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November 30, 2009 | Link to this story

Strange Bedfellows

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

They say you can tell a lot about someone's character by the kinds of company they keep.

But what does it say about the character of the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Pittsburgh that they've decided to keep company with the likes of Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Chuck Colson?

Those names should be familiar --- they are among the most prominent voices of the far-right wing of the Republican Party --- but in case you don't know who they are:

  • Dobson is the founder of Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian group. He's been called the leader of a "gang of thugs" by no less than former Republican majority leader Dick Armey of Texas. Among other things, Dobson believes that Democrats, including most of those in the U.S. Government, "despise America."

  • Colson, special counsel to President Nixon, was described by Slate magazine as "the evil genius behind an evil administration" and served seven months in prison for his role in orchestrating the Watergate scandal and its cover-up. Ah, but in jail he found religion and formed a prison ministry.

  • Bauer is possibly the least malicious of the three. A former Republican presidential candidate known for falling off the stage during a pancake-flipping contest, Bauer is now primarily a commentator. Among his other positions, he's a proponent of using the Bible to justify torturing prisoners (though he means accused terrorists, not white-collar criminals like Chuck Colson).

. . .

Would you want to hang out with these guys? I'd want to shower after shaking their hands.

But David Zubik, Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh, and Robert Duncan, Anglican bishop of Pittsburgh, have no such qualms. Duncan, Zubik, and Zubik's predecessor, Donald Wuerl, now archbishop of Washington, D.C., are among the signatories of something called the Manhattan Declaration.

The declaration, made public last week, calls on signers to engage in "civil disobedience" to protest any laws that would compel them to:
"Participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality."

On the surface, you may ask --- well, so what? No one's going to compel a Catholic hospital to perform an abortion, or a Baptist minister to officiate at a gay wedding.

As the Los Angeles Times notes, federal courts "have aggressively protected the free exercise of religion" guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The L.A. Times also points out that the U.S. Congress --- then as now led by the Democratic Party --- in 1993 passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which exempts religious organizations from having to comply with certain regulations that would violate the doctrines of their faith. It was signed into law by another Democrat, President Clinton, who issued a further executive order in 1996 providing additional protection to religious groups.

. . .

In other words, this declaration is no fire, just a bunch of smoke.

But it still stinks, and it should leave a particularly foul odor in the noses of local Catholics.

Bishop Zubik's decision to lie down with the radical right is disturbing, not least because conservative Christians have often found it convenient to bash Catholics as "not truly Christian."

An evening spent watching Wall-based WPCB-TV (40) or listening to local Christian radio stations will expose you to plenty of anti-Catholic propaganda.

Apparently, Zubik and other prelates regard gay marriage and abortion as such abominations that they're happy to link arms with people who would otherwise denounce them as "papists" worshiping false gods.

. . .

What, then, of gay marriage and abortion? I don't want to open those cans of worms, but grab an opener, and let's start cranking.

Roughly half of all heterosexual marriages in the United States end in divorce, according to official statistics. That seems about right, based on my own observations.

But in the meantime, I'm also friends with committed gay and lesbian couples in stable, monogamous, happy relationships.

Along come Bishops Zubik and Wuerl to tell me those people are evil for wanting legal protection under the law. (And Bishop Duncan as well --- but Duncan has been helping to tear apart the Episcopalian church over extending the sacraments to lesbians and gays, so his signature on the Manhattan Declaration is hardly a surprise.)

I'm reminded of the joke about the politician who said: "Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lyin' eyes?" Well, your excellencies, I'll believe my eyes, thanks.

. . .

And I'm hardly alone: Half of all U.S. Catholics are ignoring the church's teachings and now think that same-sex civil unions should be legalized. Among young Catholics, the support for same-sex civil unions is near 80 percent.

(Remember --- the issue is not whether the government can force a Catholic or Anglican priest to bless a gay marriage. The government can't. The issue is whether the government can extend the legal protections of a marriage license to a lesbian or gay couple.)

Now, let's take abortion. The Catholic Church and many Protestant churches teach that abortion in any circumstance is murder.

If Bishops Zubik, Wuerl and Duncan --- and all of the other people who signed the Manhattan Declaration --- are saying that civil partnerships for gays and lesbians are as bad as abortion, then they think lesbian and gay couples are the moral equivalents of murderers.

My conscience will not allow me to accept that. In fact, I find that implication morally offensive.

. . .

Finally, I'm old enough to have been taught about the heroic nuns, priests, rabbis and pastors who marched in the 1950s and '60s to guarantee equal rights for women, racial minorities and migrant farmers. Pittsburgh's famous "labor priest," Msgr. Charles Owen Rice, was often on the front lines of those demonstrations.

And there are many stories of heroic clergy who stood up to the Nazis during World War II to protect Jews from harm. Homestead's St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish is named for one of them.

Now, Bishops Zubik, Wuerl and Duncan are threatening civil disobedience against any laws that would require them to treat a same-sex partnership as a marriage.

I don't know in what context that would arise --- same-sex benefits for a Catholic school teacher, perhaps?

But here's a charming thought: The Catholic Church, which demonstrated in the 1950s and '60s in favor of protecting people's civil rights, might start protesting in order to take away people's civil rights.

. . .

The signers of the Manhattan Declaration believe that "the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened."

But they don't mention unregulated capitalism, which has enabled big, multi-national corporations to abandon communities like McKeesport, Duquesne, Monessen and Homestead, decimating the American working class. Surely the lives of "the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly" are threatened when big companies move their operations overseas, canceling health insurance and gutting pension plans.

For that matter, they have nothing to say about health insurance companies that drop people from their plans to avoid paying for treatable conditions --- or about VA hospitals, which, during the Bush Administration, declined treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, telling them in effect to "pray harder."

Nor do they mention the toxic reality shows and other tawdry TV programs of no redeeming value that are pumped out on a daily basis, including those of the Fox network, owned by that bastion of conservative rectitude, Rupert Murdoch.

In fact, the only issues over which the signers of the Manhattan Declaration feel compelled to commit "civil disobedience" are abortions and gay marriage.

. . .

In other words, the Manhattan Declaration isn't worth the paper it's printed on. It's a sham.

Although the Manhattan Declaration claims to be "non-partisan," the presence of conservative firebrands like as Dobson, Bauer and Colson should provide all of the evidence you need that this is a fairly transparent attempt to inflame the voters before next year's mid-term election.

If you need more evidence, know that longtime Republican campaign adviser Karl Rove --- former senior political strategist in the White House of President George W. Bush --- supports the Manhattan Declaration, too.

. . .

So then, the goal of the Manhattan Declaration is to fire up the Republican Party's base to try and re-take the U.S. Congress in 2010. (As if the Democrats aren't doing a good enough job of that on their own.)

And the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Pittsburgh and the Catholic archbishop of Washington --- knowing the political motivations behind this farce --- were happy to sign on.

If I were a cold-blooded agnostic, I'd say that by engaging in partisan politicking, they are jeopardizing the generous tax-exemptions granted to their dioceses.

. . .

But instead, as a product of 13 years of Catholic education and a Mass-going Catholic, I will just get discouraged and unhappy.

