a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Come as you are......

Sheep-man in blue skirt, originally uploaded by Bergius.

By Amanda Gillooly

That summer, the nights could be both hot and dangerous. The college experience wasn’t that extravagant when you lived in a crappy apartment building with no air conditioning, afraid to even leave your ground-level windows open because of a criminal who had become known as the East End Rapist.

One Friday, as friends and I lounged on one of our second-hand couches, pounding beers (to keep cool), one of our most audacious acquaintances came in with his usual flair.

“OH MY GOD, you guys,” he exclaimed. “You will NEVER believe what just happened to me.”

If past experiences – and the peasant skirt Derek was wearing – was an indication, he was probably right. We probably DIDN’T have any idea what just happened to him.

For the sake of clarity, Derek is one of my more outrageous gay friends – the kind of guy who had no qualms wearing a skirt in public. He wasn’t a transvestite; he just wanted to be cool and comfortable.

All Derek’s friends, myself included, warned him about wearing women’s garb, all for the sake of his safety an not for the sake of someone else’s idea of masculinity. Yeah, we went to Point Park College, and there was a substantial gay and lesbian community there. But we always tried to explain to him that although we knew he looked fabulous in that particular pattern, other people may not be so accepting of his, well, style.

But he never listened to us. Not when it came to fashion. And not when it came to comfort.

And so his story began:

“So the PAT bus pulls up and I get on and show my pass, right? Then I look up and OH MY GOD, all these, like, really burly mean dudes are sitting there, staring at me. I was, like, so scared.”

At that point someone asked the inevitable question: “Well, what did you do.”

He paused for a minute as if he didn’t know how to respond. He looked serious. Then he said very simply.

“I did the only thing I could,” he answered us helplessly. “I worked it!”

He then snapped his fingers and sashayed fiercely across the living room floor, showing us his best catwalk.

Indeed, he had worked it.
So as you get buzzed and ponder your New Year’s resolution, I suggest you emulate Derek. It doesn’t involve wearing a skirt.

Eric Clapton said, “It’s in the way that you use it.” Tom Petty said, “Think of me what you will, I’ve got a little space to fill.” Derek said, “Work it, girl.”

I think all three men will agree that maybe that maybe this year, the best resolution is to simply be you.


Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Among the weirdest products of 2008

The wearable blanket called a Snuggie is the kookiest new invention that I've seen since the tin foil alien deflector beanie.

This blanket might be a perfect late-Christmas gift for a Tibetan monk with poor circulation who can't seem to stay warm under the Eastern sun. But hopefully, it's packaged with a warning for wearers to keep back from camp fires to avoid setting the long, draping sleeves afire.

If you've missed the TV commercial, it's a hoot.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Marching to your own guitar hero

By Amanda Gillooly

Forget the commercial with Victoria’s Secret babe Heidi Klum dancing Tom Cruise-style, the one I’ve come to respect is far less cheeky.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. An uptight, WASP-looking family is jamming to some song featured on the hit video game “Rock Band.” I’m not sure if it was Fleetwood Mac or some other such band, but my first reaction to their “Yeah, I'm a rock star” facial expressions was a killer smirk.

Some part of my psyche that I couldn’t control thought: “Oh my God, what a bunch of tools. I have not, in the past several days, seen anything so dorky.”

But then I stopped myself. To make fun of some middle-aged mom in a sweater-set trying to get a guitar riff down would be just as bad as snickering at the overweight guy getting red-faced on a treadmill while working to depork at the local YMCA.

It’s just not cool, dude. For real.

Here I am judging this poor pretend family because it didn’t look the part of a rock band. And I felt ashamed of myself. A quick recall of the Middle School Years and even some of the High School Years was enough to remind me how terrible it is living your life afraid of what other people are going to think about you.

I doubt I was the only awkward teenage girl consumed with trying to act cool instead of acting like, well…myself.

It’s a tragic thing – I’m sure you’ll agree – when you base such things as leisure activities, hairstyles and off-color jokes simply on how you feel someone else will react.

So there I was watching Sweater-Set Lady doing her best Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix and I finally smiled, remembering an adage that my uncle shared with me. Despite my awesome Internet research skills, I was unable to find the exact quote, or who its should be attributed to.

I was just glad I saw the commercial, and that I wouldn’t have to wait until I’m eligible for a senior citizen discount to learn the lesson.

