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Filed Under: Wild World of Sports || By

November 29, 2007 | Link to this story

First and Way, Way Long

Category: Wild World of Sports || By

Some academic football coaches can inspire their students to great things year after year, like Serra's Rich Bowen, McKeesport's George Smith, or Penn State's Joe Paterno (who, as Alert Reader Jonathan points out, apparently plans to coach until he's just a floating head in a jar).

Other coaches are like Coach Chuck Flannery, our football analyst and a guest on my radio show a few weeks ago:

Listen: "Sports Parade" with Coach Chuck Flannery (3.2 MB, MP3)

. . .

Speaking of Football: Can you take one more comment on the Steelers-Dolphins game the other night? No? Well, too bad.

WKHB's Barry Banker said Tuesday morning that "all the field needed was a fence, and it would have made a nice pigsty." That's the most accurate description I've heard yet.

In retrospect, Josh Yohe's column in Monday night's Daily News seems eerily prescient.

Yohe wrote about Gateway's heart-breaking 35-34 overtime loss to Central Catholic. Central's victory was clinched when Gateway's kicker missed a point-after-touchdown.

Wrote Yohe: "I found it peculiar that one of the best kickers in the WPIAL would have missed his target ... I suspected that the infamous Heinz Field grass had something to do with (Ryan) Lichtenstein's inability to do something that he can probably do with his eyes closed."

According to Yohe, who says he snuck out onto the field immediately after the game, the turf was so muddy, wet and uneven he had trouble walking on it, even in hiking boots.

Lichtenstein "was literally kicking on a sheet of mud and water. If the Rooneys ever grow out of this old-fashioned, traditionalist crap and install some Field Turf, it's conceivable to assume that Gateway might be the WPIAL champion today."

Of course, all that happened before the Steelers laid the sod, and God brought the deluge.

And anyway, I don't know if "woulda, coulda, shoulda" will make you Gateway Gators fans (like Dr. Bob Kelso) feel any better.

. . .

On a Related Note: Some people are saying that the WPIAL games shouldn't have been played at Heinz Field in the first place, because they damaged the turf.

To quote that great philosopher, Sherman Potter, "Horse-hockey." That field was built with taxpayer money after taxpayers specifically said they didn't want to use tax money to build it. As far as I'm concerned, any public group that wants to use Heinz Field should be allowed, from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to the Wilmerding YMCA.

Besides, other cities play their high school football championships at the local pro stadium, including in Boston. (The difference being that the Patriots' stadium has artificial turf.)

I'm not sure we should be playing high school games at a pro stadium because I don't know if I like the message it sends. We spend so much time telling student-athletes that they should get an education, then we rush to add the trappings of pro sports to their games.

The WPIAL championships used to be played at high school stadiums. If neutral sites are necessary, then maybe the WPIAL should use smaller college stadiums (like Robert Morris' and Carnegie Mellon's) or Pittsburgh city league stadiums.

Defenders will say that playing in a WPIAL championship is the only time most students will ever get to play in a pro stadium.

True. But playing high school football is the last time they'll ever get to be a kid. I know some of them --- like Jeannette's star Terrelle Pryor --- look like adults, but they're not. We need to stop rushing them out of childhood.

And we need to stop commercializing high school football like college football was commercialized decades ago.

Oh, and the Rooneys seriously need to fix that field. "Pigsty" was generous.

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November 27, 2007 | Link to this story

Something New Blooming in White Oak

Category: Local Businesses || By

A longtime local business will be relocating to a new building come spring.

Breitinger's Flowers is constructing a new store at the intersection of Cool Springs Road and Route 48 in White Oak. Owner Russell Breitinger expects the building to be complete in March or April; the exact date of the move isn't yet known.

As Breitinger points out, it also may take several months for the landscaping --- an important tool for marketing a flower shop --- to be complete.

The current store on McKeesport's Versailles Avenue near Patterson Avenue is for sale.

. . .

In a field dominated by large chains, Breitinger's stands out as a locally-owned, family-run business. The shop was founded just after World War II by Herbert Breitinger, a 1938 graduate of McKeesport High School who was inducted into its hall of fame in 2004.

According to a 2004 interview, after leaving the Army in 1945, Breitinger borrowed $500 from his cousin Bill Craig, founder of Craig Funeral Home on Versailles Avenue, to start the flower shop as a one-man operation. He closed the shop each day so he could make deliveries himself.

Herb Breitinger died in March 2006, aged 85. His son Russ Breitinger joined the firm in 1979; it currently has eight to 10 employees. Though privately owned and not required to release sales figures, Dun & Bradstreet estimates the store's annual business is in the half-million dollar range.

Now, Breitinger's joins a decade-long trend of retail and professional businesses in the city relocating to neighboring White Oak, many of them to spots along Lincoln Way.

Breitinger's purchased the Cool Springs property in 2004, and Russ Breitinger said he debated the move for "three or four years."

. . .

A number of factors led to Breitinger's decision. The current shop is located in an old single-family home and a garage across an alley; workspaces and storage areas are on six different floors in two different buildings.

"I'm going to be 50 years old," Breitinger said, "and I'm tired of walking up and down stairs." Building a new store on one level will increase the business' efficiency, Breitinger said.

A lack of easy parking at the present location --- the store shares a lot with the Viking Lounge --- and a relatively small amount of walk-in trade hurts the business, Breitinger said.

The corner lot on Route 48 is a heavily trafficked, highly visible location that will allow Breitinger's to build its "cash-and-carry" business, he said.

One not unimportant factor was a conscious decision to move away from Versailles Avenue, Breitinger said. Once a prosperous mix of private homes, professional offices and neighborhood shops, many storefronts are now empty and foot traffic is light. Female employees and wedding planners sometimes feel threatened coming to the neighborhood alone at night, he said.