I don't lightly criticize the church or its leaders, but it's depressing to see Bishop Zubik squander his moral authority on behalf of gutter politicians like Karl Rove.

And although I'm far from the exemplar of a Christian life well-lived ("for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"), I also wonder about the ethics and morality of things like the Manhattan Declaration.

. . .

After all, setting aside politics, if God made all things, then He made gays and lesbians, too. And He wouldn't make them if He doesn't want them in His church.

Yet things like the Manhattan Declaration send a clear signal to those people that they are not wanted.

Bishops Zubik, Wuerl and Duncan: If God wants gays and lesbians in His church, who are we as mere mortals to drive them away?

. . .

Commentaries do not represent the views of Tube City Community Media Inc. or any other organization. They reflect only the views of individual authors. Responsible replies are welcome. Email j togyer at g mail dot com or write to Tube City Almanac, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134.

Letters must include the author's name and contact information, but this information can be withheld upon request.

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November 27, 2009 | Link to this story

28 More Shopping Days 'Til You-Know-What

Category: History, Local Businesses || By

In case you haven't noticed, I'm kind of taking it easy this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

(I've noticed that readership of the Almanac plummets during weekends and holidays anyway, which tells me a lot of you people are reading this website instead of doing work.)

But I do feel compelled to post something, even when I'm goofing off planning our shoddy surely quality coverage.

The "Black Friday" hype about the start of the Christmas shopping season inspired me to look for some ads from some long-gone local retailers.

Honestly, however, I hate to encourage anyone from the McKeesport area to get any more nostalgic for the "good ol' days" than we already are.

(Seriously, folks. If I never hear "High On a Hill" again, I'll be fine. Can we try moving forward instead of pining for days gone by?)

Sorry for the homily. As you can see here, David Israel's had you covered in 1969 if you wanted to look like Tommy Smothers.

Click "More" to see (what else?) more ads from 1964 to 1969 for David Israel, Cox's, Wander Sales, Murphy's, Thrift Drug and DeRoy's Jewelers, as they appeared in the Daily News and other local newspapers.


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November 24, 2009 | Link to this story

Marina Closes Docks, Books on Successful Season

Category: News || By

Tube City Video Almanac for Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

(If above video fails to load, please visit the Daily Motion website.)

Volunteers were busy at the McKees Point Marina this month, pulling in the docks as the facility at the foot of Fifth Avenue closes down for the winter.

It takes about four weekends --- eight to 10 days total --- to bring in the docks each fall, and another eight to 10 days to replace them in the spring, says Ray Dougherty, marina manager for the past three years.

The books are also being closed on what was a successful season for the city-owned marina.

According to Dougherty, the marina turned a $3,000 profit, and more than 80 percent of the 186 slips were rented. That profit comes despite a late-spring ice jam that damaged more than 30 of the support poles that hold the docks in place, which caused the marina to open late.

The poles were replaced by pipes fabricated at McKeesport's Camp-Hill Corporation and welded and coated by Dura-Bond in Port Vue.

"Other than that it was a great year, and we had nothing but positive comments about the marina," Dougherty says.

Next year, Dougherty says, the marina hopes to attract a boat sales and service firm which will likely help boost occupancy to between 90 and 100 percent.

The marina's budget was about $110,000 this year. In light of the recession and to keep the marina competitive, Dougherty says the prices were lowered this year by about $2 per foot on the larger docks.

"Our overhead has been totally cut out by the people volunteering to take the docks out and little cost savings here and there," he says.

Next year will see several improvements at the marina, according to Dougherty, including a new permanently-installed self-service gas pump that will save the city thousands of dollars per year in money spent pulling in the gasoline lines and removing them at the end of the season.

New solar-powered lighting will also lower the marina's electric bill.

The marina is on the Youghiogheny River, just south of the Monongahela, which keeps its boaters out of the way of towboats and barges on the Mon. The Yough has about a seven to nine foot channel at McKeesport, according to Dougherty. Although some taller boats have a tough time making it under the CSX railroad bridge, the marina is equipped to handle boats up to 70 feet long.

"We also have jet-ski docks," Dougherty says. "We've actually had a very large increase to about 16 or 17 jet-ski docks this year ... I think people have gone out and gotten jet-skis just to stay on the river," rather than maintaining more expensive full-size boats.

Boaters who a rent a slip at the marina are allowed use of a private room at the McKees Point Cafe, located on the first floor of the Palisades Ballroom. Although the menu is limited, the cafe is also open to the public for breakfast and lunch.

While the boating business is understandably seasonal, Dougherty says the marina has made McKeesport a destination for people who otherwise wouldn't have any reason to come to the city.

In a city that often gets a portrayed only as a community in decline, the McKees Point Marina may represent a unique opportunity to show off a better side of the McKeesport area to visitors. About 90 percent of the boaters are from outside the city --- many of them from Westmoreland County, Dougherty says.

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November 23, 2009 | Link to this story

City, Relatives Gather to Honor Richey

Category: News || By John Barna and Jason Togyer

Relatives and civic leaders gathered Saturday afternoon at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery to honor pioneering aviatrix Helen Richey on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

John Barna photo special to The AlmanacBorn in the city Nov. 21, 1909, Richey was the first female commercial airline pilot and set a number of aviation records; Amelia Earhart reportedly considered Richey a superior pilot.

Daughter of Amy Winter and Joseph B. Richey, city superintendent of schools, Helen Richey earned her pilot's license at Bettis Field near Dravosburg when she was 20.

Richey became a stunt pilot, performing in "barnstorming" shows around the country before setting an endurance record for women pilots, keeping an airplane continuously aloft with mid-air fueling for eight days, five hours in 1933.

In 1935, she won the first annual National Air Race in Dayton, Ohio.

Also in 1935, she was hired by McKeesport-based Central Airlines --- a predecessor of United Airlines --- becoming both the first woman to fly U.S. air mail and the first woman to fly passengers on a scheduled route. But only nine months after beginning work, Richey was forced to resign by the all-male airline pilots union.

In 1936, teamed with Earhart, Richey placed fifth in the transcontinental Bendix Trophy Race.

After working for the U.S. Commerce Department helping place navigational beacons, Richey became one of the first women aviation instructors.

Before the U.S. entry into World War II, Richey flew transport flights for the British government, delivering planeloads of bombs from munition plants to air bases.

After the war, however, frozen out of the aviation industry --- the only business she ever loved --- by male pilots, Richey became despondent. She died, an apparent suicide, in New York City at age 37, and was buried in McKeesport.

The graveside ceremonies capped a yearlong celebration of Richey's legacy organized by McKeesport Heritage Center and chaired by Evette and DeWayne Wivagg.

Speakers at Saturday's events included Michelle Wardle, executive director of the center; Robert Messner, member of the center board of directors; and city Mayor James Brewster.

The Rev. Dr. Darrell D. Knopp, pastor of McKeesport Presbyterian Church, offered a prayer and remarks. The Richeys were members of Central Presbyterian Church on Versailles Avenue, one of several congregations that have merged to create the present-day McKeesport Presbyterian, and the Rev. Dr. E.E. Robb of Central officiated at Richey's 1947 funeral.

