a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thai cuisine brewed right

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The delicate blend of flavors that gives Thai food its appeal can be found in the country’s most-popular brand of beer.
is a barley malt that has the right amount of cinnamon, flower and lemon additives that have helped to crown it the No. 1 beer of Thailand. It’s a product of Boon Rawd Brewery of Bangkok and brought to the United States by the Paleewong Trading Co. It’s a great compliment to Thai cuisine wherever it is served, especially in Pittsburgh, which seems to have more Asian restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States.

Tapas, or small plates of food, continue to draw me to the Silk Elephant in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill district. On my last stop there, I had Tom Kah, a delicious coconut broth with shrimp, mushrooms and peppers, and roasted leg of lamb swimming in green curry sauce with steamed vegetables.

Thai food has a perfect balance of aromatic ingredients that are spicy, sweet, salty, bitter and sour, my server said while offering her reasons for loving the food.
“You taste it and think, ‘Oh. What is that?’” she said. Often it’s the fresh, rather than dried, basil and lime leaf that give the food its distinctive character, she added.
The Silk Elephant is casual and intimate yet classy with its high-back, upholstered chairs and silk draperies. The servers are young and hip. The soup, which came with three large shrimp, cost $4.65, while the lamb had a price of $7.95. The bottle of Singha was well worth $5.50.

The restaurant is located at 1712 Murray Ave. For information call 412-421-8801.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pool of memories

The infamous Donora zinc works, shown above in a photograph taken circa 1945 in Webster.

By Scott Beveridge

DONORA, Pa. – By some accounts, residents of Donora had begun to complain about a foul odor shortly after U.S. Steel Corp. opened a zinc mill in their neighborhood a century ago.
The mill superintendent, however, insisted that the air was safe to breathe, so the story goes. To prove his point, he moved his family, including an aging relative, into a mansion he had built on a hillside directly above the row of smokestacks.
Those living arrangements in 1916 didn’t last long. That same year, the company began construction of a plan of airtight, Prairie School blockhouses for its bosses on a hillside at the edge of town as far away from the mill as possible.
The plan of houses, where flowers bloomed and trees grew tall, became known as Cement City. There wasn’t a blade of grass, however, on the ground in the immediate vicinity of the mill. The hills were barren of trees, too, downwind and across the Monongahela River in the scrappy village of Webster. The vegetation was sacrificed for a top secret operation that forged metal plating with the strength to bulletproof U.S. military tanks.
The boss' stately, three-story brick mansion would be donated to Donora’s Spanish immigrant community, whose strong, young men had the right genetics to withstand the torturous heat while working beside the zinc smelters.
Donora would become infamous for a killer smog that was the impetus for the nation’s first clean air legislation in 1963. Stagnant air had trapped the mill's pollution in the deep valley town for three days in late October 1948. Twenty people died gasping for air and hundreds were sickened by the fumes, before rain moved in and allowed the pollution to dissipate. The event prompted physicians to publicly link air pollution to poor health for the first time.
Also in the 1960s, the Donora Spanish Club was home to the town’s only outdoor, exclusive swimming pool. My family, and our white Anglo-Saxon Protestant relatives, were proud to wear Spanish Club patches on our bathing suits. While I don’t remember anyone saying it out loud, the club had an unwritten rule then that blacks were not allowed in the pool.

Racism had nothing to do with keeping the water clean. I suffered many reoccurring inner-ear infections from spending too much time scavenger hunting on the bottom of the deep end of the pool.
Still, it was a safer alternative to swimming in the filthy, dead Monongahela. And the club’s bartender provided my father with beer on Sundays at a time when state law prohibited public bars from opening on the Sabbath.

Today, four decades after the mill shut down for good, there is a lush jungle on the Webster hillside. The river runs much cleaner now that the company, and many others like it that once dotted the region’s landscape, no longer dump acid byproducts directly into its water.
Somehow, the Spanish Club manages to stay open in harsh economic times in Donora. Although the big house on the hill looks badly in need of attention, the swimming pool should be open this summer. Last year, it was refreshing to see a few black children running around its lawn.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

She has the right moves

Several years ago, Violet walked, like, 10 miles to say hello to baseball legend Stan Musial, when he came home to Donora, Pa., to sign autographs. I'm glad to still see her smiling and wearing her "happening" boots on the sidewalk.