“When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you care about what other people think of you. In your 40s and 50s you stop caring about what other people think of you. And in your 60s and 70s you realize they were never thinking about you anyway.”

So, to you Sweater-Set Lady, I extend a gracious “thank you” and a healthy “rock on.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new glimpse into the Donora story

August Chambon, the mayor of Donora, Pa., during the infamous smog of 1948, said he expected his borough to someday become a city.

But he couldn’t have been more wrong because the former steel town, today, is a third of its size six decades after it experienced the nation’s deadliest air pollution disaster. The smog is among the many reasons Donora’s mills became the first in a long line of these factories that permanently shut down in America from Philadelphia to Chicago.

Fortunately, for the sake of history, California University of Pennsylvania has preserved a tape recording of a short speech Chambon gave the year of the smog. It’s among a new digital file of old photos and other documents the university created on the rise of Donora and the smog that helped to bring about the nation’s first clean air laws.

The new exhibit has been assembled by Nick Roberts, a Cal U. instructional specialist who helps local schoolteachers gain access to the National Library of Congress' digital files in developing their lesson plans. Click here to sort through the new Donora files.

(The photo of the wire works at American Steel & Wire Co. in Donora, taken in July 1925, and the one of Chambon are courtesy of the Donora Historical Society and California University of Pennsylvania)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Finding the bright places

“When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Unslumping yourself is not easily done.” – Dr. Suess

By Amanda Gillooly

This is when winter starts to really suck.

Our beloved Steelers are headed into their last regular season game against the hated (but wretched) Cleveland Browns, and after that there are only a few more precious weeks of football left.

No more quarterbacks getting jacked up by James “Silverback” Harrison. No more diving catches by Santonio Holmes. No more little prayers that a third-and-long will be somehow converted.

Nah, this is the time of year that Dr. Suess described in all his work (and one of my favorite books) “Oh the Places You’ll Go” as The Waiting Place.

That’s not a good place to be, surely, but here I am: Waiting for the New Year, waiting for March Madness, waiting for spring to emerge from the gray that pervades this part of the country for a few miserable months each year.

Suess advised that to combat The Waiting Place trap, we must “find the bright places where boom bands are playing.” I’m not sure what a boom band is, or where they might be playing (I check Mayrz Inn, no dice), so I’m thinking that place might be different for everyone. Some sort of metaphor or other literary measure.

So, I guess I could grumble and whine and wait for any number of adventures to come my way. I could stay in, wrap myself up in an afghan, read some books and wait for the sun to come out sometime in March (hell, this is Pittsburgh. It might not be ‘til April).

Or I guess I could press up, and try to find those bright places for myself. So before New Year’s, before Levance Fields affixes his “I’m ready to tear it up” headband and kicks ass for his Pittsburgh Panthers, I’ll have to combat the winter yucktasticness and get my fun on.

For me? My bright places include my sister’s house for SpongeBob and beers (to clarify, I watch SpongeBob with my nephew before he leaves for Grandmas’s house, then drink my brother-in-law’s microbrews). And visits with my pals at our college bar being served refreshing adult beverages (not Beveridges) by renowned mixologist, Sir Harold, is always a bitchin’ time.

Yeah, there’s no more football, no more Steelers Huddle, no more Uncle Billy and Tunch. But there’s still fun to be done, I suppose, with or without James Harrison.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The hottest new actress on the planet

Freida Pinto is reason enough to drop everything and see the new movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The Indian actress is gorgeous in her starring role as Latika, the love interest of the main character in the Danny Boyle movie that is showing on just two screens in this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Take the drive because this is the smartest movie of the year, one that is sure to be among those with Oscar nominations in 2009.

The movie is brilliantly shot and has a great soundtrack, as well. Its story touches on many of the problems facing India’s orphans who face anti-Muslim terrorism and grow up in garbage dumps, as does Jamal Malik, the story's hero.

As a young man, he is arrested after being one question shy of winning the Hindi television game show version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The authorities are suspicious because he correctly answers so many questions as someone who is lacking a formal education.

In his defense, Malik explains to the police chief how his life’s experiences ironically provided him with the answers to the questions. The story unfolds after he survives extreme police brutality in an effort to force him to confess to cheating.