The McKeesport Veterans' Honor Guard provided a color guard, while the Garden Club of McKeesport provided the wreath laid at Richey's grave.

Following the ceremony, invited guests --- including members of the Richey family --- attended a luncheon in Richey's honor at McKeesport Heritage Center.

(All photos: John Barna, special to Tube City Almanac, © 2009. Please contact John before reproducing photos in any medium. Additional photos follow the jump.)

John Barna photo for The Almanac


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November 20, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

'Harvest Ball' at Palisades: Chris Drum presents "The Harvest Ball" at the Palisades, featuring Dr. Zoot and the Suits.

Dancing starts at 8 p.m. Saturday, and admission is $15 at the door. Visitors who arrive one hour early --- at 7 p.m. --- can receive rhumba lessons.

Refreshments will be available and the bar will be open. Business casual dress is suggested.

Call (724) 493-8537 or (412) 672-2001 for more information.

. . .

Santa Parade: McKeesport holds its annual "Salute to Santa" parade Saturday, starting at 12 p.m. at the Palisades and continuing east out Fifth Avenue.

This year's grand marshal is Cynthia M. Dorundo, president of UPMC McKeesport hospital, city officials said.

. . .

Richey Service Slated: McKeesport Heritage Center wraps up its year-long celebration of the life of pioneering aviatrix Helen Richey with a graveside memorial service Saturday.

The service will be held at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery at 1:30 p.m. in honor of what would have been Richey's 100th birthday. In event of inclement weather, events will be moved to the cemetery's mausoleum.

Volunteers will be stationed at the cemetery's entrances to provide directions to the Richey family plot.

. . .

To list your event on Tube City Almanac, email Webmaster Jason Togyer (first initial, last name at or write to Tube City Online, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134. Please send events at least two weeks in advance and provide a contact phone number.

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November 20, 2009 | Link to this story

Sign of (Old) Times

Category: News || By

Above, Bob Miller, left, and Neil Sims of Precision-Burton Sign Co. of Carnegie begin removing the sign on the former G.C. Murphy Co. store in Wilkinsburg earlier this week.

The sign was donated by Precision-Burton and another company, Alto Signs of Philadelphia, to the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation* for eventual preservation in McKeesport.

Although the store on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg opened in the 1920s, the sign removed this week appeared to have been erected sometime in the 1950s.

It was likely one of the last G.C. Murphy Co. signs to remain intact in its original location.

Located on Penn Avenue, the store was one of two operated in Wilkinsburg between 1906 and 1985 by the McKeesport-based five-and-10 chain.

Like the signs on most variety stores, the sign on the Wilkinsburg Murphy's was originally painted dark red with imitation gold letters. It was repainted white with red letters in the 1970s when Murphy's modernized many of its locations, but when the pressed-steel letters were removed from the backing, the glossy red paint was intact on the wood underneath.

Targeted by corporate raiders in 1985, the G.C. Murphy Co. was taken over by Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores, which closed more than 100 of its variety stores, including the Downtown McKeesport location, but the Wilkinsburg store --- the 39th in the chain --- was spared.

In 1989, the Wilkinsburg store and 130 others were sold by Ames to McCrory Stores Corp., which went into permanent decline in the 1990s and finally closed all of its remaining locations in 2002.

Battered by weather and heavily coated in soot from passing traffic, the sign will require repairs before being reassembled. No display location has yet been identified.

The Wilkinsburg store is now part of Brooklyn, N.Y., based Rainbow Shops Inc., a low-priced clothing chain for women and children.


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November 19, 2009 | Link to this story

No Tax Increase in '10 Budget as City Trims Spending

Category: News || By

City officials have good news for taxpayers --- a proposed 2010 budget that's more than $1 million smaller than this year's budget, with no service cuts planned.

"They had us dead six years ago, but we're still squirming," said Mayor James Brewster, who presented the $19 million spending plan to city council at a special meeting Wednesday night. "I think that's a good thing."

Last year, city officials laid off 10 employees to balance the budget. The mayor said the city is still suffering the after-effects, particularly in the public works department.

"I don't want to go through that again," Brewster said. "I don't think that's the right thing for the city, and I think it sends the wrong message."

. . .

Next year's budget is smaller than the current budget in part because several large projects have concluded, City Administrator Dennis Pittman said, and because of salaries eliminated through layoffs and retirements.

Two labor contracts --- for city police and firefighters --- are currently being negotiated. Brewster said employee raises have been factored into the budget.

Also factored is the expected closure in March of the Dish Network call center and the elimination of its 600 jobs.

. . .

The direct financial hit on the city's income from the Dish layoffs and the previous closure of the Precoat Metals plant in Christy Park is the equivalent of four full-time employees, plus their benefits, Pittman said.

"We're asking all of our managers to manage better --- to spend their money like they spend it in their own households, and to take better care of their equipment," Brewster said.

. . .

Under the proposed budget, which council will likely vote on at its Dec. 2 meeting, wage taxes would remain at 1.2 percent. (An additional 0.5 percent is collected for McKeesport Area School District.)

Property taxes would remain at 4.26 mills on the assessed value of buildings and 16.5 mills on land. City properties have a combined taxable value of $365.8 million; according to the Allegheny County Treasurer's Office, land accounts for 75 percent, or $274 million, of that value.

Balancing the budget relies in part on the city's receipt of a new $720,000 "host fee" from the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport.

. . .

Landfills in many municipalities pay a host fee of $1 to $4 per ton of refuse dumped. According to Pittman, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority pays a similar fee to Pittsburgh for its plant in that city's Manchester neighborhood.

Last year's City of Pittsburgh budget does not include a line item for revenue received from Alcosan, and an Alcosan spokeswoman was not available for comment Thursday.

However, Pittsburgh does receive $6.8 million from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and more than $1 million in "public service privilege" fees from other utilities who run lines beneath its streets.

. . .

City officials said the host fee is intended to compensate taxpayers for hosting the authority's sewage treatment plant, located in the 10th Ward near the mouth of the Youghiogheny River. They note that water from Marcellus shale drilling operations is being treated at the plant, and is being trucked through the city's streets.

The 10th Ward sewage treatment plant also serves residents of East McKeesport, Glassport, Liberty, Port Vue, Versailles and White Oak boroughs and Elizabeth and North Versailles townships, whose residents presumably would be less than pleased at paying the city $720,000 through their sewerage rates.

. . .

But city officials said they expect the municipal authority to pass much of the host fee onto Marcellus shale drillers and waste-water haulers.

"If (Marcellus shale drilling) becomes the business we expect it to be, we want to be ready for it," Brewster said.

Council President Regis McLaughlin, who also chairs the sewage authority's board of directors, said the agency is planning a major expansion of its treatment facilities to handle both well water from drilling operations and federal and state pollution mandates.

"We do have enough capacity now to handle what we're taking," McLaughlin said.

. . .

The proposed budget includes $10,000 from leasing rights to drill into the Marcellus shale under city-owned properties. Brewster called that "peanuts" compared to the annual revenue that drilling rights could eventually generate for the city.

"If we have the rights to (drill into the shale), and if we can get access to it, it's my opinion that this revenue stream could generate a half-million to a million dollars per year," he said.

