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March 31, 2008 | Link to this story

'Barackaque' on Shaw Avenue

Category: Events, Politics || By

The Mon Valley is Hillary Clinton country, according to national experts. Statewide, many polls give the New York senator and former First Lady a double-digit lead among likely voters in Pennsylvania's April 22 Democratic primary.

Such overwhelming odds matter not at all to Jaala Nesbit, 24, of McKeesport, who's helping run the Mon Valley for Obama office on Shaw Avenue. A grassroots effort, the office opened in February in an old mansion across the street from the Rainbow Temple Assembly of God (the former Temple B'nai Israel).

Nesbit and other organizers held what was billed as a "Barackaque" Saturday afternoon to thank volunteers and educate visitors about the Illinois senator and his positions on the issues.

If anything, the fact that Obama remains a longshot to win Pennsylvania is making his local volunteers more excited.

"I don't like working on a campaign where there is no challenger --- where the candidate is a shoo-in," says Nesbit, a substitute teacher at the city's Cornell Intermediate School and a graduate student in instructional leadership at Robert Morris University, Moon Township.

. . .

Though the air was cold, the sunny skies helped boost the spirits of about 100 Obama supporters (and several undecided voters) who gathered Saturday.

Their mood was also lifted by the important endorsements their candidate picked up last week, including those of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and state Senator Sean Logan of Monroeville. (Last week, state Rep. Marc Gergely of White Oak told Tube City Almanac that he is also supporting Obama.)

City Councilman Paul Shelly Jr. and David Adelman, a state senator and Democratic whip from Decatur, Ga., spoke Saturday in support of Obama, along with longtime local civil-rights activist Major Mason III.

"We have the power to organize the community like it has never been organized before," Mason told the audience, adding that "all I want to see in April is that Allegheny County went for Barack Obama."

. . .

Nesbit became aware of Obama after his stirring speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention and his election to the U.S. Senate in 2006. Earlier this year, she volunteered to work for Obama during the South Carolina primary.

"It was a great opportunity to network with political leaders, and we felt we had to bring that type of energy back here to McKeesport," Nesbit says.

One of her companions on the southern trip was Al Washington of McKeesport, a former city council candidate and community organizer who works in the telecommunications industry.

"I like his proposals on health care and especially on education," says Washington, another leader of Mon Valley for Obama. "He believes in early education and early intervention. All of the testing we're doing is fine, but first you've got to teach the students, and you've got to pay the teachers."

. . .

Obama's focus on education plays well with young people, who are a big part of Obama's campaign, nationally as well as locally.

Some of the Mon Valley volunteers aren't old enough to vote --- including Washington's nephew, Darnell Davis, 15, a student at Boyce Campus Middle College in Monroeville. Davis made an informative and impassioned speech on behalf of Obama to small groups of people watching videos supplied by the candidate's campaign.

Washington says he's bringing to the local Obama office lessons he learned while working on Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign. One of them is that TV commercials and speeches are useful, but they're no substitute for personal interaction.

"People base their decisions upon people they know," he says. "The candidate's (ads) are going to help, but it's the next-door neighbor who's going to win them over."

. . .

Like other Bill Clinton supporters who are now backing Obama, Washington has been disappointed by some of the former president's statements on behalf of his wife's campaign. Washington writes Bill Clinton's comments off as "one of those things you have to say when you're trying to win an election."

Nesbit thinks Obama's background as a community organizer should speak to many working-class Pennsylvanians.

"He's not a rich man," she says. "He doesn't come from money. As someone who comes from McKeesport, I know we're hard-working people who have to earn our money. I feel like we need someone like that representing us in the White House."

Though much has been made of the historic nature of the Democratic race --- a female candidate versus an African-American candidate --- Nesbit hopes the campaigns transcend old lines.

"I don't think it's about race or gender any more," she says. "I think it's about economic status, and we need someone who's going to work for us."

. . .

Still, Nesbit and others aren't blind to the deep-rooted prejudices that still exist in the Mon-Yough area. One white Obama volunteer, knocking on doors in Versailles, was supposedly told by an elderly woman that she would never vote for the Illinois senator. "I don't want it to be the 'Black House,'" the lady reportedly said.

Combine that with Clinton's commanding leads in statewide polling, and Obama's enthusiastic volunteers face a serious uphill battle.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," Washington says.

. . .

Mon Valley for Obama is located at 539 Shaw Ave., downtown. Office hours are 5 to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays. Call (412) 628-5462.

. . .

Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I made a donation to Mon Valley for Obama after these interviews were complete. But this website remains independent, and no special consideration was made by Obama supporters to me or this website in exchange for a contribution, and I will happily cover any McKeesport-based Hillary Clinton activities, if I'm available.

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March 29, 2008 | Link to this story

Saturday Funnies

Category: Cartoons, General Nonsense || By

From Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World," in Saturday's Post-Gazette.

As my friend Larry Slaugh used to say, "Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry."

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March 27, 2008 | Link to this story

Memo to

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Finally! An actual mention of Our Fair City by the national political writers!

The conversation was about how tiring it must be to run for president, and someone --- a woman --- said that on top of everything else, Hillary Clinton has to spend an hour and a half getting ready for each day's campaigning. She didn't mean studying her notes and making sure she knows the name of the mayor of McKeesport, Pa. (Michael Kinsley,

Mike: His name is James Brewster. He was even on PBS. (You know PBS. The thing with Jim Lehrer.)

Also, thanks for the shout-out to us blighters in the sticks. It's nice to know that when you need to name the most obscure, misbegotten place in the United States of America, you think of us.

P.S. If Sen. Clinton really can't remember the mayor's name, feel free to pass my note along.

. . .

Where's Groucho Marx when I need him? Katharine Seelye of the New York Times said the secret word, and the duck came down to give her $100:
When he steps aboard a campaign bus in Pittsburgh on Friday, Senator Barack Obama begins a six-day journey across Pennsylvania and its complex political landscape, one that is largely favorable to his rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Obama will travel from the gritty western part of the state to the more prosperous east, at times riding straight into unfriendly territory, like that in Johnstown, the hardscrabble, blue-collar base of John P. Murtha, the powerful congressman, who is one of Mrs. Clinton’s staunchest allies.

(Tip o'the Tube City hard hat: Brian O.)

. . .

Lots of good news from Penn State McKeesport Metropolitan White Oak Campus. More than 150 students will receive awards for academic achievement at the local campus' 25th annual Honors Convocation.

The ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. April 17 in the Wunderley Gym, with campus Chancellor Curtiss Porter serving as master of ceremonies.

Among the awards to be presented are scholarships in several categories. In addition, the alumni society will present the 2008 "outstanding alumni" award.

In addition, two sophomores from the McKeesport Upper Versailles Campus have been named to the university's "all-conference" basketball team. Justin Hamilton will represent the men, while Ashlee Wygonik will represent the women.

. . .

Happy Trails: The Palisades ballroom at the city marina is slated to become one of the rest stops on the hiking-biking trail between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, notes Norm Vargo in the Post-Gazette.

In addition, work continues to acquire the former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge between the city and Duquesne for use by the trail.

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March 26, 2008 | Link to this story

Back in Vogue

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Hugh Geyer, original lead tenor for The Vogues, has rejoined the group.

That means that Geyer is no longer singing with The Vogues.


Yeah, it's confusing. The original members of the Turtle Creek-based quartet lost the rights to the name and trademark in the early 1970s.

Opinions differ on what happened; some people claim that dishonest managers and agents cheated the group, while others claim that one of the members was greedy. Possibly the answer lies somewhere in between.

A lawsuit ensued between the new owner of the trademark and Chuck Blasko, the original Vogues' second tenor. The courts awarded Blasko the right to perform with a group called "The Vogues" in 14 counties around Pittsburgh, while the owner of the national trademark was allowed to use it everywhere else.

For years, if you saw a show by "The Vogues" around Pittsburgh, you saw a group with one original member (Blasko), but if you saw "The Vogues" anywhere else, including Las Vegas, you saw no original members. When Blasko's group toured nationally, it was billed as "The Five O'Clock World Tour," named after one of the group's biggest hits. (Sadly, it's not an unusual situation, and it's happened to other rock groups of the 1950s and '60s.)

Several years ago, after The Vogues were spotlighted in a Rick Sebak WQED-TV special, Geyer, who still lives in the Mon Valley, joined Blasko's group. I saw them at a outdoor concert in Turtle Creek a few years, and they swung --- they really laid the crowd out. I've seen a few reunited 1960s groups that could no longer perform, but this group sounded good, and a lot of that was due to Geyer, who sang the soaring, high passages on many of The Vogues' hits.