As it turns out, Malik had rescued Latika after she was kidnapped into life of prostitution. During their escape, Malik’s brother shoots her keeper with a Colt revolver. As fate would have it, that gun tips off Malik to the clue he needs to answer a question on the show seeking the identity of the inventor of the revolver. Pinto then disappears into another mysterious life as a kept woman. She is a goddess. She doesn't need a strong story line to steal her scenes.

She is central, though, to this amazing and riveting story built around the traditional theme of boy meets girl, boy loses girl and boy gets girl in the end. What could be a better ending for this mild-mannered hero? He dances off with a relatively unknown journalist (in real life) who, because of this gem of a movie, is now worth a million bucks as the world's newest sex symbol.

(Photo: Reuters)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stalled by biscotti

Nothing can delay your holiday shopping plans on a morning free from the office quite like homemade triple chocolate biscotti.

We tried this recipe and it turns out some mighty fine Italian biscuits. To make it ours, we added chopped pecans and drizzles of white chocolate and caramel.

This post also serves as a cheap promotion for my friend's bar, Tim's Corner Bar in West Elizabeth, Pa. If you're in the area and looking to loaf, he serves up the best chicken wings in the Pittsburgh region.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This radio station is the icing on the cookie

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Dr. Craig Smith apparently knows a lot about gender’s affect on sub-cellular brain activity through his experiments involving brain injuries in rats.

But when the physician at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh isn’t taking life so seriously, he transforms himself into one mean rock-and-roller.

Smith commanded the stage Thursday at the city’s independent radio station during its holiday party with his high-energy rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” He sounded something akin to a perfect marriage of the vocals of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello at WYEP’s Holiday Hootenanny.

Pittsburgh is lucky to have the listener-supported 91.3fm. I was drawn to its music about 10 years ago at the suggestion of a former co-worker. My need for alternative radio happened when I tuned into Pittsburgh's venerable rock station, WDVE, only to hear it playing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” again for what seemed to be the tenth time in two days.

While I love that band, DVE's format still remains pretty much the same since I was in high school and its then-disc jockey, Midnight Marcy, and her sexy voice kept boys like me in the 1970s awake well beyond our bedtimes.

A simple switch to WYEP introduced me to such great acts as Citizen Cope and Ray LeMontagne. It also has given me the pleasure to hear on the air during my commutes to work the fantastic music of Irene Kelley and Donora.

Meanwhile, the station passed out free beer Thursday, along with over-the-top butter cookies covered with white icing, coconut and red shoestring licorice at the free party for the lucky 100 or so people who signed up for it in advance on the Web.

The show also featured Donora’s lead singer, Casey Hanner, with her soulful rendition of my favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night,” one that can’t be easy for any vocalist to pull off. And there also was a bearded guy named James who belted out a cool and bluesy version of “Baby Please Come Home” and make this an excellent show.

It’s times like these that make it a no-brainer why I tune in to WDVE now only when I’m on the road and it’s broadcasting live the Pittsburgh Steelers games.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Direct Fire

Direct Fire
Originally uploaded by RugNug
Live from Afghanistan.....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A hero rises from the smog

Donora fireman Bill Schempp was a gentleman who defined volunteerism. This is his obituary from the pages of the Observer-Reporter:

Bill Schempp emerged as a small-town hero, going door-to-door as a volunteer fireman with oxygen in Donora, Pa., during the nation’s deadliest air pollution disaster.
This week Schempp, who died Sunday, December 14, 2008, at age 91, is being remembered as a father figure to young firefighters whom he trained over the years.
“He always welcomed us at any time to his home and loved to talk to us about the olden times,” said Casey Perrotta, 27, a borough fireman and local code enforcer.
Schempp was just 31 when he answered a call from his fire chief, Charles Cumberland, to take an 18-inch oxygen tank to offer fresh air to people who were gasping for their breaths during the Donora smog of 1948.
It took him nearly an hour to walk up Donora’s steep Sixth Street with the tank in one arm and using the other to feel his way through the thick smog linked to stagnant air and pollution from the local steel and zinc mills.
The nation’s first clean air laws were spawned from the event that claimed at least 20 lives over that Halloween weekend.
And through the years, reporters from all corners of the United States have called on Schempp to retell his story about the disaster.
On the famous mission, he offered an oxygen mask to the sick to take just two or three breaths before he had to move on. The calls just kept mounting. At some houses, people clung to him or shouted to keep him from leaving.
“There wasn’t a damned thing you could do about it,” Schempp told a reporter with Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service for a story on the smog’s 50th anniversary.
“There were too many calls to help everyone,” said Schempp’s friend, Paul Brown of Donora. “I worked in that mill. I know how bad it was, so I know what he went through.”
Schempp went on to work for 23 years as Donora postmaster. He was known to tinker with his antique red fire engine that bore his name, and often drove it through local parades.
He granted his final interview last summer to a producer of The Weather Channel’s docudrama, “Killer Smog,” that premiered in November.
Donora firemen gathered last night beside his coffin in James A. Rabe Funeral Home in Donora for a firefighters memorial service.
“He is a hometown hero,” said Perrotta, who portrayed Schempp as a young man in the Weather Channel show.
Schempp is survived by his wife of 67 years, Gladys Balmer Schempp, and a daughter, Annie Schempp of Donora. He will be buried Thursday in Monongahela Cemetery.