Coast is clear

By Scott Beveridge

EASTVILLE, Va. – At the height of summer travel season, the most that can be found on a bay-side beach at the Eastern Shore in Virginia are a few empty folding chairs.
There might be a lonely boat, too, anchored between blue crab traps in the water, as this Chesapeake Bay shoreline has miraculously escaped over development common to vacation spots like Ocean City, Md.
“Our tiny peninsula is the last pristine stretch on the East Coast,” boasts the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s Web site. “Where the bay meets the sea, watermen till the tides and family farms stretch lush and green. Our small towns are as Southern as sweet potato pie.”

The Jamestown government, led by Capt. John Smith, staked claim to the 20-mile-wide strip of land in 1620. Some of the same old family names hold title to its sprawling working farms to this day.
The tiny colonial town of Eastville can be found 48 miles north of Norfolk and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, whose high tolls help to keep visitors away from the peninsula.
With its 42 families and 203 residents, Eastville is the county seat of Northampton County. It’s courthouse holds the oldest continuous court records in the United States.

Off the Atlantic shore to the east sits an abandoned U.S. Coast Guard hurricane station, the remains of which are shown below:

Atlantic island

A row of aging private beach cottages can be found a few miles west along the dead-end Smith Beach Road. Some are available as short-term rentals, if a traveler is lucky enough to know the right local residents who can put them in touch with a property owner. People here don’t tend to answer their telephones. If you ask around, however, you can find a guide and a boat to one of the deserted islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantic island

At the same time, it might be difficult to pull away from a beach chair. The Smith Beach cottages, and their bare-bones accommodations, provide views of spectacular sunsets and the perfect oasis to plant yourself with a good book.

Monday, March 26, 2007

At ease in Belize

By Heidi Price

AMERGRIS CAYE, Belize – I have three sisters who work as flight attendants, all veteran travelers, all with differing views on what constitutes a getaway.

The eldest and most traveled among us is clear – she wants luxury, time away from the everyday intrusions of reality. The youngest enjoys lying on a beach, going out at night and shopping in all its forms.

So I invited, Julie, older than me by two years and a wanderlust at heart, to join me on a trip to Ambergris Caye, an eco-touristy island off the coast of Belize that offers spectacular diving and snorkeling, but little in the way of shopping – except young children who roam the streets, barefoot, selling cinnamon rolls their mothers baked for 50 cents, who are shown below:


We set our departure date for early September 2004. Several travel Web sites and books warned that this was the high noon of hurricane season and going anywhere near the Caribbean was a mistake. But I was looking forward to exploring Belize's barrier reef – 185 miles of coral caverns and colorful fish, second only in size to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Armed with my Lonely Planet Guide Book – in my opinion the most comprehensive among travel guides – I began perusing hotel Web sites. After several hours, I found my best deal, Mata Rocks, which offered five nights for $230 per person. The price included a continental breakfast each morning, bicycle rentals and one diving and/or snorkeling trip.

Belize ocean view

Touching down

On Sept. 6, our plane touched down in Belize City. Two air taxis also offer connecting flights from Philip Goldson International Airport, but my sister suggested we take the water taxi, which leaves hourly from the Belize Marine Terminal in the center of Belize City. We purchased two round-trip tickets for $55, and soon we were gliding over crystalline blue waters. More than an hour later, we approached a small dock in San Pedro, a small town on Ambergris Caye and the inspiration for Madonna's song "La Isla Bonita."

I was surprised. With Hurricane Frances winding down and Ivan rumbling toward the Caribbean, I thought the streets would be empty. Instead, they were crowded with honeymooners, divers and residents, all traversing the dusty streets in golf carts, bicycles or on foot. The only vehicles I saw during my stay were taxi cabs and the occasional delivery truck.

Beyond its reef, Belize is an unsophisticated, unspoiled home to manatees, marine reserves, caverns and, farther inland, near the Guatemalan border, ancient ruins. As the country, formerly British Honduras, celebrates its 23rd year of independence, it faces an identity crisis: maintain its unspoiled beauty while playing host to its No. 1 industry – tourism.

One brochure noted that 40 percent of Belize is now protected by reserves. Two such protected areas are just a half mile off the coast of Ambergris Caye: Shark Ray Alley, where you can swim with nurse sharks and Southern Sting Rays in shallow waters, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where snorkelers and divers can explore marine life through a cut in the reef more than 30 feet deep.

Underwater travel

Manual, our guide our second day out, spent nearly two hours exploring Hol Chan with us. He swam with us the entire time, teaching us how to find sea pearls, identify tropical fish and clean our masks with sea grass so they wouldn't fog up. Manuel, who is of Mayan descent, knew his marine biology, not leaving until he had shown us every fish on the reef including a Yellowtail Damsel fish, my new favorite.