Then a week ago I heard an ad on an out-of-town radio station advertising an appearance in Cincinnati by "Hugh Geyer and The Original Vogues," and I said --- huh? I didn't think Blasko's group was allowed to tour under that name.

I emailed my friend Tom, Geyer's stepson, who maintains a website about The Vogues and also hosts Tom says Geyer has left Blasko's group and joined The Vogues.

If you want to see them, the bad news is that you'll have to leave the Mon Valley. The nearest upcoming shows are in Mingo Junction, Ohio (that's just south of Steubenville) on Saturday, April 19 and in Mentor, Ohio (east of Cleveland) on Saturday, April 26.

But that Mentor show might be worth the trip --- Frankie "Sea Cruise" Ford and Shirley Alston Reeves of the Shirelles are also scheduled to appear. Plus, it's good news that Geyer (who's a nice guy) is getting some national publicity.

And even if "The Vogues" is no longer all original four guys from Turtle Creek, it looks like they put on a pretty good show.

. . .

Chiaverini's Closes: One of McKeesport's nicest restaurants that you didn't know about is no more. Chiaverini's Family Restaurant on Walnut Street in Christy Park, near Enamel Products, has closed. I found out Saturday, when I stopped for dinner.

A note on the front door thanks customers for their 22 years of patronage. I'm getting old, because I didn't think they had been there that long.

Too bad. The service and the food was always good, but in recent years a limited operating schedule had sometimes made it hard to make time to eat there.


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March 25, 2008 | Link to this story

The Continuing Hardscrabble Warch

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch || By

Mike Littwin of Denver's Rocky Mountain News has really outdone himself in this profile of Clairton:

(S)ure enough, just as I'd been warned, there was the white smoke belching from the Clairton Works mill, on the banks of the Monongahela River, one of the few working mills left in the region.

And long-abandoned storefronts were, in fact, boarded up --- ghostly reminders of what was and what would never be again.

And, yes, as the whistle blew, men in hard hats, many carrying lunch pails, headed home to their company-built houses, constructed in the days when the mills ran up and down the river, or maybe they went to a nearby bar for a well-earned beer or two after a hard shift.

This is the largest coke-manufacturing plant in the country, producing, the U.S. Steel literature says, 4.7 million tons a year. You can see the smoke, and smell it, for miles.

I hadn't come in search of a cliche, but here it was awaiting me.

Make sure to read Littwin's piece. Although he quotes every element of my parody, he deftly avoids mentioning Tube City Almanac, giving all of the credit instead to the Post-Gazette.

Hey, thanks a lot, pallie. I hope the Broncos choke.

. . .

I think we do have, however, a new marketing slogan: "Come to the Mon Valley, where cliches await you."

. . .

It's the newspaper of record in the nation's largest city. That means you can count on the New York Times to hit all of the correct (sour) notes in this profile of Jeannette:
Once known as glass city, when 70 percent of the world's glass was made here, this town is probably better known now as the home to Terrelle Pryor, the No. 1 college football prospect, who signed a letter of intent on Wednesday to attend Ohio State.

Beyond that, though, this economically battered city of 10,000 is fairly unremarkable in southwestern Pennsylvania. Like many cities in the region, it has lost a third of its population, and Clay Avenue, its downtown, is a shadow of its former self.

Again, none of this tells me much. After all, lots of things are shadows of their former selves. My hairline. CBS' prime-time lineup. Jeannette's downtown. Journalism.

. . .

Of course, the Times' story isn't about politics, and the Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch is about political stories that work in as many "rusty steel town" cliches as possible.

Dante Chinni of the Christian Science Monitor does a good job weaving hardscrabble images into this piece about the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. He discusses our "old industrial economic base," uses the terms "blue-collar," "Rust Belt" and "lunch-bucket," and calls Pittsburgh an "industrial metropolis."

The Monitor has even colored Allegheny County "charcoal" (as in smoke) on their national political map, while the surrounding counties are "rust" (!) colored. The colors signify "industrial area" and "service workers," respectively.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stop here. I have to go wash my steel-toe boots and pack my lunch bucket.


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March 24, 2008 | Link to this story

Whip it on Me, Baby!

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Pointless Digressions || By

It's Dyngus Day! Have you checked your dyngus today?

Wait! Stop! Before you disrobe, you need to know that the day after Easter is known as "smigus dyngus" in Poland and "pomlazka" in the Czech Republic.

Until I started working part-time at a radio station with a bunch of polka shows, I had never heard of this tradition, which is kind of surprising, considering the number of Poles and Czechs in the McKeesport area.

There is a "Dyngus Day Dance" at 6 p.m. tonight at the American Legion hall in Jeannette. North Huntingdon's Frank Powaski, who hosts one of Pittsburgh's most popular polka shows Sunday afternoons over WKHB (620), is the emcee, and Ray Jay and The Carousels will be performing.

Other than that, the Mon Valley is shockingly short on Dyngus Day activities --- which I find surprising, since we have so many dinguses around here. (Rimshot)

OK, enough with the jokes. According to the website Dyngus Day Buffalo, the word "dyngus" comes from the medieval Polish word "dingnus," which means something that's "worthy or suitable" as a ransom to protect a village. It also has its roots in the German word "dingen," which means "come to an agreement."

As with so many festivals, this one started as a pagan tradition. An article in the Polish American Journal explains:

The custom of pouring water is an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. The same is true of the complimentary practice of switching with pussy willow branches, from which Dyngus Day derives its cognomen "Smigus" --- from "smiganie" --- switching.

The pagan Poles bickered with nature --- "dingen" --- by means of pouring water and switching with willows to make themselves "pure" and "worthy" for the coming year. Similar practices are still present in other non-Christian cultures during springtime.

In the 10th century, "Dyngus Day" was adopted by Polish Catholics as a religious holiday celebrating the baptism of Prince Mieszko I, the first Christian king of Poland.

"Tradition states that Prince Mieszko I along with his court were baptized on Easter Monday," Dyngus Day Buffalo says. "Thus, Dyngus Day and its rites of sprinkling with water have become a folk celebration in thanksgiving for the fact that the first king of Poland was baptized into Christianity, bringing Catholicism to Poland."

Naturally, the festival didn't stay a religious holiday.

"In more modern times, the tradition continued when farm boys in Poland wanted to attract notice from the girls of their choice," the website notes. "It was custom to throw water and hit the girls on their legs with twigs or pussy willows. Cologne was used instead of water by the more gallant lads. The ladies would reciprocate by throwing dishes and crockery and Tuesday was their day of revenge, imitating the same tactics."

Apparently, in Buffalo (also known as "The McKeesport of Western New York") they go all out on Dyngus Day. In fact, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" reported on Dyngus Day in western New York two years ago.

Powaski tells me that many schools in Buffalo have Easter Monday as a holiday --- if they didn't, kids might not show up for class anyway.

(I did check some Buffalo-area school districts, and he's right. All of the ones I looked at --- West Seneca, Springville-Griffith Institute, Cheektowaga Central and Williamsville Central --- are all closed today for a "holiday," while Buffalo City Schools are on spring break all week.)

Poles in Chicago and northern Indiana also hold Dyngus Day parties and dances, where it's customary to squirt people with water or, if you're feeling really cheeky, to dump a bucket of water on their heads.

The Czech tradition is similar. Radio Prague reports:
Whipping brings good luck, wealth and rich harvest for the whole year. The strength from the rods is passed onto the person whipped. The whip or "pomlazka" is made from willow rods. The easiest variety is made from three rods, but it can be braided from 8, 12 or even 24 rods.

In Hungary, my countrymen call it "Dousing Monday" or "Ducking Monday":
Boys surprise the girls by dousing them thoroughly with buckets or bottles of water all the while reciting a little rhyme: "Good day, good day, my lily, I water you to keep you from withering," or "Water for your health, water for your home, water for your land, here's water, water!"

Formerly this practice was much rougher, for young men literally dragged girls to ponds, wells or streams at dawn and threw them in.

It was expected that the girls accept this all good-naturedly and reward their tormentors with decorated eggs, bread and a glass of brandy/wine --- or all three. The dousing was supposed to make of them good future wives with many children.

If that's what passes for foreplay in Hungary, it's a wonder the population hasn't died off completely.

The Hungarian women I know wouldn't like it if you tried throwing them into a creek at dawn.

In other words, it's a good way to lose your dingus.

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March 22, 2008 | Link to this story

Adventures in Consumerism

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

First the good news: Paul Elliott, the California real-estate agent selling the People's Building, called Tube City Online Thursday night to say that he's received a solid offer from a developer who is experienced in historic preservation.

While he can't name the potential buyer yet, Elliott says the party has rehabbed other older buildings and is excited about the People's Building. The preliminary sales price is $495,000, Elliott says.

