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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

March 30, 2007 | Link to this story

Up The Expressway

Category: default || By jt3y

I wasn't able to attend Mayor Brewster's briefing session for public officials on the Mon-Fayette Expressway --- real life, surprisingly, has a tendency to bump aside work I'd like to do on the Almanac --- but Jen Vertullo of the Daily News had a nice story (subscribers-only link) in Tuesday's paper, and Eric Slagle followed up in Thursday's Post-Gazette.

Brewster and others called on leaders in Mon-Yough area municipalities to band together and pressure state and federal elected officials for money for property acquisition to push through the right-of-way from the Route 51 interchange in Large to the Parkway East in Monroeville.

If completed, the Mon-Fayette would bypass congested surface roads like routes 837, 48 and 51 and provide a high-speed link between the Parkway East and Interstate 68 in West Virginia. Brewster and others (notably the Mon Valley Progress Council, whose Joe Kirk has been lobbying for the highway's completion for decades) say the road is necessary to spur brownfield development.

. . .

Boy, I have mixed emotions about this, and not only because my house is going to be one well-thrown jug of urine from the southbound lanes.

I love to drive, and I've done a fair amount of driving throughout the northeast in the past 10 years. I've been to garden spots like Akron, Dayton, Rochester, Buffalo, Wheeling and Youngstown. All of those towns have easy interstate highway access.

Youngstown, for instance, has a nice six-lane expressway cutting right through the middle of town. Dayton's at the junction of two interstates and also has a bypass. Yet you'd be hard pressed to find a town more downtrodden than Youngstown --- beaten up, like the Mon Valley, by the collapse of the steel industry in the late '70s. Dayton, which was once heavily reliant on jobs from "Generous Motors" subsidiaries like Frigidaire and Delco, hasn't bottomed out yet.

I've never seen any evidence that brownfield development in those places has been spurred by the expressways, and expressways sure didn't stop the rubber industry from moving out of Akron, or Kodak from laying off thousands of people in Rochester.

For a local example, take a ride down to Washington, Pa. (aka "Little Worshington"), which sits at the junction of two interstates—one that runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and the other from coast-to-coast. The outskirts of Washington County are booming (mostly with retail development and McMansions) but the city has had blighted sections for a long time.

. . .

My point, and I do have one, is that I don't see this toll road (the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat calls it the "Mo-Fo Excessway") as a cure for all of the problems facing the region.

In fact, I have a strong feeling that all the Mo-Fo will do is move people further out into mostly-rural places like Union Township and Nottingham Township. Suddenly you'll be able to work in the Golden Triangle and live in Gastonville, just as I-279 made it practical to live in Wexford or Cranberry.

But as far as I can tell, I-279 hasn't helped Pittsburgh's North Side at all --- and I don't think the Mo-Fo is going to provide much benefit to the communities it passes through. Commuters and long-haul truck drivers will barely pay attention to us as they whiz past (and I do mean whiz).

. . .

There are many reasons companies don't want to locate here, but the quickest answer (in my humble opinion) is that it's harder to redevelop a brownfield than to plow up 40 acres of farmland somewhere and pave it.

Factor in the Mon-Yough area's reputation as a place with "high taxes, corruption and high crime" (three things that I think have been greatly exaggerated) and building an office park out in some pasture instead of McKeesport or Duquesne becomes an easy choice for corporate planners.

No highway is going to change that equation.

If the Turnpike Commission wants to sell the Mo-Fo as a way to bypass congested surface roads or to open up rural Washington and Fayette counties to development, that's fine. But trying to ram this through the Mon-Yough area as the be-all, end-all for economic development is suspect.

. . .

If we want to spur economic development, I suspect we'd be better off trying to get our Mon-Yough area communities to adopt uniform zoning and planning codes and taxation rates, along with regional public safety and public works services.

And I still don't understand why we aren't marketing the entire McKeesport area --- not just the city or the school district --- with a unified effort. There are real housing bargains in the Mon-Yough district and a lot of cultural and educational amenities that make it an attractive place for middle-income people trying to start a family.

Instead of worrying about what the Turnpike Commission might or might not do, working on those issues might make Our Fair City and the surrounding communities a lot more attractive to potential residents.

And I'm not just saying that because I don't want to have a front yard full of trucker bombs.

. . .

In Other News: McKeesport Recreation Committee's website reports that the Mon-Yough Riverfront Entertainment Council has been dissolved. The city recreation committee says it will do what it can to keep entertainment and cultural activities going.

This is sad news. We need more regional cooperation, not less, but good on the rec committee for stepping up, I guess.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: The Mon Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra makes its public debut at 3 p.m. Sunday with a special concert at the First Free Evangelical Church, 4001 University Drive, with Maestro Bruce Lauffer of the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra conducting. Admission is free. Come out and support these great student musicians ... Speaking of student musicians, it's high school musical time, and McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd., is presenting "Crazy for You" at 7:30 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. Admission is $7. East Allegheny High School, 1150 Jacks Run Road (Route 48) in North Versailles presents "Cinderella" tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. ... McKeesport Recreation Committee will hold an Easter egg hunt Saturday morning at the Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renzie Park (rain date is April 7). Check their website for details.

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March 27, 2007 | Link to this story

Out Like a Lamb

Category: default || By jt3y

Scientists have created a hybrid animal that's part sheep, part human. Actually, I thought we already had that. They call it "Bill O'Reilly's audience."

I keed, I keed! But it reminds me of a sick joke. A city slicker is driving through the country when he passes a farm and sees a man taking liberties with one of the sheep. He turns off the road into the driveway and goes to the house.

A curly-haired boy answers the door. "Young man, call the police, someone's messing around with your sheep," the driver says.

"Oh, that's just my da-a-a-aa-a-a-a-a-aad," the boy says.

. . .

Speaking of sick jokes, let's go back to Bill O'Reilly for a second. Earlier this month, Los Angeles-based actress and talk show host April Winchell wrote about a visit to KABC radio in that city by Mr. Who's Lookin' Out for You?:

He was extremely unhappy with the croissants that were laid out for him. Not because he is against the French and everything they have to offer. No, that would almost show some character on his part. I mean, it would be obnoxious, but consistent with his professed beliefs, so you'd have to give him points for walking the walk. No this was a bigger problem. Much bigger. The croissants were not fresh enough.

Winchell claims O'Reilly demanded that a local baker make a fresh batch of croissants for him. "He followed that up by demanding that a helicopter take him to Orange County for his next appearance, because he didn't want to spend an hour in the limousine the station had arranged for him," she says. "After all, he's Bill O'Reilly, and he can't be expected to sit in a car and be driven somewhere. Who do you think he is, Chris Matthews?"

Winchell's anecdote was picked up by a number of bloggers and made it to MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann," which competes against "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News and whose host has been baiting O'Reilly for years. (In the interest of full disclosure: I've exchanged a few emails over the years with Olbermann about his collection of Bob & Ray airchecks --- I am not making that up --- and I think Olbermann can be a riot when he's on a tear.)

Now, if you were a big star like Bill O'Reilly, you might follow this up by ignoring Winchell, or if you really wanted to react, you could send a box of croissants to her.

Or, you could do what O'Reilly did, which was to call KABC and demand that they never use Winchell on the air again. Winchell, who guest-hosted programs twice a month for five years, says O'Reilly "really knows how to hurt a girl": "You got me fired from a job I didn't have, at a station that wasn't paying me ... That's a real blow, because I wanted to add another eight listeners to my fan base."

"Another bridge burned," Winchell concludes. Yeah, I know that feeling.

. . .