On the way to explore another site, Manuel stopped his boat to show us a "Laggerhead" snapping turtle, which he estimated was 80 years old and I estimated to be about the size of a Mini Cooper.

Several of our day trips included stops in Caye Caulker, a neighboring island brimming with twentysomethings and $5-a-night room rates. Most tourists on the island converge at the Lazy Lizard, a watering hole on "The Split," a gash where Hurricane Hattie split the island in two in 1961.

One afternoon, while exploring Front Street, my sister tried to knock a coconut out of a tree. A man watching from his front porch held up a finger signaling us to wait, and five minutes later we were drinking fresh coconut milk out of two coconuts in which he had drilled holes.

I found that type of warmth and response from everyone we met during our weeklong trip with one exception: a diving instructor, the only one we didn't book through our hotel, who stole my sister's camcorder. We thought it was lost, but I was amazed to receive an e-mail from our hotel a few weeks after our return stating that a security guard who we befriended at the neighboring hotel had "recovered" the camcorder.

I recommend going out with well-established businesses that have long-standing relationships with your hotel.

Daily excursions

One of the best trips, and one arranged through Mata Rocks, was a daylong excursion to see Indian manatees in a protected reserve near Belize City. According to our guide, manatees were once hunted for their ivory, but with a concerted effort, these 1,200-pound creatures are now a protected species and can spend their days eating, resting and, in September, mating.

After, we explored the reef around Goff's Caye, our guides grilled on the island and then took us to a popular habitat for sea horses, a few feet off the coast of Caye Caulker.


We spent another day riding our bikes around the island, visiting the "Living Arts" museum, an outdoor exhibit run by Sean and Jose, who oversee the assemblage of artwork made from abandoned flip flops, driftwood and skiffs found on the island. The museum, a difficult find down an overgrown lane, was free, but Sean bet me $5 that he could wrangle a kiss from Panchito, the museum monkey.

Sean and Jose, like many residents I met on the island, are expatriates. In "Adapter Kit Belize," Lan Sluder wrote that Ambergris Caye is home to the largest concentration of expatriates in Belize.

Most nights we rode our bikes into San Pedro. As the country geared up for its independence day celebration, Sept. 21, children practiced and would happily teach you the Punta, a hip-shaking dance to a rhythmic beat.

Every evening around sunset, tourists gathered at the water plant, about a mile south of San Pedro and not far from our hotel, where a very brave soul would bring out a chicken to feed the crocodile. It always drew a crowd.

"Finding tarantulas and scorpions, that's normal," said Jenna Brandt, 29, a New Jersey native who lives in San Pedro while studying at Medical University of the Americas. "Sometimes, you'll find snakes on the street, pythons."

And while Brandt plans to return to the states after medical school, she's enjoying her life in Belize.

"I love the fact that life is so simple. The locals have such simple lives, their lives are humble," Brandt said.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Working the Monongahela

As the tugboat, the Arkwright, charts its course along the Monongahela River, inside its tiny kitchen, the cook is the boss.

By Scott Beveridge

ALONG THE MONONGAHELA RIVER – The Arkwright's engine rumbled, sending short blasts of air to the tugboat's rudders, enough to steer it from shore.

The captain peered from the pilothouse, following orders to hook up with a dozen coal-filled jumbo barges and push them down river to supply a power plant.

While Capt. Don Lowe was at the helm of this 54-year-old tugboat, its seven-man crew was well aware that the women in the galley would call most of the shots while they would be on board for the next week.

"When they say the captain of the boat, they don't look at me," Lowe says earlier, while seated at the dinner table. He rolled his eyes and smiled at cook, Mary Husser, and stepped into the kitchen to follow her standing rule to rinse his dinnerware before retiring it in her stainless-steel sink. "You don't want to piss off the cook," said Lowe, 49, of Pittsburgh's North Side.

"They get told about washing your hands. Don't go into that refrigerator, into that ice cream without washing your hands," said Husser, 52, one of just 10 remaining female cooks who worked the tugboats that ply the Monongahela River and move tons of coal, gravel, diesel fuel, fly ash and other products to market.


Competing towing companies have opted to pay deckhands a few more dollars a day to prepare their meals to cut shipping costs, said Capt. David J. Podurgiel, who coordinates boat traffic for CONSOL Energy, which owns the Arkwright. That setup was bad for morale, Podurgiel said, and could lead to laziness and uncleanliness among boat crews without a woman to mother them.

