steve does a good job of that already), but I can't help but comment on the news that Rite Aid is buying Eckerd Drugs.

Since Western Pennsylvania is prime territory for both companies, undoubtedly, a lot of local stores are going to close, and I expect they will be the Eckerds, not the Rite Aids. The Rite Aids tend to be free-standing, newer locations --- at least in the Mon-Yough area --- while many of the Eckerd stores are in shopping centers.

When the new Rite Aid being built in the 11th Ward opens, watch for the Eckerd (formerly the Thrift Drug) in Olympia Shopping Center to close. And I won't be surprised if the Eckerd in Oak Park Mall closes as well.

Eckerd has struck me as a profoundly mismanaged chain for a long time. When J.C. Penney Co. purchased Eckerd and combined the stores with the Thrift Drug stores that Penney's already owned, they scrapped all vestiges of the Thrift operation.

That was a big mistake, since (for my money, at least) the Thrift stores --- though a little dowdy --- had a better range of merchandise and more selection than Eckerd stores.

Eckerds seem to always be "out" of certain staple items, don't stock many brand names in some lines of merchandise, and are always pushing "seasonal" toys and decorations in lieu of health and beauty items --- you know, the kinds of things people actually need at a drugstore.

Chain Store Age notes that when J.C. Penney Co. sold Eckerd two years ago, the buyer, Canadian drug store operator Jean Coutu, had to borrow $2.55 billion to finance the deal. According to CSA, that left Coutu "with scant financial resources to upgrade stores and improve customer service. ... As a result, Eckerd lost market share and the assets floundered."

When I was in Florida last year, I noticed a lot of Eckerd stores had closed --- and I was all over Florida, putting 1,200 miles on the rental car in a week. And everywhere there was a closed Eckerd, there was a new Walgreen's nearby.

It's worth noting, by the way, that Eckerd was long a Florida-based chain. If they couldn't compete on their own turf, they had little hope elsewhere, I think.

Speaking of Walgreen's --- I know some people still go into apoplexy at the thought that Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead was torn down to make way for Walgreen's.

But in all fairness to Walgreen's, they did a very admirable job building a store in Homestead that looks like it's been there since the 1920s (minus the graffiti and broken windows that characterize too many real 1920s buildings on Eighth Avenue). In fact, it's very attractive. And arguably, it's improved that end of the Homestead High-Level ... er, Greys ... er, Grays ... Bridge.

Also in fairness to Walgreen's, I love Walgreen's. My friends are tired of hearing about it by now, but both the store at Bill Green's Shopping Center and the one in Homestead are fantastic. Good selections, good prices, and the service is first-rate, too.

Now, I don't get my prescriptions at Walgreen's --- I get those from my neighborhood pharmacist --- but he doesn't carry stationery, film, batteries, shoelaces and all of the stuff you used to find in a five-and-10. I can get those at Walgreen's.

In fact, Walgreen's reminds of nothing so much as a Woolworth's or a Murphy's with a prescription counter in the back. In every way, today's big chain pharmacies are pretty much just the "variety stores" of 30 years ago.

Do I have a point? No, not really.

. . .

Around The Town: I have nothing to add to Jonathan Potts' commentary over at The Conversation except, "I agree":

Why do so many Pittsburghers want to run away from our past? Part of it is old-fashioned elitism. A lot of people turn their noses up at blue-collar work, and they associate the steel industry with much of what they dislike about Pittsburgh -- like the way many residents talk, or their pathological devotion to the Steelers. It is also a reaction to the way many Pittsburghers cling too tightly to the past, which also is unhealthy. Yet it seems to me that we can work for the future without distorting or denying our past. Indeed, Pittsburgh's past provides many cautionary tales that we would do well to learn as we move forward--like the dangers in relying too heavily on a single industry for economic growth.

Meanwhile, Bob Braughler at Subdivided We Stand needs your help. He needs to give up his pooches --- it turns out that his young son is allergic to dogs.

If it were me, I'd be heartsick. Bob, who checks in here regularly, seems like a mensch, and these pups need a good home. If you can take one or both (especially if you live in the North Hills), stop over and tell him.

. . .

Things I Found On The Internet While Looking For Other Things: The Internet Movie Car Database. Want to know which movies or TV shows featured Plymouth Volares? Hudson Hornets? AMC Matadors? Well, knock yourself out.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Friends of White Oak resident George Toney will hold a car cruise on Sunday at McKeesport Area High School to raise money for his medical treatment. Toney, a motorcycle buff, was injured in a car accident in May. Events begin at 12 noon (rain date is Sept. 10) and include music, an auction, and games for kids. Admission is free, but cars that are going to be exhibited pay a $15 entry fee (motorcycles pay $10). Call (412) 678-7379.

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August 24, 2006 | Link to this story

Grocery Lists

Category: default || By jt3y

Today, we continue the Almanac's quest to be the Mon-Yough area's leading source of obsolete grocery store information.

You may recall (no matter how hard you try to forget) that we recently discussed the grocery store lineup at Olympia Shopping Center, in light of the new Shop 'n Save there.

Alert Reader Terry pointed out that the A&P at Olympia was originally located in the building that later became R. Kaplan Furniture (remember the sign, with the silhouette of Mr. Kaplan sitting on the piano bench?) and is currently Auto Supermarket?

But another Alert Reader, Bill, sent a newspaper ad that showed the local chain Bartolotta's having had a store at Olympia as well.

Well, just for you, our devoted Almanac readers, I did a little bit of research, using old copies of Polk's City Directory.

The problem, of course, is that the "city" directory officially stopped at the Versailles Borough line, so the listings for Versailles are incomplete or missing in most years.

The 1962 city directory, for instance, doesn't list anything for Olympia Shopping Center, though (unless I miss my guess) it opened in 1960.

Besides all of the locally-owned neighborhood grocery stores in the city, it lists:

  • A&P Food Stores: 1902 Fifth Ave. and 120 Atlantic Ave.

  • Giant Eagle Market: 3606 O'Neil Blvd.

  • The Kroger Co.: 2347 Fifth Ave.

  • Loblaw's Inc.: 1615 Lincoln Way, White Oak

What's located at these addresses now? 1902 Fifth Ave. was located in the East End, and I'm fairly certain that building was torn down when the new ramps to the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge were built.

120 Atlantic is Tico Electric in 10th Ward, while 2347 Fifth Ave. is the Family Dollar near Hartman Street. 1615 Lincoln Way is the present location of Rite Aid, though I don't think it's the same building ... or is it? It seems to me the back of that building looks pretty old. Giant Eagle, remarkably, is still located on O'Neil Boulevard near Penn State and the "Voke," 45 years later.

Skipping ahead to 1964, Kroger has vacated 2347 Fifth; it's now Bertera's Foodland. Everything else is the same.

In 1972, Polk's finally acknowledges the existence of Olympia Shopping Center (one suspects that the Downtown McKeesport Association may have been pressuring them to leave the shopping centers out), and we get the following:

  • Bartolotta's Super Market, 5 Olympia Shopping Center

  • Bertera's Foodland, 2347 Fifth Ave.

