a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The funeral parlor pickup line

By Amanda Gillooly

There are certain places you’d never expect to be hit on. These places include, but are not limited to funerals and the gynecologist’s offices. Thankfully, I’ve never been asked, “What’s your sign?” while getting my lady parts examined. But funeral homes? Apparently they are now fair game.

Or maybe it was just Darrell.

I can’t imagine many people aside from him screaming, “Damn woman, you lookin' sexy” at a passing driver while standing outside a funeral home in Coraopolis.

But then, it was Darrell, so I should have considered the source. And if nothing else, I should appreciate his patience and tenacity over the past 13 years. Some women live their whole lives without ever having a man hit on them consistently for more than a decade.

My friends know who Darrell is all too well. He briefly attended my high school, where we all thought he was some kind of idiot savant. It was only a matter of weeks before we discovered that he was just an idiot.

I was on my way home from getting my hair did in Pittsburgh last Friday, when I heeded a traffic light on Fifth Avenue, and found myself stopped in front of the venerable Copeland’s Funeral Home. I was starring straight ahead, waiting for the green light to beckon me forward while flipping through the radio stations to avoid yet another Hootie and the Blowfish song.

And I hadn’t noticed the young black man staring at me from just outside that building until he shouted, “How you doin?” Hoping that the light would change, I didn’t respond. But then, about 20 seconds later he shouted loudly: “Hey girl, how you doin?”

I finally looked his way and gave a half-smile of acknowledgment when it hit me: This wasn’t the first time I’d been on the receiving end of this dude’s advances. In fact, after the shock wore off, I realized that the guy looking spiffy in the beige suit was in fact Darrell.

He is the same guy who followed me home from the bus stop when I was 15, walking way too close for comfort . Just when I was about to reach my doorstep he spoke: “Girl, how about we go out sometime?”

“Go out sometime?” I thought. But I said: “Uh, sorry I’m only 15.”

His response has been a joke since then: “Huh, I’ll wait!”

Although he then knew my age, it didn’t stop him from hitting on me (and friends) while at restaurants or while buying groceries. The weirdest thing is that he’d creep up from out of nowhere in places you couldn’t easily escape.

Just like last Friday. Stopped at a red light, I was trapped. When the light finally turned, I gunned it, afraid he’d approach the window and want an update on the last 13 years.

But he didn’t. He just bellowed, “Damn, woman you lookin’ sexy!” as I drove away.

I smiled and gave him a quick waive in the rear-view mirror. At that point I saw mourners in black stepping out of Copeland’s, and doubted they appreciated the exchange as much as I did.

Monday, March 30, 2009

E-cloth clean without a hint of soap

The notion of cleaning the kitchen counter without a drop of soap seems impossible to this member of the “disinfectant generation” who depends on a bevy of household chemicals for survival.

So news about the launch of E-cloth, an Earth-friendly rag woven with millions of tiny fibers to gather dirt with the help of just water and elbow grease, arrives today on my desk with a heavy dose of skepticism.

The PR kit contains a plastic water spray bottle and two cloths - a green one for heavy dirt or dry dusting and another in robins egg blue designed for washing windows. They feel dense, heavy and sort of rubbery. They are supposed to last a year and survive multiple washings, too.

Produced in Korea for EnviroProducts Ltd. of the United Kingdom, E-cloth is endorsed by KitchenAid, Hotpoint, Seimans and a number of other customers.

“Old habits die hard, but cleaning with chemicals is one of those habits we can change,” according to the printing on the package. It’s especially recommended, the company states, for people with chemical sensitivities and others who care about protecting sources of water from unwanted pollutants.

Well then, I’m heading to the bathroom to perform an unofficial laboratory test with these E-cloths on those lingering toothpaste stains around the sink and on the shaving mirror.


Returning a few moments later to this blog, I am surprised to announce that these cloths appear to clean exceptionally well without leaving smears on the bowl or dust particles behind on the mirror. Missing, though, is the fresh, sanitizing scent of lemon or chlorine that bathroom cleaners leave behind.