We could use some good news around here, so keep your fingers crossed. Spring has sprung, and Easter is a time for rebirth. I don't mean to be sacrilegious, but the resurrection of the People's Building could bring the rest of that block of Fifth Avenue back from the dead.

. . .

Now the bad news: Much of the upper deck of the parking garage at Century III Mall is closed, as this picture taken Saturday afternoon shows. I suspect this is because the mall management doesn't want to pay to patrol the lot and plow the snow for the handful of customers still using it.

But remember what the marketing manager said a few months ago: "Century III Mall is lively and well ... it is very much business as usual there." She called the mall "a central shopping destination."

Um, yeah. Right. That's why they've got most of the garage closed.

And here's a story from a few weeks ago, in which the mall manager says the facility is "going all out" to attract new tenants, particularly doctors and other professionals.

Well, here's one of the entrance ramps off of Clairton Boulevard. It's roped off because of all the potholes.

I'm just an ignorant layman, but not filling potholes doesn't seem like a strategy that will attract more tenants to their mall. In fact, if I were a doctor looking for space and I found half the parking garage closed, and the entrance road was more holes than pavement, I would run --- not walk --- to another facility.

Just to gild the lily, I also shot some extremely crummy video.

(Yeah, it's pretty poor, but in fairness, I was trying to dodge the mall cops.)

I predict there will be a flea market in the parking lot of Century III before the end of this year. And when that happens, prestigious tenants will flock to Century III.

Remember, nothing says "quality retail and professional destination" like a parking lot full of people flogging troll dolls and mismatched socks from the back of Chevy vans.

. . .

I did have a real reason for visiting the vibrant, lively shopping destination known as Century III Mall. Sears, Roebuck & Co. --- the official underpants supplier of Tube City Online --- sent me a coupon good for $10 off my next purchase, but it's only good through the end of the month.

I've been mulling over purchase of a DVD recorder for some time, and I decided that the balance on the old Sears charge is low enough to risk it. I've found Sears to be surprisingly competitive on electronics. They beat Best Buy and Circuit City on a lot of items. (There's your shopping tip for today.)

Sure enough, Sears had a nice selection of DVD recorders, including a swell looking Panasonic job with a built-in four-head VCR and a digital TV tuner. Hot diggity! That would enable me to watch digital TV signals with my old TV.

I was reading the instruction manual when a clerk came over. "Do you have any questions?"

"How does the editing work on this one?" I said.

"Oh, we don't have any of those," she said. I must have looked dumbfounded, because she said, "we're sold out ... we've been out of those for a while."

"Are you selling the floor model then?" I asked.


"When are you getting any more?"

"I don't know."

I moved over to a cheaper Toshiba model. "We're out of that one, too," she said. "Actually, we don't have any DVD recorders."

"Why are you displaying them if you don't have any?" I said.

"Sometimes we have them, but they sell out as soon as we get them," she said.

"Well, I'm kind of disappointed," I said, "because I've got this coupon, and it expires at the end of the month."

"Oh, those coupons aren't good for electronics anyway," she said. "Read the back."

. . .

Sure enough, the coupon isn't good for home electronics, car or home repairs, most appliances, special-order merchandise, brand-name clothing or a bunch of other items. That leaves ... well, basically store-brand underpants.

I'm fixed for Sears, Roebuck underpants right now, so I left empty-handed.

That's a heck of a business model they've got at Sears' TV department. It's basically a museum of DVD recorders, but they don't sell any. (They make it up in volume, I suppose.)

Between Sears sending out coupons you can't use on merchandise they don't have, and Century III's owners refusing to maintain the parking lot, it's no wonder that the mall remains such a "lively" central shopping destination.

Did I say it'll have a flea market before the end of the year? Maybe I should have said the end of the month.

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March 21, 2008 | Link to this story

Good Friday

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Our Far-Flung National Correspondents, Politics || By

Easter snuck up on us this year, didn't it? As Jack Bogut noted this week, he hasn't gotten all of the tinsel out of his living room carpet yet, and now it's full of plastic grass.

It didn't sneak up on people who use Skyline Drive in West Mifflin, of course, because city physician Rudy Antoncic and his wife have put up their bunny display again. Frankly, I look forward to this annual tradition more than I do the NCAA basketball tournament.

If the weather stays nice today, drive up and take a look. Because if the weatherman's right and the snow starts to fly tonight, you may only see the tops of the bunnies' ears tomorrow.

Nevertheless, it's Good Friday, and I don't really feel like tackling any serious issues today. Let's have some fun instead.

. . .

Vocabulary Test: In last week's issue of the Valley Mirror, editor Tony Munson coined some new words that he thinks the Mon Valley needs:
  • Kennymilk --- To assess a tax on only one business in a municipality

  • Borosack --- The firing of a borough manager, solicitor, police chief or other department head following a change of borough council president

  • Ravenstile --- An elected official who behaves like a 10th grader

  • Silbergone --- A business that moves out of a municipality because of high taxes

  • Minimunist --- A person who believes that the smaller a municipality --- and therefore the more numerous --- the better

  • Isodemolists --- People who believe passionately in a one-party political system and fight hard to keep representatives of any other party from serving on municipal councils and school boards.

Heh heh heh. Between Munson's editorials, Jim O'Brien's column and the chicken-dinner local news items, my Valley Mirror might be the best 50 cents I spend each week.

. . .

That's What I Want: OK, so I promised to keep things light, but the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat summed up my feelings this week when he said, "Anyway, this whole recent economic ... erm ... s---storm, has me nauseous, scared, and frankly trying to figure out how to capture and eat squirrels from my neighbor's yard."

"I'm worried less about a recession than inflation," James Lileks wrote on Monday. "I'm worried most about a recession, inflation and a jolly round of trade wars, coupled with fragile banks, overcapacity, diminished consumer confidence and aggressive messianic collectivism. Something about that smells familiar. I love studying the thirties and forties, but not first hand."

Of course, Lileks comes at these things from a fairly neoconservative point of view. (The "messianic collectivism" line is a shot at Ron Paul and Barack Obama, methinks.) I love the guy, and I've bought several of his books as gifts for people, but he views the world through Hugh Hewitt-tinted glasses.

As a mushy-headed liberal, something smelled familiar to me in the 1990s about the aggressive drive to privatize utilities, allow banks to sell securities and insurance, provide stock market access to amateurs, and lend money to people unqualified for credit.

But I share Lileks' feeling that the Great Depression is something best experienced secondhand.

So last year, when I read John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash: 1929 and Robert T. Patterson's The Great Boom and Panic, I got a real sick feeling in my stomach. Since then I've been trying to sock away some money in a savings account and pay off my credit cards as fast as I can.

The good news, I suppose, is that if another Depression hits, parts of the Mon Valley won't be able to tell the difference.

. . .

No, No, A Thousand Times No: Well, that was a sour note. So here's something light: I dare you to watch this. Egad.

By the way, I have no nostalgia for the 1970s. None. Zero. And that video is a reason why.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Happy Easter! If you're looking for a local church, we have a semi-complete list here. And if you have an event going on this weekend, post it in the comments below.

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March 20, 2008 | Link to this story

Welcome New Readers

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

The server logs show a noticeable upward bump in readership since the recent mentions in the Post-Gazette.

Thanks for checking in, folks, and I hope you'll stick around. In case you're wondering what and the Tube City Almanac are all about, this is a non-profit (actually, negative profit!) website primarily concerned with issues around Allegheny County's "second city" and the adjoining communities.

The Almanac is updated several times a week. It's where I occasionally commit journalism, pontificate on local issues, and generally make a nuisance of myself.

It's just one small part of the bigger website, Tube City Online, which has been on the Web in various forms since 1996.

There, you'll find some Mon-Yough area history, along with information for new arrivals and visitors (like restaurant reviews), and "fun stuff" like photos.

I am also planning a major new feature that will allow the community to get more directly involved. The computer experts at Skymagik Internet Services, the local small business which hosts this website, are working on it right now.

I am a lifelong resident of the McKeesport area (Versailles, Liberty Borough and West Mifflin) except for a year in Monongahela, Washington County, and two years when I lived in the dorm at college.

I have no political agenda, except that I dislike stupidity in local government. I also get tired of people wallowing in self-pity or apologizing for living in the Mon Valley. I have a strong interest in promoting the McKeesport area and encouraging citizens to get involved.

Oh, and occasionally you'll see our editorial consultant, the Tube City Tiger, popping up to offer his comments, like here and here.

He tends to have pretty strong opinions, and my advice is don't make him mad. Those teeth aren't just for pudding.

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March 20, 2008 | Link to this story

Local Senior Makes College Decision

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

A Westmoreland County high school senior yesterday made his college selection official.