(Caption: Donora fireman Bill Schempp about a decade ago in the passenger seat of his antique fire engine.)

This is just crazy rich

The forecast for trade-and-banking-rich Dubai: Blistering hot, but cool and breezy at the refrigerated beach.

This is just crazy news from the Persian Gulf.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The color red means the beer is waiting

GREENSBURG, Pa. – Red Star Brewery & Grille’s name spells great beer in more than one way.

In old Bavaria, a barkeep would hang a red star outside his business when the beer was done brewing and ready to tap. And, at Red Star in Greensburg, Pa., the large beer tanks inside the glass enclosed foyer serve as another reminder to those in the know about that tradition that this establishment takes brewing seriously.

I won’t pretend to be a beer snob because, once at the bar, I order a glass of India Pale Ale, thinking it will be on the light side. It arrives dark yet mellow enough to not qualify it as Guinness, one of the few beers that I hate more than Iron City.

So then I decide on the New England lobster salad arranged on a bed of thin-sliced tomatoes with mayonnaise dressing. It comes with a small loaf of bread and honey-flavored butter. The sweetness of the butter, combined with the beer and lobster, make for a palate pleaser unique to this fantastic bar and restaurant.

Suddenly convinced that this is my new favorite beer, I turn to the drink menu to read its description. It turns out that India Pale Ale was developed to preserve beer for long voyages from England to British troops stationed in India. To survive the three-month trip, it had to have a lot of hops and extra alcohol.

“Ours has enough hops so you can’t really tell how malty it is and enough malt so you can’t tell how hoppy it is and an extra dash at the end of hops to push the balance right over the edge,” the menu reads.

The extra hops cannot be in the mix to preserve the beer because this is one busy restaurant in a 98-year-old beautifully restored train station at 101 Ehalt St. The last two times that I stopped by this year there wasn’t a seat to be found.

The business has survived the test of time, though, because it is celebrating it 10th anniversary in a Victorian ticket room beside a rail line where trains still stop to pick up passengers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

All Big Girl wants from Santa (is this shirtless man)

Matthew-McConaughey-fl03, originally uploaded by yourillusion2002.

Dear Santa,

I know you’re supposed to have the whole “naughty or nice” list going, but because I doubt those documents are considered public under Pennsylvania’s open records laws, I really have no way of knowing which one I’ve landed on.

One of my podmates, Scott Beveridge, alluded to the fact that I may have been more “naughty” than “nice” this year. OK, yeah, maybe I was a little harsh this year to people such as Pamela Anderson and Howie Mandel on this blog. But I swear, I didn’t mean to be mean!

I’m not going to lie to you, Santa: I think I deserve some presents this year. And because people everywhere are scaling back on their Christmas wish lists, you may notice that I’ve been more conservative in my requests this year.

Here goes:

1. A pimped-out Escalade. I’m not gonna be picky – I don’t care what color you pick out. While I own a fuel-efficient Toyota Yaris, I think a big honkin’ SUV would really give me more street cred. When I make my drive from my humble abode on Neville Island to my humble cube in Washpa, I can’t help but notice all the Herculean vehicles rolling by me. My driving instructor taught me to signal my intent to turn, stay a few car lengths back and check my blind spot before changing lanes, but I’ve begun to notice that the bigger the car, the less you seemingly have to obey these traffic rules. So, I figure if I can procure a badass Escalade, I would be a lot less stressed on the road because I wouldn’t have to bother with such things as “turn signals” and “giving the finger” because I would finally be one of the Big Girls on the road! And with gas prices back at a “reasonable" level, I can afford to be less thrifty, right? It’s the American Way, after all.
2. My own reality show. Hey, Andy Warhol did say something about everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame, eh? I can’t act, dance or sing. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a triple threat in my own way, right? After all, I CAN swear like a sailor, be sarcastic and start drama. And if THAT doesn’t qualify me to star in my own series, I really don’t know what other criteria there is. Sure, there would have to be some awesome stunts, guest stars or world travel for me to get a deal with one of the big three: ABC, NBC or CBS. But like I said, I know that America is in a recession, and I’m trying not to ask for anything extravagant. I’m talking more “Flavor of Love” than “Survivor.” I would suggest a working title if I could, but “Gillooly of Love” just doesn’t make any sense…
3. Matthew McConaughey. I know he’s a babydaddy to some Brazilian goddess, but surely, you’ve pulled off more tricky Christmas miracles, right? It’s not like I’m trying to be a home-wrecking wench. If that was the case, I would have certainly asked for Ben Affleck to be placed strategically in my bed…er…under my Christmas tree this year. But I don’t want to be that girl, as it were. So I’ll settle for Matthew. I can almost see him running shirtless on Grand Avenue now…but he’d have to start drinking better beer. I can stand for a lot of things, but not Budweiser. It’s Blue Moon, Sam Adams Summer Ale or no dice. Sorry, but that’s a deal breaker for me. Even if he is one of the hottest guys in the universe. Hey, a girl’s gotta have standards.

That’s it, Santa. I hope I didn’t ask for too much. If you need any clarification on the gifts, just give me a ring. I’ll be around.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “who needs a white Christmas?” Gillooly

PS – If some dude calling himself The Old Man contacts you about any reported “mooning,” please be advised that this allegation has never been proven in a court of law. I know you live on the North Pole and everything, so I’m just really hoping you dig our whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A little magazine that rocks

With covers like this one, it’s no surprise that our newspaper took home a first-place journalism award this year for having an outstanding niche publication.

The current issue of the by-monthly magazine, Living Washington County, features an illustration by Observer-Reporter photographers Jim McNutt and Greg Tarr for a story about Christmas train displays in this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania. This geek likes it even more because we used for a prop my Mike’s Train House train set. Call me a geek for playing with trains, and also digging MTH over the more-expensive Lionel toy train sets.

The cover jumped to this story about these rather cool miniature train displays:

In the glory days of model railroading, all the downtown department
stores had miniature train displays at Christmastime.

And it was a big deal to pack up the family and take the streetcar to
Pittsburgh to see the model railroad villages and purchase a train set
for Christmas, said Scott Becker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Arden.

"That was the whole idea when we first started," said Becker, while discussing the museum's holiday train display, which turns 15 this year.

The children who visit love the trains, Becker said, but their parents seem to enjoy them even more.

"They get nostalgic and remember their dads setting up trains around the Christmas tree," he said.

To complete the experience, visitors get to take a ride on an old-fashioned trolley operated by volunteers in period costumes.

The train exhibit is among two that are open to the public this holiday season.

Retired railroad worker Joe Jack and his friends are taking at least eight toy train sets to Canonsburg and setting up a village in the Rakoczy Building.

Jack, 66, has been toying with trains since he was a kid.

"I don't do the normal things like hunt and fish," he said. "It's a natural thing for me as a retired adult to go on with the hobby and show the kids ... the little kids just go crazy."

Jack, who retired as a clerk in a Norfolk Southern freight yard, became hooked on trains at a time when much of the nation's goods were moved by rail.

The toy versions when Jack was a boy "were as common as computers are now," he said.

In Canonsburg for a third consecutive year, the display will include a large canyon, town, modern rocket site and a circus.

"Many of the children's favorite cartoon and storybook characters will fill the display also," Jack said.

At the trolley museum, the train village is staged low enough for children to see it while standing, and they have a chance to operate the controls.

"Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a train," said David Woods, 61, of Washington, who puts the museum's display together.

"I'm into model trains," he said. "I call myself the toy train engineer."

People Woods' age make up most of the business these days at the dwindling number of stores that sell trains in America, said Sonny Russo, owner of Trainland in Charleroi.

Russo said children and young adults would rather play computer games than take the time to put together a miniature train and village.

"Sales are down everywhere," he said.

He said stores like his mostly deal with "serious-minded, middle-aged" collectors or grandparents who have a notion to purchase their grandson his first train set.