  • Giant Eagle Market, 3606 O'Neil Blvd.

  • M. Marraccini & Co., 5 Rainbow Village, White Oak

  • Super Dollar Market, 2800 Walnut St. and 1615 Lincoln Way, White Oak

  • Thorofare Market, 16 Olympia Shopping Center

2800 Walnut St. is now the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County's office in Christy Park. I'm not sure which stores No. 5 and 16 are at Olympia, but a little bit of detective work should allow me to suss that out.

. . .

Now, for your listening and dancing pleasure, I have typed in the entire list of grocery stores as they appeared in the Polk's directory for 1972.

Take a look at some of the last names. I have a pretty good idea that not too many white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants were in the grocery business in Our Fair City, even as late as 1972.

On the other hand, I'll bet you could get some great blintzes, pierogies and kolbassi in some of these places.

. . .

Incidentally, the entry on old supermarkets in McKeesport has the distinction of attracting more reader comments and emails than any other Almanac over the past three years.

The way to the Mon-Yough area's heart, apparently, is through our stomachs!

. . .

Shurely Shome Mishtake Dept: Finally today, from the British magazine Private Eye, here's the complete, official list of things you can no longer take onboard an airplane as hand luggage:

  • Bottle of water

  • Baby's nappy

  • Copy of "The Da Vinci Code"

  • Women's sanitary items

  • Mars bar

  • Trouser press

  • Whistling key ring

  • Upright piano

  • Microwave oven

  • Hearing aid

  • Sudoku puzzle

  • Dental floss

  • Islamic terrorist

  • Nuclear bomb

"All these items," reports the Eye, "must be placed in the hold."

Good advice, indeed.

(That list of grocery stores follows.)

. . .


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August 21, 2006 | Link to this story

Election Year Polkatics

Category: default || By jt3y

It's hard to believe, but the latest charge of dirty politicking levelled against U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Not in Pennsylvania, concerns one of his campaign commercials, set against a backdrop of happy polka dancers.

Tony Norman of the Post-Gazette and Chris Kelly of the Scranton Times-Tribune claim that the ad was faked --- that Santorum wasn't actually interacting with the polka dancers, but was added electronically, either with digital-editing software or chroma-key.

Norman says the ad looks "as if it were shot on the holodeck of the Federation Star Ship Enterprise ... Mr. Santorum looks like he's moving in front of a green screen. The crowd looks bogus and immaterial."

Kelly alleges that Santorum "isn’t actually in the room with the snappy seniors and is more likely shuffling in front of a 'green screen' with images of an incumbent-friendly hootenanny projected behind him."

The stories led Maria over at 2 Political Junkies to go so far as to accuse Sen. Torquemada of using a Cleveland polka band as a backdrop.

Well, in a story you will only read in Tube City Almanac, numerous sources have confirmed that not only is the ad authentic, it was shot at the James Centre in Pittsburgh's West End with Bridgeville's Larry Placek Combo.

Indeed, the distinctive proscenium arch over the stage at the James Centre --- pictured on the first page of the hall's website --- can be seen in the ad.

(In the interest of full disclosure: I part-time at a radio station where Placek hosts a weekly polka show, but I don't really know him, except to say "hi" once in a while. I like his music, though, and you can buy his CDs online. If you enjoy polka music, and I do, you'll like the Placek band --- it has a nice, tight sound.)

International Village attendees probably saw Placek and his band performing in the Jakomas Blue-Top Pavilion last week, and numerous polka buffs tell me that it's definitely Placek's band in the background.

In short, the band isn't from Cleveland, and it is a real band.

I also have it on good authority that Santorum was there for the shoot --- a sizable group of local polka fans was rounded up to participate as extras, and they all saw him.

I don't think I'm telling any tales out of school, because when I started asking around about this on Saturday and Sunday, it seemed that everyone knew except me. I don't want to bring anyone any unwanted publicity, but I do want to set the record straight.

So, although I'm no Santorum booster, fair's fair --- the ad is authentic.

(Also in fairness, the people I've talked to like the fact that their music is getting mainstream TV exposure, but every one of them has told me they're still not voting for Santorum!)

The polka ad is creative, and it places Santorum in a light-hearted atmosphere where he can poke (or is that "polka"?) fun at himself. Ads like these humanize candidates.

It certainly jumps out from the typical cliched campaign commercials that show the candidates shaking hands with guys at a factory gate, listening thoughtfully to a bunch of senior citizens, and sitting on the front porch with his wife and children as the American flag waves gently in the breeze, while sappy strings play in the background.

Can we move onto more important subjects now?

Such as: How come Bob Casey Jr. isn't running ads that are this interesting?

Because while Santorum polkas toward November, Casey is standing on the side of the dance floor with the rest of the wallflowers. He'd better start stepping lively, because defeat is within his grasp.

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August 18, 2006 | Link to this story

Food For Thought

Category: default || By jt3y

Has everybody recovered from International Village? Good! This is the first Village in recent memory that didn't get at least one day of rain, and the surging throng of humanity that jammed Stephen Barry Field seemed to be enjoying itself.

But don't start your diet just yet ... the rib cookoff runs tomorrow and Sunday from 12 noon to 11 p.m. at Renzie Park.

There's also a petting zoo and pony rides for kids, a craft show, and live country music most of the day on Saturday. Ray Ryan & The Riverside Band and Liz Calfo & Total Recall perform Sunday. (Download the flyer.)

Yep --- after three days of eating ethnic foods made of cabbage, garlic, pork and mysterious spices, it's time for barbecue!

And then on Monday, Rite Aid and Eckerd present the annual antacid festival. Don't miss it!

. . .

Homewreckers: The city will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on 40 buildings that are slated to be torn down, including a number of private residences, reports Ann Belser in the Post-Gazette.

I've attended some of these hearings, and occasionally someone shows up to protest the demolition of their properties. Some of the excuses are entertaining, if not particularly convincing.

In most cases, however, no one shows up to try and save their structure. Indeed, some of the owners of these properties died or moved to Florida 30 years ago (or is that redundant?). Others are, frankly, slumlords, who buy houses at sheriff's sales, rent them out for several years, and never invest a nickel in them or even bother paying the taxes. Then they abandon them and stick the city with the bill for tearing them down.

They ought to be locked up --- but the best local officials can hope for is that a judge will place a lien against the property to cover the cost of the demolition and the back taxes. That, of course, just makes it more difficult to sell the property later to someone who might actually do something with it --- and so it goes.

While it's sad to see so many pieces of the city's history destroyed forever, the needs of the present residents and business owners have to take precedence over saving old buildings just for the sake of saving old buildings.

Besides, it's not like we have a shortage of two-story 1920s frame houses in McKeesport.

. . .

Watch This Space: On the other hand, one building whose abandonment has really galled me for years is the Penn-McKee Hotel ... but it looks like there might actually be some movement in finding a useful future for the old girl. Check out the website for Penn-McKee Place.

The website is registered to Jim Armstrong, an evangelist from White Oak, and he proposes using the building as "incubator business space and a multi-tenant community center" for "art, faith and business."