Husser doesn't tolerate obscene language, cigarette smoke or co-workers who skip too many showers.

"If we're back in the galley, we try to keep our language clean," said Pat Snyder, 22, of South Park, who has yet to log enough hours on the river to master the job of roping and securing rusting steel barges.


It takes muscle to work these boats - a role that is especially grueling during winter months - when most new guys quit because they can't take the bitter weather, said Russell Wiseman, 49, of nearby Monessen, Pa.,the lead man on the barges who helps the pilot guiding them along the water.

"You make it through the winter, you're good to go," said his deckmate, Kenny McDonald, 23, of Cheat Lake, W.Va. "If it's 20 degrees out there, it's 5 degrees out here. You get the wind blowing off the water..."

"These are a different breed of people out here," added Husser, of Millsboro. "I give them a lot of credit."

Husser was drawn to the Mon 15 years ago, when her two sons were in high school and old enough to fend for themselves while she's away from them, and her husband, Eric, every other week.

"It's hard enough for a guy to do this with little kids, let alone a woman," she said. "Working out here, you miss a lot."


"You miss a lot of kids' birthdays, weddings," added Wiseman, after the Arkwright left its moorings in Speers, moving north to Locks and Dam No. in Charleroi at a crawl of 4 mph.

Named after an old deep mine near Morgantown, W.Va., the Arkwright is pushing three barges, each of which is 195 feet long and brimming with 1,500 tons of coal. It will return to Speers to pick up three more loads of coal before embarking for Elizabeth. There are six more barges waiting there for the pass to Pleasants Power Station on the Ohio River in Eureka W.Va., a 406-mile round-trip that will last four days. It would require two, 100-car trains to move this amount coal, at a far greater cost.


And, this voyage required a grocery bill of $650 to feed the men who work rotating six-hour shifts between six-hour rests on cots in tiny rooms whose walls vibrate around-the-clock with the steady hum of the engine. They earn between $9 an hour and $12.43 an hour, depending on their seniority, for an 84-hour work week. Their living room is just big enough for a few chairs, a television with a 12-inch screen and built-in videocassette player mounted in one paneled wall.

"It's small," said Husser, whose quarters are just beyond the first door from the stern. "It's the size of a cell, really," she said, unpacking a suitcase carrying her essentials, which include DVDs and paperback books. She has a private bathroom, one smaller than a bedroom closet found in most houses on land.

In the galley, her three refrigerators facing the starboard are freshly stocked with 12 pounds of ground beef, 11 pounds of chicken, six pounds of Delmonico steak, nine heads of lettuce, 15 dozen eggs and three pounds of butter. Forty pounds of potatoes and six pounds of onions are brought on ship, too, for the journey.

"If someone gets up from my table hungry, it's their problem," Husser said. "I make my own bread, buns and cinnamon rolls. I make a to-die-for peanut butter pie," she said, announcing to the crew that this dessert will be on the next day's menu.

"Christmas comes early," said pilot Vince Dentino, 27, of nearby California Borough, reaching for a sample of the first day's menu, which always includes hot dogs, kielbasa and chili prepared by the relief cook.

She's quick to say that this job is no holiday. Once, 18 inches of water rushed into her bedroom in a wake caused by the tugboat, when it suddenly moved faster than its haul, causing it to dip under the barges. "Shoes were floating around," Husser said.

Her worst scare came when her boat "got caught in the rolls," or choppy water below Point Marion Locks and Dam, while the vessel was moving a derrick barge, one designed for crane or drilling work. "The oldest deckhand panicked," she said, before the pilot regained control of the boat.

Other times, Husser finds herself mediating arguments between deckhands whose patience has been tested by spending too much time together in close quarters.

"Donny and I are like the psychotherapists on the boat," she said. "The captain and the cook become the mother and father of the boat. Just think if you are stuck in the house with the family for seven days. It takes some getting use to."

On this day, the cruise downriver is delayed about an hour while mechanics made repairs to the massive, spit-shined engine, which filled the boat's hull. Another half-hour is lost while the Arkwright detours from its route to rescue the stalled Jacob G. and tows that tugboat, owned by Mon River Towing Inc., back to shore in Speers.

Wiseman and McDonald finally secure three coal-filled barges to the bow of the Arkwright before it chugged toward the aging and crumbling Charleroi locks, which have been scheduled for replacement over the next decade by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The barges were lassoed to the lock wall, its front and rear gates swung shut, and gravity lowered the water 16 feet to match the river level in the pool below the dam. The front lock gates opened and a whistle sounded, alerting the pilot that the Arkwright could continue its long journey.