Three drilling firms have already approached the city, Brewster said, adding that he has asked City Controller Ray Malinchak, a registered professional engineer, to help evaluate drilling opportunities.

. . .

Proceeds from the sale of delinquent sewer bills will help the city pay its pension obligations this year, he said, but in the future, the city needs to identify ongoing sources of income, such as Marcellus shale drilling rights.

"For those who have paid attention these last five and a half years, they know that one-time sales of things like the sewer lines and the receivables were done because we needed to fill these gaps," Brewster said.

"We're not going to be pulling any more rabbits out of hats," the mayor said. "I'm out of rabbits, and I'm out of hats."

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November 17, 2009 | Link to this story

Ask the Answer Man

Category: Events, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Letters, we get letters ... Judith writes:
I have been on your website and you mention the Heritage Center and you give a telephone number, but as I live in England, that is not practical.

Does the Heritage Center have a website and email address that you could let me have?

Indeed they do, Judith. The Heritage Center's website is, and their email address is

The Heritage Center can perform genealogy and other research tasks for people unable to make it to McKeesport. The cost is $15 per hour for non-members and $10 per hour for members, which includes the cost of photocopies and postage.

. . .

Incidentally, the Heritage Center will wrap up its year-long celebration of the life of pioneering aviatrix Helen Richey with a graveside memorial service this Saturday.

The service will be held at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery at 1:30 p.m. in honor of what would have been Richey's 100th birthday. In event of inclement weather, events will be moved to the cemetery's mausoleum.

Volunteers will be stationed at the cemetery's entrances to provide directions to the Richey family plot.

. . .

Also on Saturday: McKeesport holds its annual "Salute to Santa" parade this Saturday, starting at 12 p.m. at the Palisades Ballroom and continuing east out Fifth Avenue.

This year's grand marshal is Cynthia M. Dorundo, president of UPMC McKeesport hospital, city officials said.

The parade, now in its 45th year, is traditionally among the largest in Western Pennsylvania. Last year, more than 150 bands, dance teams and floats participated.

Tube City Online has online galleries of the 2006 and 2008 parades.

. . .

Reader TCH asks:
I was wondering if you would know where I could find information about a business that operated out of McKeesport around the 1920's called "Hartman's Drug Store" or "Hartman's Drug Company" located on or near "Fifth and Market Street." ?

Well, you could try contacting the Heritage Center, at the above address. Otherwise, I'm going to throw this question out to the audience. Chances are, someone out there knows!


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November 16, 2009 | Link to this story

We're the Ones Who Are Sorry, Charlie

Category: Cartoons, Commentary/Editorial || By

Jason Togyer cartoon for Tube City Almanac (c) 2009

Here's a fun fact that I learned while researching today's cartoon: The founder and CEO of Dish Network, Charlie Ergen, is ranked No. 87 on Forbes magazine's list of the richest people in the world.

Forbes pegs his net worth at $9.5 billion.

To put that into perspective:
  • If you had 9.5 billion one-dollar bills, they would make a stack 9.5 billion dollar-bills high.

  • If Fuzzy's in Glassport laid 9.5 billion foot-long hoagies end to end, they would form a sandwich 9.5 billion feet long.

  • If 9.5 billion people attended a West Mifflin-Thomas Jefferson football game and they all went to the bathroom at half-time, the lines would be unreal.

Anyway, the magazine estimates Ergen's annual salary over the past five years at $1.44 million. That actually isn't that large when it comes to executive pay packets. For instance, the CEO of Alcoa made $7.25 million last year.

But for comparison's sake, the median family income in the city is about $25,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so one Charlie Ergen is worth about 57 of you.

Here's another fun fact I learned. Four times per year, Ergen answers questions live via satellite on a show that Dish Network calls "Charlie Chat":
"Charlie Chat" stars Charlie Ergen, DISH Network founder and CEO, and co-founder Jim DeFranco, Senior Executive Vice-President. Charlie and Jim discuss new developments in DISH Network's programming selection and products, answer viewer questions, have exciting prize giveaways and host a special celebrity guest during most shows.

The next "Charlie Chat" is scheduled for 9 p.m. Dec. 14, and they're already taking questions. I've submitted my question to "Charlie Chat" --- why don't you do the same?

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November 13, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

R&B Review Saturday: Put on your boogaloo shoes ... Duquesne-based Bonedog Records presents a rhythm and blues review at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, Downtown.

Scheduled to appear are Bonedog recording artists Jimmy Adler and Miss Freddye, along with Robert "Pecky" Peckman and the Bonedog All-Stars.

Tickets are $5. For more information, call (412) 678-3955.

. . .

"Belles" at MLT: McKeesport Little Theater presents "Christmas Belles," a new play by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten.

Billed as a Southern comedy for adults, "Belles" is set in a small town in Texas, where three sisters are trying to cope with personal crises and a holiday pageant that threatens to go completely awry.

Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 or $7 for students with valid ID card and reservations are accepted.

The theater is located at 1614 Coursin St., near the Carnegie Library of McKeesport. For more information, call (412) 673-1100 or visit MLT's website.

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November 13, 2009 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted: MVI, Penn State Slate Programs

Category: News || By Staff and Wire Reports

New Homeowner Credits MVI's Help: Sticking to a plan developed through the Mon Valley Initiative's Housing Counseling Program and participating in a savings program helped create another new homeowner.

"Before I visited MVI, I'd heard there were special programs to help people buy a house but didn't know which ones I could use," says Catherine Sovari, who began her transition from "renter" to "homeowner" in June 2008 when she met with Mike Mauer, a housing counselor at Homestead-based MVI.

MVI will hold its next Homebuyer Education Learning Program workshop on Nov. 21 at the organization's office, 305 E. 8th Ave., Homestead.

Mauer says his initial review including an examination of Sovari's credit report. He found out that she was eligible for several loan programs targeted to working-class homebuyers. Sovari also qualified for what's called a "match savings" program.

"Essentially, they provide participants with limited incomes not only financial education, but additional money that can be used for a home purchase," Mauer says.

In Sovari's case, she earned $1 for every $1 she deposited, and accumulated nearly $2,000 over the past year. Mauer says she also qualified for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency's Keystone Home Loan PLUS program, which offers assistance in meeting down payments and closing costs.

"I'm proof that if you want a house, there's a plan out there to help you get it," says Sovari, who closed on her new house near McKeesport Area High School last week.

The pre-purchase housing workshop on Nov. 21 runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. All participants who successfully complete the curriculum receive a certificate which enables to them to obtain community-development mortgage loans from local lenders. Breakfast and lunch will be provided at the workshop. Registration in advance is required.

MVI is also working on new home construction in Braddock, Homestead, North Braddock, Turtle Creek and Rankin, Mauer says. For more information about new housing, housing counseling or other related programs at MVI, call (412) 464-4000 or visit the MVI website.

. . .

'Student for a Day' at Penn State: High school seniors are invited to Penn State's campus in McKeesport next Thursday to be a "student for a day."

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. in room 119 at the Frable Conference Center on the Greater Allegheny Campus, participating students will have the opportunity to sit in on a college class, engage with current students, experience the Digital Commons, enjoy lunch with a Lion Ambassador and explore the campus. Students who complete an application to Penn State will have the $50 application fee waived.