And speaking of Bob & Ray --- yesterday was Bob Elliott's birthday. (Tube City hard hat tip: Doug Hoerth.) Bob is 84, and last I heard, was retired in Maine. It's a little bit late now, but feel free to send him a chocolate wobblie (they were chocolate Easter bunnies until they were left too close to the radiator in the Bob & Ray Overstocked Warehouse) or a shiny steel ingot from the Monongahela Metal Foundry.

And just in time for Easter and Passover gift-giving, the Elliott and Goulding curators extraordinaire at The Radio Foundation have released another new CD --- the 24th in a series --- of Bob & Ray material.

. . .

In local news, there was another shooting at the Hi-View Garden apartment complex Downtown. The Post-Gazette reports that the injuries were not life-threatening, thank goodness, though more than a dozen shots were fired. It's the same complex where two people were shot Jan. 19, one fatally. Something tells me they need to stiffen the background checks at that place, but I could be wrong.

. . .

Finally, I'm overjoyed to see that Michael Bérubé, professor of dangeral studies at Penn State's University Park Campus, is blogging again. Bérubé is one of the best things to come out of Centre County since Peachy Paterno ice cream.

Sure, he's no Jonathan Frakes, but who is?

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Posted at 07:29 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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March 26, 2007 | Link to this story

Somebunny in West Mifflin Likes You

Category: default || By jt3y

There are two sure signs of spring: The swallows return to San Juan Capistrano and the inflatable plastic Easter bunnies return to West Mifflin.

For more than a decade, McKeesport physician Rudolph Antoncic and his family have been decorating the outside of their home on Skyline Drive for Easter, and what started years ago as a few plastic rabbits and eggs has become a legion of colorful rabbits and other critters that now sprawls out across the front, back and side yards and lately seems to be invading the neighbors' yard, too.

And this is no mere haphazard assemblage. These are bunnies set up with imagination and a purpose. There are bunny mobsters planning a heist, a bunny crime scene investigation, bunnies exercising, bunnies playing sports, bunny crocodile hunters. In fact, if you look hard enough, you'll probably find just about anything it's possible to do with an inflatable plastic Easter bunny (except that, you weirdo) someplace in the Antoncics' yard.

Setting up the annual bunny display takes days, but given the number of cars that slow or stop to peruse the tableaux lapins, you'd have to admit the effort is worth it.

So if you're in a bad mood, hop into your car and scamper up to Skyline Drive. You'd have to be pretty hard-hearted (or Elmer Fudd) not to get a kick out of this. Thanks to the Antoncics for putting on this display each year for no remuneration or compensation --- just the sheer silly pleasure of doing something for the community.

. . .

‘Big Top’ Folds: Speaking of silly pleasures, one of my favorite comic strips, "Big Top," seen in the Daily News and about 40 other papers, has come to an end after five years. Creator Rob Harrell told Editor and Publisher that the strip never caught on with newspapers and it was time to move onto other projects. The strip, set in a run-down traveling circus, ran its last new installment on Sunday.

Harrell, 37, made national headlines last year when he underwent surgery for eye cancer and other artists filled in for him while he recovered.

And there's more bad news on the comics pages: Sources say that "Beetle Bailey," "The Phantom," "Marmaduke," "The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and other so-called "funnies" are expected to continue "indefinitely," or until the last newspaper subscriber dies.

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March 23, 2007 | Link to this story

You've Got Junk Mail

Category: default || By jt3y

After failing to receive an important email this week, I'm wondering how many other messages aren't getting to the Tube City Almanac's Editorial Complex, located in the verdant hills above Our Fair City.

It's a fact that legitimate messages now constitute less than 6 percent of all email traffic. The remaining 94 percent is junk mail that promises to enlarge parts of your body, help you satisfy your lover, alert you to investment opportunities, enrich your bank account with Nigerian oil proceeds or refinance your mortgage.

That's according to an email I just received titled, "URGNT HELP SIR DI$C0NT C!@LIAS LA$T L0N6ER UP TO 3.5612 % B-LOW PR1M3 RE-FI!"

Actually, it's according to an article in Information Week, which reports that fighting off spam was a big reason that the costs of handling email at major corporations increased by 334 percent in 2006. Egad.

As those of you gentle readers who have tried to post comments at the Almanac know, we have some pretty aggressive spam blocking. Right now, there are 5,847 different filters (I am not making that up) on the comments at Tube City Almanac.

But sometimes the spam blockers get a little bit overenthusiastic. For instance, the comment filters recently decided that the word "green" was forbidden --- apparently because spammers were posting messages about "Green Card Lotteries" --- which unfortunately prevents you from posting any remarks about Greensburg, Green Acres and "Mean" Joe Greene.

Thanks to Dementia Unlimited World Wide Technical Support, I've also got a program called "Spam Assassin" running on my email, and it's cut my avalanche of junk mail down to a landslide. But just like the comment filters that shoot first and ask questions later, I suspect the email filters are a little bit too aggressive sometimes.

Now I'm worried that I may be blocking important emails, so I may have to turn the phasers down to "stun" instead of "extra crispy."

The long and short of it (as they say in the spam emails) is that if you email me and don't receive a response, I'm not ignoring you. If you really want to make sure your email gets through, send a copy of your email to my first initial plus my last name at gmail dot com.

And if I still don't reply, then I am ignoring you --- in which case, feel free to tell me to do some of those things that the spam emails keep promising.

Heck, it's not like I'm going to read them anyway.

. . .

Local News You May Have Missed:

  • Betty Vitelli of Jefferson Hills has retired from U.S. Steel's Clairton Works, which is not unusual. What is unusual, as Margaret Smykla reports in the Post-Gazette, is that Vitelli (now Mrs. Anthony Rothbauer) began working at the plant in 1944. Believe it or not, her 63-year service record isn't U.S. Steel's longest, but apparently it comes close --- a man who started at the Fairfield, Ala., plant in 1941 is still with the company. U.S. Steel feted her with a retirement party at the Bradley House, and Rothbauer may do some volunteer work at Jefferson Hospital to keep busy. We should all be so lucky to love our work like she does.

  • Former Elizabeth Township magistrate Ernest Marraccini made the news a few years back when he summarily dismissed a group of traffic citations because he didn't want listen to the cases, then called the defendants "morons" after some of them didn't want to leave. He's pleaded guilty in federal court to obstruction of justice in connection with the corruption probe of the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office.

  • Speaking of corruption probes: Back in June of '05, Officer Jim and I wondered why federal prosecutors only seemed to be pursuing corruption cases against prominent Pennsylvania Democrats like ex-Sheriff Pete "Laverne's Dad" DeFazio, Cyril "Mr. Modesty" Wecht, Tom Murphy, and the mayors of Erie and Philadelphia. Surely some Republicans had their thumbs on the scales. It seemed a little hinky to us. Well, I hate to say we told you so, but ...

  • Finally, Mayor Jim Brewster is hosting a town meeting on the Mon-Fayette Expressway and the potential economic impact to Our Fair City and vicinity. He wants elected officials from all of the nearby affected municipalities to participate. That's at 6 p.m. Monday at The Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street.

. . .

In Memoriam: Deepest sympathy to the Rev. Jay Geisler, pastor of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Downtown, on the death of his mother, Betty Jane Geisler of McCandless. Arrangements were in charge of H.P. Brandt Funeral Home in Ross Township.

. . .

Reading Room: I just found out that there's a weekly newspaper based in Finleyville. Where have I been? The Union-Finley Messenger was launched in August of 2004 and also serves other Mid-Mon Valley communities like New Eagle, Monongahela and West Elizabeth. The website doesn't offer much, but you can find copies of the paper at the Sheetz in Mon City, among other places.