Husser's day would end at 7:30 p.m., after the sun had set and it no longer cast long shadows across the river that rolled with a blanket of new-fallen, yellow leaves. She planned to return the next day to the galley at 4 a.m. to begin breakfast. It's her favorite time of day, she said, when the moon reflected on the near-still current, making it look as if it were a sheet of black glass.

Published with permission of the Observer-Reporter

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Visitors hungry for Juneau

A glacier at Tracy Arm Fjord near Juneau is shown above

By Scott Beveridge

JUNEAU, Alaska – When the tide goes out, the table is set,
according to an old Alaskan saying.

It's a reference to the dramatic high and low tides each day that wash ashore seafood, offering residents and black bear fresh catch for their diets.

After the water level drops, hard-shell fish litter the banks of the Inside Passage in the Juneau area by the millions, crunching underfoot if you don’t watch where you’re walking along the beach.

The feeding grounds at the water's edge make sightseeing cruises a thrilling adventure, allowing passengers a glimpse of the abundant wildlife at work on its marine diet. By boat, tourists can watch humpback whales, mountain goats, porpoises and seals from most angles. The snowcapped mountains that make up Tongass rain forest jut 3,500 feet above sea level, and their deep pine forests provide pristine nesting grounds for bald eagles.

The wildlife and breathtaking scenery are making the Southeastern Alaskan panhandle an increasingly popular cruise ship destination. As many as five giant floating hotels can be seen moored at the harbor in Juneau, Alaska's capital since 1906, at any given time during the tourist season.

With the number of cruise ship passengers to this city of about 30,700 residents approaching one million a year, local residents have begun to complain about noise and pollution. The Mendenhall Glacier, the most-visited tourism site, now receives nearly 250,000 visitors each year to its visitor center, built in 1962 to accommodate just 25,000 people a year, according to the National Park Service.

This is a city that can only be reached by boat or air. Residents must order most of their supplies from catalogs or via the Internet and wait longer periods of time for them to arrive. The dress code is casual.

“We have no factories,” a shopkeeper noted at one of the many gift shops that mostly sell tokens made in China. Totem poles and other local crafts made by natives, meanwhile, are offered for expensive prices.

The Tlingit Indians settled in the region's fishing grounds roughly 4,000 years ago. Boatloads of prospectors, including Joseph Juneau, made their way here after 1880 in search of gold in Gastineau Channel. Today, however, tourism is the largest industry.

Many who travel here by cruise ship take helicopters to nearby ice fields that separate the Alaskan peninsula from Canada. There they take a short hike with a pilot to sample glacier water before returning to their cabins.

These visitors have to skip one of the region's most dramatic sights, Tracy Arm Fjord, reachable only by smaller boats that can navigate over the sand bar at its entrance.

The sea quickly changes color to a milky green-blue because of silt and ice floe from the fast-melting twin Sawyer Glaciers, according to the guide working for Auk Nu Tours.

The Smithsonian calls Tracy Arm one of the world's most dramatic fjords, formed by glaciers 2,000 feet thick. Bald eagles hover where sections of the glacier are about to calve, waiting for icebergs to crash into the sea and stir fish for feeding to the water's surface.

These tours last about eight hours, and they include talks by naturalists, who point out black bear munching on grass along cliffs, or harbor seals resting on floating icebergs.

Sea kayaking, mountain climbing, hunting and fishing await visitors who are in Juneau for more than just a few hours.

Some pass the time by taking the nearly 40-mile drive up and down the main road called Egan Highway, where the south end provides this incredible view:


The road signs are shot up for target practice, possibly by those who grow bored from the long winter darkness or any of the nearly 222 rainy days a year. Tourist season runs between May and September, with the average temperature hovering in the 60s during the summer.

Longer hikes around Mendenhall Glacier also are available with forestry experts, who discuss the return of life to barren land after it is exposed by the retreating ice fields.

“There are no snakes here. We just have big animals,” a guide at the glacier noted, as a porcupine scurried past a group of tourists.

(Portions of this were reprinted with permission of the Observer-Reporter.)