"They want to remember the good old days," Russo said.

Canonsburg Christmas
Railroad and Village

Rakoczy Building, 102 W. Pike St.

Open: Dec. 6 through Christmas from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free; donations will be accepted for the Greater Canonsburg Library construction fund.

Pennsylvania Trolley
Museum Trolleys and Toy Trains

1 Museum Road, Washington

Open: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday through Friday

Dec. 12, 15, 19-22, 27-30 and Jan. 3, 4, 10, 11

Admission: $8 adults, $5 children, $7 senior citizens

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Howie = not funny

Howie Mandel and the Fab Five, originally uploaded by attit.

Dear Howie Mandel,

My favorite part of the movie “Bruce Almighty” was when Morgan Freeman’s God character was telling Jim Carrey (who played the poor schlep who couldn’t get a break) about his “divine spark.”

“You have a gift for bringing joy and laughter to the world,” he told him.

Now, I’m not God. Hell, I’m not even Morgan Freeman, but I can tell you Howie Mandel it doesn’t take a deity to know you don’t have the spark, my man.

While I loved your work with Fred Savage in “Little Monsters” (gimme a break, I was like, 8) you’re recent stint on the hit game show “Deal or No Deal” is just a little too much.

Sure, the show has a mindless appeal, but you don’t. I’m just one woman talking, Howie, but I’ve gotta tell you that your jokes are flat. Busted. Beat. Old.

I didn’t know the exact word for your brand of humor until seeing a plug for your newest venture with NBC. The unscripted show will be titled, “Howdie Do It.” Really, Howie? You identify yourself as a comedian and then sign on to do a show with that much of a shameless pun?

Oh my! That kind of cheesetastic humor might be OK on a game show – it seems like all the hosts have their own brand of creepy cheerfulness – but don’t bring it into the comedy realm, please.

Another one of my spiritual advisers, Neil Young, once wrote: “You were born to rock, you’ll never be an opera star.”

So I’m writing to let you know: You were born to give away money in briefcases, and you’ll never be a comedy star.

Just so you know.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “keep your puns to yourself, please,” Gillooly

Monday, December 8, 2008

Groovy dinos spark thoughts to render Mellon Arena extinct

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A fourth-grade field trip to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus four decades ago at the Civic Arena was the last time I sat in one room with thousands of sugared-up kids until Sunday.

So with mild hesitation, I accepted a friend’s invitation last weekend to accompany her to what is now known as Mellon Arena and witness “Walking With Dinosaurs,” a spectacular show based on an award-winning BBC television series.

But, this crowd of boys and girls sat mesmerized for nearly two hours at one amazing show that mixes strobe lights, scientific knowledge, puppetry and animatronics to bring ancient creatures to life. I was equally as impressed by the production.

“That was awesome,” an 11-year-old boy within earshot exclaimed during the curtain call.

In all, 17 "creatures" glide across the floor at various intervals while a paleontologist sidesteps being trampled by them as he explains life on earth some 65 million years ago. The Brachiosaurus, which stands 36 feet tall and measures 56 feet long, is the biggest of them to roar.

However, baby T. rex steals the show as it screams for attention, dwarfed by its overprotective mother, before they disappear backstage and a giant meteorite slams into the Gulf of Mexico to render dinosaurs extinct. The lights glow red, then flicker into blue circles that hover above the room to mimic flocks of birds, animals that are the only descendants of the dinosaur era.

The light show serves in my head as a sober reminder of the days when clouds of marijuana smoke accompanied Pink Floyd or Charlie Daniels concerts at this landmark in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa.

The place has seen its share of stoned stars since Judy Garland opened the stage Sept. 17, 1961.

But like many a pop star, time has taken its toll on the almost-iconic building that looks like an upside-down, shiny silver metal bowl planted in the center of the city. The rest rooms, for example, smell as if 10,000 too many Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fans peed on their floors, creating urine stenches that long Clorox baths couldn’t erase.

The orange seats sag in the igloo. There are many places where overhangs obstruct the views of the floor. Basically, the place has become a dump. Maybe it is time for the building to take its final curtain call after the Penguins' new home down the street opens in two years.