Terrelle Jones, 17, of Rostraver Township will be attending California University of Pennsylvania.

The announcement was made to his mother, younger brother and grandmother in the kitchen of the family's home in Collinsburg.

No representatives of the media attended. The news was not reported on ESPN, Fox Sports or local TV.

Afterward, there was no reception for crowds of people. Instead, the family celebrated with dinner at Eat'n Park.

Jones, a standout on Belle Vernon Area High School's debate team and a photographer on the yearbook staff, was not heavily recruited by any colleges or universities. Some family and friends believed he was leaning toward trade school or the Marines, but Jones said he always intended to go to college.

However, he admitted that he wasn't sure how the family would pay for it.

Tuition at Cal U. is only $2,600 per semester, but with books, fees, meals and commuting expenses, experts estimate the total cost to the Jones family will top $30,000.

"The loans that Terrelle has to take out are pretty scary," his mother, Tamara, said. "I'm glad he's going to Cal U., because he can live at home, and use my car."

"I played some field hockey, but I'm not really too good at sports, because of my asthma," Jones said. "So I didn't qualify for any athletic scholarships. And I guess my grades could have been better junior year, but I got my driver's license and a girlfriend, you know, so I kind of slacked off."

No famous ex-debaters or former yearbook photographers were available to advise Jones that his junior year slump would hurt his chances to land an academic scholarship in the Big 10.

Jones wants to major in computer science at Cal U. Upon graduation, his state university degree is unlikely to attract high-priced contract offers from recruiters for computing giants like Google.

Although Jones hoped to study computer programming at MIT or Carnegie Mellon, the family found the cost was out of reach.

Tamara Jones works as a nurse at Mon Valley Hospital, while Jones' grandmother is a billing clerk for a local tool and die company. His father is deceased.

Terrelle Jones will have to continue working part-time at a fast food restaurant on Route 51 to pay for gasoline, clothes and other necessities.

His mother admits she worries about him. "Terrelle works until midnight, 1 a.m., then he comes home, sleeps for a couple of hours and goes to school," Tamara Jones says. "He's out there in the car in the middle of the night. I can't fall asleep until I hear him come home. Sometimes, I get scared and cry."

Her son smiles sheepishly when he hears her complaints. "I know she loves me," he said. "She's my mom. But I told her, I got to work."

Despite the challenges that Jones faces, he considers himself lucky to get the chance to attend college.

"My mom always says you have to keep things in perspective," Jones said. "She says people get all worked up over dumb stuff, like sports, and they lose sight of the every day stuff."

Still, said Jones with a little grin, "Sometimes I wish I could have played football."

Editor's Note: The preceding was satire, and all of the people and quotes are fictitious, but any resemblance to any real Mon Valley families was purely intentional.

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March 19, 2008 | Link to this story

Dependable and Sturdy

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch, Politics, So-Called Radio Humor || By

When you work in radio (even when you have a mediocre career like mine) you never know what to expect when you pick up the phone.

Sometimes it's a listener with a request or a complaint. Other times it's someone more important.

Here's a case in point from my show on Sunday night. I have to give this caller credit: Even though Hillary Clinton is ahead of Barack Obama by double digits in Pennsylvania, this guy is not getting overconfident. He's out there, working the phones ....

Request line call: Sunday, March 16, 2008 (MP3, 1 MB)

. . .

Meanwhile, the international media continues to supply dependable and sturdy "gritty hardscrabble Pennsylvania" cliches in their stories about the April 22 primary ... and beyond!

Here's one from the U.K.'s Independent. I realize the British press is not renowned for its accuracy, but this story goes above and beyond that already low bar:
The reality is that Pennsylvania is much more rural and backwater than you'd think from the Big Smoke in the east. Its shoebox shape has terrain that's not unlike a carelessly thrown blanket, with ripples and wrinkles running its length. These relentless mountains and valleys have been both curse and promise to the state.

Great. So the writer has seen a topographic map. Maybe one of those plastic ones they use in elementary school classrooms.
Watch for deer, which have staged a real comeback, defying the best efforts of trigger-happy hunters in the territory where The Deer Hunter was set.

We're gritty, blood-thirsty, backwater savages. Got it.
At the west end of the state, the towns of Erie and Pittsburgh will muddle your understanding of Pennsylvania again --- they have much in common with the troubled east. So keep a clarity of vision and stick to the middle of the Keystone State, where enlightenment is always just around the bend.

I think I speak for all of Pennsylvania when I say: Huh?

Moving on ... this story from the Great Falls, Mont., Tribune isn't about politics --- it's about the new director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. But it certainly worked in many of the talking points:
Taylor will arrive in Pittsburgh just as the city appears to have overcome its old reputation as a dirty place full of steel mills and pollution. The Places Rated Almanac named Pittsburgh the No. 1 Most Livable City in America two years in a row. It's traded its gritty steel mills for jobs in health care, education, robotics, technology and financial services, according to Allegheny County promotional materials.

It was a good thing that they finally stopped making steel in Oakland, but personally, I still consider the Carnegie a "hardscrabble" museum.

Back to politics, and a story from U.S. News & World Report, which proves that it's able to scrabble with the best of them:
Interestingly, SurveyUSA shows more difference in McCain's performance against the two Democrats; it has McCain leading Obama 47 to 42 percent while trailing Clinton 47 to 46 percent. This sounds plausible, with Obama seeming likely to be a weaker candidate in gritty west and northeast Pennsylvania than Clinton.

There's that word "gritty" again. Maybe I should have called this "the Gritty Mon Valley Watch." Some people would say that's redundant; to them I say, "Smile when you say that."

Finally, the unkindest cut of all. The Politico, a relatively new online magazine, compares us unfavorably ... to Ohio:
Poor Pennsylvania. As the national media focuses on the Keystone State, it has earned a new and less than admirable moniker: The other Ohio.

Of course, this description also mirrors the hope of Hillary Rodham Clinton for whom the hard-pressed, semi-depressed Buckeye State presented a political field of dreams. Moreover, to be sure, Pennsylvania’s Appalachian string of devastated former mining and mill towns constitutes its own private Ohio.

"The other Ohio." Some how, that doesn't make it as a license plate slogan.

. . .

And Now For Something Completely Different: Let's wrap up with this scene from my favorite TV show you've never heard of, Corner Gas. Any resemblance to or any other website is purely coincidental.

My stupid opinions used to be confined to the immediate vicinity. Now, like Hank Yarbo, I put 'em on the Internet so that the whole world can ignore them!

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March 18, 2008 | Link to this story

Infamy! Infamy! They've All Got It In For Me!

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

At the risk of tooting my own horn: Toot! Thank you, Brian O'Neill, for noticing this little stagnant backwater of the Internet.

This is not the first time I've made it into a column in the Post-Gazette. When I was in high school, Peter Leo quoted some letters I had written to him. (Yeah, and that and a quarter won't even get you a cup of coffee.)

Some people have claimed that those early publishing successes led me to become a writer, but I think that's a terrible thing to blame on Peter.

I've had a very gratifying response to my newfound fame. So far, three people have noticed.

Despite that tepid response, I suspect the column was probably very well read. It was on page 2, in between two very picturesque ads for breast enlargement surgery. It caught my attention right away.

In the meantime, I'm reminded of the exchange in "Blazing Saddles" between Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder:

"I'm becoming a real underground success story in this town."
"Yeah, soon they'll be willing to say hello to you in broad daylight."

Seriously, it's always flattering to have someone notice what you do, and comment on it. (Well, almost always.)

And I'm very impressed that Brian was able to synthesize my dribblings into something that sounded reasonably intelligent.

That's more than any of my editors has ever done.

. . .

In Other Business: In the comments on Friday's Almanac, Alert Reader Donn wonders what a new owner could do with The People's Building:
Our downtown is not going to rebound, housing for seniors should not cohabitate with a "sober living community" and what retailer would want the once choice location? A Jenkins Arcade concept is no longer economically feasible albeit would be most welcome.

Downtown is not going to rebound in the sense of becoming a major shopping district again.

But if I were marketing Downtown, I'd push it as a place for low-cost "back office" space. The success of the Dish Network call center in the old National Works property proves that McKeesport is well suited for functions that don't require a retail presence, but which are labor intensive and require high-speed telephone and computer connections. Rents are a fraction of those in Monroeville or Cranberry.

I had a plan for the People's Building about two years ago that I'm happy to repeat:

  1. Demolish the empty retail space next door (the former Ruben's Furniture, recently a D&K store) to create a loading dock

  2. Install a generator and uninterrupted power supply where the bank vault used to be

  3. Bring high-speed Internet capability to the building

  4. Renovate the building floor by floor

  5. Put a Kinko's or UPS store on the first floor

  6. Put a vending area/snack bar on the mezzanine

  7. Renovate the Lysle Boulevard parking garage

  8. Build a security-controlled pedestrian bridge to the parking garage

Yeah, I know. I have a lot of ideas for spending other people's money.