At peace with the dead

Danang: Suny-Brockport lecture on ancestor worship

DANANG, Vietnam – On any given day, American students remain standing until their Vietnamese professor gives them permission to be seated.
On this muggy July 2004 afternoon, Vo Van Thang, an English professor at Danang University, is lecturing on ancestor worship.
While there are several religions and a small number of Muslims here, every single person worships their ancestors.
"It looks like a religion but it's not religion," Thang says.
Most houses have an altar to worship ancestors and each village has an altar to worship the ancestors of all the villagers. "The city also has altar," he adds. Meanwhile, every public building has a portrait of former Vietnam President Ho Chi Minh hanging in a prominent place, just like the one above the professor’s right shoulder.
College students from the United States spend a semester earning credits in Vietnamese history and culture through a one-of-a-kind partnership with SUNY Brockport and Foreign Affairs in Danang.
Unlike American co-eds, Vietnamese college students never ask their instructors questions because it is seen as an insult to the instructor, that he is inadequate at his job. This is a country where deceased professors are worshiped as if they are gods.
And in the home, the most important item on an altar are a bowl for josstick, or incense, and a pair of candlesticks.
When burning, the josstick smoke carries prayers or good messages to the heavens. “Every night, even in the city, people are outside burning incense, even in the tree,” Thang said.

Vietnamese ancestor worship

Rather than being fixated on the past, the worship focuses on the dead having a stake in the continuity of life.
Cung Gio is known as the ceremony of the dead, when families and neighbors come together for a party. Tet, or the Vietnamese New Year, is the most important time to worship ancestors, when they “come back and take part in the festivities,” Thang says. “The altar is dressed with new flowers, food, liquor. It’s the time to refurbish the home, buy new clothes...” Another party is thrown on the third day of Tet to see off the ancestors. The Vietnamese typically worship three generations of their deceased relatives.
The Roman Catholic church attempted to stop ancestor worship when it arrived in Vietnam 400 years ago, Thang said. The church later conceded, allowing the people to partake in local superstitions, as long as it is done in the home.
There are other beliefs that the burning of gold or silver paper has the power to send riches to to the sky. Today, people even burn paper cell phones to speed the communication.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Vietnamese businesswomen

Several months ago, Montreal artist Anne Ramsden requested permission to reproduce one of my photographs taken in 2004 in Vietnam. She’s an accomplished artist and professor of visual arts at the University of Quebec. Her work has been exhibited across the globe, from Japan to the United States.

Ramsden is putting together a new exhibit of posters called, “The Museum of the Everyday,” including one of the above photo. She has begun to post the exhibit online at Flickr. So far, however, the images are just available to her list of contacts. It looks like she is putting together an amazing collection of images. Additional information on the exhibit is forthcoming.

The women shown in this photo pedal their way to the villages, trading new kitchenware for old, for a small fee. They call themselves businesswomen. I happened to snap the shot from inside a moving van while in Vietnam as a 2004 World Affairs Journalism Fellow.

My assignment then was to tell the story of the Friends of Danang of McMurray, Washington County, Pa., a group of Vietnam Veterans whose members have been doing amazing humanitarian work on their former battlefields. Follow this link to a story about what would become some of my most fond memories of the country.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dad's empty room

Today was set aside to deal with my father’s belongings, two weeks after he died of a weakened heart at age 84.
For a man who liked to spend more money than he ever earned, his bedroom was filled mostly with junk. The beautiful World War II Army pin stored in the desk drawer will go to my older brother Skip. I will keep the photo identification badge found in the same drawer, one that he wore at the steel mill in Monessen.

Mill badge

My younger brother has taken some of the war medals and was given the U.S. flag our mom received at the funeral.
James Robert Beveridge
Most of his clothes will go to Washington City Mission for the homeless or resale in its thrift shop. The huge stack of losing Pennsylvania Lottery scratch-off tickets on his dresser will go to the curb for the trash man, along with the rest of the useless clutter.
I went to call dad the other day to tell him about a woman who told me that her husband was once his coworker. I guess that is going to happen. We’ll miss his stomping around, slamming doors and grumbling about the home heating bills.

His eulogy follows:

Thank you all for coming today.

My brothers and I cannot begin to express our gratitude for the support you all have shown our mother this week. It’s been overwhelming, and Dad would have been so impressed.

It’s no secret that Jim Beveridge had a gruff exterior. But anyone who really knew him, knew that his sometimes dark moods masked a generous heart, especially for those who were down on their luck.

While he had few relatives to speak of, he rarely declined to open the doors to our home to countless members of our mother’s family, the Harts, when they needed something to eat or a bed when they had nowhere else to call home. This was the true test of his character. He cared deeply for her brothers and sisters, and treated their children as if they were his own. When they did something he didn’t like, they heard about it in no uncertain terms.

While our parents were known for their arguments, at the end of the day, their spats boiled down to who could be the most stubborn. Their stubbornness and passion for living are largely the reasons why we have been so fortunate to have had them at our sides for this many years.