Students should bring an official high school transcript. For more information, call (412) 675-9010.

. . .

China, Globalization Subjects of Talk: Douglas Guthrie of New York University's Stern School of Business will speak at Penn State Greater Allegheny at 11 a.m. Monday as part of the campus' 2009-10 Teaching International program.

Guthrie's talk is entitled "China and Globalization: The Economic, Political and Social Transformation of Chinese Society."

NYU's Daniel P. Paduano Faculty Fellow and a professor of management, Guthrie's recent books include Dragon in a Three-Piece Suit: The Emergence of Capitalism in China.

For more information, visit Penn State's website.

. . .

Father, Daughter March in Vets Parade: Above, Bernard Zurawski of West Mifflin and his daughter, Alison, pause after marching in Wednesday's Veterans Day Parade in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The elder Zurawski is a member of the borough's Veterans of Foreign Wars "Intrepid" Post 914, while Alison Zurawski is a cadet in West Mifflin Area Senior High School's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Program.

The Zurawskis marched as part of their respective organizations. (Submitted photo courtesy VFW Post 914)

. . .

Penn State Students at Auberle: More than 60 student-athletes and coaches from Penn State's campus in McKeesport conducted an "all-sports camp" at Auberle in October.

Boys and girls ages 8 to 16 received individual instruction in baseball, softball, basketball and volleyball during the all-day event on the Auberle campus along Hartman Street at O'Neil Boulevard.

Auberle is a non-profit community service organization providing residential care, mental health and substance-abuse counseling, and emergency shelter for foster children and their families.

"This was a tremendous experience not only for the student-athletes, but also for our coaching staff," says Jim Chester, athletic director at Penn State Greater Allegheny. "We were so grateful that we had an opportunity not only to share our expertise in sports, but make a difference in a young person's life."

More photos can be viewed at Penn State's website.

. . .

Reading Program Breaks Record: Participation this year in the Consortium for Public Education's annual campaign to encourage students to read has surpassed a 10-year record, a spokesperson says.

Elementary teachers at 31 schools in the Mon-Yough area are participating in Drop Everything and Read, says program coordinator David Pribish.

Together, he says, those commitments mean more than 11,000 children will spend 26.9 million minutes --- an average of 38 hours each --- of sustained, silent reading during the course of the school year.

"It shows that our districts are committed to ensuring that students not only build reading skills, but also develop an appreciation of reading, which is the key to lifetime learning and a lot of pleasure," Pribish says.

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November 12, 2009 | Link to this story

Letter to the Editor

Category: Another Viewpoint || By

A Dish Network employee writes:

As an employee of Dish Network in McKeesport, I thought I'd shed some light on the recent announcement [that the site will] close.

First, they say the building is too large. Could be true. They were trying to get someone in there all last year to sublet but, no takers. Probably because McKeesport is not such a friendly city. There are shootings and stabbings daily. Or maybe it's the constant inconvenience of the train that rolls by anytime you're coming or going.

Then my favorite consistent Dish Network [excuse], everyone who applied was a drug addict. Puh-leeaase!

They were hiring people in droves. The people do not want to stay. Why? It is an awful place to work.

The employees that have lasted all (and I mean ALL) have FMLA that allow them to come in late (train), leave early (can't handle it anymore), or simply call off (getting carpets cleaned), while the rest of us schmucks are held to absurd standards usually resulting in termination.

Grandma died? Too bad, you have no time off left, or the day is 'closed.' Yes, they close calendar days so you cannot request them off even if you do have time.

In conclusion, the real reason I believe they have decided to close is the numerous lawsuits. It seems the company is in a pickle with a wide range of opponents. TiVo, attorney generals, do not call list.

Drug addicts? No. Corporate greed? That's a better fit.

--- Name withheld upon request

Tube City Community Media, a non-profit corporation based in McKeesport, is committed to printing viewpoints from residents of the McKeesport area and surrounding municipalities. Commentaries are accepted at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for content or length.

To submit a commentary for consideration, please write to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134, or email jtogyer -at - gmail -dot- com. Please include contact information. A pen name may be substituted with approval of the editor.

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November 11, 2009 | Link to this story

Veterans' Day Special

Category: History || By

(If above video fails to appear, click here.)

We interrupt today's regularly scheduled programming to bring you the first installment of director Frank Capra's "Why We Fight," produced for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.

Capra, who had already created such classic films as "It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and would go onto make the timeless "It's a Wonderful Life," was commissioned as an Army major in February 1942 and assigned to the morale branch.

Gen. George C. Marshall, a Fayette County native who would eventually become U.S. secretary of state, assigned Capra to "make a series of documented, factual-information films --- the first in our history --- that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting."

The first installment, titled "Prelude to War," describes the events of the 1930s that led to the rise of nationalist and totalitarian governments in Germany, Italy and Japan, and contrasts the fascist system of government with the American way of life. (Dear Editor: Please insert standard Glenn Beck joke here. -- Jason)

"Prelude to War" won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1942. It's also available for download at Internet Archive, along with the other installments in the series.

The threats have often changed --- Nazi dictatorships, Communist aggression in Korea, Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan --- and the political leadership at home --- Democratic and Republican --- has sometimes squabbled and wavered. But women and men, both at home and overseas, have served without complaint whenever they've been called to duty.

Thank you to all of our veterans today, and 364 other days this year.

. . .

(Dear Editor: Imagine if President Obama hired Steven Spielberg to make a film about the war in Afghanistan. Hoo-boy! The top of Rush Limbaugh's head would blow off. It's kind of a depressing commentary about the state of the discourse in this country when the president's motives are immediately assumed to be suspect by his political opponents, who are simply trying to score some cheap ratings points. P.S.: Please make sure to delete these parenthetical comments. -- Jason)

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November 11, 2009 | Link to this story

P.S.: Put This in Your Pipe, and Smoke It

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

There are two steel pipemaking plants in the "Tube City" --- the electric-resistance weld mill at Camp-Hill Corp. in the First Ward, and the CP Industries facility in Christy Park.

Plus, there's the former McKeesport Pipe Coating Co., now operated by Dura-Bond, in Liberty Borough.

In fact, Camp-Hill made the new pipes that support the docks at the McKees Point Marina, and Dura-Bond coated them.

Those companies provide well-paid, skilled jobs that also contribute meaningful spin-off employment in steel-making, chemicals, truck and rail transportation, and many other fields.

But right now, Chinese companies (some of them state-subsidized) are dumping billions of dollars of cheap steel pipe on the U.S. market,

I wonder if Camp-Hill, Dura-Bond or CP Industries would like $13 million in tax breaks and subsidies, like those that went to Dish Network?

I'm just askin', that's all.

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November 10, 2009 | Link to this story

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Tribune-Review, March 10, 2009:
Dish Network's McKeesport Customer Service Center is staying put, and that's a dash of good news for the job market in the Pittsburgh area. "We've signed a new lease, and we're hiring," said Robin Zimmerman, communications coordinator for the Colorado-based company, which has scheduled a job fair for Wednesday at its location in the Industrial Center of McKeesport industrial park.