I know from personal experience that "community centers" like this have a place for use by small businessmen and women, as well as studio space for artists, musicians and writers. I've seen them in Picksberg and other cities.

I don't whether it can work in Our Fair City, but I see no reason why it couldn't --- and I think we all have a vested interest in hoping that it does.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Digest all of the food you ate this week at International Village and the BBQ Festival, and try not to get whiplash from your burps.

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August 16, 2006 | Link to this story

A Bush-League Songwriting Attempt

Category: default || By jt3y

GOP maintains presence in Port Vue

Port Vue may seem an unlikely home for the Mon Valley Republican Committee. The borough has an overwhelming Democratic majority and no Republicans serve on council. ... Mon Valley Republican Committee Chairman Brett Kovac is aiming to change that. "I like the odds at what they are," Kovac said. "The work remains here. I like the challenge."

Kovac said his reception in Port Vue hasn't always been warm. He said that one time a little boy passed his storefront and said, "I'm not going in there. That's that Bush place." (Stacy Lee, The Daily News, Aug. 15, 2006)

. . .

(to the tune of "A Teenager in Love")

When people knock George Bush,
It makes me feel so mad,
So I turn on Fox News,
That cheers me up a tad.

I'm a red stater stuck in a borough of blue.
Why must I be a Republican in Port Vue?

It's hard to vote Republican,
Where they love F.D.R.
Yet I promote Lynn Swann
Up at the Spotlight Bar.

I'm the only guy at Uni-Mart buying National Review:
Why must I be a Republican in Port Vue?

And then at night,
I lie in my bed,
A centerfold of Michelle Malkin,
Hanging over my head.

My neighbors are all Democrats,
I pray someday they see the light
Then we can spread Santorum
Banners on Election Night.

I'm a lonely elephant on Romine Avenue,
Why must I be a Republican in Port Vue?
Why must I be a Republican in Port Vue?

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August 15, 2006 | Link to this story

It Takes a Village

Category: default || By jt3y

Every year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians descend on Our Fair City's Renziehausen Park for the ethnic food, dancing, food, music and food festival known as "International Village." Though other communities have imitated it (and I'm looking at you, Picksberg), they have not been able to duplicate the experience.

For months ahead of time, churches, ethnic clubs and other associations prepare foods and crafts for sale, while performance groups prepare traditional costumes and practice folk songs and dances.

Did I mention food? I did? Good.

Well, that time is here again! Today, tomorrow and Thursday, the balalaikas, tamburas and bass guitars will be plunking, the dancers will be twirling, and thousands of Westinghouse electric roasters have emerged from pantries and basements and been pressed into service to keep pierogies, pirohis, perogis, pirozhkis and pirogies warm. Some people will even be making piroghies.

In the past, International Village was mostly made up of those "nations" that stretched from, oh, say, Dublin to Minsk, and south to Palermo. But over the years, as different ethnic groups have settled in Western Pennsylvania, more and more traditions of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are being represented at the "Village."

For those of us who enjoy eating sweet and sour pork, cheese ravioli and halushki while listening to Slovenian music, this is a definite plus.

Lifelong residents of the Mon-Yough area know that the Village represents a great time and a chance to get in touch with your ethnic roots. But for those Almanac visitors who aren't in WEDO's coverage area, here's an insider's guide to International Village, telling you the kinds of things that you don't get in the free souvenir program.

. . .

International Village is held at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport's Renziehausen Park for three days every August.

Contrary to popular belief, you can reach McKeesport quickly and easily, and we do have paved roads. Renzie Park is particularly easy to get to --- from Westmoreland County, take Route 30 west to Route 48 south. Take Route 48 south to Route 148 north. Follow Route 148 north about three blocks to Eden Park Boulevard.

From Pittsburgh, you may take the Parkway East to Forest Hills, then take Route 30 east to East McKeesport. Turn right onto Route 148 south and follow Route 148 to Hartman Street, then turn left.

Unlike what you may have seen reported on the Pittsburgh TV news, we are largely friendly and harmless, and we do have such conveniences as electricity, telephones and indoor toilets. No Starbucks yet, but we're hopeful. (We'll probably get one just as that trend finally dies.)

. . .

Parking is at a premium during International Village. Some of the local churches offer paid parking in their lots, but any free parking near Stephen Barry Field tends to fill up quickly.

Luckily, Renzie Park is a large, regional park, so there are spaces available, but they're not necessarily adjacent to Stephen Barry Field. If you can walk, simply plan to wear comfortable shoes, and give yourself plenty of time. You will enjoy the stroll. Renzie is lovely on a summer evening.

If you are elderly or disabled, I hope you can find a space close to the entrances.

But if you're able-bodied, and you insist on circling the parking lots near the tennis courts endlessly for hours hoping that a space opens up, I reserve the right to mock your wardrobe, grooming and parentage.

. . .

In a related matter, have some common courtesy --- for crying out loud, don't park on the end of the aisle and block other people in. Your legs aren't broken. But maybe they should be. At the very least, someone should steal your hubcaps.

Also, there is no valet parking at International Village. I don't know who you gave the car keys to, but I sure hope you have a bus schedule handy.

. . .

Do: Wear your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," "Treat Me, I'm Dutch," "Proud to Be Italian," etc., T-shirt.

Don't: Tell Polish jokes, or say something like, "Wow! Look at all the hunkies!" And speaking in an exaggerated, "Mamma-mia! That's-a speecy-spicy meatsaballa!" accent around the Italian booth is considered bad form.

. . .

If you are over the age of 10, and are eating hot dogs at the "American" booth, you should be ashamed of yourself. You probably think burritos heated in the microwave at Uni-Mart are "authentic Mexican cuisine."

. . .

The food prices are set by the individual groups doing the vending. You may find $5 for a kolbassi sandwich too much to pay, and decide to eat somewhere else. That is your prerogative.

But for some of the groups exhibiting at International Village, this is the one big fundraising event they have each year. They will no doubt invest the profits from your $5 kolbassi sandwich into silly, frivolous extras like the water bill, the gas bill, the light bill, and educational and cultural programs.

Choose instead to stop for a 99-cent "extra value" cheeseburger on the way home, and contemplate all of the ethnic and social programs the Wendy's Corporation has funded in your community over the last year. I hope the mustard and pickles cover up the taste of regret, you cheapskate.

Or, buy something at the Village to eat. It's your choice. There's no pressure.

. . .

Admission: There is a small admission charge to enter International Village. I believe it's $1. (It's $2 this year.) For a long time, it was 50 cents, and before that, it was free.

There are still people who think it should be free, and mark the city's "decline" to the year that they started charging people four bits to walk around International Village. Many of these people are also still upset that CBS cancelled "Ed Sullivan."

If you're one of the people, I'm wondering how you made it onto the Internet to read the Almanac, so please write to me.

A postcard to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134 is acceptable. Feel free to steam a stamp off of a Christmas card, or just send Bob Cratchit over to deliver it.

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August 14, 2006 | Link to this story

Random Thoughts

Category: default || By jt3y

They say deaths seem to come in threes. So it would seem in the Mon-Yough area, which has lost three people of note in less than a week: Former city mayor Thomas Fullard, former Daily News publisher Patricia J. Mansfield and Clairton Mayor Dominic Serapiglia.

