a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Madea Goes to the Beer Store

So far this Halloween season I've walked behind Jesus on a parade float tossing candy to children in Charleroi, Pa., and passed a cow on Rollerblades speeding down East Carson Street in Pittsburgh's South Side.

Then tonight I bumped into Madea, also known as Tyler Perry, in the 6 Pack Station in Donora, Pa.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Not Halloween, but close enough

Mock prom death, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

She was posing for this photo at her mock funeral after a make-believe, post-prom vehicle accident involving alcohol and students at Bethlehem-Center High School in Deemston, Pa.

Please drive sensibly this weekend, and always.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Egyptian King of Toilet Paper

Luke Martin, 9, of Charleroi, Pa., is wrapped in toilet paper as a prank that was part of a Halloween magic show in his hometown.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Steelers' kicker cited once more

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Solobay, a Democrat from Canonsburg, presents Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed with a citation from the House of Representatives for community service at the Washington Crown Center mall.

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has been cited again, this time for good behavior.

Reed, who was charged over a confrontation with Pittsburgh police following the Cleveland Browns game two weeks ago, was given a citation Tuesday from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for turning out for a charity to feed the poor at Thanksgiving.

“Oh, this is a good citation. This is the only one that won’t get you into trouble,” Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Solobay, a Canonsburg Democrat, said while presenting the citation to the player at the Washington Crown Center mall in North Franklin Township.

Reed, who is contesting his recent brush with police, smiled and appeared to blush when he accepted the gift from Solobay. He also got into trouble with police last summer for beating up a paper towel dispenser in a Westmoreland County convenience store.

Some people brought him paper towel dispensers to sign at the mall, and he did so while charging double the price for an autograph to raise money for the Greater Washington County Food Bank.

The food bank is the repository for money raised through the annual 2000 Turkeys campaign in the area that provides Thanksgiving turkeys for low-income families.

More than 200 people turned out an hour early and stood in a long line to pay $10 for an autograph from Reed. It cost those who waited another $10 for a signature from his teammate, Chris Hoke, a starting nose tackle.

Donations also are being accepted at 2000 Turkeys, P.O. Box 2000, Washington, PA 15301.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here's to you Harry

OK... here is your beer!, originally uploaded by Now and Here.

“How does it feel?” - Robert A. Zimmerman

By Amanda Gillooly

I was newly 21, and in love with a guy named John when I first stepped into Harry’s living room.

As a Point Park College student walking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I sauntered past the River City Inn every Friday, at least, and it always seemed so warm. From the picture window peeking out onto the Boulevard of the Allies, I could see businessmen donning loosened ties perched inside on their bar stools, their hands wrapped most often around mugs of draft beer.

It was far past Happy Hour those Fridays, but they always looked exuberantly joyful. “Must be the beers,” I muttered to myself, jealous, more than once, ambling to another night taking football scores for extra cash.

Wrong. Oh, how woefully wrong, I was. And I realized it as soon as I met the bartender.

We immediately were drawn to Harry Patterson, and he was disarming. With brown hair peppered gray, he wore a button-down dress shirt with the top two buttons undone. The sleeves were rolled up carelessly as he maneuvered behind the bar, boisterously singing whatever chorus Bob Dylan was crooning at the moment.

I’d invited John for a drink there that Thursday. And the Thursday after that. And then the next Thursday.

Harry showed us that if you muted the scene in the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” when Jesus turned the water to wine and put on the Bee Gees, it is a hell of a dance party. And John showed me how to drink beer.

Looking around the bar and noting several Post-Gazette staff writers drinking nearby (some of whom had been immortalized in a strange billboard blitz none of us understood but we all made fun of) and told me I needed to start drinking beer. ASAP.

“No self-respecting newspaper reporter gets caught drinking a Zima in a bar, Amanda,” he said, eyeing my girlie drink in distain.

“But I don’t LIKE beer,” I told him.

After inhaling sharply, John ordered me a Coors Light draft and told me I would get used to it – even grow to love it.

“Trust me,” he said, scooting the mug toward me. While there were many other times I couldn’t or shouldn’t have trusted him, I did then. And from that moment forward my favorite cocktail was a shot and a beer.

Just the other night, Sir Harold (my pet name for my favorite bartender) stressed that the River City Inn isn’t a college bar. But that’s how it became my college bar.

And it’s closing.

Harry jokes that there is a poll going, with the winner guessing the day on which he will roll up to the bar to find that his key doesn’t work.

The business has been sold. And while the new owner has insisted on keeping some of the various pieces of art strewn about the place, I don’t know if I will ever again step inside if Harry is not the one dolling out drinks.

With Sir Harold, you always get more than a beer. You get moon dancing. You get sports trivia and movie remembrances. And that doesn’t say anything about the ambiance.

In my imagination, Mick Jagger is belting out, “Gimme Shelter.”