Tribune-Review, Nov. 10, 2009:
Dish Network Corp.'s decision Tuesday to close its customer service center in McKeesport stunned local officials, who rely on the struggling city's second-largest employer to provide 600 paychecks.

Wow. If you can't trust paid corporate spokespersons for big, multi-national entertainment conglomerates, who can you trust?

As the Almanac speculated back in December, and as the rumor mill has predicted for more than a year, Colorado-based Dish Network is closing its call center in the city.

. . .

But there is some good news: A Dish Network flack says "this will not affect customers in any way." Whew!

Well, except for the Dish Network customers who are also Dish Network employees in McKeesport, who won't be able to afford paying for Dish Network service any more. It might affect them.

The announcement comes one day after Dish Network's board of directors reported adding 241,000 new subscribers and a $2 per share cash dividend. Hey, you got to keep those shareholders happy!

It also comes despite the fact that state and county taxpayers have subsidized Dish Network and its former owner, EchoStar, to the tune of $13 million over the past decade.

. . .

You know, it's just business, folks! C'mon! God bless the American free-market system!

And Dish Network has promised to help employees find other jobs. Presumably, they give you a map to the unemployment office, and a box to put your stuff in.

I hate to see anyone lose their job, and I also know that some Dish employees are faithful readers of the Almanac.

(They're the ones who first hipped us to the rumors that the company wanted to close the McKeesport call center. And since security guards were chasing reporters off of the property on Tuesday --- hey, didn't the taxpayers pay for that facility? --- we'd like to hear from anyone who wants to anonymously whisper into our ear.)

But this closing was, unfortunately, inevitable. Satellite TV is hurting. The satellite TV market --- where Dish and DirecTV continue to hammer each other's brains out --- is mature, and it faces new competition from broadband providers (like Verizon's FiOS service) that didn't exist when the McKeesport call center opened a decade ago.

Despite Dish Network's recent profits, its overall revenues are down.

. . .

Worse, call center jobs are vulnerable to outsourcing to overseas providers. Even if the McKeesport center had stayed open and another call center was closed this time, there was no guarantee that Dish won't eventually uproot the entire operation and send it to India in a year or two. (Gotta maximize that shareholder value, you know!)

And finally, although the loss of 600 jobs sounds terrible, in reality, Dish Network started employees at $9.50 per hour. That's about $20,000 per year.

The fact that the company was constantly recruiting new employees in McKeesport should tell you everything you need to know: You can't live on what Dish Network has been paying. Twenty grand a year, salary-wise, is Taco Bell and Wal-Mart territory.

It's also hard for me to see what other business benefit there's been to the city since EchoStar/Dish Network opened its McKeesport call center. A Subway franchise moved in across the Lysle Boulevard, along with a Pizza Hut express, and that seems to be about it.

. . .

Nor was anyone learning new skills by answering complaint calls for Dish Network. So let's all just get a grip. It's not like we're losing U.S. Steel again, or even the UPMC jobs in Braddock, which are skilled, well-paying jobs with a future --- unlike call-center jobs.

The challenge is not replacing the specific 600 jobs at the Dish Network facility, but in moving forward and attracting meaningful employment to the Mon Valley --- not just low-paying service industry work.

And a bigger challenge is to do it without subsidizing a company to the tune of $13 million. (Honestly, did we learn nothing from the Volkswagen debacle in New Stanton 20 years ago?)

Although if anyone wants to rip their Dish Network antennas off of their houses and mail 'em back to Englewood, Colo., postage due, I won't blame you.

. . .

Dish Network told people in March that their jobs were safe, and then a few months later folded up its tents. That's a disgusting, foul way of treating your employees.

Unfortunately, that's the way business has been conducted in the United States since the 1980s. As I've so often quoted the late, great John C. Mamajek: "Hooray for me, and to hell with you! I got mine!"

Dish Network's shareholders got theirs. Of course, they also got $13 million of ours, which is what really stings.

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November 09, 2009 | Link to this story

Health Insurance Move Could Save $320K

Category: News || By

Shifting all city employees to the same health insurance plan could save taxpayers up to $320,000.

At its meeting on Wednesday, council authorized City Administrator Dennis Pittman to ask Teamsters Local Union 205 if its bargaining units are willing to move into the same plan used by police and firefighters, beginning Jan. 1.

The suggestion was approved by a 4-0 vote, with councilors Michael Cherepko, Loretta Diggs and Paul Shelly Jr. absent.

White Oak-based Local 205 represents the city's 70 public works and clerical employees.

For several years, unionized employees have been in four separate health insurance plans which renew on different dates, Pittman says. When that change was made, he says, officials believed it would encourage competition amidst health insurance providers.

But the expected savings haven't materialized, Pittman says. In fact, the city's main health insurance carrier, Highmark, has told McKeesport it could offer rates up to 14 percent lower if it had a larger "risk pool," or number of participants in the same plan.

"The size of the group is critical --- the larger the group you insure, the more affordable the insurance becomes to pay for," Pittman says. It's also made it more difficult for the city to create a budget, he says.

Any Local 205 members whose coverage changed would be reimbursed by the city, he says. "It would not cost the employees a penny," Pittman says.

The move comes as the city negotiates new labor agreements with its other unions, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 91 and International Association of Firefighters Local 10. Their contracts expire Dec. 31.

There have also been discussions with both Highmark and UPMC Health Plan of creating a "self-insurance" policy for everything except catastrophic injuries or illness, Pittman says.

Councilman Darryl Segina says city officials investigated self-insurance in the early 1990s, but decided it was too expensive and complicated. Since then, Segina says, premiums have gotten so much more expensive, it may be worth reconsidering.

. . .

Sewage Liens, Due Bills Sold: In other business, council by 4-0 vote approved the sale of delinquent sewage accounts to the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport for $600,000.

City officials estimate they are owed about $900,000 in past-due bills and liens for sewerage service from 2008 and earlier. The city no longer collects sewerage fees, having turned the lines over to the municipal authority, which operates the sewage treatment plant in 10th Ward.

. . .

Approve Tree, Computer Contracts: Council by 4-0 votes hired Davey Tree Expert Co. to conduct an inventory of all of the trees in Renziehausen Park, and appointed East McKeesport-based DataMatrix Solutions as the city's computer consultants.

The Davey contract, valued at $6,100, is required because the park receives a subsidy from the Allegheny County regional asset district tax, officials said. The Kent, Ohio-based company will map the location of the trees in the 258-acre park and suggest which ones should be pruned or replaced.

The 14-month Datamatrix contract, valued at $2,428, will provide for emergency service to fix desktop computers and servers, along with periodic maintenance and upgrades.

The city is in the process of replacing several obsolete computer systems which aren't networked and can't work together, Pittman says. "We're antiquated by today's standards," he says. "It will make a tremendous difference in our efficiency."

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November 05, 2009 | Link to this story

Brewster: City Will 'Aggressively' Market Gas Drilling Rights

Category: News || By

The city will "aggressively" explore opportunities to sell drilling rights beneath public properties in 2010, Mayor James Brewster said Wednesday night.

The only other alternatives to balancing the city's budget, he told council, are cutting services or raising taxes, and "raising taxes is not something I have ever recommended, nor will I."