"The area is not the best right now," Breitinger said, "and we don't feel like we can do nighttime hours."

He's quick to note, however, that the Viking Lounge has been a good neighbor; the store abuts the local landmark and popular nightspot.

. . .

Russ Breitinger is excited about the new building, and especially the chance to increase the store's walk-in trade. The new store is set at an angle to the highway --- all the better to increase its frontage --- and will provide Breitinger's with the chance to jump on special promotional offers from suppliers "at the drop of a hat," he said.

Breitinger's Flowers currently delivers to most of the Mon-Yough area, from West Homestead north of the city to Buena Vista in the south, and then from Swissvale west of McKeesport to North Huntingdon in the east.

Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday. The store's website is at

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November 26, 2007 | Link to this story

Excelsior, You Fathead!

Category: General Nonsense || By

(Above: Jean Shepherd photo taken in 1966 at WOR radio, New York, courtesy

I see the neon Christmas decorations are back in the press room windows of the Daily News Building on Lysle Boulevard. Huzzah! If we have nothing else for which to thank Richard Mellon Scaife after his purchase of the great, gray lady of Walnut Street, we can thank him for that.

You'll remember that last Christmas, for the first time in memory, the decorations weren't put up, possibly as an austerity move.

The same week that the Tribune-Review Publishing Co. took control of the News, I noticed that the American flag was once again flying from the roof of the building (along with a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania flag!), and that the sign was lit again at night.

Thank you, Daily News, and thank you, Tribune-Review. We noticed. The efforts to pretty up the corner of Walnut and Lysle are much appreciated, because Downtown needs all the cheer it can get.

Some other Downtown property owners could take a lesson from their stewardship (and I'm looking at you, Don Farr Moving ... the old G.C. Murphy Home Office on Lysle Boulevard across from the bus terminal is a disgraceful mess).

. . .

P.S.: The clock on the "Daily News" sign used to be tied to a set of electrically-controlled bells on the roof that struck the hours with the "Westminster chimes." I think the workings are still on the third floor, or possibly in the equipment room on the roof.

I don't suppose we could get that fixed, too? OK, I'm pushing my luck.

. . .

Shepherd's Pie: Since the "holidays" have now been firmly crammed down our throats, I decided to take a look at Jean Shepherd, the man behind the movie "A Christmas Story."

He's the topic of today's installment of the "Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix" over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.

. . .

Correction, Not Perfection: Alert Reader Deane points out I goofed up the date of the McKeesport Model Railroad Club's holiday train show. It starts this Friday, not last Friday.

As a dues-paying member, what a stupid mistake for me to make! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I also thought that the Downtown "Salute to Santa" parade was this past Saturday, but I was off by a week. (It was Nov. 16.) That's why I didn't post anything in advance. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Please don't get me anything for Christmas, but if you wanted to get me something, a calendar would be helpful. It's easier to wrap than a pimp slap, which is what I really need sometimes.

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November 23, 2007 | Link to this story

More Like Great Friday

Category: Wild World of Sports || By

They call this day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday."

But today is Red-and-Gold Friday in Haler Heights, the home of McKeesport's WPIAL Class A Champion Serra Catholic Eagles.

I'll allow that to sink in for a minute or two. It only took 26 years. Let me savor it.

They were 26 long, painful years in which the Eagles were the football doormats of the Mon Valley. This is a big, big victory for Coach Rich Bowen, Athletic Director Bill Cleary, and some very tired, hard-working Serra teen-agers and their parents.

For those of you who also attended this morning's festivities at the mustard palace, I was the jaboney at the 50-yard line with the crummy transistor radio, listening to McKeesport's Paul Paterra call the game on WPTT (1360). (Listen here.)

(I also was the one taking pictures with the camera that's older than dirt.)

My typing fingers have finally defrosted enough to offer this assessment: Whew. There ain't no flies on Springdale High School's football team, who forced Serra to earn its 10-6 victory.

Until today, Serra hadn't scored fewer than 33 points in a game this season, and had won all of its games by at least three touchdowns. The Dynamos' defense almost totally shut down the Serra running game, and if it hadn't been for a fourth-quarter interception of a Springdale pass, the contest would have gone down to the final minutes.

But a win is a win is a win. And let's hope it's not another 26 years before the next WPIAL football title.

Bring on the PIAA! Go Eagles!

. . .

Photo Gallery: Hot off the photo processing machine at the drugstore, here are a few more snaps from today's game at Heinz Field. (I'm not Ansel Adams as much as I am Grizzly Adams. Or maybe Puggsley.)

. . .

Oh, Christmas Tree: The deadline to enter McKeesport's Festival of Trees has been extended. If your group or organization would like to decorate a special Christmas tree for this annual tradition at Renzie Park's Jacob Woll Pavilion, hurry up and contact the festival committee or call city Recreation Director Jim Brown at (412) 675-5068.

Don't wait until the last minute. Despite the extended deadline, tee time ... er, I mean tree time ... is fast approaching. The Festival of Trees runs from 12 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6 through 9.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Model Railroad Club, 2209 Walnut St. (Route 148), Christy Park opens its holiday train show tonight at 6. The show runs through Dec. 23.

Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 1 to 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 12 to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for children. Call (412) 664-LOCO or visit
(Correction: The show opens Friday, Nov. 30.)

Trains not your speed? There's country line dancing at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, tonight at 8:30. Call (412) 678-6979.

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November 22, 2007 | Link to this story

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Category: Good Government On The March || By

There was something besides football this week? Really? Oh, all right.

Several people, including City Councilor Paul Shelly, note that County Councilor Bob Macey, D-Dravosburg, was on the side of the angels Tuesday when he voted against the decision to restrict searches on the Allegheny County real-estate assessment website.

Good on Councilor Macey for taking that stand!