I've been following a couple of notable local blogs that are relatively new ... Admiral Richmond K. Turner is launching regular depth charges of common sense at the People's Republic of Pittsburgh, while Ed Heath is experiencing Cognitive Dissonance in Pittsburgh and Beyond.

Both were kind enough to plug the Almanac, so back at yinz, and steady as she goes.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Friend and former cow-orker Dave Copeland of Boston (Mass., not Elizabeth Township) is back in town for a book signing and reading at 7 p.m. Saturday at Joseph Beth Booksellers on the South Side of Picksberg. (That's the large-ish town north of West Homestead.) Call (412) 381-3600 ... McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St. near Carnegie Library, presents "The Curious Savage," a comedy by John Patrick, 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday night. The play closes its run with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100.

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March 22, 2007 | Link to this story

Lincoln Place: PAWC Responds

Category: default || By jt3y

The city says it hasn't forgotten about Lincoln Place, and Phil Cynar, spokesman for Pennsylvania-American Water Company, wants you to know that they haven't, either.

On Wednesday, the Almanac reported on the continuing traffic tie-ups and street closures related to water line repairs near Interboro Avenue and Mifflin Road (indeed, Mifflin Road was restricted to one lane again Thursday morning) and we noted that we had been unable to reach a PAWC spokesperson.

Cynar says he emailed a response to the Almanac yesterday within 10 minutes of receiving our inquiry. It didn't make it here (maybe gnomes stole it?) but I believe him, and I apologize, because he deserves an opportunity to respond.

(He's emailed his statement again to a different email account, and it's reprinted below.)

In a telephone interview, Cynar says he understands the frustration that residents might feel, but says PAWC has tried to keep them informed at every step of the way --- through advertorials in local newspapers, through direct mailings to nearby homes, and through news releases.

Cynar also says that PAWC has tried to keep city officials involved in the process. "We have been very forthright in sharing information with the city, and all of the local officials have been privy to that information," he says.

About the crux of Wednesday's Almanac --- the broken pavement on Interboro Avenue --- Cynar says PAWC is committed to repairing the street at no expense to the city. "It's never left up to the city to resolve a situation that was created by work we had to do," he says.

But asphalt plants aren't open in the wintertime, so paving material couldn't be purchased even if the work was complete --- which it isn't. "We are not shirking our responsibility, but there are some things we can't do, because our hands are tied," Cynar says.

The repair work in Lincoln Place has been complicated by earth movement in the area and the need to avoid other buried utility lines, he says. "There's an awful lot of work going on in that area. ... People don't always realize the process is not going to be an overnight one."

While there have been service interruptions, they have been minor outages that were necessary because work could not be performed on a line that's under pressure, he says.

Happily, the work will soon be coming to an end, hopefully by the end of April, if the weather cooperates and no other problems are discovered, and that's "including the street restoration," Cynar says.

The people of Lincoln Place, Munhall and West Mifflin will need to be patient (I almost said "hold their water") just a little bit longer.

In the meantime, drink more water. It's good for you.

. . .

From Phil Cynar, spokesman, Pennsylvania-American Water Company:

Since we completed the significant repairs to the 30-inch transmission main at the start of the year, we have been working with diligence in the area. From the start, we noted that our crews would have a presence in the area for likely months to come. The stabilization and reinforcement work we are undertaking to help avoid another catastrophic main break in the area in the future has been large-scale. We have installed new a main, moved the main out of harm's way from the dangerous hillside on Interboro, done various tie-ins and other related work. (...)

We want the reinforcement and stabilization work to be effective, and we are doing what is necessary to achieve that effectiveness. We have had weather issues to battle, which have likely slowed work a bit, but that is beyond our control. And as to street restoration, that work cannot happen until our work requiring excavation is done. Similarly, it can't happen until asphalt plants open in April and the temperature is satisfactory for paving work.

We have completed Phase I of our work in the area and are about 50-percent done with Phase II work. Barring complications beyond our control--or weather issues--we should be done with the project, including street restoration work, by mid to late April.

As to communication with public officials, our team has been open and forthcoming with any and all information about the project--right from mid-December. We have made a concerted effort to reach out to local and elected officials in various ways to keep them updated on our work. We are always available, similarly, to respond to any questions they may have. In fact, several local mayors have contacted us with some regularity to get answers to questions they receive, and we have been able to address those quickly and to everyone's satisfaction.

Of course, we acknowledge the inconvenience our work may cause to customers in the area, and we appreciate their ongoing patience and cooperation while we make enhancements and stabilization to better serve them.

. . .

According to Cynar, system upgrades that are being completed by PAWC in the Interboro Avenue area include:

  • sliplining the damaged 30-inch transmission main in Interboro Ave. with new 24-inch high-density polyethylene (HDPE) main (work which was completed by January 3, 2007);

  • installation of 12-inch HPDE main over the hillside from Route 837 to Gauge St. as an additional reliable feed into the affected area (will also replace a valved-off 16-inch main);

  • installation of approximately 1,000 feet of 16-inch main from the Sunoco gas station at Interboro Ave. and Leaside Dr. to the Scorer St. intersection (to avoid potential problems with underground concrete thrust blocks supporting the existing 16-inch main near the volunteer fire department);

  • installation of a loop of main from Scorer St. to Kinley Ave. This loop will connect Diller Ave. in order to provide additional flow around the mains in the Interboro Ave. and Scorer St. intersection;

  • replacement of the 6-inch and 8-inch mains in Brierly Lane from Interboro Ave. to Homestead/Duquesne Rd. to increase water transmission capabilities.

Cynar notes that this information was printed in local newspapers, along with this addendum: "In some of these neighborhoods, Pennsylvania American Water will have a presence for months to come as work continues. In advance, we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Some of our system enhancements or reinforcements may require planned service disruptions while work is being done. We will aim to schedule these at the least disruptive times and will communicate information about any planned outages to affected customers."

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March 22, 2007 | Link to this story

The View From Afar: Part II

Category: default || By jt3y

If Bill Peduto is making a tactical retreat, then it seems to me he should have just said so: "Look, I can't win the primary, so I'm going to work all summer at getting my message out and meeting voters, and I'm going to make a really strong, independent run in the fall."

But if he thinks he's going to pull a Ross Perot, "change his mind" and jump back into the race in a few months ... well, I don't want to call him any names, but if it walks around the barnyard, and it has white feathers, and it lays eggs, and it doesn't like Colonel Sanders ... buck-buck-buck-bwaacck!

As for "Everybody's Boy" Luke Ravenstahl, I'm sorry, but I have a really hard time disliking the guy. Would I vote for him? Probably not. But he doesn't seem so much like a liar as he does utterly hapless.

Ravenstahl, like certain presidents of the United States I could name, never had to work very hard to rise quickly in the world of politics. His family's political connections opened all sorts of doors. That doesn't make him a bad person, but it does mean that he never had to overcome serious adversity, so he never got a chance to make his mistakes quietly, behind closed doors.

It seems to me that he would have benefited from working behind the scenes for a few years as a legislative aide to some state representative or city councilman, learning how to play the game. Heck, from what I read in last night's Daily News (subscribers-only link), Ravenstahl could have gotten a master's course in political wheeling and dealing from attending some West Mifflin borough council meetings.

As for the man that John McIntire calls "Mr. Pedutohead," I'm inclined to agree with my friend and former cow-orker Jonathan Potts: "Assuming that Bill Peduto is being sincere in dropping out of the Democratic primary because he doesn't like the negative tone of the campaign, then I have three words for him: Boo-friggin-who."

You shouldn't bring a knife to a gunfight. But Mr. Peduto might be the first person who ever brought marshmallows and soft, fluffy pillows.

He might be a fine councilman for the City of Picksberg, but they'd eat him alive in West Mifflin.