Instead, Brewster said, "we are going to aggressively and enthusiastically pursue Marcellus shale gas drilling with any city property that makes sense." Projected revenues from natural gas drilling will be included in the 2010 budget, the mayor said. By law, city council must see a draft of that spending plan by Nov. 15.

. . .

"There are huge opportunities here to generate ongoing, perpetual revenue, which we desperately need," Brewster said. "I'm excited about it, because we may have an opportunity to clean up the cash flow problems that we habitually have at the end of each year."

Last year, McKeesport laid off 10 employees and drew $1 million out of its "fund balance," or surplus, to balance the 2009 budget.

Canonsburg-based Dale Property Services has already approached city officials about acquiring the right to drill for natural gas in the so-called Marcellus shale that underlies much of Western Pennsylvania.

Officials have declined comment on what properties might be targeted, but the largest city-owned tract of land is 258-acre* Renziehausen Park --- although drilling could be legally difficult or impossible due to agreements with the donors, including Emilie Renziehausen, who gave McKeesport the money to create the park in the 1930s.

. . .

McKeesport and old Versailles Township --- now White Oak --- were dotted with natural gas wells in 1919. But those shallow surface wells were slow to produce, and the "McKeesport gas boom" went bust after a few months.

New drilling techniques allow gas producers to approach gas pockets horizontally, boring more than a mile underground to reach trapped gas pockets in the so-called "Marcellus shale" 7,000 feet below the surface. Those gas pockets must be "fractured" using high-pressure water.

"The drilling is not intrusive, and it goes anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 feet deep," Brewster said. "It is absolutely transparent to the public."

Geologists have estimated that several trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be extracted from the Marcellus formation that stretches from western New York through West Virginia.

. . .

Speculators have offered as much as $3,000 per acre for the right to drill for natural gas, plus a 15 percent royalty on any gas sold.

According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcellus shale wells covering an area of 80 acres on the surface produce natural gas at a rate of 4 million cubic feet per day. The USGS estimates that each well will produce 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas per 80 acres of surface area, at a cost to the driller of about $1 per thousand cubic feet of gas.**

Natural gas has been selling for roughly $4 to $5 per thousand cubic feet** since June, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

. . .

Environmentalists have raised questions about whether municipal water-treatment plants --- including McKeesport's --- are properly equipped to treat the contaminated water produced by Marcellus shale gas wells. (See "Gas Drilling Triggers Pollution Onslaught in Mon Valley," Tube City Almanac, Oct. 22.)

According to the USGS, up to 3 million gallons of water are required to fracture each section of Marcellus shale that's penetrated. This water is treated with chemical additives to increase the gas well's production.

The contamination --- including both those chemicals and minerals dislodged from the rock --- must be removed from the water before it's returned to the river.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is allowing municipal sewage treatment plants to process well water. Council President Rege McLaughlin, who chairs the sewage authority's board of directors, said Wednesday the city's plant is daily treating about 80,000 gallons of water from gas well drillers, for which the authority receives a fee.

But municipal sewage treatment plants are not required to remove the salts and minerals, called "total dissolved solids," or TDS, from the water, which are then dumped into the river. These pollutants, though generally not harmful to human health, can clog intake pipes and damage industrial facilities and water-treatment facilities.

. . .

That problem will be apparently mitigated by new state regulations on sewage treatment plants. John Hanger, state secretary of environmental protection, has promised that all facilities will be required to remove TDS by 2011.

"We should not back away, as we did with the cell tower revenue," said Brewster, referring to a plan to build a cell-phone tower in the Seventh Ward, which many residents objected to, citing health concerns and the unsightly nature of the facility. The proposal, tabled in September 2008, cost the city $150,000 in revenue.

"We cannot get scared away on these sorts of things --- we need to get creative," the mayor said.


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November 04, 2009 | Link to this story

The Old Apartment

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

It occurred to me recently that for my entire life, I've lived within walking distance of the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny River, or both.

And except for about a year and half while I was in college, and about a year after I graduated, I've lived within two miles of Our Fair City.

Both of these factors are either a symptom or a cause of mental illness, I suppose, but it's nothing that a highly skilled team of clinical psychologists couldn't figure out.

Anyway, it's true. I grew up in Versailles and Liberty, and now live at the top of Dravosburg Hill. While people can talk about living in the "412," I've rarely been outside of the "664."

. . .

But I did live in Oakland (until I ran out of money during my sophomore year of college) and after I graduated, I lived in Monongahela. During my senior year, I was hired by the Observer-Reporter --- the daily newspaper in Washington --- as the night cops reporter at the magnificent sum of $320 gross (and I do mean "gross") per week. I continued to work one day a week for Kennywood just to pay my bills.

Still, I was grateful to get a job working in my field, and at a pretty damned good local newspaper. A lot of my fellow English majors were doing exactly what you would expect English majors to do after graduation --- answering telephones, waiting tables and selling insurance. (Let this be a lesson to you, kids.)

Though I wasn't making much money, the O-R gave me a portable scanner, a very nice Nikon 8008 camera, and a cell phone, and a license to neb into other people's business five nights a week. I also learned a lot from some very talented reporters --- including Scott Beveridge, who these days blogs about the Mon Valley and other things.

. . .

It wasn't all beer and skittles. (Why, sometimes I couldn't even afford real skittles, and had to make do with imitation skittles.)

There was the time I went to a fatal accident at a coal mine, and a couple of miners grieving their buddy's death offered to detach my head and shove it up my rectum. I beat a quick retreat off the property, but they still followed me for several miles down Route 136 in the middle of the night. (And then I turned around and went back.)

Another time, another fatal accident, I was standing around, waiting to talk to the cops when the sister of the victim spotted my camera. She screamed, jumped me and had to be pulled off by a deputy coroner.

One of the requirements of the job --- or at the very least, a strong recommendation --- was that I live within the newspaper's circulation area. You can take the Mon Valley out of the boy, but apparently you can't take the boy out of the Mon Valley, so I found an apartment in Monongahela, or "Mon City."

(Many natives, by the way, don't like the term "Mon City" any more than people from Washington like the term "Little Washington.")

. . .

For the most part, I loved it. I was about 20 minutes from the office, which was close enough to get to work in a hurry, but far enough to get some isolation from the bosses. And in Mon City, I could walk to everything. Span & Taylor's drug store was across the street, Cope's Superette (a grocery store) was a few doors down, and I found a barber and a church a couple of blocks away.

The apartment itself wasn't great, but for $285 a month, who's complaining? I was on the second floor of an empty storefront on West Main Street, in a recently renovated building owned by a family from neighboring New Eagle. It was relatively quiet, except in the middle of the night, when coal trucks slowing for the red lights would Jake brake and knock me out of bed.

In the end, the job ground me down. Washington County is relatively small, and being the night cops reporter meant covering a lot of chimney fires, two-car fender-benders and weather stories.

It's hard to get it up for work when your job consists of writing 300-word stories week after week that begin, "A strong line of thunderstorms swept through Washington and Greene counties last night."

. . .

Also, I had to move back in with mom for a while. My poor old Datsun 200SX was dying.