In reality, dad worshiped our mom. Never questioning his machoness, dad took charge of the domestic chores. He shopped for the groceries, cooked the meals, did the laundry, vacuumed the floors and took out the garbage. That is, until age got the best of him, and he began to depend more and more on our mom’s sister, Bonnie, to pick up the slack. We don’t know what we would have done without her these days. And he has always greatly respected mom’s sister, Shirley Rozik, for her gentle wisdom and undying friendship.

Dad was so proud of his three sons and took delight in his grandchildren and daughters in law. He loved to talk history with my older brother, Skip. He read every article I have written for the newspaper. And he looked forward every day to talking endlessly about politics on the telephone with his youngest son, Kelly.

He was never ashamed to tell people that he lived in Webster. He took such pride in his old house, even if it meant spreading a tad too much Liquid Nails on anything that jiggled. I swear, a hurricane will not blow down that house because of the glue that holds it together. It was the only home he ever knew, having moved around with his parents far too often during the Great Depression while his father looked for work.

Dad looked forward each spring to planting flowers in his front yard. The yellow ones were his favorite. And he couldn’t wait to string lights on the front porch every Christmas and admire from a distance how his house glowed on the street.

Politics really was his passion. He was a diehard Democrat, who hated corporate greed and dirty politicians. Just last week, he could recite the players in the Scooter Libby scandal better than Wolf Blitzer on CNNs Situation Room. He loved his television

Televisions played directly to his kitchen, bedroom and even the bathroom. As children, we watched the Vietnam War play out at the dinner table over Hamburger Helper. I was so thankful when Betty Crocker invented Tuna Helper because it gave us something different to eat. Together these skillet dinners became surf and turf with Walter Cronkite.

Even though dad had an incredibly short temper, he did have sense of humor. He could laugh at himself, especially when we teased him about how he butchered the English language.

He didn’t wear a Scottish plaid hat. He wore a played hat. He ate feesh on a deesh. He so much wanted to vote for Iraq Osama in the upcoming presidential election, not Barack Obama. And the religious sect in Eastern Pennsylvania was AAA-mish, not Amish.

But in the end, we are most proud of dad for his Protestant work ethic. He believed in setting his alarm to make sure he got to work on time and earning an honest wage. He never put out his hand for help or took something that didn’t belong to him. For these reasons, we couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

Thank you again for being here today.

Warhol at home

Friday, February 23, 2007

Warhol is always famous here

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – Whether they like his art or not, it’s no wonder people in Pittsburgh still talk about their most-famous homegrown artist, who died 20 years ago Thursday.

If nothing else, Andy Warhol left them an outstanding museum on the city’s North Side, which always attracts crowds of people, many of whom could or did qualify as his chums. They range from blue-haired American Carpatho-Rusyn women who come to celebrate their heritage to the likes of avant-garde filmmaker John Waters, who put out an exhibit of Andy’s porn.

Both of those events took place at the same time 2006. Some visitors sneaked behind black curtains to watch graphic sex scenes while others dined in the basement on ethnic foods Warhol surely would have eaten when he was a boy. Traditional Carpatho-Rusyn versions of Donny and Marie Osmond performed lovely music on one stage while Ska musicians wearing animal masks clanged out much different sounds in a gallery. Both worlds collided to create something remarkably Warhol.

Mick Jagger was given a private tour of the place a couple years back while he was in town for a Rolling Stones concert. This year, while in an elevator to the top floor, I bumped into what appeared to be a man in drag, dolled up like the cool, sexy 1980s rocker Debbie Harry. Last week, I couldn’t help but smile while standing over a display of one of Warhol’s wardrobes, noticing that the pencil-thin celebrity wore a pale, yellow girdle and pink body suit under his black jeans.

The traveling exhibits always bring me back to this museum to fascinate over how well its curators juxtapose other people’s things beside those belonging to the artist to offer a glimpse into what made Warhol Warhol. On one occasion, the museum displayed expensive floral pattern china with bright blue, pink and orange flowers, embellishments that looked strikingly similar to the posies in Warhol’s well-known silkscreens.

Through March 18, 2007, the seven-story museum houses a creepy but captivating exhibit: “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.” It chronicles Darwinism and its focus on natural selection, the Nazi persecution of Jews and other attempts through science and medicine to justify eugenics as a means to select who lives and dies.

The museum also is showing the contents of Warhol’s medicine chest, the size of which could stock a shelf or two at Wal-Mart. It should be no surprise that he had boxes of blonde women's hair coloring, an assortment of unidentified pills and an array of creams, lotions and solutions.