Alas, nine of his colleagues on Allegheny County Council went ahead with the bone-headed move anyway, voting to take away your right to search these public records by the names of the property owners.

Proponents claim that police officers and others have been targeted for harassment by bad guys who've searched for their residences on the county's website. Perhaps they have, although no one presented any proof.

And if you go to the Allegheny County Courthouse or many school district and municipal real-estate tax offices, you'll still be able to search for property owners' names. That hasn't changed. So the bad guys will still be able to get that information.

All county council has done is made it a little harder for average, taxpaying citizens to find out which properties are owned by whom.

Yes, you can still search the website for specific addresses. But now you can't type in the same name and find out what other properties the same company or person owns. That's useful information if you're trying to find out what properties a slumlord owns --- and we have several of them in the Mon-Yough area.

It also makes it harder for you to find out whether your elected officials have paid their property taxes. As local real estate broker Phil Marcus told the Post-Gazette, "we need more transparency in government, not less."

Boo on Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato for backing this change, and boo on the nine county councilmembers who voted for it, including District 6 Councilor Joan Cleary, who represents Clairton, Jefferson Hills, Pleasant Hills and neigborhing areas in southern Allegheny County; and District 8 Councilor Dr. Chuck Martoni, who represents Swissvale, Braddock, North Versailles Township and other communities in eastern Allegheny County.

Mr. Onorato, Ms. Cleary and Dr. Martoni: The taxpayers of Allegheny County own these public records. We ought to be able to search them as conveniently as possible. Shame on you for restricting them.

. . .

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November 20, 2007 | Link to this story

And 'Arf' Goes Sandy

Category: General Nonsense || By

The mother of me has adopted a dog. Apparently raising my brother and I wasn't enough aggravation.

"She's from the Pet Adoption League in Yukon," mom told me the other night over the phone.

"You mean you got a sled dog?" I asked.

"Ha, ha," she said. "From Yukon out in Westmoreland County. Her name is Journey."

"Don't stop believin'," I said.

"Are you done now?" she said.

"I guess."

"She's about six months old," mom said. "They found her out along the side of the road when she was a puppy. No one ever owned her, so she's never been out of the kennel. She's not even housebroken yet."

"How do you know if she needs to go outside?" I asked.

"I ask her, 'You need to go potty? Do you? Do you need to go potty?'"

"Does she understand English?"

"Well, no," mom said.

"Then why are you talking to her in baby talk?" I asked. (Mom never even talked to us in baby talk.)

There was a long pause on the other end. "When she starts to walk around, looking at the floor, then I know she needs to go out. She'll learn."

"Is that how you trained me?"

"No, but you were no picnic, either," she said. "Can you do me a favor? Can you come over tomorrow night and feed her and let her out?"

"You know, young lady, taking care of a dog is a big responsibility," I said in my best Mike Brady voice. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"

"I know, but I have to work late, and it's her first time alone," she said.

"Take her to work with you. Tell your boss you've gone blind."

"I don't think that's a good idea. Journey will be in the kitchen. Her food will be in a dish in the fridge."

On the way to mom's house, I stopped at my supermarket (the House of Rancid Lunchmeat) and bought a box of cookies, a box of dog biscuits, and a pint of milk.

The cashier gave me a funny look. "I'm hungry, but I can't decide what I want," I told her.

Later that night, I called mom at work. "You have a very smart doggie," I said.

"Isn't she smart?" she gushed, just like a proud mom.

"She sure is," I said. "She figured out how to get out of the kitchen in no time flat."

"Oh, no," she said.

"Oh, yes," I said, "and she knows how to chew up the bills, and knock over the chairs, and do you remember the Venetian blinds in your living room?"

"Oh, no," she said.

Guess who now has a crate to stay in when she's home by herself? (Hint: Not mom.)

By the way, feeding and walkies went well, for both me and Journey, though at some point on our little jaunt through Dead Man's Hollow it dawned on me that (like mom) I was talking to her in baby talk.

It's like having the little sister I always wanted. Except I won't have to beat up any of her boyfriends when she gets older. She's been spayed.

Good thing, too, because I was lousy in schoolyard fights, even when the other guy wasn't biting.

. . .

P.S.: And "arf" goes Sandy. (Sometimes they said, "And 'arf' says Sandy," according to Wikipedia.) Come to think of it, Journey looks a little like Sandy, too.

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November 19, 2007 | Link to this story

Who You Callin' Turkey?

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, So-Called Radio Humor || By

I could write about some of the faces in the news.

For instance, I could write about my disappointment in Bob Macey, the Mon-Yough area's newly re-elected county councilman, for supporting the wrong-headed effort to restrict public access to real-estate tax records.

I could write about state House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Pomposity, and his truly brazen brand of thievery.

I could even write about John Kerry, who's got a headstart on the award for "Jackass of the Decade" for deciding --- three years after losing the presidential election --- to respond to the attacks on his military record. Hey, Sen. Kerry --- 2004 called. They say you're up three points in the polls.

I could write about those things, but the Steelers, Penn State and Pitt all lost --- not to mention the Tigers --- and while the Tartans won a bowl game and Serra is on its way to Heinz Field this Friday for the WPIAL Championship, I'm not in the mood to write about politicians, and you're not in the mood to read about them.

Maybe I'll sharpen my leaden wit tonight and spout off on Macey tomorrow.

Until then, here's some alleged humor from my radio show.

This is definitely not a meal from the Red Bull Inn at the McKeesport Sheraton:

KHB Homemaker Show: Deep-Fried Turkey for Thanksgiving (3.5 MB MP3)

. . .

In Other Business: I was headed up Versailles Avenue yesterday afternoon and had to detour because of a ferocious fire on O'Neil Boulevard behind the "Voke." That big white house with the pillared portico caught fire, apparently due to an electrical problem. The Watchdesk has photos. (I hope this link works.)