This gives me an almost uncontrollable urge to spray the area down with Lysol just to make sure it’s germ free. But then again, I’ve been shaving for a few days around this cesspool without developing a fungus.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Guevara comes out a loser in "Che: Part Two"

The movie “Che: Part Two” rightfully paints Dr. Ernesto "Che" Guevara as a zealous and misdirected leader of a lost cause following his triumph in Cuba.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the second and final chapter of the epic film about the Argentinean revolutionary takes him to Bolivia for a repeat performance of the freedom fighter's one-time success of overthrowing a dictatorship.

However, his soldiers arrive in South America unprepared for the rejection they receive from Bolivian peasants who distrust foreigners, especially those from Cuba. They never warm up to Che’s mission to treat their illnesses and give them money to gather soldiers in the war against oppression. In fact, some poor farmers side with the Bolivian military aided by U.S. secret forces. Starving and ill equipped, Che leads his men into a deep ravine where they are easily surrounded and either killed or captured.

This movie is long, slow-paced and nowhere as good as “Che: Part One” that chronicle’s Guevara’s heroic victory in Cuba and arrival as a power player in the Communist movement that so troubled Washington D.C. in the 1950s and 1960s.

This tragedy presents its hero as a loser with a swelled head. Near the end Che, portrayed by Benico Del Toro with Oscar-worthy skill, spits in the face of a Bolivian commandant before his own execution, adding another casualty to a noble cause that ends in disaster.

Che had by then delivered Cuba yet another dictator in Fidel Castro, whose poor leadership was equally to blame for this blunder in South America. While Che struggled in Bolivia, Havana lost contact with his ground troops because Castro provided them with faulty radio transmitters.

One has to admire this warmonger to some degree for his bravado.

But it’s a wonder anyone would still worship Che, to whom Cuban schoolchildren continue to offer their daily pledges of allegiance. Thanks, though, to Soderbergh for crafting this story without the bias of history-glossed romanticism.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Che Part Two

This should be a great movie if it's half as good as "Che Part One."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Artist gaining perspecitve

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Shelbie Jones studies the large portrait she is sketching from a magazine photo of a popular female rapper, stands back and notices a problem with the proportion.

“Something doesn’t look right here. I think it’s the eyes,” the 16-year-old Washington, Pa., girl says while working in a studio above an Italian restaurant in her hometown.

Her teacher at Washington Community Cultural and Arts Center, Jeffrey Katrencik, agrees and uses his hand and fingers to measure off the facial proportions in her sketch.

“You have the eyebrow down too tight to the eye,” said Katrencik, who is mentoring a half-dozen young students at WashArts in downtown Washington.

“I think it’s OK,” he said before encouraging her to draw in the hair and shadows to round out the features of the beautiful British singer and songwriter known as M.I.A.

Shelbie follows his instruction, saying she doesn’t get this kind of careful observation at Washington High School, where her art classes usually involve craft projects.

“For two hours here I’m getting individual attention from a serious artist,” she said. “It helps.”

Katrencik laughs at the thought of being called serious, although he has built an impressive resumé in the Pittsburgh art scene.

The Houston man was born into a family of artists, a son of a coal miner named Joe whose wife convinced him to enter art school. Joe Katrencik, whose parents were Slavic immigrants, then began a second career painting murals in local bars and hunting scenes on campers.

Jeffrey Katrencik earned his bachelor’s degree in drawing in 1985 from Carnegie Mellon University before obtaining a master’s in multimedia technology at Duquesne University four years ago. He earned a teaching certificate at Carlow University and also studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He also teaches digital design online for the Art Institute.

He dabbled as a substitute teacher for a stretch, but found himself uncomfortable “bossing kids around.”

While hesitating to “pigeon hole” himself by labeling his art style, Katrencik said he considers himself a modernist.