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March 21, 2007 | Link to this story

Lincoln Place’s Road to Ruin

Category: default || By jt3y

(Update: This Almanac originally reported that a spokesman for the water company was not available for comment. Phil Cynar of Pennsylvania-American Water Company told the Almanac Thursday that he responded to our initial email within 10 minutes of receiving it Wednesday. We apologize for not receiving his email, and we're reproducing it in full. Make sure to read Thursday's Almanac, too.)

Spring is sprung.
The grass is riz.
I wonder where the pavement is?

I'm no Ogden Nash, but I am wondering when Pennsylvania-American Water Company is going to finish digging up the intersection of Interboro Avenue and Mifflin Road in Lincoln Place.

It's been more than three months since a water main break shut down the Steel Valley and West Mifflin school districts for an entire week and made taps across the Mon Valley run dry. And it seems like the work to replace that line may never end. A press release from PAWC says that customers were supposed to be switched to the new water line at the end of February, but the bulldozers and backhoes are still working in the area.

If you use Mifflin Road as a shortcut between McKeesport and Pittsburgh, you've seen Pittsburgh police out there directing traffic around the backhoes that seem (to this ignorant layman) to be digging up the same stretch of pavement over and over again.

"It was not intended to be an extended project," says Selena Schmidt, chief of staff for Pittsburgh District 5 Councilman Doug Shields. "This is something that needs to be mitigated as soon as possible ... it's just not acceptable."

A contractor has temporarily filled long stretches of Interboro with gravel and cold patch, but it's not level with the rest of the pavement. In fact, one lane now contains a two-block-long bumpy trench that forces motorists headed for Munhall to drive into oncoming traffic or bounce along with one wheel in a ditch. Needless to say, it's a rough ride. I found a brand-new Buick hubcap along the road last night, and I'm surprised there weren't more.

But motorists face fewer inconveniences than people who live in Lincoln Place. One local business owner told me water interruptions frequently force him to close his store, and he's also frustratred with bulldozers and backhoes that have blocked access to his parking lot or parked on his sidewalk, cracking the slabs.

Other parts of the sidewalk along Interboro have been dug up and backfilled with gravel, making them dangerous for people with disabilities. When it rains, mud and gravel wash into the streets and get tracked into people's houses.

Schmidt agrees the repairs seem to be dragging on, and that Interboro Avenue is a mess. One obvious obstacle to getting the road repaired properly has been the harsh weather the region faced in January and February, she says. "You can do temporary filling, gravel, steel plates, but until we get a fairly significant weather break, it would go bad if we tried to (pave) it again," Schmidt says.

But the city can't repave the road anyway until the water company stops digging holes, and PAWC has not told the city when that's going to happen, she says.

(PAWC's response to the initial water line break, which some critics claim was too slow, is the focus of an investigation by the state Public Utility Commission, prompted in part by complaints from Shields.)

In addition, since it's the water company that's been digging up the street, the city believes the water company should contribute financially toward the repairs. "Part of our job is to make sure we stay on them," Schmidt says.

Peter Leo once called Lincoln Place "a forgotten chunk of Pittsburgh forever resisting West Mifflin's embrace." Schmidt wants to reassure residents that the city has not forgotten about them, and says Shields (who held a town meeting with residents a few weeks ago to hear their complaints) is actively putting pressure on the water company to make things right.

"In so many ways it can feel like a forgotten land, which is unfortunate because in so many ways it's a great community," she says. Schmidt expects that Interboro Avenue will probably be repaved sometime this summer, and that it will "definitely" be back to normal before the end of the year.

If PAWC is finished digging ditches across the pavement, of course.

Based on the large piles of pipe, the construction equipment, and the portable toilet that have become semi-permanent fixtures along Mifflin Road, that might seem like a large "if."

Almost as large as the holes in Interboro Avenue.


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March 19, 2007 | Link to this story

Sic Transit Gloria Crestas*

Category: default || By jt3y

(*—"Thus passes the glory of North Versailles Township")

Let's not mince words: Eastland Mall was a dump.

It was built as an open-air shopping center, and constructed cheaply in 1963 and '64 of dun-colored bricks and plain cement blocks --- so cheaply that (as recounted elsewhere on Tube City Online) the walls of the Gimbels store fell over while it was being built.

The "architecture" was boring to the point of being non-existent. A sawtooth roof over the third floor of Gimbels was the sole attempt at visual "interest." The rest of the mall was as charming as a juvenile detention center --- plain brick walls, flat metal awnings, and single-pane windows with flimsy aluminum trim that quickly pitted and turned gray.

They put a roof over Eastland after it burned in 1973. And the architect who oversaw the renovations, Ira Rubin, tried like hell to give the interior some visual interest by lining the ceiling with corrugated steel and leaving the support trusses exposed. The steel was painted in bright, bold shades of green and orange and the signs were redone in industrial-style stencil lettering.

Instead of making the newly-enclosed shopping concourse more playful and colorful, it looked like a damned bus garage. The metal ceiling made everything echo, and as it aged, it leaked. When they put tar on the roof, it dripped inside, leaving long black streaks on the metal panels.

. . .

After the big anchor stores left, the decline accelerated. Yes, when Benderson Development stopped performing any substantial maintenance a decade ago, things got much worse --- a building that isn't good to begin with falls apart in a hurry when you stop heating it in the wintertime, and when you let the water pour through the ceiling.

But trust me: Even when Penney's, Gimbels, Gee Bee and Woolworth were open, and the mall was at 90 percent capacity, it was a dump. I was there.

The sad truth about malls is there's not much you can do with them after they outlive their usefulness. There's nothing to "restore" and there's little to which they can be adapted. In fact, the proposed reuses for Eastland ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. At one point, I'm told some genius wanted to store old tires in the basement. Thank God the North Versailles fire marshal squelched that idea.

I get a little bit sick to my stomach every time some politician gets excited over a retail development, because no matter how nice it is, I can envision it looking like Eastland someday. Shopping centers: What a waste of money. What a waste of resources. Phooey.

. . .

Anyway, nobody should feel nostalgic for Eastland Mall.

So how come I felt so bad when I took that picture on Saturday afternoon?

Maybe I'm nostalgic for the shopping trips I took with my grandparents when I was a little kid. Grandma didn't walk very well, and even after Century III Mall opened, she preferred Eastland --- it was smaller and easier to get around.

Maybe I'm nostalgic for all of the movies I saw (practically the entire Walt Disney animated oeuvre, including Song of the South, up until 1984 or so) at the Eastland Theater, which actually was kind of a snazzy place. Eastland main auditorium was built at the tail-end of the 1960s vogue for super-wide screens, and the screen in Theater No. 1 was huge. (Theater No. 2, added later, wasn't quite as impressive, but the screen was still a darn sight larger than any modern multiplex's.)

Maybe I'm nostalgic for the Saturday and Sunday afternoons I whiled away as a teen-ager, when I'd hang out at the flea market with friends. We had a lot of fun picking through other people's junk and, frankly, making fun of the weirdos. (You know, I love the Mon Valley, but we are in no danger of running out of weirdos.)

. . .

Actually, I do kind of miss the theaters. The usher (a nice fellow who later worked up at Southland's multiplex) told us once that Eastland's were the largest operating movie screens in Western Pennsylvania, and I believe him --- outside of a drive-in, I've never seen movie screens as big as Eastland's.

Yeah, the seats were gross at the end, when they were holding the armrests together with duct tape, and the carpets smelled like old dogs and cigarette smoke, but the big screen in Theater No. 1 was still beautiful.

And the Eastland Theater set up one my best jokes (he said, humbly). Long after the theater closed, vandals got in and trashed the place, and one weekend when we walked around the parking lot we found the plastic letters from the marquee strewn everywhere. I slipped one of them into my jacket and took it home, the prank already germinating in my mind.