But none of that seems unworkable. And it sounds like a scheme that would attract small start-up businesses --- web designers, writers, computer programmers --- who wouldn't mind being in a funky old building in McKeesport.

Don't we have some entrepreneurs around who might be willing to make it happen?

. . .

Finally: I know I didn't mention this yet, but I don't really have anything to say except for "Whoooo-hoooooooo!!!"

I think this is the first-ever PIAA title for Serra Catholic in 45 years.

(Like I said, if they've been recruiting, as detractors often allege, they've done a poor job.)

Incidentally, several people have congratulated me on the victory.

Um, for what? Wearing a Serra sweatshirt? Graduating from high school 15-plus years ago?

No, no, no. I didn't do anything. Skeeter Rozanski and his team did everything.

Besides, have you ever seen me play basketball? Pigs on ice are more graceful.

On the other hand, as Brian O'Neill pointed out, I am a proud (but defiant) graduate.

Go Eagles! Baseball and softball season are both here ...

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March 17, 2008 | Link to this story

Rock'em Sock'em Neighbors

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

Let's say you're White Oak Borough, and all of the elected members of the McKeesport Area School Board are from the city of McKeesport. There are no representatives from White Oak.

What could you do to correct this problem?

  • A.) Organize, raise money and field a strong slate of White Oak candidates for next year's election;

  • B.) Band together with the other communities in the school district --- Dravosburg, Versailles and South Versailles Township --- and petition the school board to change to election by district, instead of at-large; or

  • C.) Pitch a hissy fit.

If you chose "C," congratulations, you should run for White Oak Borough Council.

. . .

Sorry, but that's the only way I can read last week's news that certain White Oak elected officials think the reputation of McKeesport is so terrible that they should secede from the school district, or perhaps change its name.
(In fairness to those officials, they told the Daily News on Saturday that the name change suggestion was the "least important" item they discussed. It's possible that the Post-Gazette blew the story out of proportion.)

This isn't about the school district being named "McKeesport." It's about the fact that all of the elected school directors are from the city, and several of those are politically aligned with McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster.

And some people who are upset are pouting, instead of taking action.

. . .

First: If they're truly worried about the reputation of the McKeesport Area School District, nothing is more harmful to its reputation than having elected officials bad mouthing the teachers, students and administrators in public.

In fact, if they wanted to encourage people to move to White Oak, that's the worst possible thing they could do.

. . .

Second: One White Oak councilman was quoted by the P-G as saying that Penn State McKeesport Campus' enrollment "spiraled" when it changed its name to Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus.

Well, spirals must be very small in White Oak.

According to Penn State University's Budget Office, enrollment is up by 22 students, to 783. That's 2.8 percent --- about what Penn State enrollment has gone up systemwide. Maybe I missed the traffic jams on Eden Park Boulevard, but I don't think so.

. . .

Third: Like it or not, White Oak is in the McKeesport area. McKeesport is not in the White Oak area.

McKeesport is three times larger than White Oak. And to get to White Oak, you have to drive through McKeesport. Two of the four main entrances are from the city.

So unless the borough plans to dig up roots and move someplace else, it's stuck with McKeesport as a neighbor.

. . .

Thus, White Oak's best interests are served by having a healthy McKeesport --- and that means a healthy McKeesport school district.

And the city's interests, naturally, are served by having a healthy White Oak, and West Mifflin's best interests are served with a healthy Duquesne, and so forth.

State Rep. Marc Gergely told the Daily News that he's against any name change. "The Mon Valley must continue to be more cohesive, from West Homestead to West Elizabeth," he told the News. Yes. Exactly.

. . .

Laughter may be the best medicine, and this story gave everyone in Pittsburgh another news article from McKeesport to laugh about. Jim and Randy of WDVE had a field day.

But we didn't need more people laughing at us. And those two councilors' comments sure didn't make anyone feel better, or solve any problems in the McKeesport area.

Come to think of it, those two White Oak councilmen hurt the reputation of the McKeesport Area School District. Maybe McKeesport should secede.

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March 15, 2008 | Link to this story

Hardscrabble Watch

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch || By

Johnstown isn't in the Mon Valley, but in the eyes of the national and international media, it's just another Hardscrabble Gritty Steel Town. From the Toronto Star:

Under the shadows of a steel mill's rusting carcass, a new Johnstown is slowly taking shape.

Quaint cafes and even an upscale bridal shop have appeared in long empty storefronts. Downtown lofts are being snapped up. Biotech companies and high-tech firms have set up shop.

Decades after heavy industry died, taking much of Johnstown with it, this Rust Belt community appears to be regaining its footing. An aggressive city planner, a creative redevelopment authority and tourism officials are trying to turn Johnstown into a postindustrial tourist center with a vibrant downtown.

"Even an upscale bridal shop"! People in Johnstown dress up when they get married! Who woulda thunk it?

Next thing you know, they'll be wearing shoes! People in Hardscrabble Pennsylvania Mill Towns are almost human!

. . .

From the Huffington Post:

As the home of U.S. Steel - once a giant, now little more than a logo on a football helmet - Pittsburgh was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, once. Now it's just a regional capital of the Rust Belt, with all the second-generation assimilation of a factory town that lost its factories. The children of the Polish immigrants now say "yinz" and drink Iron City, and absolutely everyone wears black and gold. It's hard to pass five people on the street without seeing one of them in Steeler gear, especially on Sunday. Some even wear it to church, which is almost as holy a communion as Heinz Field.

Those wacky, wacky Pittsburghers! They like sports teams!

By the way, the people who hold more than 103 million shares of U.S. Steel stock are going to be upset to hear that the company is now "little more than a logo on a helmet."

Also, U.S. Steel's logo is not on anyone's helmet. The "Steelmark" on the Steelers helmet was developed by the American Iron and Steel Institute. It has nothing to do with U.S. Steel.

A phone call to the Steelers' PR office would have verified that. Just as a phone call to U.S. Steel's press office would have indicated that they remain in business.

Otherwise, that's a very accurate description, Huffington Post. Way to check your facts.

. . .

From the New York Times:

Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, with its depressed steel industry, are generally similar to Ohio, with blue-collar workers and a struggling economy. That region could favor Mrs. Clinton.

Yes. Our steel industry is so depressed that they're putting Prozac in the continuous caster at Edgar Thomson. Also, the cops had to talk Steely McBeam out of jumping from the Westinghouse Bridge. It's true.

. . .

From the Associated Press:

It's a Rust Belt state largely abandoned by the once-mighty steel, coal and railroad industries. Today, its biggest employers are the federal government, the state government and Wal-Mart, in that order.

Newsflash: The federal government is the largest employer in the United States, period. Not just in Pennsylvania.

And the number one employer nationwide is Wal-Mart. That doesn't make Pennsylvania unique at all.

Nice job, media! Keep grinding out those clichés, and we'll keep counting them at Tube City Almanac!

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March 14, 2008 | Link to this story

'The Best Buy' in Pennsylvania

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

It's the best real estate buy in Pennsylvania, possibly the "best buy for commercial real estate in the country."

That's what California broker Paul Elliott calls McKeesport's Peoples Union Bank building.

"I've seen a lot of buildings, and that is built so well," he says, via telephone. "You probably couldn't build a building in that fashion today for $400 per square foot."

Elliott's firm, Inner Broker Marketing of Riverside, Ca., has the eight-story, 1906-vintage skyscraper listed for $595,000, or about eight dollars per square foot.

"We've already had some low offers on the property," he says, in the $100,000 range. "It's a magnificent piece of architecture. There are some things that have to be done, but we're talking eight dollars per square foot!"

Constructed as the headquarters for McKeesport's Peoples Bank and Trust Co., the building also was the home to city government offices until 1959, and was the region's premier location for lawyers, doctors and other professionals until the 1970s.

In the early 1990s, Integra Bank, which had taken over the structure after a series of corporate mergers, put many of the remaining tenants on month to month leases. Rumors circulated that Integra was getting ready to tear the building down. Tenants fled.

But former Mayor Joseph Bendel negotiated the donation of the building to the city's redevelopment authority, along with an endowment for its upkeep.

Bendel envisioned the building as a small business incubator, telling this reporter in 1996 that the People's Building was "a battleship."

"Every navy needs a battleship," said the mayor, who died in October 2003. "This is McKeesport's battleship."

Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport opened a used bookstore in the old vault, the city treasurer's office took over the banking floor, and non-profit agencies began occupying the upper floors. The old "Peoples Union Bank" sign was converted to read "Discover McKeesport."