“I like to twist things around,” he said.

Some of his work involves portraits of nude women, and in one piece he grossly over-exaggerated the woman’s muscles. It’s done in pen and ink, and swaths of silver glitter.

To put it mildly, he doesn’t produce hunting scenes or those featuring Indians, art that he says would find a market in Washington County.

“That’s the dilemma with some of (my) stuff. It limits where I can exhibit. I don’t want to cater to this area too much.”

He also dabbles in political art, painting a couple colorful portraits of former President George W. Bush. One was drawn of Bush with hot pink outlines and walking in a blaze of yellow flames. It has an empty cartoon “balloon” pointing to his mouth.

It’s mocking Bush’s “unclear agenda,” Katrencik said.

He also has a book cover illustration featuring Bush and two other politicians being hounded by an angry mob. A public school is burning in the background in the cover of “No Bad Schools,” a critique of American education policy by Ron Sofo and Bill Renko.

One of his more visible works can be found on a large wall at the East Parkway Bus & Ride lot in Wilkinsburg. It features a colorful montage inspired by his painting of Joe Magarac, Pittsburgh’s mythical “Man of Steel.”

Legend has it Magarac was made of steel to protect steelworkers and eventually melted himself down for products to build a new mill.

Katrencik painted the folk hero on a lark in shades of blue, green and black, assuming Joe would be a popular subject among artists competing for the public murals. Turns out, Katrencik was the only competitor with such an entry.

“I’m very much a free spirit,” he said.

(Caption: It would have been much better had Shelbie been on the other end of my camera lense, but, that is Katrencik teaching drawing at WashARTS)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Amanda's musings: Out with the old sports bra

Bra Fence (same), originally uploaded by imagesnzimages.

Dear CW-X executives,

“Flopping” and “boobs” are two words that should never be uttered in the same sentence. But in the midst of an elliptical workout this morning, I found myself contemplating if one of my breasts were going to jump ship and liberate itself from my sports bra.

Not a good thought. Hmm. Not really a good image, either. And for that, I apologize.

I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your concern for my girls (and girls everywhere), and ensuring that they are stationary even during the most rigorous workouts.

It’s a touchy subject for me personally, because while I welcome weight loss, any woman who has been overweight for any length of time laments what goes first: That extra cup size you inherited along with those 30 pounds.

Yes, I am really pumped about my shrinking figure, even while silently crying over the boob situation. I can deny, deny, deny, but when a breast almost jiggles its way out of its support garment, you have to face facts.

So I’m going shopping tomorrow for a new bra. One of yours, in fact. The CW-X Ultra Support Bra has to be the most high-tech model out there, what with the “nine fully adjustable back and shoulder closures,” which offer a whopping 18 combinations for a snug fit.

Then there is the “Coolmax” fabric, which the ad indicates “wicks moisture away from the skin.” All I can say to that is a healthy “hallelujah.” Anyone who has battled the detested boob sweat hears me.

Most impressive, though, is the “motion control” cup designed to keep excessive movement at bay (If you ever need a new research and development guy to test those puppies out, my friend Paul said he would be into it).

This bra means business, indeed. And while I intend to pick one up, I want to offer one suggestion to make the garment even more useful. Two words: Side pockets.

Before you snicker, please know that yoga pants and other workout gear rarely have pockets, making a jog on the nearby Montour Trail or gym workout cumbersome. A girl never knows what to do with her keys, cell phone or Ipod. Hence the pockets – everything you need in a safe, secure area.

While some men would say, “Lumpy boobs should not be a trend,” I assure them more women than people realize utilize their brassieres for extra storage space.

Yeah, that one fire chief DID give me the stink eye when I whipped my cell phone out of mine to check the time, but it works.

Just a suggestion.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “help me lift and separate” Gillooly

Monday, March 23, 2009

A riveting movie about Che's rise to hero status

Director Steven Soderbergh delivers a thrilling war movie with “Che: Part One,” the story of Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s rise to hero status during the Cuban Revolution.