Fullard had the bad luck to take over the city just as it was entering a period of steep decline. McKeesporters, like millions of other Americans, were moving to the suburbs in droves; inflation was hitting double-digits; and ill-planned redevelopment Downtown had chased away many paying businesses. And in September 1975, financial pressure (some of it caused by payments on the debts incurred by the redevelopment) had forced the city to lay off 17 police officers and 54 other workers in the streets, sewers, sanitation and water departments.

That Fullard handled his job with skill and aplomb was evidenced by Pat Cloonan's obit in Saturday's Daily News, where everyone --- including Fullard's political adversaries --- offered words of praise.

That fine tribute doesn't seem to have made it online, but Jerry Vondas' memorial in the Tribune-Review did.

It was sad to hear of the death of Mrs. Mansfield. It would be hard to overstate the impact that several generations of Mansfields have had on the region since 1925, when Senator William D. Mansfield and several business associates purchased the Daily News, though the paper's obit mentions some of the family's many charitable contributions.

Like Fullard, she took over a difficult job at a difficult time. Upon the death of her husband, longtime News publisher Tom Mansfield, the former middle-school teacher assumed the top position at the newspaper.

At one time, owning a local newspaper was a license to print money, but that's not the case any more. There are dead papers throughout our region, from the Monongahela Daily Herald to the Jeannette News-Dispatch to the Homestead Daily Messenger. It is to Mrs. Mansfield's great credit that she was able to preserve a great institution for another generation of Mansfield ownership, though it now survives under different stewardship.

That brings me to Mayor Serapiglia, who died after an illness. Brian Bowling's obit for the Trib tells a story that would not have seemed out of place in the 19th century.

His father died young, forcing young Dominic to shine shoes to bring in money for the family; when the Korean War broke out, he went to serve in the Marines; he came back to spend most of his adult life in public service jobs of one sort or another, working for the county, the Turnpike Commission, and state Sen. Sean Logan.

And he was a charming example of typical Mon-Yough chauvinism, rarely leaving Clairton, but as his son told the Trib, that kind of dedication has a strong positive side: "If every community had someone with that much passion for their town, they'd have something to be proud of."

. . .

On a lighter note: Practically everybody who read Friday's Almanac had a supermarket memory to share. Maybe I should lay off the politics permanently and just write about A&P and Thorofare.

Alert Reader Bill H. of Elizabeth writes that I forgot one well-known name in local supermarket circles:

While going through some old papers over the weekend I came across a picture from the Daily News that my mom had cut out. It was of my brother and the Elizabeth Forward High AV Club. I flipped it over and this ad was on the back, at least part of it. Bartolotta's was one of the super markets that was in the new A&P store at Lovedale before it was a Shop 'n Save. As far I know this was from about 1969 as my brother didn't graduate until 1970. It almost seems that the supermarkets are playing a large game of musical chairs.

Bill also sent the ad ... and look at the listing on the far right: Egad! Olympia Shopping Center!

Now, as I wrote Friday, I remembered the '70s supermarket lineup at Olympia being Giant Eagle, Thorofare and A&P ... but now I'm not so sure. So I checked a 1972 and a 1978 phone directory (what, you don't have one nearby?) and I can only find Thorofare listed at Olympia, in 1972. But now that Bill sends this ad, I do have a vague memory of Bartolotta's being there, too.

This will require further investigation. More details to come.

. . .

Tomorrow: International Village opens in Renzie Park at 3 p.m. Tuesday! This is Western Pennsylvania's first and premier ethnic food and music festival, and admission is nominal. The weather is supposed to be good, so we'll see you at the Village either tomorrow, Wednesday or Thursday.

Also Tuesday: I'll be giving you the "inside story" on all of the things about International Village that the city and the "mainstream news media" won't tell you.

Is the suspense mounting? Good!

Come to think of it: I'm just as excited as you to see what I'll reveal. Because I have absolutely no idea.

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August 11, 2006 | Link to this story

Fresh Nostalgia Today, And We Give Stamps

Category: default || By jt3y

Tomorrow is a big day in Versailles Borough.

Well, big by Versailles' standards, anyway, and if you live there, or in Christy Park or Haler Heights or Eden Park, it will probably be a big day for you, too --- a full-service supermarket is returning to Olympia Shopping Center as a new Shop 'n Save opens in the space recently vacated by Giant Eagle.

Of course, Olympia has had a supermarket of sorts. There's a Save-a-Lot in the center (ironically in the space that used to be occupied by the Shop 'n Save), but Save-a-Lot is more of a limited-service grocery store, with, to be honest, a lot of off-brand and generic merchandise. A supermarket implies more fresh food (especially produce), a full-service deli and meat counter, and maybe a bakery.

Nobody cares about any of this, I'm sure, except for me, but I've found the whole situation that has played out with the supermarkets at Olympia fascinating. Ten or 15 years ago, there were two supermarkets there: Giant Eagle, where Shop 'n Save is opening now, and Scozio's Shop 'n Save, where the Save-a-Lot is now.

(Try to follow along, because there will be a quiz in class next week.)

When Oak Park Mall opened in roughly, oh, 1994, the Scozio family opened a new Shop 'n Save there, and it was clear that the Olympia store --- smaller, older, cramped --- was living on borrowed time. Its conversion to Save-a-Lot left Olympia wide open for Giant Eagle.

Except that the Scozio family had a rather well-publicized falling out with Shop 'n Save's corporate parent, Supervalu, which eventually led them to buy the Giant Eagle franchise in Olympia and move it to Oak Park Mall.

It's hard to fault them for that --- Giant Eagle is arguably a much stronger brand name to have in Western Pennsylvania, especially with the "Fuelperks" program that gets you a few cents off per gallon when you buy gas at Giant Eagle's "GetGo" stores.

Shop 'n Save has responded with a similar gasoline discount program at some local Sunoco stations, but it doesn't seem to provide price cuts anywhere near as large as Giant Eagle's.

I'd argue that the Giant Eagle advantage card, too, has much better market penetration than Shop 'n Save's "Greenpoints" tie-in with Sperry & Hutchinson --- would you rather save money now, at the register, or save "points" for a set of dishes or towels?

Nevertheless, I kind of like Shop 'n Save, and wish the owner of the new Olympia store --- Jeff Ross, who also owns the Foodland Downtown, along with another Shop 'n Save in Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County --- lots of success.

The "Shop 'n Save" brand, by the way, is a corporate sibling to Foodland, in case you didn't know that --- both are controlled by Minneapolis-based Supervalu --- though they don't spread that news around.

What's the difference? The Foodland stores tend to be independently operated neighborhood locations, while the Shop 'n Saves tend to be in regional shopping centers or malls. Personally, I think it's a distinction without a real difference, and that Supervalu is hurting itself in Pittsburgh by splitting its advertising money that way. But of course --- no one asked me.