James Robert Beveridge

My father's obituary:

James Robert Beveridge, 84, of Webster, died Monday, March 5, 2007, in UPMC-Shadyside Hospital, Pittsburgh, from congestive heart disease.

Born July 31, 1922, in Fairmont, W.Va., he was a son of Robert and Madge Sine Beveridge.

Mr. Beveridge retired in 1986 from California University of Pennsylvania, where he was a campus police officer. He also retired in 1972 as a pipefitter from American Chain & Cable Corp., Pages Works, in Monessen. While working in Monessen, he was a grievance man for United Steelworkers of America, Local 1391.

He was a veteran of World War II, having served with the U.S. Army, 38th Infantry Regiment, in Europe and Southeast Asia.

Mr. Beveridge was a 1940 graduate of Charleroi High School. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church of Charleroi, where he was a deacon.

He was a former volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program in Charleroi. He also was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 167, and American Legion Post 22, both of Charleroi.

On July 5, 1952, he married June Hart, who survives. Also surviving are three sons: James L. Beveridge, and wife, Kristie, of Lewisville, Texas; Scott Beveridge of Webster; and G. Kelly Beveridge, and wife, Charity, of Greensburg; seven grandchildren, Casey, Shannon, Dillon and Victoria Beveridge of Texas, and Kami, Kyle and Kenzie Beveridge of Greensburg; and many nieces and nephews.

Deceased is a brother, Thomas L. Beveridge.

Interment in the Monongahela Cemetery.

The family suggested memorials in Mr. Beveridge’s honor to the California University of Pennsylvania Student Scholarship Fund, The Foundation for Cal U., P.O. Box 668, California, Pa., 15419.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Anti-Iraq war march

This is what Democracy looks like

Scott Beveridge

Clean-cut parents in their 30s pushed baby strollers, marching beside female octogenarians wearing hot pink for solidarity last week at a massive anti-war rally in the nation’s capital.
Labor turned out in force, representing the United Steel Workers of America, teachers’ unions and Service Employees International Union. An 80-year-old gentleman took the subway from the suburbs, holding a homemade sign criticizing President Bush’s rhetoric. There also was a showing of young adults wearing dreadlocks, looking as if they were in need of a bath.
“This is what Democracy looks like,” protesters chanted in the well-orchestrated, peaceful march on the Capitol that bore little resemblance to the turbulent war demonstrations in the 1960s and 70s.
It was easy to put a face on the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era.
Many proud World War II veterans working in Pittsburgh steel mills called those activists long-haired, unpatriotic queers who were afraid to die for their country.
Actress Jane Fonda would go on to represent everything evil about the youth movement when she was photographed in Hanoi in 1973, adding her name to the enemy Communist propaganda. She was young and just as naive about foreign policy as the rest of the protesters, many believed then.
It would take nearly a decade for mainstream America to join the opposition to Vietnam. Television newsman Walter Cronkite, who brought the war into living rooms, would be given credit for turning the masses against the war.
It happened when, thinking he was off air, he questioned whether the White House had been telling the truth about who had the upper hand in Vietnam. “What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning this war,” Cronkite said, reacting to the North Vietnamese army taking over nearly every U.S. stronghold during the surprise Tet offensive in 1968.
The first massive anti-war march would not occur in Washington, D.C., until 1969, when as many as 500,000 people turned out on the Mall separating the Capitol and Washington Monument. Still, it was a movement largely associated with drugs, hippies, peaceniks and college kids. It was five years after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the nation was misled into thinking a U.S. vessel had come under attack in North Vietnam in what became the smoking gun that brought U.S. troops to war.
The biggest difference between Vietnam and opposition to the war in Iraq is that it has taken much less time for the anti-war sentiment to galvanize. Large war protest rallies have been filling the streets in cities across the United States, since President Bush launched the war in Iraq March 19, 2003.
The 69-year-old Fonda made her first appearance at a war protest rally in 34 years last week in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,300 anti-Iraq war groups across the nation.
This time, Fonda brought along her daughter and granddaughter. They were not alone among this diverse crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands, or nearly 500,000, depending on who did the estimating. Actors Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn were there. So were a mild-mannered priest, soft-spoken rabbi and non-violent rappers from across the country who call themselves the “Raging Grannies.”
However hard the war supporters try, it will be next to impossible for them to draw stereotypes about who belongs to this modern anti-war movement.

Please view the set of photos from the protest.