It has nail-biting shootouts in Colonial towns and larger cities, including one waged from the roof of a old Roman Catholic Church, as well as references to spaghetti westerns and cowboy actor John Wayne before Havana falls to Marxist guerrillas.

Along the way, Guevara, portrayed flawlessly by Benicio Del Toro, wins the hearts of peasant farmers by arming them with an education and guns before overthrowing Gen. Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship. Che takes part in every battle, sometimes on the front lines despite protests from Fidel Castro, who wants his great soldier-leader with severe asthma to survive the war. Meanwhile, Che tends to the poor and sick, includes war crime victims in the jungle trial of their attackers and even prevents his soldiers from looting before the more than two-hour movie ends along the road to Havana.

The war scenes are shot in color, while clips of Che’s famous 1964 appearance at the United Nations are shown in black and white. While speaking in New York, he sharply criticizes the United States for its treatment of blacks and the U.N. for ignoring apartheid in South Africa.

Some critics haven’t been kind to this movie that opened Friday at Pittsburgh’s Harris Theater and will conclude into next week with Part 2. Some complain that it ignores the hero’s mysterious early life and doesn’t give much attention to the politics that brought about the revolution.

There is always Google or regular books to learn more about what is missing from this epic. Or rent “The Motorcycle Diaries,” the 2004 movie about Che’s South American road trip that sheds light on how he developed his compassion for the less fortunate.

Soderbergh deliveres a classic, and southwestern Pennsylvania is lucky to have Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the nonprofit media center responsible for showing this movie. I can’t wait to see “Che: Part II.” If only Filmmakers had the money to replace those uncomfortable chairs in that theater.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spam frittata with leftover pasta

Spam and pasta frittata

1/2 can (6 oz) Spam cut into small cubes
6 eggs
1 cup grated pizza cheese
1/3 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon of dried garlic
1 tablespoon of dried shallots
Pinch of parsley
1 1/2 cups plain spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained
Tabasco to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Whisk eggs together in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir, but save a small amount of the cheese for later. Pour into a pie dish and bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top and continue baking for another 5 - 8 minutes.

Cost: $3
Host: Barbara Miller
Producer: Harry Funk

Friday, March 20, 2009

A nice restaurant with a not-so-sweet view

BEAVER, Pa. – Lock 6 Landing is a restaurant in an impressive industrial building with a bizarre view.

Food and drink are served inside the ornate Victorian former lock and dam powerhouse whose south arched windows have a view of a messy-looking zinc plant on the opposite banks of the Ohio River.

During our stop, the floor manager appears proud to tell us the zinc plant is one of only two in the United States.

Also within view is a coal-fired power plant just up the road in Beaver County from FirstEnergy’s nuclear generating station in Shippingport.

The short driving tour of the river roads in this area has to be one of the strangest in America. Motorists heading west on Route 68 can cross the Shippingport Bridge and cruise within a stone’s throw of scary-looking cooling towers. Further ahead, a sign welcoming visitors to town proudly features a painting of the plant below clear skies and beside green trees.

Back at the restaurant near Vanport, we are seated at a table facing the river and order slices of cake oozing with chocolate syrup. We marvel at the ornate, original tin ceilings while making a chocolaty mess of the white linen tablecloth. Suddenly, a large volume of water gushes out a pipe at the zinc plant toward a container at the riverbank.

“That doesn’t look like it should be happening,” I say, before noticing there is chocolate of my knife, spoon and two forks. My friend later said chocolate was on my chin, too.

This massive brick building constructed about 1892 once contained the machinery to operate Merrill-Lock No. 6, the second of 10 that were built to improve navigation on the river in Pennsylvania. The lock and dam was abandoned, along with the house, in 1936 when new locks and a dam were constructed nearby in Midland.