More useless trivia: There are two completely different, unrelated Shop 'n Save chains, both owned by Supervalu. The other one is in St. Louis, Missouri. Again, I don't really understand why Supervalu would have different corporate identities for two different chains operating with the same name in different markets. But what do I know?

I don't know what the supermarket line-up was in Olympia when it first opened, but I can recall that in the '70s, there were three stores there. Giant Eagle was located where Shop 'n Save will open tomorrow, while there was a Thorofare Market (aha! Anyone remember Thorofare?) down near the "arcade shops" in Olympia, in the storefront that was most recently a "Rainbow Rentals."

The building that now houses Save-a-Lot, and was previously a Shop 'n Save, was built as an A&P --- you can see evidence of that in the mansard-style roof with the fake shingles.

A&P ("The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.") is still very much alive and well, though much smaller than in its 1940s and '50s heyday, when there was literally an A&P in almost every town in America. In terms of market penetration, it was the Wal-Mart of its era, and small independent grocers hated it every bit as much as small merchants despise Wal-Mart now. (There's a lesson there for Wal-Mart --- even A&P eventually fell.)

Besides the A&P in Olympia, there were A&P's scattered around the city, including one on Atlantic Avenue in 10th Ward --- Tico Electric uses the building now --- and one at the Versailles end of the Boston Bridge, I think in the same building that Dr. Rudy Antoncic recently moved into.

Kroger is big almost everywhere in the country except Western Pennsylvania --- labor trouble (most of their stores were unionized) drove them out of the region in the early 1980s. I'm not sure why they've never come back.

There's nostalgia for old diners, movie theaters, five-and-10s and gas stations, but I've never heard anyone get nostalgic for old supermarket chains, which kind of puzzles me.

The supermarket is one retail outlet where nearly every American is guaranteed to spend at least some time every month, if not every week. Nevertheless, I have yet to see a picture book of old supermarkets, though there must be dozens on diners and gas stations, and there's only website that I know of dedicated to supermarket nostalgia, but it's a fine one called Groceteria.

The Mon-Yough area was home to a number of chains, now defunct, and some of whose logos decorate today's Almanac, like Loblaw's, which survives in Canada. The biggest chain around McKeesport --- at least to my young eyes --- was Super Dollar, which makes sense, since I'm fairly certain it was supplied by McKeesport-based Potter-McCune Co.

There were smaller, family-owned chains around, too --- Marraccini's had stores in Clairton, Elizabeth and White Oak, and had a great reputation for excellent meat and poultry. It survived until only a few years ago. Payday's out on Route 51, between Elizabeth and Bunola, was another longtime fixture that became a Giant Eagle and recently closed.

I also remember the Haines Super Market out on Route 51 in Pleasant Hills, mostly for its fantastic neon sign, and the great handpainted billboards that were strung along its parking lot, facing the southbound lanes of the highway. It's all gone now, replaced by a Pep Boys.

And no entry on McKeesport supermarkets would be complete without mentioning the legendary Balsamo's, located Downtown, roughly where the Cricket store, Subway and Dollar Bank are now on Lysle Boulevard.

Alas, I'm a little bit too young to have personal experience with Balsamo's, but people who "vas dere" talk about great quality meats and produce, fresh bulk nuts and dried foods, and cheap prices on canned goods. Balsamo's also exploited its location smack against the B&O railroad tracks to have entire carloads of merchandise shipped directly to the store.

In fact, if you can imagine a cross between Aldi and Whole Foods, but with tin ceilings and wooden floors, I suspect you'd approximate the Balsamo's experience. (Your Balsamo's stories are welcome here, of course.)

Sebastian Eger, of the family that later owned the Ford agency on Walnut Street, had a large food market Downtown, too, at the corner of Walnut Street and Sixth Avenue, where The Coker Building is now. (I'm not sure, but that building --- which was previously a drive-through bank --- may be the same building as Eger's market.)

This is a good place to mention, too, that the supermarket experience is really a post-World War II phenomenon, facilitated by mechanical refrigerators and suburban shopping centers.

Before the "baby boom," people who lived in cities shopped mostly at their neighborhood grocery store, which they walked to. And since you only had an "ice box," you didn't buy a week's worth of perishables at a time.

A handful of neighborhood groceries survive in the city --- Zoscak's in 10th Ward and Lampert's up in Grandview are excellent examples --- but I think that's an Almanac for another time, don't you?

. . .

To Do This Weekend: If supermarket openings aren't your cup of tea, head down to the St. Martin De Porres Church Festival, 704 Market St., beginning at 6 tonight and running through Sunday. (Sunday hours are 1 to 6 p.m.) Highlights include music, dancing, food, games, bingo and more, along with a "polka Mass" Saturday at 5 p.m. Call (412) 672-9763.

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August 10, 2006 | Link to this story

In a Hole, And Digging Myself Deeper

Category: default || By jt3y

(UPDATE: Make sure to read the latest version of this Almanac, updated at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.)

I don't really like to write about politics, because there are many, many other people doing that, and doing it well.

Also, my politics are as muddied as the bottom of the Youghiogheny River after three days of rain --- as I've pointed out here before, I'm a pro-labor practicing Catholic strong defense civil libertarian limited regulation environmentalist.

Tomorrow, I'll be off this topic, so you're welcome to skip out now.

But today, in light of the responses to yesterday's Almanac, I just want to throw this out to the crowd, and make sure I understand.

If someone is a liberal or a civil libertarian or is in some other way not a "real" conservative, but calls himself or herself a Republican, then they're not really a Republican, and it's OK for real Republicans and TV and newspaper commentators to toss every sort of calumny and slander at them (see also Lincoln Chafee, Jim Jeffords, John McCain, George H.W. Bush, Paul O'Neill, Christie Todd Whitman, etc.).

But if someone is a conservative, and calls himself a Democrat, then Democrats should shut up and vote for that person. (John Scalzi said it better yesterday over at Whatever ... and a Tube City hard-hat tip to Nancy Nall.)

So, in summary: If Democrats insist on voting for Democrats, then they should at least have the decency to only vote for Democrats who act like conservative Republicans.

Now I understand. Let's sing along with Garrison Keillor:

We're all Republicans now

We're all united and how

For national security

And cultural purity

We're all Republicans now

Down with the income tax

Get government off our backs

Less regulation—let people be free

To work overtime and have two jobs or three

Put strict constructionists back on the courts

Let liberals have it right in the shorts

It's a free country so go and have fun

But not in my backyard cause I have a gun

We're all Republicans

All Republicans

All Republicans now.

By the way: According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Gov. Rendell has now come out with a solid endorsement of Bob Casey Jr. for the U.S. Senate. One state Democratic committeeman says that Rendell's praise of Rick Santorum was "a huge, huge, huge mistake."

Yes. Exactly. Pepsi doesn't issue endorsements praising Coke; General Motors doesn't encourage people to buy Toyotas; NBC doesn't recommend that viewers switch to CBS; and Republicans don't endorse Democrats.

So why should Democrats feel it necessary --- in the spirit of "bipartisanship" --- to cozy up to Republicans during an election year? Ridiculous.

I promise, no more politics for a while. Local silly stuff on Friday. See you then.