(Caption: Mellon Arena can be seen in the photo, above, in the distance when Duquesne University built a new campus bridge in 2006)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Donora makes inaugural visit to Donora

Casey Hanner and her brother, Jake, of the Pittsburgh band oddly named Donora, shown above, stopped by the Borough of Donora Saturday to play a few songs to mark the 100th birthday of the Donora-Webster Bridge. So did Bob Menzler of the new Donora duo, Rhyme and Reason, to sing a few cover tunes. (He's in the video clip, below)

Unfortunately, bitter cold weather forced part of the celebration from the bridge to a fire truck house at Rostraver Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 in Webster. But these are talented, dedication musicians who proved to be troopers for a worthy occasion.

In previous years, folks in Donora and Webster dressed up in frumpy period clothing to celebrate milestones on the bridge.

“Let’s start our own traditions,” said DeAnne Pavelko, an organizer of the birthday party, reacting to the notion to celebrate the bridge anniversary with music that appeals to today’s generation.

Here’s an excerpt from a story about the bridge program in today’s Observer-Reporter:

The rusting Donora-Webster Bridge was built a century ago within seven months at a cost $200,000, connecting a borough with hulking steel mills and a village rich with coal.

"That wouldn't be enough to paint the bridge right now," said Charles Stacey of Donora during a ceremony Saturday to mark the span's 100th birthday.

Yet this bridge remains special to residents of these two towns, so much so that two couples stood in a light snowstorm to renew their wedding vows at the rededication service.

"It was exciting, something everybody else doesn't get a chance to do," said Kathie Chadwick of Donora after exchanging vows with her husband of 41 years, Ron.

The Chadwicks and the other couple, Thomas and Carol Stoffel of Monongahela, arrived at the bridge in a horse-drawn wagon to exchange vows before Donora Mayor John Lignelli.

"We were really happy to be here," Carol Stoffel said. "I'm a Donora girl."

Weddings have become a tradition on the bridge, dating to its opening Dec. 5, 1908, when Webster resident John Witherspoon married Harriet Binley before an overflowing crowd. Two other local couples were married on the span Dec. 5, 1986, when it reopened after extensive restorations.

Saturday was the first time the Hanners made a trip to Donora, and they drove around town after singing with plans to shoot some promotional photos there.

“We’re Donora and so are you,” Casey Hanner said before leaving.

Expect big things from her band.

Donora is set to release its first album, one that is self-titled and produced by Rostrum Records, at a party about 8:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at Rex Theater in Pittsburgh’s South Side District.

Last, but certainly not least, the Observer-Reporter's online editor, Harry Funk, braved the light snow storm to introduce the program on the bridge. I'm sorry that I didn't get the chance to run a clip of the entire song.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Single lady skit raises the bar on SNL

I haven't been able to get that new Beyonce song, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)," out of my damned head this week, thanks to another brilliant Saturday Night Live moment.

The skit last week that also features Justin Timberlake is funnier than those featuring Tina Fey portraying the bubbly moose-hunting 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. This SNL season is off to one of its best starts in years.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A brightly colored media

Members of the media are required to become a bigger target on federal highways for people who like to throw things at reporters and photographers.

They are among ambulance workers, firefighters, police and others who are under a federal mandate, effective Nov. 24, to wear safety vests at highway emergencies on interstates and other roads that are repaired with U.S. money.

A couple weeks into the rule, I have yet to see anyone wearing these vests at the appropriate times. Yet the responsible-minded editors where I work at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., this week passed around bright orange vests in the newsroom that are identical to the one worn by the model in the photo, above.

This fashion statement sort of reminds me of a silly notion someone had at the newspaper 15 years ago to require reporters and photographers to wear hard hats at spot news assignments. And, then someone else decided it was necessary to waste money to buy us all yellow strobe lights to pop on the roofs of our vehicles when we got on the road to an accident or fire. No one ever used these things.

The vests, though, are a good idea for those of us who want to stay alive on interstate highways, even though I strongly believe that photographers can best do their work when they blend into the background.

More than 100 workers are killed each year in the highway construction industry, the federal government reports. At least 50 firefighters were killed when struck by vehicles at accident scenes between 1996 and 2006, The Altoona Mirror reported in May. That newspaper also claims the uniforms with reflector tape that firefighters have been wearing do not meet the new law’s requirements.

With the country in a recession and fire departments in rural Pennsylvania struggling to raise money to meet expenses, it’s going to be a burden for some of them to buy these vests.