The powerhouse has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and used as a restaurant, on and off, for the past decade. We’ll definitely be back for dinner. I have a craving for the crab cakes on the menu.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crowded lawn speaks to town's good spirit

CANONSBURG, Pa. – The jumbled assortment of lawn ornaments outside Canonsburg’s borough building could rival the number in a national park.

There’s a flagpole donated by the Jewish community in 1941, a dozen American flags, five lampposts, more than 20 shrubs, four plastic park benches, a fire department bell and hundreds of memorial bricks in this Pennsylvania lawn. The list goes on and on.

If this keeps up, there won’t be a blade of grass left in the postage-stamp-sized lot that pays testament to a small town with more community pride than a major metropolis.

A covered-over lawn would be fine for me because 68 E. Pike St. is my favorite place in Washington County, one that can bring out a smile, even on the gloomiest days.

It’s the life-size statue of 5-foot-6-inch homegrown crooner Perry Como, and especially his songs broadcast over a loudspeaker, that seal its special place atop my list of happy places.

Sure, it’s funny that the microphone on the granite statue looks more like an ice cream cone aimed at the lips of Como, who died in 2001 shy of his 89th birthday. He didn’t live long enough to see, up close, his likeness that was created in stone in 1999.

But the music is the punch line, especially on days when Como can be heard belting out “Papa Loves Mambo” when it’s my turn to rummage through the borough police reports.

The recordings fill the air, thanks to the ingenuity of borough manager Terry Hazlett, who made national headlines and drew many chuckles in the fall of 2002, when he turned the masterpiece into the “The Singing Statue.”

The first rows of the memorial bricks around its base were reserved for relatives of the former barber who became one of the most successful television hosts of a musical variety show.

It seems that nearly every Canonsburg family has left its name on something outside the building – Italians, Greeks, the Irish, the Polish.

These hard-working families, symbolic of America’s melting pot, are what make the borough of 8,600 residents so special, Hazlett said.

“You talk about family names – some of them are 100, 200 years old,” he said. “It really is home to certain families.”

And on the music front, they have more than Como to brag about. Bobby Vinton grew up there and went on to have a string of hits in the 1960s that made him the “most successful love singer of the rock era.” A popular vocal group, The Four Coins, also consisted of members from Canonsburg.

These are among the reasons why Canonsburg hosts the county’s largest Fourth of July parade and the sixth-largest Oktoberfest in the United States.

Yet, Hazlett has looked outside his office window toward the lawn and thought it looked a mess because nothing was staged with any rhyme or reason.

“It is overwhelming,” he said.

But if council ever considered moving anything out to make room for more grass, it would meet with resistance, Hazlett said.

“The people wear Canonsburg on their sleeve. It’s apparent by the front lawn on the borough building.”


Monday, March 16, 2009

Rally call to save a Mon bridge

Members of the Charleroi Area Historical Society are urging people to attend a meeting next week to oppose a plan to demolish the aging Charleroi-Monessen Bridge.

The Pennsylvania bridge has been closed since Feb. 19 after an inspection revealed a deteriorated pin joint supporting it on the Monessen side of the Monongahela River. A plan is on the table to dismantle the bridge and replace it with a modern design.

“It doesn’t make sense to tear it down,” society member Nikki Sheppick told the Observer-Reporter on Monday.

The 103-year-old steel through-truss bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its design.

The state Department of Transportation is expected to announce its decision on the fate of the span at a meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. March 26 at a location yet to be determined.

Click here to read more about the matter.

(Caption: The tugboat Slackwater moored in North Charleroi below the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge during the early 20th century. Photo courtesy of Charleroi Area Historical Society.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chef blends a little soul into his menu

By Liz Rogers

Spend a little time with Chef Al Collins and one thing quickly becomes apparent: This guy is passionate about food and cooking.