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August 09, 2006 | Link to this story

A Discouraging Word

Category: default || By jt3y

You've heard of the bluebird of happiness?

Call me the spatzie of negativity.

While pundits are predicting a major surge toward the center this fall --- and away from the borderline cuckoo far-right politics of the last few years --- I am already seeing signs that the Democrats, both in Pennsylvania and nationally, are well positioned to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.

In fact, I've been seething for several days over "Fast Eddie" Rendell and his idiotic comments to Selena Zito of the Tribune-Review. (Tip of the Tube City hard hat to Jonathan Potts' The Conversation.)

"Rick Santorum has proven that he gets the job done. Time and time again he has come through," Rendell told Zito. "I will eventually campaign with (Bob) Casey. But, no, you won't see me attack Santorum. I work well with him and (U.S. Sen. Arlen) Specter. When it comes to Pennsylvania, Santorum delivers."

Excellent fence-straddling, Ed! It's this kind of leadership that made Marshal Petain such a beloved figure in France, even to this day.

In a nutshell, Eddie's obviously not sure that Bob Casey can win. So he's hedging his bets and hoping that he'll be able to cooperate with Rick "Torquemada" Santorum, R-Inquisition, if he gets re-elected.

And after all, there's lots of reasons that Rendell should compromise and try to work with Santorum. Because, you know, Santorum has been the voice of calm moderation and bipartisan cooperation with liberals throughout his career.

(Erp! Excuse me, I just burped up some of last night's dinner.)

. . .

So, you stopped just short of endorsing Rick Santorum, Gov. Way to undermine your own hand-picked candidate. Way to hand Santorum a cudgel that he can use to bludgeon Casey in the fall.

There's an old British political joke (I think I heard Alexei Sayle tell it) that goes like this: "In America, they have the Republicans, who are like our Tories. They also have the Democrats, who are like our Tories."

In fact, Quislings like Ed Rendell (and Joe Lieberman) prove that there's some truth to the complaint of leftists that there's not a dime's bit of difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Many Democratic leaders stand for nothing except their own re-elections, which they try to ensure by voicing mealy-mouthed platitudes sure to offend no one.

Hey, dummies: You're in the opposition party. The other guys hold all of the marbles. They have absolutely no reason to cooperate with you, or grant you anything you want.

Therefore: It's not "optional" for you to oppose them --- it's your damned job, and if you don't want to stand up for the values that you supposedly endorse, then get out of the way.

. . .

Meanwhile, there's Casey. The more I've heard from him, the more I've warmed up to him --- I think he's a thoughtful, contemplative guy --- and I think he's done a good job in the state offices he's held.

Admittedly, they are administrative positions, where strong, visionary leadership is not required --- but on the other hand, try to find someone who will say positive things about Catherine Baker Knoll's term as state treasurer. (Besides Cathy, of course.)

Unfortunately, I'm not hearing nearly enough from Mr. Casey. Indeed, I sent his campaign office an email a while ago asking where I could get some Casey yard signs. I'm still waiting. You'd think someone there could answer those Internets, unless, of course, the tubes are clogged.

I want to see Casey holding noisy, colorful rallies in McKeesport and Greensburg and Washington and Monessen.

I want to see him giving Tricky Ricky, the junior senator from Virginia, what for.

I want to see some evidence --- any evidence --- that Bob Casey Jr. really wants to be a U.S. senator.

I mean, Santorum began running ads attacking Casey as soon as May's primary ended. Casey's responses have been weak and late by comparison.

. . .

Santorum is an excellent campaigner, and the people running his campaigns are ruthless. They are going to do anything --- say anything --- to get their man re-elected. (Case in point: The "Al Jazeera" crud they put out recently.)

At the same time, Ruthless Rick's hard-core supporters believe passionately that their man is standing on the side of the angels, defending the nation against Godless gay-marrying terror-appeasing baby-killers. Packs of wild dogs are not going to be able to keep them away from the polls.

Casey's support, in contrast, is a mile-wide but an inch deep. We need to see a little more of the fire in the belly from Casey, because he has got to motivate voters to get out in November. Simply being the "anti-Santorum" is not enough, in my estimation.

Don't believe me? John Kerry thought it was enough to be the "anti-Bush." Tell me how his presidency is going so far.

As for Rendell, I'm waiting for his endorsement of Lynn Swann. At least Benedict Arnold had the decency to flee to England.

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August 07, 2006 | Link to this story

Local News You May Have Missed

Category: default || By jt3y

Anybody want a free "Shop-Vac"? There's one sitting on the roof of the Central Station post office, down at the corner of Sinclair Street and Lysle Boulevard, and it's been there for weeks.

In fact, the Central Station post office itself has been closed for weeks. Boxholders are retrieving their mail uptown, at the main post office on Walnut Street.

A little birdie told the Almanac that the problem is a roof leak that sends water cascading into an electrical cabinet in the building.

County tax records show that the building is owned by Valley Real Estate of Clarksdale, Miss.

Valley Real Estate is part of the The Magdovitz Group, which owns a controlling interest in more than 400 post office buildings around the country --- making it, according to its website, the second-largest owner of post office buildings in the U.S., after the Postal Service itself.

Larry Magdovitz told me via email on Monday that the building needs a new roof. "The problem is being addressed and we hope to have the building re-open as soon as the roof is repaired," he says.

. . .

In other business: You may remember my quixotic campaign to get the River Road grade crossing in Port Vue repaired.

Perhaps in response to inquiries by various parties, including the Almanac, CSX has patched part of the crossing, but it's not much of an improvement --- southbound cars are still forced to swerve out of traffic to avoid going off the edge of the pavement.

A state PUC spokesman tells me that PennDOT, the railroad and that agency are scheduled to meet and discuss that crossing and another one in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

. . .

In Washington, Pa. (aka "Little Worshington"), the city fathers are talking tough with downtown property owners, writes Christie Campbell in the Observer-Reporter.

The mayor and the code enforcement officer say that landlords who have not paid taxes or who have let maintenance of their buildings lapse face legal action, including --- possibly --- losing their properties via eminent domain proceedings.

The last thing that any city needs is ownership of vacant property --- then the white elephants become the problems of the taxpayers --- but on the other hand, you can certainly understand the frustration in Washington.

The decline of one building in a business district has a ripple effect --- it not only reduces the value of the surrounding properties, it creates a disincentive to investment. If you own an existing nearby building, you're not going to put money into it, and if you are thinking about moving into the neighborhood, a dilapidated structure is liable to chase you away.

That's why vacant buildings are so problematic in Our Fair City; they are wrecking many neighborhoods and crippling efforts to bring business downtown.

I'm wondering if Washington's efforts to "get tough" by writing more code enforcement citations is just a talk, or if they're serious.

If they're serious, then the results would bear watching by residents of McKeesport, Duquesne, Homestead and other communities where abandoned or decaying structures are a problem.

. . .

Finally: Oliver Stone's new movie World Trade Center tells the story of two transit police officers who were rescued from the rubble of the Twin Towers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In Sunday's Tribune-Review, Karen Roebuck told the real-life story of the Mon-Yough area people who were instrumental in the rescue.