By the way, did you know that little sliver of land is technically in White Oak? It's a landlocked portion of old Versailles Township that was never annexed by the city. Luckily, no one was home, and city and White Oak firefighters rescued a family dog, according to the Trib.

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November 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Local News You May Have Missed

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of news from Our Fair City and the entire Mon-Yough metroplex ... this is Tube City Almanac:

. . .

Click to view videoRunning For His Life: ESPN's "NCAA On Campus" recently profiled McKeesport Area High School alumnus Aaron Slafka, now a senior at Pitt-Greensburg, who fought his way back from a brain tumor to continue running on the school's track team.

Slafka transferred to UPG from Penn State McKeesport Campus and was about to start classes in the fall of 2004 when he was involved in a car accident. Feeling dizzy a day after the crash, he was sent for an MRI. The scan revealed a non-cancerous brain tumor.

Doctors told Slafka that he'd never be able to run again and banned him from track practice.

But his UPG teammates saw him riding his bike in an effort to stay in shape. Soon Slafka was sneaking in runs at night, in the dark. Though an operation successfully removed the tumor, Slafka developed blood and brain infections and began suffering seizures. It would take three more operations for Slafka to recover.

In the fall of 2005, he re-enrolled at UPG and rejoined the track team. Last year, he was named the captain. "I know he wasn't my No. 1 guy, but it wasn't about being the No. 1 guy," his coach, Joyce Brobeck, told Jennifer Reeger of the Tribune-Review. "It was about his determination, the leadership."

You can view Slafka's interview at the NCAA website (click on "video" and scroll down to "On Campus") or on Google Video.

. . .

Doctor, Doctor: A McKeesport-based physician will be allowed to continue offering his controversial cancer treatments pending review by a panel of physicians at Mon Valley Hospital in Carroll Township.

Using tools he developed, Dr. Jerome Canady has been resectioning --- cutting apart and sewing back together --- the livers and pancreases of patients suffering from cancerous tumors.

But the treatment is not sanctioned by U.S. medical authorities, and on Nov. 8, Mon Valley Hospital revoked Canady's operating-room privileges. The dispute landed in court this week.

A graduate of Villanova University and the Temple University School of Medicine, Canady is the inventor of the Canady Catheter, a device that uses radio waves and inert gas to stop blood flow during certain operations with pinpoint accuracy. His company, Canady Technology, is based at McKeesport's RIDC industrial park.

With his most recent innovation, Canady is using similar technology to cut away cancerous portions of the liver and pancreas, according to the Valley Independent.

One of Canady's patients, Cindy Russell, was given less than six months to live by doctors at the Mayo Clinic and elsewhere; now, she claims, she is cancer free. She's set up websites at and

Patients on a message board maintained by Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore rave about Canady's supposedly miraculous results.

But several anonymous detractors on the same message board, some of whom claim to be physicians themselves, have also attacked Canady's methods, claiming that patients often suffer great pain for short-term, illusory gains. One, identifying himself only as "Nick," alleges that Canady's successes are mostly those of "self promotion."

This week, according to Linda Metz of the Observer-Reporter, a Washington County judge ruled that Canady can perform two previously scheduled operations, but is not allowed to use the MVH operating room again pending the peer review.

. . .

Jeannette Hospital Sold: Mercy Jeannette Hospital will become part of the parent company of Westmoreland Regional Hospital and Latrobe Hospital, report the Pittsburgh Business Times and other outlets.

Included in the sale is the Mercy "SmartHealth" outpatient surgery center in Norwin Hills Shopping Center on Route 30 near Irwin.

The former Jeannette District Memorial Hospital is being sold for $16 million by Catholic Mercy Health East, which previously sold Jeannette's parent hospital, Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh, to UPMC Health System.

A Mercy news release says the sale is expected to take six months and must be reviewed by state and Westmoreland County officials.

. . .

Nobody Here But Us Chickens: The North Huntingdon Township zoning board will decide whether a Country Hills family can continue to keep nine chickens as pets, report Patti Dobranski in the Tribune-Review and Norm Vargo in the Post-Gazette.

Though much of North Huntingdon was once farmland and a few farms still exist, a township ordinance prohibits keeping livestock on a residential parcel smaller than 20 acres. The Hensler family is asking for a zoning variance to keep their chickens, but neighbors have complained about the noise and the smell.

While the Henslers claim the chickens are no more livestock than parakeets or other pet birds, one member of the zoning board notes that the family is eating the eggs, which would lend weight to the argument that the chickens are livestock. "I would never eat my cat," Zoning Board Member Jacqueline Willis said.

(Write your own Chinese food joke here.)

The zoning hearing board is expected to rule on the variance request at its Dec. 4 meeting at the Town House.

. . .

Keep a Civil Tongue: And finally, students from McKeesport Area and West Mifflin high schools head to Harrisburg next week to deliver speeches on "what it means to be part of a civil society." They're among more than 100 students selected from about a dozen school districts statewide.

Their remarks will be videotaped for a presentation to the state General Assembly and later broadcast on public TV. Details are in the Post-Gazette.

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November 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Push 'Em Back, Push 'Em Back, Way Back

Category: Cartoons || By

Cartoon (c) 2007 Jason Togyer/Tube City Almanac

WPIAL Football Semi-Finals: In the Quad A, the 10-and-1 McKeesport Tigers face undefeated Pittsburgh Central Catholic at West Mifflin High School stadium.

In single A, two undefeated teams face off as Serra Catholic's Eagles play Monessen at Belle Vernon High School.

Kickoff in both games is set for 7:30 tonight. The winners advance to the WPIAL championships next Friday at Heinz Field.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Don't like football? McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., presents "Over the River and Through the Woods," by Joe DiPietro. The comedy tells the story of an Italian-American man in New Jersey whose family tries to keep him from moving to find his dream job. "Over the River" runs tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100 or visit the MLT website.