The down-to-earth owner of Al an' Ruben's Bar and Grill in Washington, Pa., is also a straight-shooter who won't be bothered with pretentious-sounding dishes or people. He points to his "Beans 'n Greens" Рescarole and cannellini beans saut̩ed in olive oil Рnoting that he goes through 150 orders a week. And he affectionately refers to the comfort-food favorite, macaroni and cheese Рhis grandmother's recipe that he tweaked Рas "crackaroni."

"Once you have it, you're done," he says, not in a boastful way.

Aside from his pastas, which are imported because he doesn't have the room to make them, everything on the menu is made from scratch. He crushes the tomatoes and grounds the basil for his sauce, and cuts his own meat and fish. He'd like to grow his own herbs for the restaurant, too.

"I just believe in the freshest product you can get," he said.

Collins has just one goal: to make and serve good food, and that's the philosophy he instills in his 22 employees.

"There's a lot of people out there that don't care, and there's very few that do," he said. "So I'm here. I'm cooking every day. I have a really good staff behind me. They're back there with me every day. They won't send anything out of the kitchen that's not right."

He treats his staff like family, and some of them actually are: Leesa, his wife, helps manage the restaurant and works in the kitchen, and two of his five children are employed there, too.

During an interview in the cozy 80-seat restaurant that hugs busy Jefferson Avenue, Collins reflected on his first year as a restaurateur. The day was typical November-dreary, but inside the eatery, the atmosphere was bright and warm. There have been some ups and downs, but for the most part, business has been good. He's looking at innovative ways to attract new customers, offering live jazz in the dining room on Wednesdays and in the bar on Thursdays.

"I'm not here to get rich," Collins said. "I want to be comfortable. And the look on people's faces when they eat food from here, it's priceless. It really is."

Chef: Al Collins, 40, owner and chef of Al an' Ruben's Bar and Grill, 2390 Jefferson Ave., Washington

Culinary experience: Trained at the former Pasta Piatto, Shadyside; Cafe Giovanni, Pittsburgh; Big Jim's Roadhouse, Hendersonville; former Bella Piatto, Peters Township

First job: Dishwasher, Pasta Piatto

"That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. But I got so good at that. I was so good they wouldn't promote me. I finally got them to let me on the line."

Specialty: Italian, soul food

Inspiration: His grandmother, Shirley Blair

"My grandmother had me cooking when I was 7 years old ... I would sit in the kitchen with her every holiday. We'd be up till 3, 4 in the morning, making turkey, I'd be cutting vegetables, helping her with the stuffing. She was my best friend, my best friend in the world."

Favorite dish: Stuffed banana peppers

Least favorite dish: Tripe

"I don't like tripe; I won't eat liver, and I won't eat chicken gizzards. I won't eat it; I'm not going there. You won't see it on the menu."

Accolades: March of Dimes Star Chef and Signature Chef Awards

Cooking tip: Build a dish by cooking in steps. Don't throw all of the ingredients in at once. Ingredients like herbs and spices need time to marry to develop a dish's full flavor potential.

Hours: Opens 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Phone: 724-223-1038

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another shameless product endorsement

There was one slick car polish that kept my auto shining like new for tens of thousands of miles on the road in all sorts of weather.

Turtle Wax's 2001 urethane enriched car polish did the trick.

I picked up a 20 oz. supply of it, yes in 2001, and never ended up using two thirds of the liquid that came in a groovy green plastic bottle.

As an aging skeptic, I had doubted the company's claim that this product required no rubbing and buffing, and held it's shine for a year. I also wondered eight years ago how a company could stay in business if its customers didn't need to use its product more often.

Eight years later, my 2001 white Ford Ranger still looked almost brand new when I traded it for a compact car.

Folks thought I was exaggerating when I said that pickup truck had reached the end of the road when it still looked spiffy.

By then, she had traveled some 191,000 miles and survived one blinding blizzard outside Detroit, Mich. in 2006, as well as a violent deer strike in McMurray, Pa., a year earlier. Her finish also had repelled numerous splotches of wide droppings from birds that lingered on the electric, cable and phone lines above my driveway. The truck also slept in an area prone to acid rain storms.