One of the volunteers who was searching the rubble of the Twin Towers that day, David Karnes, found the two police officers and --- in the chaos --- couldn't reach the New York City police on his cell phone. So he called his sister, Joy Karnes, in Munhall.

She called Allegheny County 911, where a dispatcher from Elizabeth Township, Randy Tedesco, took the information.

Then, Mike Lupinacci, the assistant communications manager of the county's 911 center (who helped get the Mon Valley 911 center in McKeesport started years ago), contacted New York authorities.

Joy Karnes has passed away, and the movie mentions her only in passing (one character refers to the David Karnes character calling "his sister in Pittsburgh"), but she and the local 911 personnel involved received commendations from New York authorities, thanking them for their help and clear thinking.

They also received personal thank-you notes from the two police officers who were rescued.

Read Roebuck's story, and remember that the real heroes aren't practicing up at Latrobe --- they're all around you every day.

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August 04, 2006 | Link to this story

Once Upon a Time

Category: default || By jt3y

In case you missed it, I took a big bite of my own size 12 Florsheims yesterday. A correspondent gently pointed out that the Daily News no longer runs the bleatings of the loathsome Ann Coulter.

I guess they don't run "The Smith Family" and "Uncle Ray's Corner" any more, either. Hmmph! If you ask me, that newspaper has been going downhill ever since old W.D. Mansfield bought it in 19-ought-25.

Why, by cracky, in my day, if you had a quarter, you could get a Daily News and then walk over to the Star Restaurant and get a complete lobster dinner, and still have change left over to ride the streetcar out to Olympia Park. But who had a quarter in those days? Nobody, that's who!

As far as I'm concerned, the whole darned town hasn't been the same since Mayor Lysle died. Mayor Lysle --- by God, he kept the Communists out of McKeesport. And there was a man whose digestive system you could set your watch to. George H. Lysle had bowels as regular as the Capitol Limited.

That reminds me of the time I took the Capitol Limited to Willard, Ohio, for the annual shoe-mending festival. What a time we had!


Thanks, I needed that.

What the hell was I going on about? Oh, yeah --- I do know that many of the op-eds on the News editorial page recently have been local, and good. This week, the owner of the Fifth Avenue Foodland wrote a strong piece about the proposed "flyover" ramp that would provide a new access route from Lysle Boulevard into the industrial park.

He argues that the ramp --- to be built at the foot of Huey Street, between the present Eat'n Park and Rite Aid store --- would cause more harm to the Lysle Boulevard business district than good, and urges transportation planners to locate it a few blocks further east.

I'm not entirely sure I agreed, but he made a good argument.

That reminds me of an argument I had in Helmstadter's in 1928. See, I wanted an electric bread toaster, and all of the ones on sale were chromium plated --- well! I had just read in Collier's where chromium-plated bread toasters were linked to the croup, so I says to the man, I says ....


Sorry about that.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: The McKeesport summer concert series presents Bo Wagner in his tribute to Frank Sinatra, "Let's Be Frank," 7 p.m. Sunday at the bandshell in Renzie Park. Lawn seating, free admission. ... Munhall holds its annual "Community Day" on Saturday at West Field ... You can "Fly Around Town For Pennies a Pound" to raise money for Wings for Children. On Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., local pilots will offer air tours of the Pittsburgh area, departing from Allegheny County Airport. The flights cost 20 cents per pound per person, and proceeds help pay for airlifts for sick children. Call (412) 469-9930.

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August 03, 2006 | Link to this story

Caveat Emptor, Pipio Urbs

Category: default || By jt3y

Alert Reader Glenn writes:

The city seems to be going either classy, crazy or reverting to Roman rule. While searching for info I came across the (page for Renzie Park), and it appears it was all written in Latin.

I thought they stopped teaching Latin in the high school around 1971 when I graduated but it appears it is now making a comeback:

Well, Glenn, obviously you missed Mayor Jim Brewster's recent appearance before city council (henceforth renamed the Senate) in a toga. I thought the laurel wreath on his head was quite handsome.

Also, in the interest of saving fuel, the police are replacing their Chevy Impalas with horse-drawn chariots. The upside is the horses will also be able to keep the grass trimmed in War Memorial Park, but the downside will be the new road hazards on Market Street.

Seriously, as someone who works on web pages for a living, I know exactly how this happened ... someone needed placeholder text when they designed the website, and forgot to remove it.

And it's not like your Almanac editor never make makes an a misteak misstake mistake.

Now that Glenn has pointed this out, I'm sure the web elves at city hall will fix this goof, and I'll say mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa on their behalf, because I've "been there, done that," many, many times.

I just hope no one is fed to the lions as punishment.

. . .

That reminds me: Senator ... er, I mean, city councilman ... Paul Shelly Jr. checked in recently at the Almanac, and it turns out he has a blog! There's lots of great discussion there of events in the news, and analysis of current issues before city officials. If you're a city resident, or live in one of its suburbs, check it out.

. . .

Finally: It has been said many times, many ways, but Ann Coulter is truly a despicable human being. Her latest interview, with the religious website, just confirms that. How dare she judge other Christians on the quality of their faith? I wouldn't ask Ann Coulter for assistance to cross the street, let alone for moral guidance.

I know some people (Andrew Sullivan, for instance) claim that Coulter's far-right, neofascist commentaries are just an act.

That would make them all the more disgusting, as far as I'm concerned --- not only would she be a hatemonger, she'd be a liar and a fraud. (There are serious accusations, by the way, that her most recent book was plagiarized.)

If the people running the Ann Coulter column are simply trying to fill space, there are better ways. For instance, the people who supplied that "lorem ipsum" text on the Renzie Park webpage could probably help.

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit" is no less comprehensible to me than what Ann Coulter typically turns out.


UPDATE: Correction, Not Perfection: This Almanac erroneously stated that the Ann Coulter column was still running in the Daily News.

An Alert Reader of both the Almanac and the News tells your editor that Ms. Ann Thrope ... er, I mean Ms. Ann Coulter ... no longer appears in the newspaper, and hasn't for some time.

Er ... I was just testing the readers to make sure they pay attention. That's it! (And if you believe that, I'll tell you another one.)

See? I told you we make mistakes. I apologize for the error.

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Posted at 07:52 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 02, 2006 | Link to this story

Here’s to Good Friends, The Night Is Kind of Special, Blah Blah Blah

Category: default || By jt3y

At a gathering the other night in a local watering hole in the Glass City, an old cow-orker and colleague was depressed at the thought of --- as he put it --- having to find a new beer to drink.

He was marking the end of Rolling Rock production in Latrobe by consuming his last "Rocks," having decided not to patronize Anheuser-Busch.

He's not alone. And I suspect a lot of people drink --- or drank --- Rolling Rock because it was made in Western Pennsylvania, not because it was all that noticeably superior to every other American beer.

If City Brewing of Lacrosse, Wis., goes through with its proposal to purchase the old Latrobe Brewing plant --- and I hope they do --- they would be smart to introduce a new American-style pale lager.

In green bottles with painted-on labels.

And called something like "Laurel Mountain" or "Old Latrobe" or "Loyalhanna."