Bendel's successor as mayor, unfortunately, encouraged the city to sell the building for less than its market value. It was purchased by a West Coast investor, flipped to another company, and ended up in foreclosure. Seattle-based Chesterfield Mortgage Investors Inc. currently owns the building.

Elliott was stunned to hear that the "People's Building" was almost demolished.

"What a shame that would be," he said. "Something like that --- when it's gone, it's gone forever. McKeesport needs that building up and going."

Although the roof is nearly new and "tight as a drum," Elliott says, some infrastructure improvements are necessary. The elevators --- there are three, including a service elevator --- must be upgraded. In addition, new wiring and telecommunications lines might be required.

"It's all doable," he says, "because of the way that building is constructed."

Parking is also an issue, though a municipal lot is available directly across the street.

Elliott is currently "aggressively" marketing the first-floor retail space to banks and credit unions. The upper stories would work for back office space, assisted living, or what he calls a "sober living" community --- housing for people recovering from drugs or alcohol.

"(Chesterfield) will even carry paper on it, which means no loan fees, no points, and special terms, which is really cool," Elliott says.

Some of the upper floors are in move-in condition. Others need to be renovated "on a floor by floor basis." Many retain their 1900s-vintage marble floors, brass fixtures, wooden partitions and frosted-glass doors.

"If there's an investor out there who wants a really, really wonderful property, they need to call me," Elliott says. "I know there's a buyer out there."

Inner Broker Marketing hopes to have the building sold within 40 days. Sealed bids are not necessary, and offers can be accepted electronically.

To make an offer (serious inquiries only), call Elliott at (909) 754-5722 or email

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March 13, 2008 | Link to this story

This Just In

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

Several people have emailed me this article from the Post-Gazette:

Last week, White Oak council President Jack Petro Jr. proposed changing the name of the McKeesport Area School District as one way to attract new people ...

Mr. Massung and Mr. Petro were involved in the effort that resulted in Penn State University's campus changing its name from Penn State McKeesport to Penn State Greater Allegheny in January 2007.

"After our Penn State satellite campus changed its name, student enrollment spiraled," Mr. Massung said.

"It's no secret McKeesport is a depressed city that's struggling to just survive," Mr. Petro said.

Wow. I'm going to go bang my head on the floor for a while.

It will be more fun than trying to respond to this.

I will have a response.

It might be composed mainly of four-letter words, but it will be a response.

. . .

Update: PittGirl reacts:

So by their brilliantly genius-y thought process that is probably being turned by mice in a cog, we could rename the Hill District to The Highland Estates and people will suddenly be all, "Hey! Let's move to The Highland Estates. Doesn't that sound like a place where we don't need to worry about getting murdered while we walk the dog at night?"

Like I said. Brilliant!

Homewood is now "Westhampsminstershire" and Lincoln/Lemington is now "Derbyshirbingham."

Spread the word, 'kay?

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March 13, 2008 | Link to this story

Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch

Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch || By

In the spirit of yesterday's Almanac, we're initiating a new feature between now and the April 22 primary called the Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch.

I'll be looking for examples of national political pundits who do the best job of working "gritty, hardscrabble, steel mill" images into their stories.

Send me your favorites. Here are some to get you started.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Which is to say: Pennsylvania ain't Ohio. I've split my born days between the states; trust me on this one. You can't just graft the Ohio campaign narrative of working-class anger over lost industrial jobs onto Pennsylvania. Sure, that gritty anger still flares in Mon Valley steel towns, but out this way, not so much. In 1970, one in four Philly jobs was industrial; now it's one in 20. Rust Belt demise is old, old news here. We're through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. What we want to know is which new strategy can best propel us in a modern economy.

From the National Post (Canada):

Still, the state remains a political bellwether, with a mix of conservative blue-collar Democrats from the mine and mill towns in the hard coal country of the northeast and the iron and steel belt of the southwest.

From Newsweek. I forgot to work in Luke Ravenstahl yesterday:

At the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, on Polish Hill in Pittsburgh, they can't afford a janitor anymore. The ladies of the parish volunteer, swabbing the tile floors and polishing the mahogany pews. They are a familiar Pittsburgh type: the wry, forthright, steel-willed wives of hardworking, shot-and-beer men ...

Polish Hill is only one of many Pittsburghs. There are no steel mills left. The largest employers include medical centers, the University of Pittsburgh, PNC Bank and Mellon Financial Corp. Pitt and Carnegie Mellon have spawned a fertile digital culture to match the medical one; programmers, painters and poets are flocking to stately old neighborhoods. A symbol of this change is the city's mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, who is all of 28 years old.

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March 12, 2008 | Link to this story

Sunday Politics Story

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Pointless Digressions, Politics || By

Oh, boy! Six weeks of Clinton versus Obama! And Pennsylvania is the battleground!

National political writers are already pouring into our area. Don't be surprised if you're getting into your car at the Waterfront and you're accosted by a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, or any of the other newspapers.

Here are some helpful tips to follow if a national political reporter wants to talk to you:

  • Make sure to seem "colorful." It will help if you say "yinz" a lot.

  • If you worked in a steel mill, know someone who worked in a steel mill, or just saw a steel mill, the reporter will want to know.

  • Mention Ben Roethlisberger, Myron Cope or "Iron City Beer."

. . .

In the meantime, the Tube City Almanac has gotten a "sneak peek" at the political feature that will run in a certain large, national newspaper this Sunday. I can't say which big newspaper is running this story, but it could be any of them:

. . .

(ADVISORY: Editor's Note: Updated to include "hardscrabble")

McKEESPORT, Pa. --- Boarded-up storefronts line the main street of this once-bustling milltown in the Monongahela River Valley.

Proud, defiant steelworkers once carried lunch-pails to the hulking steel mills that lined both sides of the river, belching smoke and flame into the air.

The population of this hardscrabble mill town soared to more than 55,000 during the World War II era of the "greatest generation."

Elderly local resident (insert name here) points with pride to the mill, whose smoke once blackened the skies.

"We were proud and defiant," says the lifelong resident of McKeesport, Pa., a once-bustling steel mill town south of Pittsburgh, who worked for 30 years in the local mill, making steel.

The skies have surprisingly cleared, and the mills are now silent, and in the shadows of their rusty hulks, the proud, defiant children and grandchildren of steelworkers go to work in the new high-tech industries around Pittsburgh.

Sitting on a bar stool in a typical tavern amidst the boarded-up storefronts in this hardscrabble, once-bustling steel mill town, south of Pittsburgh, the descendants of steelworkers remain proud and defiant.

They cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers and talk about the fortunes of other local sports teams.

But collectively these sons and daughters of steelworkers wonder whether the two Democratic presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, understand the problems facing this once-bustling steel mill town, where once more than 55,000 people lived.

"The steel mills are closed," says (insert name here), an economics professor at (university name here). "But in the once-bustling steel towns south of Pittsburgh, there's a real question whether Obama and Clinton understand the challenges facing the descendants of the once-proud, defiant steelworkers."

To the surprise of a visitor, the smoky skies around Pittsburgh are finally clear. Downtown Pittsburgh is filled with dazzling skyscrapers and a new convention center.

But many of the proud, defiant descendants of steelworkers have found it difficult to adjust to their new jobs in the high-tech industries around Pittsburgh.

A new shopping complex called the Waterfront has sprung up to replace one of the big steel mills along the river, south of Pittsburgh, that once employed generations of proud, defiant steelworkers.

Yet many say the prosperity of the new high-tech industries around Pittsburgh has passed by the sons and daughters of the steelworkers in this once-bustling mill town, whose population has fallen from its World War II high of 55,000 people, and whose main streets are lined with boarded-up storefronts.

They are troubled by the loss of so many jobs --- good paying jobs that were once easy to find in the hulking steel mills that once lined both sides of the hardscrabble river valleys.

And while the smoke has cleared from the skies above the rusty steel towns south of Pittsburgh ...

(Editor's Note: Story should continue for another 2,000 words. Make sure to include references to Primanti Brothers, Heinz, and the Terrible Towel.)

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March 11, 2008 | Link to this story

The Road Less Traveled

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Pointless Digressions, Politics || By

Yesterday, Alert Reader Glenn was worried that filming post-apocalyptic movies like "The Road" in the city will give people a bad impression. Alert Reader R.M. has the solution:

I would simply tell anyone who comments that Huey Street isn't really in McKeesport. It's in Greater Allegheny. After all, PR must always be the primary consideration.

PR is always my primary consideration, at least during the day.

If it isn't, my boss will fire me, and I'll have to go back to Kennywood and wipe bird droppings off of trash cans again, and I don't think I can still fit into my uniform.