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November 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Need a Lift?

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Does this scene look familiar to anyone? Not the helicopter --- I'll explain the helicopter in a minute --- but look closely at the landscape in the background.

It should seem familiar to most McKeesporters, though it doesn't look very much like that any more. That's the old "slag pile" in West Mifflin, now the site of Century III Mall, Wal-Mart, Century Square and dozens and dozens of stores that couldn't survive without steady supplies of Chinese-made shi- ... I mean, surely, surely quality merchandise.

When rock containing iron ore is melted in a furnace, the non-ferrous minerals and impurities separate from the iron and are poured off. The resulting molten rock is called "slag."

. . .

For decades, U.S. Steel mills in Braddock, Clairton, Duquesne, Homestead and McKeesport poured the red-hot "slag" into special insulated railroad cars, which were hauled to West Mifflin in trains run by the Union Railroad, a U.S. Steel subsidiary.

At the slag pile, the slag cars were tipped over and the molten rock poured out like lava. At night, generations of Mon Valley teen-agers used to park on the roads around the slag pile and watch the red-hot slag glow and pulse. (When they weren't watching the submarine races, that is.)

Smoke and steam rose from the pile both day and night. Pilots looking for nearby Allegheny County Airport used the unearthly red glow as a navigational landmark.

In time, uses were discovered for slag --- particularly in manufacturing concrete. Crushed slag can also be used to ballast railroad tracks.

The slag became too valuable to just dump, and as steel production in the Mon Valley declined, the mills output less slag anyway. Eventually, U.S. Steel stopped dumping slag in West Mifflin.

. . .

And as the land along busy Route 51 became more valuable, U.S. Steel began leveling off the moon-like landscape and selling the property for commercial development, including Century III Mall, which opened in 1979.

But the slag pile's heritage is still evident around Century III Mall; the leftover iron ore in the slag has rusted, leaving red-brown streaks down the hillsides.

Incidentally, several companies continue to recover slag from the West Mifflin pile, including LaFarge Inc., which grinds the rock for use in concrete and other building materials, and Glassport-based Tube City IMS, which is removing the remaining metals from the slag.

. . .

Now, about the picture: The helicopter is lifting an air conditioner onto the roof of Murphy's Mart No. 808, the eighth discount store constructed in the early 1970s by McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. The store, which shared the building with a Giant Eagle supermarket, was adjacent to Southland Four Seasons Shopping Center, which had opened nearly two decades before.

The Murphy's Marts, a response to S.S. Kresge Co.'s Kmart stores, eventually operated in virtually all of the states east of the Mississippi. At the time of the hostile takeover of Murphy's in 1985, the company was in the process of upgrading the merchandise and the look of the Marts; the remodeled locations wound up looking remarkably like present-day Target Stores.

The former Murphy's Mart in West Mifflin is almost unrecognizable now, but is presently home to DSW Shoe Warehouse, Value City Furniture and Best Buy.

The photo was taken for the G.C. Murphy Co. (possibly by longtime company photographer Jack Loveall) and loaned to me by Ed Davis, Murphy's former head of public relations.

. . .

All this is just a sneaky way for me to mention that the G.C. Murphy Co. website is still being regularly updated. If you go there right now, you can read a story about Store No. 217, located in the tiny central Pennsylvania town of Mercersburg, Pa.

(P.S.: I don't know if you've noticed this, but sometimes it takes me a long time to get to the point.)

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November 13, 2007 | Link to this story

Minding The Store

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I've never run my own business, so if it's fatuous of me to hand out business advice, I apologize in advance.

I like small, locally run businesses. Small businesses are run by your friends and neighbors. They return money to the community instead of sending it off to Wall Street.

I always remember what Garrison Keillor said in Lake Wobegon Days: "You should think twice before you get the Calvin Klein glasses from Vanity Vision in the St. Cloud Mall. Calvin Klein isn't going to come with the Rescue Squad and he isn't going to teach your children about redemption by grace. You couldn't find Calvin Klein to save your life.''

Often you get better service at small mom-and-pop businesses, but alas, not always. Some of them dare customers to shop there.

I have known a lot of people who started their own businesses, from gas stations to professional offices, and they all say it's hard work. When the weekend guy gets sick, or the burglar alarm goes off in the middle of the night, or a customer has a complaint, the owner gets the call. Most small business owners combine the duties of chief operating officer, secretary, treasurer, comptroller, sales clerk and janitor.

But all successful businesses share something in common: They're actually open.

You can't be in business if you're closed. And that's not double talk.

. . .

'C' is Not For Cookie: Let me illustrate: There's a little store near my house that's been a number of things over the years, mostly unsuccessful. Two years ago it was turned into a coffee shop and bakery.

One Saturday morning, after it had been open for a week or two, I decided to stop in and get breakfast and some cookies or doughnuts to take with me.

Though the hours on the door said something like "7 a.m. to 7 p.m.," it was closed. I stopped again the next Saturday, and it was closed again.

I finally found it open one Saturday and thought: Great, I'll get breakfast. "Oh, we stop serving breakfast at 11 on Saturday," the guy told me.

Fine, I said, I'll have lunch. "No, we only serve lunch during the week."

It wasn't a big surprise to see the place for sale a month ago.

Or take the drugstore I've been using for about three years. It's an independent, family-owned shop. The advertised hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Imagine my surprise a few months ago when I stopped after work at 6 p.m. and found the lights out and the store closed. Well, people can get sick or have some emergency. I stopped the following night: Closed again.

The third day I called ahead of time: "How late are you open today?" 8 o'clock. I arrived at 6:35 p.m. Closed.

It happened again the other night. I stopped at 6 o'clock, and the place had closed early.