Sorry to say Turtle Wax no longer sells this stuff. It's no wonder.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A funny, witty little movie

It was a strange low-budget vacation last week because I only went to see one movie.

I have been known to see as many as two movies a day while loafing for long stretches. It’s an addiction that I picked up early from my movieholic parents who knew every actor’s name in every Hollywood movie during the 1940s and well into the 1970s.

Even more odd, I went to see “Fanboys” rather than seek out my typical favorite, a movie with a gripping plot, heavy acting and a hard life’s lesson to be learned.

This movie directed by Kyle Newman is all about a group of “Star Wars” nerds. It's short on intellect but brilliant in how Newman picked kooky actors in bit parts to deliver subtle one-liners. Carrie Fisher, who shot to fame as Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, is a hoot when she briefly appears as a hospital nurse while the main characters take a road trip to the home of their favorite director, George Lucas.

Take a break from the routine, seek out this movie, laugh a lot and forget about this miserable economy, at least until the theater lights come up.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A requiem for the pickup truck

Toll 43 crash, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

The relationship with my truck has lasted longer than some marriages.

Therefore, it nearly required preseparation counseling before trading in the 2001 Ford Ranger today for a compact car. And it’s going to take some time to adjust to steering a kiddy car around Washington County after driving a man ride for the past eight years.

I’m going to give props to Ford Motor Co. for this reliable truck model, as mine required hardly any maintenance save for oil changes and tire changes over the course of its 191,000 miles on the road.

That was until its latest inspection Friday, when the mechanic determined it’s nearing the end of its usefulness and would cost too much to put back on the road. It’s no longer safe to drive. But with that kind of miles under its hood, it’s impossible to complain about its demise.

So, “Travel with a Beveridge” will now be traveling incognito in a baby-poop gold Ford Focus and enjoying the savings at the gasoline pumps.

Meanwhile, Amanda next door at the office has decided to wear a black armband Thursday for the truck’s after-work memorial service at Union Grill, where she will perform the funeral Mass.

(Caption: That's my old truck in the distance at a wreck on the Mon-Fayette Expressway in Fallowfield Township)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Twitter doesn't tweet in this room

There is something obscure and wonderful in this designer master bedroom on exhibit at the Home and Garden Show in Pittsburgh.

A newspaper of all things is parked under a teacup a short distance from a rendition of the nude Adam upon his creation at God’s fingertip.

Who would have guessed a modern man or woman "occupying" this space inspired by Michelangelo’s adornments on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling actually pays for The Wall Street Journal and then reads its pages in real time.

Here’s a shoutout to the designer, Karolyn Spagnolo of Spagnolo Design: Nice touch.

Flash back to yesterday when that dead-tree edition had a story about Twitter, the Web "It Girl" who has been spreading the word while old media wasn't watching.

Spagnolo's room has a message for those who tweet: Like it not, some people still prefer to hold onto the real deal to keep up with the world.

Her fancy design can be found among a row of rooms created by members of the Pennsylvania West chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers who were challenged to create them around a famous work of art.

The room is elegant, but it wouldn’t work in my house.

That white carpeting would quickly collect dust bunnies procreating among coffee stains. Within a week, I'd trip over the ceramic dogs and break those expensive phony pets to pieces, only to wonder who put them there in the first place. Really.

The painting is another story.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

George Jetson-era doughnuts

It’s hard to believe in the digital age that there isn’t a Web site advertising DeAngelis Donuts, a funky coffee shop at a busy intersection northeast of Pittsburgh.

So newcomers like us are forced to call the business in Rochester boasting a retro plastic sign capped with a giant spinning doughnut to find out when it opens and closes.

The waitress on the other end of the line today said she usually locks up when the donuts are sold out, but will be there until 5 p.m. So much for regular hours at this roadside attraction at one end of the Monaca-Rochester Bridge crossing the Ohio River in Beaver County.