. . .

Speaking of Kennywood: Daily News ironman Pat Cloonan is reporting that the sale of Kennywood to a Spanish company isn't a done deal. Some of the Henninger and McSwigan heirs are balking:

"I'd rather it continue in the family," said Jean McCague, whose father, Andrew B. McSwigan --- son of Andrew S. McSwigan --- was Kennywood's president for nearly 40 years, until 1963.

"I am very much opposed to the sale," Andrew S. McSwigan's granddaughter Kay Matthews said. "It's just kind of getting rammed down people's throats."

It's probably not enough to stall the sale, but it's interesting. More in tonight's paper.

. . .

And Speaking of Penn State Greater Allegheny: U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle came to speak at Penn State's Metropolitan White Oak campus and said that although he's a Democratic Party superdelegate, he's not made up his mind which candidate he's supporting.

But the student body has made its choice, according to a Penn State press release:

In a mock primary conducted on March 3-4, the clear winner was Barack Obama, one of the contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Senator Obama received 47 votes, followed by Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain, tied at 21. The remaining votes went to Governor Mike Huckabee (8) and Ralph Nader (6), plus 4 for a local student.

The mock ballot required students to choose among Clinton, Huckabee, McCain, and Obama, and thus was not conducted as the Pennsylvania primary will be in April, with voters only able to vote for candidates from the party in which they are registered.

Personally, I want to know more about the local student that pulled four votes. That's more than Ron Paul is likely to get in McKeesport.

. . .

Teamster, Warthog, Moleman: Is Chad Hermann of Teacher. Wordsmith. Madman supporting Barack Obama? I can never tell.

(Me, sarcastic? Naw.)

Last week, Bram Reichbaum of The Pittsburgh Comet called Hermann out about his complaints over the media coverage Obama has received.

"1. Less posts about media bias," Reichbaum wrote. "2. Less posts making fun of Obama for being well-liked. 3. More posts about why it is exactly you prefer Clinton to Obama."

Hermann responded with a comment on Reichbaum's blog that basically called Americans stupid (the "not-quite-as-bright-as-you-think nation") and by reprinting an effusive email of praise that he'd received.

I actually appreciate the fact that Hermann is willing to take time to peer behind the carefully constructed facade of the Obama campaign and point out when the man who would be emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

It's just that I sometimes get this uncomfortable vision of Prof. Hermann clad in whaling garb, stalking the decks of a enormous wooden sailing ship that's propelled across the stormy seas entirely by his own hot air.

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

. . .

Self-Indulgence Apology: The preceding item was of interest to about five people. Sorry. I had to vent some of my own hot air.

. . .

Obama-Rama: Hey, Bram, likability isn't everything in a president. After all, Nixon and Hoover weren't likable, and they turned out fine, didn't they?

Also, it's true that Obama speaks mostly in platitudes ... unlike other politicians, who speak only in well-constructed, logical, hard-hitting policy statements.

You remember Kennedy's stirring speech at the Berlin Wall entitled, "Soviet Containment in a Post-Nuclear Construct," which came with 14 pages of footnotes and a 30-minute slide presentation that brought Germans to their feet, cheering.

And then there was FDR's brilliant line in his first inaugural address, "The only thing we have to fear is failure to properly insure all commercial bank deposits and insufficient oversight of commodities trading."

. . .

Glenshire Woods: Closer to home, Mayor Brewster is prepared to personally lobby the Canadian owners of the Glenshire Woods Personal Care Home to keep the facility open, according to the Daily News.

The Post-Gazette says the parent company wants to close the senior care center, located just off O'neil Boulevard near Renzie Park, because of rising costs and to avoid costly capital improvements that are necessary.

With the demographics of the Mon-Yough area trending toward "dead," it's hard to fathom that a personal care home could be unprofitable. I wonder why they didn't try to sell the facility.

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March 10, 2008 | Link to this story

Gonna Send Five Copies to My Mother

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

It was nice of Greg Victor to quote the Almanac in the Sunday Post-Gazette's round up of local web commentary, "Cutting Edge."

But isn't there something perverse about newspapers reprinting days-old Internet comment? And I'm not just bitter because the P-G never hired me for any writing jobs.

At least I don't think I am. 'Course, I didn't think I was "cutting edge" either. Some days, my rapier wit looks more like a spoon.

. . .

They're Gonna Put You in the Movies: Last month, I noted that the upcoming Viggo Mortensen-Charlize Theron picture "The Road" was filming some scenes in Braddock at an abandoned car dealership.

Another little birdie, Alert Reader Glenn, now tells the Almanac that some location filming for "The Road" is underway on Huey Street in the city:

Coincidently I am reading the "The Road," about halfway through, and the book is not what I'd call a feel good book and I doubt the movie will be a feel good movie!

I have not been able to determine yet whether the setting in the book is an aftermath of a gigantic volcanic explosion, a meteor hitting the earth or a nuclear winter. But the bottom line is everything is nearly destroyed, covered in a gray ash and civilization is in chaos as a father and son try to make their way to the east coast via "The Road," to seek food, shelter and security.

Being the road they are traveling depicts destruction I wonder if McKeesport being a setting for the picture again doesn't depict Our Fair City as a disaster zone! Well then maybe on the other hand as I traveled through some of the neighborhoods.

Ah, Glenn, we've been typecast ever since "The Deer Hunter." We can play other roles besides post-industrial wastelands, but you know Hollywood.

. . .

Other Coming Attractions: Incidentally, it's worth noting that Kevin Smith recently did some filming up at the McKeesport Little Theater on Coursin Street for his upcoming movie, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." The MLT's building stood in for a community theater in New Jersey.

The title of that movie concerns me a little bit, and I hope all of the locals kept their clothes on.

Some of us in the Mon Valley need to expose less flesh, not more. We're less bow-chicka-wow-wow than the music they play for the clowns as they get out of their little car: doot-doot-deedle-deedle-doo-doo-doot-doot...

. . .

Spell Bound: This weekend, the flashing message board in front of East Allegheny High School in North Versailles said "Reading is Knowledge."

Though I'm not sure exactly what that meant, it would have had more impact if whomever programmed the sign hadn't also misspelled Dr. Seuss' name. (The sign was also flashing the message: "Happy Birthday Dr Suess").

I can make fun of that because, of course, the Almanac never makes mistaeks.

. . .

I Go, You Go: Is the Washington County based CoGo's convenience store chain in trouble?

I ask because I stopped at a large Mon-Yough area location on Saturday and was disturbed to find the store was --- as they euphemistically say in the retail industry --- "overshelved." (There wasn't much merchandise for sale.)

And a sign posted near the coffee pots said the store would no longer be offering senior citizen discounts "due to the current economic situation in our company." Eeek.

It seems to me that CoGo's has a lot of relatively small, old locations, many of them in the center of a block, rather than on a high-traffic corner. And although I can't remember the last time I saw a new CoGo's location open, I know they've sold off some stores.

In the meantime, Altoona-based Sheetz has returned to the Mon Valley in a major way, while Giant Eagle continues to open "GetGo" stores everywhere it can find a flat piece of ground.

All of these factors, combined with the volatility in the retail gasoline business and the general economic slowdown, make it a rough time to be a relatively small operator like CoGo's.

For their sake, and their employees, I hope they turn things around.

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March 10, 2008 | Link to this story

You Can Be Sure

Category: History, Radio Geekery || By

Some fresh-squeezed nostalgia today over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online, with a strong Mon-Yough area connection.

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March 07, 2008 | Link to this story

CP Industries Sold

Category: Local Businesses || By

A tentative agreement has been reached to sell the former Christy Park Works to a company in India, reports Forbes magazine and other sources.

Pittsburgh-based Reunion Industries, currently operating under federal bankruptcy protection, has agreed to sell its CP Industries division to Everest Kanto Cylinder Ltd. for $64.25 million.

It's Reunion's second attempt to sell CP Industries; a deal last year with a private-equity firm in Florida was not completed.

This sale must be approved by federal regulators and bankruptcy trustees.

CP Industries manufactures seamless containers for holding gases compressed under high pressure. Its customers include makers of alternative-fuel vehicles, NASA, the U.S. Navy, and others in the transportation and aerospace industries.

The Christy Park plant, which opened in 1897, was once part of U.S. Steel's National Tube Works. Located along Walnut Street south of the 15th Avenue Bridge, the facility spans 600,000 square feet and employs more than 100 people.

CP Industries calls itself the world's largest manufacturer of seamless pressure vessels. Though Reunion is in bankruptcy, published reports indicate that CP is profitable and had $40 million in revenue last year.

Everest Kanto, based in Mumbai, was founded in 1978. Its other manufacturing plants are in Aurangabad, Tarapur and Gandhidam, India; and Jafza, Dubai. It currently has no U.S. manufacturing facilities.