On Monday morning, I reported to work at the Daily News and was just waiting for my opening. Finally, Marie Havrilla, the wire editor, spoke up. "What did you do this weekend?" she asked me.

"I took a pee behind Eastland Mall," I said.

. . .

Marie didn't shock easily, but her mouth fell open. "Why the hell would you tell me that?" she said.

"Because you asked," I said. "In fact, I brought the pee with me to work. I want to show it to someone, because it's red." I thought she'd fall over.

And then I pulled the red plastic letter "P" from the Eastland marquee out of my briefcase, and I really thought she'd fall over.

Marie will be dead eight years next month, and I still miss her. My granddad has been dead more than a decade, and I miss him, too. I miss a lot of people, but I guess I'm lucky to have the memories, and I have a few tangible things, too. Like my red "P."

. . .

But I'm not going to get nostalgic for Eastland Mall. Good riddance, you festering pile of crud.

I only regret that your landlord waited so long to knock your vermin-infested, water-logged, rotten old walls down. Thanks, Benderson, for leaving your garbage pile on our community doorstep for so long. Property values in Crestas Terrace and Green Valley instantly tripled when the bulldozers tore apart the mall's last facade.

More pictures after the jump.


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March 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Idiot Box

Category: default || By jt3y

I'm not watching a lot of current TV, which is not because I'm a high-falutin' snob. I'm busy, and I don't want to pay for cable, and they're not really making network shows for me right now. I don't like game shows and I don't like reality shows, and what's left?

There are a few current shows I never miss. Scrubs may be the funniest sitcom that no one is watching, and it continues to impress me, though I wonder how they're going to maintain the momentum if Zach Braff leaves the show --- it's built around his character.

I really, really wanted to hate 30 Rock because Saturday Night Live has become so bloated and self-centered. And I really, really expected 30 Rock to be a stinkeroo, because so many SNL spinoffs have bitten the wax tadpole. To my pleasant surprise, 30 Rock is a hoot ... fall-down-on-the-floor, hold-in-your-sides funny.

Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are excellent, but the real shocker is Tracy Morgan. Though his character grated on me during the first few episodes, the writers have given him a sympathetic, vulnerable side that makes him annoying but charming.

. . .

Since I like both of those shows, I'm expecting NBC to cancel them at any moment, probably for another night of Dateline, which seems to spend most of its time setting traps for pedophiles.

May I digress for a minute? Does Dateline do any stories these days about anything but deviated preverts trying to pick up young girls online? Every time I see Dateline, they've got Chris What's-His-Name and sheriff's deputies chasing some fat, slovenly creep down a driveway.

And speaking of pedophiles (which I don't normally) are there actually any 14-year-old girls in chatrooms, or are they all undercover state troopers? A former cow-orker of mine got busted by PSP in 2005 when he tried to pick up someone he thought was a 12-year-old girl at the McDonald's on Route 30 near Irwin.

What struck me (besides the obvious "ewwwww" factor) was that he was meeting this "girl" at McDonald's. He sure knows how to turn a lady's head. Does he spring for biggie-size fries? Could she go on the swings afterwards? His attorney argued it was entrapment, but when the cops nabbed him, he had 15 condoms in his car. He should have stuck to orking cows.

. . .

Anyway, in my quest to stay unpopular, I find myself watching things like reruns of Hawaii Five-O on WBGN-TV (59). (Motto: "Static, home shopping ... and more!") Ivan Shreve Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear recently reviewed the Season 1 DVD set of Five-O, and I found myself nodding in agreement, as I often do at his reviews.

Sure, Hawaii Five-O is shlock, but it's shlock with great production values. The music, the editing and the camera work all make it the Miami Vice of its day.

On the other hand, the scripts have plotholes you could drive Steve McGarrett's Mercury through, and some of the acting is dreadful. As Shreve notes, Jack Lord rivals Jack Webb for (lack of) acting ability, but he didn't have Webb's self-deprecating sense of humor; by all accounts Lord was a miserable bastard off the set. You can see the tension between the actors on Five-O, too, especially in the later seasons.

But there's camp value in the cars, the scenery, the fashions and the outdated technology --- oh boy, do I love any scenes featuring the Honolulu Police Department's giant computer room, which is all flashing lights and spinning tape drives. There's also a lot of unintentional humor in watching Lord, running around in his pompadour and electric-blue suit, trying to steal every scene.

. . .

Meanwhile, I now have two friends who are hooked on CBS's Jericho, an hour-long drama that's pulling respectable ratings against American Idol. Jericho is set in a small, rural Kansas town in the weeks after nuclear bombs have gone off in several major American cities.

One friend likes it but thinks it's too "talky" ("I was hoping more things would be blowing up," he told me this week). The other loves dystopian dramas, plus he's got a crush on Sprague Grayden.

Naturally, we've been teasing him unmercifully, so he finally asked me if I've ever had a crush on a TV character. Truthfully, no, but I did allow that I had seen the show NCIS a few times (that's the Mark Harmon show, set in a Navy investigative unit) and I thought the "goth chick" was cute. (Well, it could have been weirder. I could have had a thing for David McCallum, who plays a pathologist on NCIS.)

So he's started sending me photos and links to stories about the actress. Hell, I didn't even know her name (it's Pauley Perrette), I just thought she was cute, that's all.

. . .

And I hate to break this to him, but I have a new ... well, not a "crush," but I've found another TV actress who's both attractive and talented. (Editor's Note: Fess up, you weasel, it's a crush!)

As I've noted before, I'm something of a Canadophile, and the biggest sitcom in Canada right now is Corner Gas, so I ordered Season 1 from Amazon Canada. I'm really enjoying it. For want of a better metaphor, I'll call it Northern Exposure crossed with Seinfeld.

Comedian Brett Butt, who grew up in a small town in rural Saskatchewan, plays the bright-but-slacking manager of a gas station in (surprise) a small town in rural Saskatchewan. Unlike a lot of "rural comedies," the locals here aren't played for rubes, and unlike a lot of sitcoms, the writing usually aims high. (One of the first season episodes centers around the town book club; another around Pilates classes and homemade coffins.)

There's a cinema verite quality that I like (it's filmed on location in Saskatchewan) and the acting, dialogue and pacing are natural. So are the cast members, who don't look like plastic TV stars. They look like people you might find in a rural town; except perhaps for Gabrielle Miller, who plays a Toronto native who moves to town to take over her late aunt's coffee shop. She's dreamy. (Did I just write that? Erk.) And her comic timing's good, too.

(Take note --- between Miller and NCIS' Pauley Perrette, I appear to have a thing for smart brunettes with big eyes. This means something. Alert Sigmund Freud.)

. . .

Gabrielle Miller aside, Corner Gas is a hoot, but it would have a tough time on American television. For one thing, you have to listen carefully, because storylines fold back on themselves and many of the second act jokes depend on paying attention during the first act.

It also helps to know something about Canadian pop culture. For instance: Julie Stewart makes a brief cameo that's hysterical if you're familiar with the show Cold Squad, but the reference will be lost on 90 percent of Americans.

Corner Gas has an American syndication deal (including Superstation WGN), but the lack of a big name cast or a laugh track, combined with its Canadian setting, will doom it to PBS at best. Even if American TV executives were willing to bump aside reruns of Seinfeld and Friends to air Corner Gas, most viewers would watch for a minute or two and then dive for their remote controls. It's not a belly-laugh show; the humor comes from the characters and the situations. (Watch for the reviews to call it "quirky," which in Hollywood means "about to be cancelled.")

That's too bad, but thanks to DVD, I can enjoy it, and you can, too.