As long as it didn't taste like malted cat urine, I think they would grab the hearts of a lot of ex-Rolling Rock drinkers around these parts.

As of Tuesday, by the way, the Rolling Rock website has been scrubbed of any references to Latrobe, Pa. --- and the "Latrobe Brewing Co." is now legally based in St. Louis, Mo.

Well, then "feh" on the house of Augie Busch. Feh on Busch Stadium, the Gateway Arch, and the Cardinals, even though Busch no longer owns them. Feh on the Mississippi River, the New Madrid fault, the Eads Bridge, the Post-Dispatch and KMOX, for all I care.

On Monday, the Daily News (whose sister paper, after all, is the Latrobe Bulletin) said it with great eloquence:

While the world converges on Latrobe and training camp for the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, a piece of that city's history fades into undeserved infamy.

That might seem a bit harsh, as we talk here about beer. However, we'd suggest, the next time you ask for Rolling Rock, ask also when your tavern or distributor received the stock on tap.

If the answer is sometime after last week, try another beer, preferably one not made by new Rolling Rock owner Anheuser-Busch.

Anheuser-Busch still misses the point of why, as it said, "Rolling Rock has established itself as an authentic, iconic American lager with a loyal following." ... The newest "Made in New Jersey" crop of "Rolling Rock" is just another beer. The real "Rolling Rock" will be consigned to the memories of Tri-State beer drinkers.

I can sympathize with all of the disillusioned Rock fans. But the simple fact is that most good American lager beers taste the same (at least to me). If they're fresh, and made with good ingredients, and you like American beer, you'll like them. If they're stale, or made with cheap ingredients, they're good only for poisoning slugs and getting frats and sororities drunk. (Or is that redundant? Ha! I slay me.)

(Don't get me started on "light" beers --- particularly that one made in Golden, Colo. People who drink that repulse me in the same way as people who put ketchup on hot dogs.)

The only significant reason I've ever chosen one brand of beer over another has been the geographic location where it was made. I have two reasons for that, and both of them are selfish.

First, I figure that breweries in Pennsylvania employ Pennsylvania workers who pay Pennsylvania taxes. Second, I figure beer brewed in Pennsylvania is more likely to be fresh --- and nothing is worse than skunky, stale beer. OK, maybe this is.

So, if you're a Rolling Rock fan feeling abandoned, I'd say that you should put your money (literally) where your mouth is:

  • Try a Stoney's. (They're not just for breakfast anymore).

  • Pump an Iron. (Every cent you spend helps Joe Piccirilli pay his water bill.)

  • Grab a Straub. (You can even get it in green bottles, in case you miss 'em.)

And maybe with luck, in a few months, you'll be able to get a beer brewed in Latrobe again.

If not --- and as a last resort --- there's always sobriety.

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Posted at 08:11 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 02, 2006 | Link to this story

Exclusive: New Rolling Rock ‘Pledge’ Revealed

Category: default || By jt3y

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Posted at 12:30 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 01, 2006 | Link to this story

It's a Gas

Category: default || By jt3y

I have a new jingle that I've been singing, to the tune of the "Oscar Mayer weiner" song, and I'd like to offer it to Equitable Gas for use in their advertising:

I wish I was a regulated monopoly,
Equitable Gas is who I'd like to be,
'Cause if I was a regulated monopoly,
I'd screw the public with impunity!

Equitable Gas has not read my meter in more than a year. (I have a feeling many of the meter readers have been laid off or retired --- witness the closed Equitable district office and garage up in North Versailles near Crestas Terrace.)

Instead, they keep "estimating" my bills, and they apparently think that I spend all year long with the windows open and the furnace cranked up to 99 degrees.

Their estimates are insane for a single guy in a one-bedroom house --- especially for a guy who set the indoor temperature at a balmy 64 degrees last winter expressly for the purpose of keeping his gas bills low.

A few months ago, I read my own meter and went to Equitable's website to enter the numbers. Bzzzzt! Rejected: The meter reading I entered was lower than Equitable's estimate, so it wasn't acceptable.

I called the gas company and gave the reading to them. "Oh, my," the lady said. "We're going to have to adjust your bill."

"Higher?" I said.

"Lower," she said. "Much lower. Disregard your current bill. I'm going to issue a new bill with a new due date, and we're also going to lower your budget payment."

That sounds pretty good, right?

Two weeks later I received a termination notice from Equitable Gas for failing to pay my gas bill. Remember when Donald Duck used to go crazy, and his eyes would turn red, and steam would shoot from his ears?

I looked something like that, only with considerably more quacking and jumping up and down.

I called Equitable Gas again. It turns out that the people who take the meter readings and the people who send the bills work in separate departments. The meter people asked for a new bill to be issued, but the billing people never cancelled the old statement.

What did I need to do to keep the gas from being shut off? Why, pay both bills! For $351. Which I did. I resisted the temptation to write the check in my own blood.

They promise me that I haven't overpaid, and of course, I believe them. After all, if you can't trust a utility company, who can you trust?

A few days later, Equitable Gas called me. Since they hadn't read my meter in more than a year, they want to convert me over to an electronic meter that they can read automatically.

That's fine with me. I'd no longer be getting these gas bill estimates that are apparently calculated based on the cost to heat a barn in Edmonton, Alberta, in January.

But a few days later, I had a message on my answering machine: Equitable says my meter can't be converted. Would I call them immediately?

I did. I was told there's a "broken screw" on my meter.

I have no idea what this means, but it's apparently serious, because they can't connect the electronic gizmo without fixing the screw.

So I asked the lady a question that, I admit, is kind of stupid.

"Why don't you just fix the screw?" I said.

Well, because, she explained, the people who attach the electronic gizmos --- all together now --- work in a different department from the people who fix broken screws.

She agreed to submit a request to the people who fix broken screws to come out and fix my broken screw, but she could offer no timetable as to when the mighty machinery of Equitable Gas might be able to handle such a difficult request.

That was several weeks ago. The meter is still broken, and I just got another estimated bill.

This morning, I checked the Equitable Gas website. "With the implementation of automated meter reading," it says, "customer meter readings are no longer being accepted" via the Internet.

Which is par for the course, since you can't pay your Equitable Gas bill online, either. If you don't want to pay by mail, Equitable offers "local neighborhood payment centers," which means you can stand in line to pay your gas bill at Dairy Mart behind the urine-soaked winos trying to buy lottery tickets with food stamps.

So, let's review:

  • Equitable Gas won't or can't read my meter, and

  • Equitable Gas wants to make it more difficult to read my own meter, and

  • Equitable Gas won't or can't fix my damned meter so that it can be read automatically, and

  • Equitable Gas will thus continue "estimating" my bill, using the average annual heating requirements of Century III Mall as its basis for comparison

Meanwhile: Equitable's parent company (which is buying one of its few competitors in this area, the old People's Natural Gas Co.) made 36 cents a share in the second quarter of this year, according to an earnings report released last week. Operating income from its utilities business more than doubled, while expenses decreased.

It seems to me that Equitable is screwing something, but it ain't my broken meter.

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