Click to enlargeAccording to a press release issued by Reunion, no layoffs are planned in the city: "The buyer is committed to employing all of the existing employees and intends to operate and grow the business at its present facility."

An Indian news website this week quoted a "senior Everest Kanto official" as saying that although not all details of the acquisition have been worked out, no immediate changes are planned in Christy Park.

"At this point we cannot give details on revenues, profitability, or production capacity since we are under the non disclosure period," the unidentified source told DNA India. "All I can say is the company is profitable. CP Industries makes jumbo cylinders and it makes great sense for us to acquire a company which is a global leader in the segment."

The Asia Pulse news service quotes Everest Kanto's chairman and managing director, Prem Khurana, as saying that acquisition of CP will allow his company to capitalize on the "robust global demand" for compressed natural-gas storage systems.

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March 07, 2008 | Link to this story

This, That, T'Other

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Click to see more photos

During Black History Month, the News had a lot of neat stories about local people of note.

Here's a nice profile by Stacy Lee about 77-year-old city resident Al Kimber, who served in the U.S. Army's last so-called "Buffalo Soldier" unit --- a regiment of all African-American soldiers.

Kimber, reports Lee, had only two weeks left on his tour of duty in 1950 when his unit was shipped from Japan to Pusan, South Korean, to defend the city from the North Koreans.

"All the white troops were in Northern Japan," Kimber tells Lee. "We were not allowed to fraternize. It was strictly segregated except for a few white officers. The white officers were bitter because being assigned to an all-black outfit was a form of punishment. Some were very nice, though. They came from every state in the United States. The officers from up North were always better with getting along with the black troops than the Southern gentlemen."

The story was in last Tuesday's paper; it's worth seeking out.

. . .

Those Darn Catholics!: A recent letter to the editor in the News from a North Huntingdon resident alleged that Serra Catholic High School won the WPIAL football and boys' basketball titles this year because it recruited students to play sports.

It's a perpetual charge levied against Catholic high schools. And it could be the case that Serra's been recruiting.

But if they're recruiting, why have they been recruiting so many bad student athletes for all of these years?

Because for most of my life, Serra's football and basketball teams have stunk out loud.

And it's not like something changed this year. Serra's athletic director and men's basketball coach have each been there more than 20 years. I had both Bill Cleary and Bob Rozanski as teachers, for goodness' sake. (It's not true that Mr. Cleary had a complete head of hair before I was in his class, but I'm sure I didn't help lower his stress levels at all.)

So c'mon, people. Don't take this accomplishment away from this group of kids, or their coaches. How petty can people be?

. . .

Continuing Decline of Western Civ. Dept.: I've said it before, I'll say it again: The Mon-Yough area is not in need of its own Mensa chapter.

City police have nailed a ninth-grader at McKeesport Area High School who called in three bomb threats this week, writes Raymond Pefferman in the Daily News. The suspect is currently making new friends at Shuman Center.

I have a vague memory of being 14 years old, and I did a lot of immature, stupid, annoying things. (And if you've been reading the Almanac, you know that I haven't changed much.)

But I can remember discussions around the lunch table that pretty much concluded that calling in a bomb threat was the lamest form of prank.

So I can't put myself in a mindset that would think calling in repeated bomb threats was funny or in anyway subversive ... not to mention that back in "our day" no one had caller ID, and a phone trace was complicated.

Calling three times is pretty much the height of stupidity; after the second threat, he had to know they'd be watching the phones. This turkey even left a voice mail for the cops to use as evidence against him.

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March 06, 2008 | Link to this story

Doctor, Doctor

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

This is a good time to remind everyone that opinions expressed at Tube City Almanac are not those of any organization, any member of my family, or any employer.

Are we clear? Good.

Because someone just gave West Penn Allegheny Health System a $19 million "F-U":

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has purchased the former Palace Inn in Monroeville and plans to turn it into a health center.

UPMC announced today that it has closed on the sale of the building on Mosside Boulevard, paying $18,975,000 ...

The new UPMC adult outpatient facility will include outpatient clinics, diagnostic imaging services such as CT scans, X-ray, ultrasound and mammography, an ambulatory surgery center, an urgent care center and physician offices.

. . .

The Palace Inn at the intersection of William Penn Highway and Route 48 is just about within sight of Forbes Regional Hospital, which has held a near monopoly on hospital care in Monroeville since opening in 1978.

(Trivia question: What was the original name of the hospital that became Forbes Regional?)

Forbes is operated by West Penn Allegheny, UPMC's only real rival in the Pittsburgh area, and it's used by plenty of people from the Mon-Yough area.

I had a hard time finding comparable data for both systems, but in 2006, Moody's reported that West Penn Allegheny had 23 percent of the local health care market.

UPMC, on the other hand, had a 47.7 percent share of the healthcare market in Allegheny County --- and that was before UPMC bought Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Assuming that UPMC retained many of the former Mercy patients, it's now serving well over half of the hospital patients in Western Pennsylvania.

. . .

In general, competition is a good thing. On the surface, this seems like a great thing for the east suburbs. After all, Monroeville residents have never had a choice for hospital services. Now, the region's largest teaching hospital is opening a major facility right at the heart of the municipality.

But there's some question whether UPMC wants consumers to have a choice. (Take a look at this 2002 story from the Pittsburgh Business Times.)

And targeting West Penn Allegheny in one of its few exclusive markets seems like a strategy designed mostly to bleed the smaller system dry.

So if you use Forbes Regional Hospital, I'd watch this development with alarm.

And if you work for Forbes Regional Hospital, no one will blame you for dipping into the smelling salts today. Just lay off the nitrous oxide.

. . .

I've Been Schooled: In a comment on Thursday's Almanac, City Councilor Paul Shelly says that School Director Dave Donato was misquoted by the Post-Gazette, and was not calling for any eminent domain near the high school.

I can dig that, but if so, where's the correction from the P-G? The newspaper also reprinted the story this week for its zoned editions.

Now, if Director Donato didn't call for eminent domain, I apologize for casting aspersions.

But someone proposed the idea. And I don't apologize for casting aspersions on the idea (no matter whose idea it is) of condemning any property around the high school when there are so many vacant properties around. That's just dumb.

. . .

Trivia Answer: Forbes Regional Hospital was originally known as East Suburban Hospital.

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March 05, 2008 | Link to this story

Meanwhile, In Lieu of Content

Category: Cartoons, General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Scott Fybush asked me to contribute something about Myron Cope for Monday's edition of NorthEast Radio Watch. That was the result.

I'm not entirely happy with the cartoon, which I did Saturday night, but at the time I was already starting to feel like I'd been run down by the 56C and dragged for three blocks.

Oh well. As one of my first editors told me, "They can't all be Pulitzers, boy."

Another Scott --- my former Observer-Reporter cow-orker Scott Beveridge, globe-trotter and man about the mid-Mon Valley --- recently reviewed North Versailles Township's Casa d'Ice.

Casa d'Ice is the restaurant in the former North Versailles Ice Co. on Route 30, near the Westmoreland County line, that's nationally known for the often profane, but never boring, signs posted on its message board.

The owner, Bill Balsamico, has always used the sign as a sounding board for his personal opinions. (Years ago, he was engaged in a long running feud with the former Norwin Dodge up the street: "IF YOU WANT A PIECE OF SH-T, GO TO NORWIN DODGE.") After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the signs became increasingly jingoistic.

Lately, illegal immigration has been Balsamico's pet peeve. Like the rest of us, he's worried about all of the Mexican immigrants who are swimming across Turtle Creek into North Versailles to take our high-paying jobs at Aldi and Wal-Mart.

Frankly, Balsamico's signs don't do much for my appetite, and I've voted with my wallet: Casa d'Ice is one of the few Mon-Yough restaurants where I've never eaten.

Luckily, according to Scott, I'm not missing much:

He might as well keep drawing customers to the bar with those signs because his food doesn't make a bold statement. My hamburger and fries came plopped on a layer of tin foil spread across a plastic serving tray. The food wasn't so hot.

It's anti-American comments like that which embolden our enemies, Scott.

Or should I say ... Señor Beveridge?

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March 04, 2008 | Link to this story

Flu Victim

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

Pardon this temporary service interruption. Normal service should resume Wednesday.

I've been out of action since Saturday with the flu. Hell, I was so delirious on Monday that I dreamed that Jay Jabbour was running for office again.

Update: I like to think I'm a little better than this guy when I'm sick.

(Probably not much. But a little. Besides, since I live alone, there's no reason for me to whine and pout ... there's no one to get any sympathy from.)

(Tip of the Tube City hard hat: Gene Weingarten.)

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