And I can keep admiring Gabrielle Miller from afar. (Sigh.)

Aw, poor Pauley Perrette, tossed aside so cruelly. I'm sure her heart is broken.

(P.S.: If blondes are more your thing, Tara Spencer-Nairn, who plays one of the town's two police officers, is a sweetheart, too.)

(P.P.S.: Cripes, I need to get out of the house more.)

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Join the Gabrielle Miller Fan Club. Mayor Jim Brewster opens his campaign headquarters on Fifth Avenue, Downtown, with a meet 'n greet from 12 to 5 p.m. tomorrow. Details in the Daily News ... McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St. near Carnegie Library, presents "The Curious Savage," a comedy by John Patrick, 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday night and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100 ... Hungarian Social Club, 3004 Walnut St., Christy Park, celebrates Hungarian Independence Day at 3 p.m. Sunday. Speakers will include state Rep. Marc Gergely and Hungarian dignitaries. A social hour will follow. Call (412) 678-9871.

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March 15, 2007 | Link to this story

The View From Afar

Category: default || By jt3y

I don't know ... is it just me, or is there something unseemly and a little bit morbid about the way that interim Picksberg Mayor Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl invokes the name of the late Bob O'Connor at every turn?

It was bad enough when Ravenstahl plastered his face on O'Connor's "Let's Redd Up Pittsburgh" program. But go to Ravenstahl's website, and you'll see O'Connor's ghostly visage looking over the interim mayor's shoulder as part of a photo montage. Or take this campaign video (please), sent by an Alert Reader. Ravenstahl waits a whole 15 seconds before mentioning O'Connor.

I understand Ravenstahl's desire to invoke stability and continuity of leadership, but it's as if LBJ had run for election in 1964 by riding around Dealey Plaza in a Lincoln convertible. (I suppose it could be worse. We're lucky Ravenstahl never saw "Weekend at Bernie's.")

Perhaps Ravenstahl doesn't feel that he has enough of a record of his own to campaign on. That's understandable --- after all, he's only been mayor for a few months --- but it doesn't give him the right to appropriate O'Connor's legacy for his own.

Yes, I know members of the O'Connor family have endorsed Ravenstahl, and maybe they feel he is carrying the late mayor's standard forward. But it doesn't make these blatant attempts to cash in on O'Connor's death any less palatable, and it's a cheat since there's no evidence that Ravenstahl was ever a trusted member of O'Connor's inner circle before the mayor became ill.

I suspect most of the warm, fuzzy feelings that Picksbergers seem to have for their mayor stem from their warm, fuzzy feelings for O'Connor, and sadly, that's probably enough to elect Ravenstahl. And that's setting aside Ravenstahl's questionable use of city money to send out mailings with his puss all over them just two months before the election.

Just remember, all of you disaffected and disgruntled Pittsburgh residents: If you're unhappy with your city's leadership, there's plenty of inexpensive, quality housing in Our Fair City and the Steel Valley. Hey, the Post-Gazette says it, so it must be true, right?

To paraphrase Tom Bodett: We'll leave the lights on for yinz 'n' at.

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March 14, 2007 | Link to this story

March of the Penguins

Category: default || By jt3y

Cluttered items from an empty mind:

I'm sure you're as relieved as I am that the Penguins finally have a deal for a new arena. Wow! That's a load off of my mind. It means that we won't have to hear any more news stories about how the Penguins need a new arena.

I'm sure glad that this arena is being built at no expense to the taxpayers. Well, except for:

  • $10.5 million in cash the state is paying the Penguins "in recognition of delays the team suffered while it was negotiating for a new arena," and,

  • $7.5 million for the next 30 years that the state will contribute from its economic development fund, and of course, the

  • $290 million bond issue that's being underwritten by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Other than that, yes, there's no taxpayer money involved!

. . .

Auditing Dep’t.: If you live in the country, where you rely on the state police, you may be interested to know that $7.5 million per year would pay the salaries (not including benefits) of 150 new troopers.

If you live in the city, where you or your neighbors rely on public transportation, $7.5 million per year would make up more than 10 percent of Port Authority's projected budget shortfall.

You may say that the $7.5 million is coming from gambling revenues, so it isn't really tax money. But I thought that we legalized slot machines to reduce property taxes in the state. Did I miss the part where it said, "reduce property taxes, or maybe build an ice rink for Canadian and Russian millionaires"?

. . .

Economic Impact Dep’t.: I know about 17,000 people attend Penguins games, and spend money in downtown Pittsburgh for parking, meals, giant foam rubber fingers, etc.

But I also know that about 3.3 million people rely on the Pennsylvania State Police for their regular police protection.

And I know that about 200,000 people ride Port Authority buses and railcars every day.

And I know that the rehabilitation of the Homestead Grays Bridge is costing about $29 million (PDF link) and I would suppose that rehabbing the Mansfield Bridge or the Jerome Avenue Bridge would be in that same ballpark, and $7.5 million would go a long way toward those projects, too.

Perhaps you think it's worth trading off those kind of projects or public services so that 17,000 people can enjoy a hockey game, and because Pittsburgh might get to see a Stanley Cup again.

Just remember to yell "Let's Go Pens!" when you need a cop, can't get a bus or blow out a tire on a pothole.

. . .

We Have Our Priorities Straight Dep’t.: Does it bother anyone else that we're tearing down the old Central Medical Center in the Hill District to build the new hockey arena?

I also notice that the former Brownsville General Hospital, which closed in 2006 after losing money for several years, is being liquidated. Patients who formerly used BGH during emergencies must now drive to Uniontown (21 minutes), Waynesburg (41 minutes) or Monongahela (22 minutes).

It seems to me that the health, safety and welfare of citizens is a more important function of local and state governments than professional hockey. And it seems odd that we can find $290 million to build an arena, but not to keep hospitals open. But I could be wrong, you know.

. . .

National Affairs Desk: Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, supposedly planning to run for president, called a press conference recently to announce that soon he's going to announce ... something. Way to show decisive decision-planning, Chuck. That's the kind of wishy-washy leadership this country cries out for.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who currently plays the district attorney on Law & Order, is also considering a run. (Personally, I was holding out for Jill Hennessey, but she's Canadian. Sam Waterston is too busy with his insurance career, and Steven Hill declined to run, saying "we got no case --- cut a deal.")

And New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (motto: "Pushing Republican fundraisers forward since 1992") is still be pushed as the Democratic front-runner by the Washington press corps despite running on a platform of one banality after another.

Clinton hasn't used the line, "We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom," but she's come close. (Tube City hard-hat tip: Jonathan Potts.)

. . .

How Can We Miss Him If He Won’t Go Away Dep’t.: I heard a radio ad for some charity fundraiser that's bringing Newt Gingrich to Pittsburgh. It billed him as "one of the world's best-known statesmen."

They mean the Newt Gingrich who:

  • Served his wife with divorce papers while she was dying of cancer in the hospital

  • Was having an affair while he was impeaching the president for lying about his affair

  • Shut down the U.S. Government rather than negotiate a budget compromise

Apparently, they're not making statesmen like they used to.

. . .

Won’t You Come Home Disraeli Dep’t.: Hagel, Thompson, Clinton and Gingrich are what passes for political leadership in this great country. Someday we're going to look back on the Ford Administration with fondness as a golden age in American political life ...

Oh, wait, we already did.

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March 12, 2007 | Link to this story

Seems Like Old Times

Category: default || By jt3y

Any relationship to any real radio programs is strictly intentional.

And now that I think of it, I think I forgot to mention that McKeesport's WEDO (810) is finally back on the Interweb at There's no streaming audio, unfortunately.