If the state and local police are not now wearing these vests, it’s doubtful that anyone is going to enforce this law. I envision my new vest becoming crinkled, rolled up in a ball and growing dust balls behind the passenger seat of my trusty Ford Ranger.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Couples to renew vows on Donora-Webster Bridge

Two couples will renew their wedding vows on the Donora-Webster Bridge Saturday during ceremonies to mark the span’s 100th birthday.

Ron and Kathie Dickie Chadwick of Donora and Thomas and Carol Giuffrida Stoffel of Monongahela will exchange their vows after the bridge party begins at 3 p.m.

“Oh, I think it’s going to be nice,” said Carol Stoffel, a native of Donora.

Marriages are nothing new to the gray, steel camel-back span that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Witherspoon, a mine boss for Pittsburgh Coal Co., and Harriet Binley, both of Webster, were married on the bridge when it opened Dec. 5, 1908. An overflow crowd turned out that day to celebrate the first toll-free bridge across the Monongahela River.

A double wedding was performed when the bridge reopened Dec. 4, 1986, after it had been closed for repairs. That day, Thomas Giuffrida and Janine Conroy were married along with Marvin Sechrist and Audra Sadler.

“It goes back to the opening and it’s just a tradition that has been carried on since that time,” said Charles Stacey of Donora, a retired Ringgold School District superintendent.

“I think it’s a good idea, calls attention to this important artifact we have linking this town with Webster,” said Stacey, who will serve as master of ceremonies for the bridge rededication.

The Chadwicks were married Nov. 18, 1967, in Emanuel Baptist Church in Donora, and are the parents of two sons. The Stoffels were married Dec. 3, 1960, at the Eighth Street Presbyterian Church in Donora, and went on to have three sons.

“I give Donora a lot of credit,” Carol Stoffel said. “Of all the little towns, they work the hardest to keep themselves going.”

The Stoffels and Chadwicks will arrive on the bridge on a horse-drawn wagon. Donora Mayor John Lignelli will perform the ceremony.

The event also will include an appearance by Santa Claus, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and performances by Harry Funk, Rhyme & Reason and Donora.

The bridge will be closed to traffic from 2 to 7 p.m., with a detour to the Donora-Monessen Bridge.


Dear sourpuss: Be of good cheer!

El Grinch, originally uploaded by Lilis_.

Dear Mr. Grinch, et all:

Get over yourself, and smile for goodness sakes.

And you know I don’t mean the literal Mr. Grinch (and yes, Grumpy Old Editor), I do mean literal). I’m talking about all those bitter, miserable peeps out there who don’t give a damn that Santa Claus is coming to town.

You know who you are. Male or female, you’re “that guy” – the one who zips through traffic on Interstate 79, cutting people off at 80-plus mph only to get a car-length ahead at the onramp. I saw you today, Mr. Handlebar Mustache With the Ugly-Ass Taurus.

You’re the woman with the designer boots and Coach handbag who doesn’t even make eye contact with the dude outside her local supermarket, bundled up and waiting for someone to drop a few coins (or by God a dollarini or two) into the Salvation Army bucket he’s ringing a bell for.

You know who you are. You’re the one who gives dirty looks to babies cooing at church because you can’t hear the sermon. And you’re also the one who can’t make a joke unless it’s at the expense of someone else’s intelligence.

Screw all you guys. It’s almost Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate). And damn it, I know you are idiots all year round, but I thought that with the arrival of December, maybe you’d pipe down and try to be a bit more…well…noble. A bit more caring. I was hoping that people would loosen up those bowties, get the right size bra for their puppies and dislodge the rather sizeable sticks up their derrières.

But hey, it’s only the first day of December. We still have a couple dozen days to invoke the spirit of Cindy Lou Who, Cousin Eddie or more importantly, perhaps, my own personal hero: George Bailey of “It’s a Wonderful Life” fame.

I don’t mean to rant (it’s just not in my nature. OK. That was a joke). I just know that this is the time of year where I try (more than usual) to center my Chi and get my Karma in order. Whatever you want to call it, I guess this time of year helps me try to see the best in others, and even in myself.

So the Grinches and Scrooges out there, I may have started out saying, “Screw you.” But that’s just not nice, and what kind of example would I be setting anyway?

I’ll just end with this, a few words of inspiration from one of the Great Writers. If he can’t help us all understand what a special time we have before us, I don’t know who can.

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” ~Charles Dickens

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “bring on ‘Garfield’s Christmas’” Gillooly