One day, I dropped the Datsun off for state inspection, and the mechanic called me about a hour later. "You better get down here," he said. The car's frame was no longer connected to its body, except by gravity. This explained why she made a loud "clunk" every time I went across a railroad track.

On my rookie reporter's salary, I could afford a car payment or an apartment, but not both. After several months of commuting from McKeesport to Washington, a job opened up at the gray lady of 409 Walnut St. The pay was a little bit more, and combined with the fact that I wasn't driving 30 miles one-way to work, it was a no-brainer, so I gave my two weeks' notice at the O-R.

. . .

About a month before I moved out of Mon City, the first-floor storefront was rented to Pizza Outlet. This didn't faze me at first --- I thought it might be nice, like having my own personal cafeteria downstairs --- until one evening just before they opened, when they decided to season the pizza ovens by throwing in handfuls of pepperoni and letting it burn to a cinder.

I came home from work that night and unlocked the door to be greeted by billowing clouds of smoke, and gagged. It was winter, but I opened the windows anyway, to no relief. I went downstairs to complain, but no one was around.

By the next morning, everything I owned felt greasy and smelled like smoke. That night, they did it again, and I called the landlord to complain. The pizza shop's manager called me to apologize. "How about I make it up to you? I'll buy you dinner."

"Dinner?" I said. "Cripes, I don't f------g want dinner. I want to get a good night's sleep. I don't want my apartment to stink like burned pepperoni. What the hell is the matter with you people?"

. . .

Fast-forward to this September: I was paging through the Daily News when I saw a story about a big fire in Mon City. There was a picture inside. "That looks like the back of the building where I used to live," I said. "Holy crap, that was the building where I used to live."

Sunday, I had business in Washington County, so I cruised down to West Main in Monongahela to see if anything was left.

The building has been leveled, and West Main looks like it's struggling --- Cope's and the Keystone Bakery are gone --- but it's no worse than any other Mon Valley town, I guess, and better than a lot of them.

. . .

In general, Monongahela residents seem to take a lot of pride in trying to keep their community looking good. (Hint, hint, Mon-Yough residents. Let's clean up our messes!)

According to the Lost Monongahela blog, there are rumors that a gas leak started the blaze, or possibly that one of the upstairs tenants caused the fire while cooking meth.

Well! Nothing like that happened when I was living there! Everything was fine when I left. I even got my security deposit back.

But say, you don't think the fire was caused by a delayed reaction to the pepperoni, do you?

. . .

Opinions expressed in commentaries at Tube City Almanac are those of the authors, and do not reflect those of Tube City Community Media Inc. or its directors.

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Posted at 07:06 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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November 03, 2009 | Link to this story

If Election Persists, Consult Terry Madonna

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary, Sarcastic? Moi?, Satire || By

Cluttered items from an empty mind ...

. . .

Today is Municipal Election Day in Pennsylvania, or as most people know it, "Hey, how come the liquor stores are closed?"

It's your chance to randomly select judges based on the county in which they live, or the ethnicity of their last name.

My grandfather voted for Hungarian-sounding names. If it had been up to Pap, all of the judges in Allegheny County would have been Toths, Nagys, Kovaches, Molnars and Baloghs.

. . .

It's good to see Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College getting quoted in news stories again. Man, I hadn't heard anything from him in almost a week.

Way to dig for those sources, reporters!

. . .

Every year, some goody-goody recommends that we appoint judges based on their qualifications. Bull! All Americans have the right to elect judges based on their TV commercials.

It's in the U.S. Constitution. Or maybe the Television Code of Good Practice.

If we put selection of judges into the hands of liberal elitists, we might end up with judges who were hooked on prescription painkillers, like Rolf Larsen, or who were extorting money from attorneys, like Joe Jaffe.

. . .

We also elect magisterial district judges, like former Elizabeth Township magistrate Ernest Marraccini. He retired back in 2006, and now he writes letters to the editor of the Daily News.

In one of his most recent ones --- and I can't make this up --- he said he was tired of the Obama administration's "Amos 'n Andy" show. Marraccini, it's worth noting, stepped down after being reprimanded for calling defendants in his courtroom "morons."

. . .

Anyway, I always look forward to Municipal Election Day --- or, more specifically, being able to use my answering machine again.

About a week before the election, I start coming home to find the little red light on the machine blinking like a forest fire, and it's one worthless message after another, so I just delete them all without even listening to them --- "vote for this judge," "don't vote for that judge," "your water bill is now 60 days past due," etc.

. . .

The most amusing recorded message so far this year was from Bill George, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. Evidently he hadn't looked at the list of names he was going to endorse before he started taping the message.

So his message went something like, "I want to urge you to vote for Judge Teresa Sam ... Sarmina and Judge Barbara Eren ... Ernse ... Ernsberger." If that wasn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is!

. . .

In West Mifflin, municipal elections mean that residents have the right to vote for the Olasz or Jabbour of their choice, while in Pittsburgh, residents are holding a coronation ceremony for their mayor.

The race is between Franco Harris' son, Cindy Ravenstahl's son, and some other guy, plus Les Ludwig, who I once compared to Christopher Lloyd in the "Back to the Future" movies. Since Pittsburgh is perpetually stuck in 1955, maybe he's the only valid candidate in the race.

Ludwig recently told Diana Nelson Jones of the Post-Gazette that "no one listens to me."

Les, to quote that great philosopher Groundskeeper Willie: "Willie hears ye. Willie don' care."

. . .

Dr. Pica Pole, director of research at the Tube City Online Laboratories, is predicting that Ravenstahl pulls 67 percent of the vote, Harris 19 percent, and Kevin Acklin 13 percent.

That doesn't quite add to 100 percent, but Dr. Pole is including Les Ludwig in the remaining 1 percent, along with votes cast for Lyndon LaRouche and the late Harold Stassen.

. . .

As of lunchtime at my polling station (North Bittyburg Ward 3, Precinct 1), only 63 people had voted. I asked the judge of elections, in a light-hearted manner, "Where are all of the people who were here last year?"

She gave me a very serious look. "Oh, they're just waiting for next year," she said, nodding her head.

I got the sneaky suspicion that she was talking about "Sending a Message to That Man in the White House," but whether she was referring to Barack Obama or Franklin Roosevelt wasn't clear.

Given the average age of the people in my neighborhood, it could be either one.

. . .

Indeed, next year is a federal election, and Darlin' Arlen Specter will be running in the Democratic primary against Joe Sestak and Bill "The Dravosburg Kid" Kortz.

In the general election, the winner will likely face Gloomy Pat Toomey, who's running as the candidate of traditional values --- in the tradition of Strom Thurmond.

I'm not saying that Toomey is a little bit right-wing, but he's already picked up the endorsement of the Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association and the German-American Bund. (OK, I made that up. The Bund hasn't endorsed anyone yet.)

. . .

With Toomey in the race, we'll be discussing serious, meaty issues, including whether we're about to be overrun by Muslim hordes who will send married gays out to cause mandatory abortions and raise taxes on dead people.

I think I'll smash my answering machine now and save myself some time. And next November, I'm voting for Harold Stassen.

. . .

Opinions expressed in commentaries at Tube City Almanac are those of the authors, and do not reflect those of Tube City Community Media Inc. or its directors.

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