I'm going to try and talk to the owner and find out what the problem is. But if I don't get a satisfactory answer, I'm going someplace else.

. . .

Still on 'Bankers' Hours': A lot of the businesses that used to line Fifth Avenue Downtown, or Eighth Avenue in Homestead, were open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. A few were open a half-day on Saturday, or late on Thursday nights, but that was it.

That might have made sense in the 1950s or '60s, when men worked shifts at the mill and many women stayed home during the day. By the 1980s, most of their potential customers were at work or school from 9 to 5. Yet their hours didn't change.

I can understand wanting to work an eight-hour day, but why wouldn't they open daily from 12 to 8 p.m., instead of working "bankers' hours"?

When I asked a few business owners, the excuse I heard was that "there's no traffic Downtown at night." Well, if everyone is closed, of course there's no traffic.

It's a moot point now. There are few businesses left of any kind on Fifth Avenue, and Eighth Avenue in Homestead is a dreary row of thrift shops and empty windows, too.

If you've got a small retail or service business, it's almost impossible to compete with Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreen's, etc. on price and selection.

I don't understand why so many small business owners handicap themselves further by making it so hard to give them money.

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November 09, 2007 | Link to this story

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Category: Cartoons || By

Cartoon (c) 2007 Jason Togyer/Tube City Almanac

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November 08, 2007 | Link to this story

Centralia on the Yough?

Category: Good Government On The March, Mon Valley Miscellany, Our Far-Flung National Correspondents || By

The Mon Valley may soon have its very own Centralia Borough --- a town all but abandoned to the elements because of an underground environmental problem.

At the very least, the natural gas, methane and other toxins leaking into basements in Versailles Borough are likely to seriously depress property values and generate controversy for years to come.

According to the Associated Press, the cost of venting the gases under Versailles may exceed the total value of the property there.

"In many cases, implementing the solutions suggested in the report would cost half and sometimes more than the property's value, leading some residents and experts to wonder whether it would be more cost-effective to compensate the owners and allow them to leave," writes the AP's Ramit Plushnick-Masti.

The dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide under Versailles are about 100 times the level that's considered safe, a expert on hydrogen sulfide's effects on the human body told Plushnick-Masti. "I don't think there's any doubt this is a very serious, bad thing to expose people to," Dr. Kaye Kilburn told Plushnick-Masti.

. . .

A Dissenting Voice: One problem, as you will read only at Tube City Almanac, is that Kilburn is a somewhat controversial figure. A former professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, Kilburn now runs a company called Neuro-Test Inc., which sells home testing kits for hydrogen sulfide, mold and other pollutants.

He's also made a career for himself as a paid medical expert testifying on behalf of plaintiffs in various lawsuits against chemical companies and other organizations. According to QuackWatch, a federal district court in Nevada threw out Kilburn's testimony in a 1996 lawsuit on the grounds that his "novel" theories were "unsupported by research extraneous to the litigation."

A few years later, the Minnesota Supreme Court, examining Kilburn's testimony in a case involving the pesticide Dursban, upheld a lower court ruling that his methods were "contrary to generally accepted scientific practice," "not generally accepted" and "not scientifically reliable" (See Goeb v. Tharaldson, 615 N.W.2d 800, Minn. 2000.)

Kilburn (surprise) writes books and edits magazines that focus on the damage that chemicals in the environment may cause to the brain.

. . .

More Light, Less Gas Needed: That doesn't mean that Kilburn is wrong about the situation in Versailles. It only means that I'd like to hear from someone who carries less baggage. Asking a paid medical expert if you might have a medical problem is like, to quote Gene Weingarten, "asking your kid if you need a puppy."

Meanwhile, an engineer who has been consulted on the methane problem in Versailles since the late 1960s tells the AP that the issue is serious but could be dealt with "at a cost lower than the $1 million spent" by the federal government surveying gas wells in the borough.

"I think you can make the community livable for a lot less money then what is suggested in that report," said John Stillwagon of Heath Consultants in Houston, Texas.

. . .

Manageable Risk?: I claim no expertise in gas leaks, beyond the hot air I vent at the Almanac and the methane releases that I cause myself.

But it seems to me that since Versailles has lived on the McKeesport-Versailles gas field for almost a century without any obvious ill-effects, the problem, though serious, is not catastrophic.

In fact, since we need to tap alternative energy sources, it seems to me that sinking some gas wells in Versailles again might actually produce some revenue that could be used to fund environmental remediation.

In other words, we're talking about manageable risk, not Love Canal or Chernobyl.

In situations like these, it would be helpful to get some non-partisan, unbiased, clear-headed scientific advise from our federal government ... which (via the Department of Energy) has dragged its feet on releasing any information about Versailles to local elected officials or the general public and, once again, "did not respond to repeated phone calls" from the Associated Press or answer a list of questions sent by email "at the department's request."

Heckuva job, Bushie! Maybe radical Islamic clerics should take up residence in Versailles. That might get someone's attention.

. . .

From The National Affairs Desk: Meanwhile, President Bush yesterday rebuked Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, telling him to "take off his military uniform." (Voice of America, USA Today)

"You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time," Bush said.

Yeah, Gen. Musharraf. Next thing you know, you'll be putting on a flight suit and landing on an aircraft carrier.

Whoops! My irony detector just exploded.

Or maybe that was a methane pocket in Versailles. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

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November 07, 2007 | Link to this story

Those Oldies But Goodies

Category: Cartoons, Politics || By

Yeah, who didn't see that coming? Show of hands?

The real problem is that Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl is going to be one smug so-and-so for the next two years. If you thought Dubya was bad after the 2004 elections, you ain't seen nothing yet.

To heck with the Homeland Security SUV. I predict that the Mayor of Picksberg will demand a Life Flight helicopter to take him to his next concert.