WEDO has been licensed to McKeesport since 1947, but broadcasts from studios at Rainbow Village Shopping Center in White Oak and a transmitter on Foster Road in North Versailles, with 1,000-watts during daytime hours only.

Also, I hope you didn't miss Heather Mull's profile of Sal Patitucci, host of WEDO's "Radio Italia," which ran in City Paper a few weeks ago. I had the pleasure of working with Sal a few times at another local radio station a year or two ago, and found him to be a very pleasant gentleman.

I wish I could understand Italian, because I'd probably get even more enjoyment out of "Radio Italia," which airs weekdays from 5 to 6 on WEDO. It's a blend of news, entertainment and music, with nearly everything conducted in Italian.

(Frankly, I have a hard enough time with English, and although I did take three years of Spanish in high school, I can barely order dinner at Los Campesinos in North Huntingdon. Me disculpo, Mrs. Hill.)

While you're at the WEDO website, don't miss the program guide, which details the station's eclectic lineup of ethnic shows, polka music and (ahem) old-time radio dramas and comedies.

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March 09, 2007 | Link to this story

In Some Secluded Rendezvous

Category: default || By jt3y

As promised, the Tube City Online phantom diners have been out and about, checking the new Downtown sports bar Enzone and other places where the elite meet to eat around the Mon-Yough area.

The verdict on Enzone? It's worth your time. In fact, the owners have done an admirable job of updating the old Sam's Superior Restaurant while keeping much of the old charm intact, and the food is pretty good, too. (They also deliver.) That and more at the newly revised restaurant page in our Visitors section.

. . .

Colleagues and former cow-orkers Dave Copeland and Jonathan Potts have given their blogs new looks.

If your Internet tubes aren't too clogged, make sure to read Jonathan's discussion of privatization, which is not (as some people seem to believe) the be-all, end-all of solving problems of government waste and inefficiency. As he points out, private companies can be rife with fraud and corruption, too (and we're looking at you, Phar-Mor).

Elsewhere, Professor Pittsblog is tired of the Penguin pandering: "Does the team provide jobs for young people? No. Are the Penguins a major draw for young professionals who might choose to move elsewhere? For the number who fill the Igloo night in and night out, maybe; for most, no again. And even for those drawn to stay by the Pens and by nothing else, why, again, should you feed at the public trough?"

That goes double for me. And Jonathan says his offer to help the Penguins move still stands. If they need someone who can drive a stick-shift truck, I'll help too, and don't let the door hit you on the way out of town, Mario.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St. near Carnegie Library, presents "The Curious Savage," a comedy by John Patrick, 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday night and 2 p.m. Sunday. (Daily News preview here.) Call (412) 673-1100 ... City of McKeesport presents a community expo at The Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. More than 50 organizations and groups will have exhibits on display and prizes will be given away.

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March 07, 2007 | Link to this story

Snow Job

Category: default || By jt3y

We called Massey Ferguson, supervisor and roadmaster in Wallboard Township, to find out how his crews were keeping up with the current snowstorm.

"What snowstorm?"

The one raging outside.

"You call one to three inches a snow storm? Son, call me when I can't see the top of the Tribune-Review tube out front."

But plenty of schools cancelled classes today.

"Because of lily-livered school boards who are more afraid of lawsuits than they are of snow. They'll be canceling school because of rain soon. Maybe clouds. Hell, why should the little darlings go to school when it's not nice and sunshiney? But then if you look at the SAT scores in the Mon Valley, school ain't doing some of these punks any good, any how."

The news this morning said that traffic was a nightmare ...

"And that's another thing. TV news people ought to be indicted for 'inciting to riot.' They get on there for two days before the first flake hits the ground and start stirring people up. Every year people complain, but every year 2, 4 and 11 do the exact same thing, trying to scare the old people, who are the ones who watch local TV news. Pretty soon they're lined up five deep at the IGA buying toilet paper and bread. What the hell do these people make with toilet paper and bread, anyway?"

Your feeling, then, is that people in Western Pennsylvania have started overreacting to snow.

"Overreacting? Hell, son, it's Pittsburgh. It snows in Pittsburgh in the wintertime, and until global warming makes my cabin in Deep Creek an ocean-front property, I predict it's gonna snow every winter in Pittsburgh."

I guess you agree with the story that Charlie Deitch and Melissa Meinzer wrote in City Paper a few weeks ago.

"I don't read City Paper. Too many weird ads in the back for 'men seeking women seeking sheep.'"

Well, they interviewed a psychoanalyst who said that Pittsburghers are developing an "irrational" fear of snow called "chionophobia." Another guy from the National Weather Service says that whenever we have a warm December or January, people forget how to deal with normal winter weather.

"I don't need no psychologist to figure out that people are stupid. Cripes, we got people around here who are so dumb, we gotta water 'em twice a week. I got a grandson in college up in Oakland. I go up to Oakland, I see these kids --- college students --- walking around with no boots, no gloves, no hats. College kids are s'posed to be smart. Don't seem too smart to me."

What's your advice for people in Western Pennsylvania who panic in the snow?

"Pull your thumb out of your mouth, put down your baby bottle and stand up straight, for gawd's sake. And if you don't like it, move down to Florida with the rest of the wackos."

. . .

Personal Aside: Confidential to reader JDB ... thanks for the plug, but what the heck are you talking about? Seriously. Based on what I wrote, you some how got the idea that I'm a religious fanatic who hates people with drug addictions. Uh ... what?

Dude, slow down before you wind up walking around Market Square with a sign that says "Bill Coyne is stealing my mail."

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March 05, 2007 | Link to this story

News You Can't Use

Category: default || By jt3y

No, not those Cougars:

There have been more than 1,400 sightings in Pennsylvania, more than in any other Eastern state, according to the Eastern Puma Research Network in Maysville, W.Va., which investigates mountain lion reports east of the Rocky Mountains, where populations are known to exist.

But the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which announced last fall it would start a formal system for tracking mountain lion reports, maintains the last known Pennsylvania native mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874, and says it has been unable to confirm any of the reported sightings as wild natives.
(Don Hopey, Post-Gazette)

A Game Commission spokesman says that many of the cougar sightings turn out to be "feral cats."

Y'know, if you can't tell the difference between a house cat and a mountain lion, you might want to get help crossing the street, lest you mistake a Greyhound for a greyhound.

. . .

Meanwhile, ignoring the will of Picksberg's blogging community, county Democrats endorsed Mayor Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl for election in May. Challenger Bill "Don't Call Me Eeyore" Peduto did, however, pick up the crucial endorsements of the Carnegie Mellon Proust Readers' Club and the Forbes-Murray Hacky-Sack League.

In other surprising news, the sun rose in the east this morning and the Youghiogheny River continues to flow north.

Meanwhile, Tube City Almanac has learned that Ravenstahl is taking a page from the late Pete Flaherty's playbook.

Flaherty, who bucked the Democratic machine, styled himself "Nobody's Boy."

Ravenstahl will acknowledge his own youth and the reform spirit of his trusted associates like Dennis Regan and Dick Skrinjar by running as "Everybody's Boy."

Thank you! You're a great crowd, please tip your waitress.

. . .

Former Gateway Gator Bob Braughler, well-known as Shaler Township's leading "Mary Worth" expert, penned a thoughtful and insightful (or is that "incite full"?) op-ed for A Local Newspaper on Sunday.

The Almanac is proud to recommend Braughler's Bronstein Award-winning blog, Subdivided We Stand Meets Marathon Man Plus The Best of The Pittsburgh Press.

. . .

Finally, students at Washington & Jefferson College, a fine, private, liberal-arts college, think that Poland is a Communist country located in Australia and can't afford popcorn, according to my former boss, writing in the Observer-Reporter.