We arrive about 4:30 p.m. to find the inside lights aglow, a chubby customer at the counter, the doors locked and a friendly waitress who ultimately decides to let us inside. I am happy and on a mission to sink my teeth into what the sign outside promotes as “Delightfully Different DONUTS.”

By now, I am craving greasy, sticky arteries-clogging glazed donuts of a heavenly variety. To my surprise, there are several rows of surviving chocolate cake donuts covered in dark sprinkles, those with fancy swirls that pretend to have a French connection and others dusted with powdered sugar in the sour dough family. The doughnut gods are surely smiling down upon us. She bags us a half-dozen assortment that cost just under $5 and we are out the door.

In the end, there isn’t anything special about these donuts. They are kind of small, actually. But that's OK.

It’s the original 1950s architecture, shiny chrome counter stools and giant geometric George Jetsonish sign that make this business a worthy adventure in the New Millennium.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mellon Arena: Threatened to extinction

Pittsburgh, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

It’s with a bit of irony that Preservation magazine is counting Mellon Arena among America’s threatened landmarks in a city that doesn’t seem to care much about saving the odd building from demolition.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is featuring Pittsburgh’s dome-shaped amphitheater in its current publication’s short list of endangered structures in transition because there isn’t a plan for its reuse.

No one has come forward to offer a strong plea to restore the 48-year-old stadium after it’s main tenant, the Penguins hockey team, moves to its new home next year, not even the city’s Historic Review Commission. It voted in 2002 against giving historic designation to the former Civic Arena.

It would be shame to see this structure disappear because it’s the world’s largest building of its kind, one with a retractable roof that has been likened to a flying saucer lodged in the city’s Lower Hill District.

The civic center designed for Pittsburgh CLO opened Sept. 19, 1961, with a performance of the Ice Capades. Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Page are among the musical legends that have taken its stage. Present Barack Obama even campaigned there last year.

The Trust appears to be fond of the Steel City, as features about Pittsburgh landmarks routinely appear in its magazine. The organization also has a lot of clout, having been instrumental in saving an impressive number of American treasures through its annual list of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic places.

Just maybe the brief in this magazine will catch the attention of a group with enough passion to keep this arena supported by 2,950 tons of Pittsburgh steel on the horizon. Pittsburgh without a stainless steel bowl would be like Seattle sans the Space Needle.

Donora smog check-up

Donora smog checkup, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

The Donora Smog Museum has expanded its hours to accommodate the growing number of people who want to get inside to see its collection.

It includes a great number of old photos that relate to American Steel and Wire Co.'s works in Donora, Pa., where a zinc mill helped to create a deadly smog in 1948.

The new hours at the 595 McKean Ave. museum are:

1 to 3 p.m. Monday
6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday
1 to 3 p.m. Thursday
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Hobbit garage

Walter Rockwell’s love of carnivals could explain his fascination with whimsical architecture.

During his adult life in the early 1900s, Rockwell built several round buildings in the Charleroi, Pa., area, including this fanciful garage behind a mansion on a hill overlooking the borough.

Built at the end of a narrow alley behind Prospect Avenue, it’s floor once rotated with the help of ball bearings and chains so drivers didn’t have to steer backwards for nearly a block to reach the main road.

Rockwell earned the degree of master electrician after having worked for seven years building carnival attractions. He was best known during his time for building the “Crazy House” and “Japanese Bowling Alleys” at Shady Grove Amusement Park in Uniontown, Pa., his birthplace, according to the Charleroi Area Historical Society.

He also was instrumental in building the historic Coyle Theater in Charleroi, a former burlesque house that is about to be restored.

Another identical garage in town has been demolished. It was built for a funeral home’s hearse. The one shown in the photo was designed for the Monier family.

Ironically, he built a mansion with round rooms in nearby Carroll Township for the Coyle family, one that doubles as the Demon House spookfest each fall.