But seriously, folks ... in other news, "complete but unofficial" returns from the Allegheny County Department of Elections indicate that 29 percent of registered voters bothered to show up. That's right: One in four of us exercised our democratic (small "D") franchise.

People in Pakistan are getting beaten in the streets for demanding the right to vote for their government; here in Pennsyltucky, we sit at home and watch "Family Guy" reruns while polling places stand empty.

Of those who voted (again according to the Elections Department), about 68,000, or 26 percent, voted a straight ticket, either Republican or Democrat.

Wilco Tango Foxtrot, who still votes a straight-party ticket in 2007? Good gravy, people! Use your brains for something other than a place to store your lottery numbers.

The election results don't mention how many people thought they were voting for Hoover or Roosevelt, but I suspect a lot of 'em did.

At least those people weren't watching "Family Guy." They did get home from the polls, however, in time to see "Wheel of Fortune." Then they put their teeth in a glass of water and went to bed.

Here's your thought for the day: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

And with that, Mr. Mencken and I are going to bed, too. Wake us before the next Stiller game, and phooey on your electoral process.

. . .

P.S.: To see the original "Bloom County" strip, which is one of my all-time favorites, click here. The mayor of Pittsburgh was four years old when it ran.

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November 06, 2007 | Link to this story

On Hizzoner

Category: Good Government On The March, Politics || By

Today is Election Day. In the all-important city mayoral race, I predict a landslide victory for the Democrat, who has proven himself competent, alert and an excellent ambassador for the region.

I mean Jim Brewster, of course. Who did you think I was talking about?

Oh, Opie "Luke" Ravenstahl? Yeah, he's gonna win, too. Maybe not as big as he would have if he hadn't made so many missteps this year, but I'd say by 20 points, at least.

Short of Ravenstahl getting caught in the back of St. Paul's Cathedral, making love to a goat while wearing a Baltimore Ravens jersey, there was no way Ravenstahl wasn't going to be elected.

. . .

Here's another thing: DeSantis only looks good in comparison to Ravenstahl. Otherwise, DeSantis is a very weak campaigner.

That will win me no fans in the Pittsburgh District Council of the International Brotherhood of Internet Pundits, Cutpurses and Misanthropes, but it has to be said.

I like DeSantis' positions on a lot of issues, and I don't like Ravenstahl's positions on a lot of issues. I especially don't like some of his ethical pratfalls, or his arrogance. So while I don't live in Pittsburgh (I'm one of those parasitical suburbanites), I should be favorably disposed to DeSantis.

But I'm unimpressed with him.

On the other hand, everyone keeps talking about Ravenstahl's "monotonous voice." I've seen him speak, too, and he's very good. He's certainly not monotonous. He's especially good in question and answer sessions. He exudes confidence.

I'm not saying Ravenstahl should or shouldn't be mayor. But he's not a box of loose parts, as some people claim.

. . .

So, there you go. I've been wrong before. (I thought the Santorum-Casey race would be closer.) But I think this is an easy call. I'd be shocked if Ravenstahl wins by less than 10 points.

And for the record, Brewster would make an excellent mayor of Pittsburgh, too. Maybe McKeesport needs to annex its noisy neighbor.

. . .

Remember: If you live in Our Fair City, you are voting on a referendum whether to amend the city charter to allow public employees to run for certain elected offices. (I call it the "Deny Donato De Pleasure of De Lawsuit" clause.) (Update: Wrong, wrong, wrong. See the comments.)

Elsewhere, you're voting for Allegheny County Council or Westmoreland County commissioners as well as school directors. And while I don't make endorsements ('cause nobody cares), the race for the Allegheny County Council At-Large seats deserves your attention for all of the reasons laid out by Maria of 2 Political Junkies.

School directors and county officials are the people who set your property taxes. So vote, darn you!

. . .

Find Your Polling Place:

. . .

Correction, Not Perfection: The proposed amendment to the city's home-rule charter will not face the voters until the spring, as Councilor Paul Shelly points out in the comments. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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November 05, 2007 | Link to this story

Rescue Me

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Last week, a family member called me at 1 o'clock in the morning. "Come up immediately," she said. "I think I'm having a heart attack. I want to go to the hospital."

Well, that'll snap you awake. "Are you breathing OK?" "Yes." "Does your chest hurt?" "No." "Well, why do you think you're having a heart attack?" "I'm dizzy, I'm sweating, I can't sleep."

My relative is diabetic. "Have you checked your sugar?" "No, my sugar is fine."

Sure. I put my clothes on, ran down the stairs, jumped into the car, and zipped across town.

Let's check your sugar, I said when I got there. "No, no, no. Call the ambulance. Just call the ambulance." Sigh.

Unfortunately, if you have diabetes or know someone who's diabetic, you know that low blood sugar tends to impair your judgment and can even make you hostile. Thank heaven that we finally have 9-1-1; at 1 o'clock in the morning, I couldn't even remember the old seven-digit number.

. . .

A patrol car arrived first, almost before I could get the porch light on and open the door. The cop, who also turned out to be diabetic, came to the same conclusion as I did. He took a knee and started talking to my relative. I checked her pulse; it was strong and steady, but she was definitely sweating and clammy.

Next came the wagon from McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service. After they gave her a quick exam, the diagnosis of the non-doctors gathered in the living room was unanimous (low blood sugar) and a quick check by the medics with their blood-glucose monitor verified that her sugar was down to 47.

One of the medics called the ER at the hospital to talk with a doctor. "Can you get her some orange juice?" he asked me. "And maybe make some toast or a sandwich?" The other asked her questions to test her reactions.

Then they waited while she ate. ("You're awfully stingy with the butter," she told me, which was a sign she was starting to feel better.)

. . .

One of the EMTs sat down and paged through her blood-glucose diary, talking to her, pointing out that she had last checked her sugar at 3 p.m., and strongly advising her to make an appointment with her family doctor.