Now, guess which interim mayor of Picksberg is a Washington & Jefferson graduate? No fair peekin'.

There is some good news, however. Polish people are now free to tell "Washington & Jefferson" jokes.

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Posted at 07:53 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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March 02, 2007 | Link to this story

Also Called ‘Quicksilver’

Category: default || By jt3y

To the tune of "Little Deuce Coupe":

'99 Merc
And she's finally paid off
('99 Merc, and she's finally paid off)

Well, I'm not braggin' but it's hard not to gloat,
'Cause after three years I finally paid off the note.
I'll have a little extra to put gas in the tank,
Since I made the last payment to Community Bank.

She's my '99 Merc
And she's finally paid off
('99 Merc, and she's finally paid off)

Just a gray Grand Marquis with stereo tape,
And a dent in the side door where a PAT bus scraped.
She's got a little V-8 but there's plenty of go,
Plus Traction-Lok gears for when I drive in the snow.

She's my '99 Merc
And she's finally paid off
('99 Merc, and she's finally paid off)

She's got eight-way power seats and anti-lock brakes,
Plus two sway bars so I don't get the shakes.
And though it sounds boring and you're ready to barf,
There's one more thing --- I got the title, daddy.

So laugh at my car if you think you must,
But the body's still straight and it doesn't have rust.
It's small enough to turn when I park on the street,
And I've got lots of leg room for my two lead feet.

She's my '99 Merc
And she's finally paid off
('99 Merc, and she's finally paid off)
She's my '99 Merc
And she's finally paid off
('99 Merc, and she's finally paid off)

(repeat until cease-and-desist letter arrives)

. . .

Interesting Fun Fact: Van Dyke Parks, who collaborated with Brian Wilson on some of The Beach Boys' most creative music (including the album "Smile") spent his teen-age years in McKeesport, along with his older brother, C. Carson Parks, who wrote such pop hits as "Something Stupid" (for Nancy & Frank Sinatra) and "Cab Driver (Drive By Mary's Place)" (for The Mills Brothers).

A 1960 graduate of McKeesport High School, Van Dyke Parks is also a children's book author and in 1990 was inducted into the McKeesport High School Hall of Fame. (Oh, and he was also nominated for something called "an Emmy Award," whatever that is.)

. . .

To Do This Weekend: St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 220 Eighth Ave., is holding its Lenten fish fry from 11:30 a.m. through 6:30 p.m. Fridays. Call (412) 664-9379 ... Pittsburgh-based reggae group The Wizdom Band plays Bubba's II, 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 673-3586.

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Posted at 07:12 am by jt3y | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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March 01, 2007 | Link to this story

And We Smell Like Sulfur, Too

Category: default || By jt3y

You've probably noticed the TV ads promoting Citgo's program that distributes discount heating oil to low-income families on the East Coast.

And if you shop at a Foodland store, you may have noticed promotional items for a new program promoting gasoline discounts --- a la Giant Eagle's hugely successful "Fuel Perks" program --- at something called "Fueland" convenience stores.

The McKeesport area is getting its first such store right now on Lebanon Church Road in Dravosburg, though a station in Turtle Creek is also accepting "Fuel Links."

But do you know why Citgo is running those ads?

And did you know that Mon Valley Petroleum was sold last year?

And did you know that all of these things are related?

Well, the crack(ed) Tube City Almanac research team has swung into action to bring you, our loyal dozens of readers, the stories behind the stories, and our I-Team investigation begins .... (swoosh!) right now!

. . .

First, about those Citgo ads. Citgo (which was Cities Service Petroleum back in the dim recesses of history) has been taking a beating in the marketplace ever since Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez as president.

Citgo was once controlled by Armand Hammer's Occidental Petroleum but was sold in the mid-1980s, first to the parent of the 7-Eleven convenience stores, and then to an oil company owned by the Venezuelan government.

And the Venezuelan government is not terribly well-liked in a lot of quarters in this country. Depending on your point of view, Chavez is either a radical socialist dictator who supports terrorism, or a populist trying to reform Venezuela. Possibly, he's a little bit of both.

There's no doubt that Chavez has ruled the country with a iron hand since 1998, controlling virtually all branches of government and suppressing freedom of speech. But he was democratically elected and re-elected twice (with international monitors watching the polls closely), has apparently made serious efforts to help the country's poor, and some sources say that although corruption and inefficiency is rampant in Venezuela, the country is considerably better off than most of its neighbors.

. . .

U.S. relations with Venezuela hit the skids when President Bush took office in 2001 and began blasting Chavez as a Communist radical. It didn't help when a military coup that attempted to overthrow Venezuela's government in 2002 was linked to the U.S. government, or when Pat Robertson, in his inimitable fashion, suggested that Chavez should be assassinated.

Chavez, for his part, has called Bush an alcoholic and a terrorist. Last year, when he gave a speech at the United Nations a day after President Bush, Chavez took the podium to announce that "the devil was here yesterday, and it still smells of sulfur."

On the other hand, Latin American politicians have always boosted their approval ratings at home by making fun of the U.S., and if we really did attempt to overthrow his government, well, you can understand why he's a teensy bit cheesed.

. . .

In summary, Chavez is not a popular guy with the American right, and Citgo's U.S. dealers are taking it in the shorts. There's a boycott underway, largely "fueled" by conservative organizations like the American Family Association.

According to James Lileks, some independent Citgo dealers in the Midwest are switching brands or covering up Citgo logos. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in January that several Citgo stations there are also switching brands.

Hence the TV commercials showing Citgo's generosity toward American citizens, providing low-cost heating oil to the needy ("and pay no attention to the president of our country calling the president of your country 'a threat to humanity'").

. . .

Now, about the "Fueland"/"Foodland" connection. According to a press release from a company called "MetroSplash," the Fueland program was created by North Hills-based Superior Petroleum, which operates the Glassmart convenience stores around Western Pennsylvania --- including (in the Mon-Yough area) stores in West Homestead, Monessen and Wilkinsburg.

Last April, Superior also bought Mon Valley Petroleum (the former King & Keeney Oil Company on West Smithfield Street in Elizabeth Township) which had been controlled by McKeesport native Hartley King, founder of King's Family Restaurants. MVP operated the "Buy 'n Fly" stores around McKeesport, including those on Walnut Street in Christy Park and on Route 30 in North Versailles.

Fueland is an entirely new but related chain which rolled out its first new stores in the Kittanning area, according to an article last year in the Leader Times.

MetroSplash owns a system called "Fuel Links," which --- like the Giant Eagle "Fuel Perks" programs --- offers discounts to people with customer loyalty cards. In this case, people with these new Foodland cards.

Superior Petroleum has no corporate relationship to Citgo, other than as an independent dealer of Citgo products at some (but not all) of its stores.

. . .

As far as I can tell, the "Fuel Links" program is not interchangeable with Shop 'n Save's "Pump Perks" program, which is run in conjunction with local Sunoco stations, even though Shop 'n Save and Foodland are both supplied by Minnesota-based Supervalu.

Confused yet? Good!

"Fuel Links" gives Foodland a chance to compete with Giant Eagle, and hopefully mitigates some of the damage that's being inflicted on Citgo dealers.

But considering Foodland is a weak third- or fourth-place in the Pittsburgh market, behind Giant Eagle, Wal-Mart and Shop 'n Save, this may be a case of two drunks trying to prop each other up.

So, that's the connection between Latin American strongman Hugo Chavez, Citgo gasoline, Foodland and Elizabeth Township, and we hope you've enjoyed this little slice of retailing news and geopolitical intrigue from your neighborhood.

I'd say that "now you know the rest of the story," but Paul Harvey has very mean lawyers.

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