By the time they left, about a half-hour later, she was feeling better and her sugar was up above 200. And she didn't want to go to the hospital any more. "Are you sure?" they kept asking her. "No, no, no, I'm fine now," she said. And she was fine later that morning, too.

They could have scooped her up, dumped her at the ER, and gone back to the base. I went to bed that morning very impressed with their level of attention to detail, their kindness, and their professionalism.

. . .

Yesterday, when Google's "News Alert"
emailed me a headline that said "McKeesport: Local ambulance driver to face charges," I was a little bit stunned. Can't be McKeesport's ambulance service, I thought.

It isn't --- it's one of the private transport services. One employee shot video of the driver as he drove through the city in an ambulance, siren wailing, while dancing in his seat to a Justin Timberlake song. The dummy then uploaded the video to YouTube. (The video has now been marked "private," so you can't see it.)

For what it's worth, the driver on the video claims he's not speeding and wasn't doing anything dangerous. But if he did have the siren blowing, either he had a patient in the back and was en route to the hospital; or he was on an emergency run. And if he wasn't doing one of those things, he's at minimum in violation of the motor vehicle code.

Without being able to see the video, I can't comment, but according to WPXI-TV, city police are investigating. (The ambulance service has apparently fired the driver, who perhaps was auditioning for the role of Gene, Gene, The Dancing Machine in case there's a "Gong Show" revival.)

. . .

Anyway, when you heard "a McKeesport ambulance driver faces charges," you probably thought the worst, too. Usually when a Pittsburgh TV station comes to McKeesport, it's to report something bad. Bad things make news. I understand that.

But just this once, I thought you might want to hear about some guys doing their jobs professionally. The 9-1-1 operator. The cop. The paramedics.

Though it doesn't make the news, I think it's worth reading about, too.

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November 04, 2007 | Link to this story

Our Corner Store

Category: Cartoons || By

cartoon (c) 2007 Jason Togyer/Tube City Online

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November 01, 2007 | Link to this story

How Sweet It Is

Category: Good Government On The March, History || By

You'd think that the day after Halloween wouldn't be a day to talk about sweet, sweet chocolate, but I can't resist linking to a story on CandyBlog (sponsored by McKeesport Candy Co.) about how the Clark Bar, "the signature item of one of the country's largest candy empires, started with a small operation run by young entrepreneur David L. Clark":

Mr. Clark entered the candy business in 1891 and spent a few years learning the trade before starting his own company, D.L. Clark Co., in 1886.

He manufactured candy in two back rooms of a small house with the help of a small staff. Within a few years, he made enough money to open a small factory in McKeesport.

D.L. Clark ended up on Pittsburgh's North Side. McKeesport did have several other candy companies, including Crown Chocolate, which survived until 1950 in a factory on Market Street. The same building was used as a warehouse by R&J Furniture Co. and currently by James Moving and Storage; I'm told by someone who stored a car in the basement until recently that several big vats in the basement still bore what looked like chocolate residue. (Ewww.)

Crown Chocolate became Thurman Candy, makers of "Tris Anne" chocolates, which were sold all up and down the East Coast by McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. Thurman's moved to North Versailles Township in 1967 (coincidentally to the site of the old Vogue Terrace, mentioned here just a few days ago).

I'm not sure when it closed; the last trademark activity on file at the U.S. Patent Office is from 1975. One business directory shows a "Tris Anne Inc." chocolate company registered to 118 Wendel Road in Hempfield Township, near Adamsburg, but the company is defunct, according to the state Corporation Bureau.

Today, the McKeesport area's candy-making legacy is carried on by Dorothy's Candies --- a worthy company, though not on the manufacturing scale of Thurman's --- while McKeesport Candy is now among the largest and oldest candy wholesalers in the mid-Atlantic states.

. . .

Open Records? Open Mouth: I just received an email from my good friend Bill DeWeese (D-Pomposity), the state House Majority Leader, bragging about how he's fighting for stronger open-records laws.

As the "Laugh-Out-Loud Cats" say, "O, Rilly?"

The Washington Observer-Reporter and Uniontown Herald Standard cover DeWeese's home district. What say you, O-R?

As originally proposed by Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fayette, House Bill 443 was a good bill. It created the presumption of access to agency records but contained a list of exemptions for medical records, documents that would disclose ongoing police investigations and documents related to homeland security.

That was before the House State Government Committee got hold of it. The committee replaced Mahoney's bill with language that would close much of Pennsylvania government and rushed it through in less than a day. The amendment was not available to the public until hours before the committee met, and significant amendments were added without public input. The committee even suspended procedural rules to rush the bill through.

But what about the HS? Surely they have some kind words:

(More) than 50 amendments have been tacked on, causing the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association to withdraw its support for the House version sponsored by local state Rep. Timothy S. Mahoney (D-South Union).

Why the House State Government Committee would ladle on so many changes - including an exclusion for all e-mails and the ability for governments to deny requests deemed burdensome - is the subject for much speculation. We thought the House Speaker's Reform Commission had already thrashed out most of this stuff, given the huge fanfare that accompanied its high-profile work.

I can't remember ... is the House Democratic leadership trying to fool some of the people all of the time, or just all of the people some of the time?

. . .

Speaking of Open Records: Alert Reader Doug went to the Commonwealth's home page and clicked the link for the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The link returns a blank page, and Doug wants to know what happened.

Well, Doug, either Bill DeWeese has decided it doesn't fall under the state's Open Records Law, or he's taken it off-line to put in more loopholes.

(Good catch, Doug. Actually, I suspect the link was moved and someone forgot to add a redirect. You might remember Tube City Online had a few problems in that department a while ago. The state Constitution is available at the state Department of General Services website, though it's in PDF format.)

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