In real life, the playlist is never far off.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A lucky soldier

My father, James R. Beveridge of Charleroi, Pa., left, in Danville, Ill., with an unidentified pal shortly before embarking for Europe with the U.S. Army during World War II.

Part 1: Preparing for a battle dad would never see

By Scott Beveridge

The Queen Elizabeth had the ability to outrun German U-boats during World War II, moving at a speed that qualified it as a troopship for American soldiers destined to reshape the globe.

As the largest luxury cruise liner in the world at the time, it had been painted battleship gray and fitted with magnetic mine detecting devices to double as a warship before it docked March 7, 1940, in New York on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

The ocean liner and its sister ship, the Queen Mary, were capable of carrying fifteen thousand men, nearly an entire division, to wartime service. And my father would eventually become one of them.

Four years later, James R. Beveridge and his fellow troops assigned to the U.S. Army’s 550th Quartermaster Corps, stepped aboard what had by then become a beat up vessel. They were scared, nervous and unsure about where the war would take them when the she shoved off at 5 a.m. December 16, 1944, and arrived in breakneck speed six days later at Glasgow, Scotland.

“That ship was so fast it could make it over in three or four days but, it had to zigzag because it wasn’t in a convey,” dad said, more than sixty years later in the summer of 2005.

“That way a submarine couldn’t hit it, get a bead on it,” he recalled when he was 82 years old.

It was his first call to the war zone after having spent the previous two years in training at Army bases in the United States.

He decided to enlist October 7, 1942, with his best friend, Joe Yoney. They were naive 22-year-old men from Charleroi, Pa., a bustling retail boomtown that lived off the backs of steelworkers about twenty-five miles south of Pittsburgh, Pa.

They briefly considered joining the U.S. Merchant Marines as their hometown on the western banks of the Monongahela River was being stripped of its draft-age men. Beveridge and Yoney had already received their draft notices; service in the war was inevitable.

“I might as well get it over with,” dad said, taking his thoughts back to the first time he visited a recruiter’s office in nearby Donora.

But his mother, Madge, disapproved of his joining the Marines over her fears that he might be killed aboard a boat struck by a torpedo, images she had seen on Newsreels. American moviegoers were kept abreast of the defense effort by those short black-and-white news films that were produced by the major motion picture companies.

“I told Yoney: ‘My mom’s going to have a stroke. Let’s go down to Donora and enlist in the Army,’” dad said. “I didn’t go home and tell my mom anything. I just went and joined.”

He was soon assigned to basic training at Camp Lee, Va., where he earned a paltry fifty dollars a month as a buck private.

It was uncanny, he said, because his father, Robert, had been stationed at the same base for training in World War I.

But dad longed to be home, especially that day in 1944 when he shipped out for active duty in another continent that, to him, was as far away as a Jupiter.

(Click here to read Part II: Stirring the memories of war.)

(This oral history was written in 2005 to fulfill my graduate studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. It is being edited and published here as a series.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Internet president

It's says a lot about social media and how it's reshaped American life when President Obama's White House family portrait is officially released on flickr. (Photo: Annie Leibovitz)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This blight is an old victim of America's recession

This abandoned building was demolished with federal blight money in 2008 before it collapsed in downtown Charleroi, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

CHARLEROI, Pa. – My grandmother knew how to show a kid a good time five decades ago in her adopted hometown of Charleroi in the middle reaches of the Monongahela River valley.

Madge Sine Beveridge would sometimes board a bus then with me in tow for the short trip from our home in Webster, Pa., to that borough also known as the Magic City on the day she received her Social Security monthly benefits.

The streets and alleyways were bustling in the early 1960s with shoppers, merchants, bankers, lawyers and wives of the steelworkers and coal miners whose paychecks kept the cash registers chiming.

Grandma would first stop at her bank with a granite and marble lobby on Fifth Street to convert the check to cash while I waited in the quiet lobby parked on a cold leather chair. My eyes would remain fixed on the gumball machine off to the side until she gave it a penny to make me happy.

The afternoon typically disappeared in the Coyle Theater, a workingman’s movie palace that was once a burlesque house, where she preferred to catch a Jerry Lewis slapstick comedy.

The idyllic day wasn’t complete without an ice cream sundae at Isaly’s, a white tiled dairy and meat chain store that was famous throughout the region for its tall skyscraper cones and chipped ham. Their glorious sundaes were served with a cherry and a signature pretzel twist on top.

With our sugar cravings satisfied, we’d wait next door at the Murphy’s five and dime store for the next bus back to Webster while its lunch counter clanged in time with waitresses passing around dishes and bowls of cheap food.

Grandma loved Charleroi where she settled near the end of the Great Depression about the same time she became a young widow. She stayed there while her two sons served in World War II and until 1960 when she followed our young family out of town. Yet Charleroi would remain the place to be seen for at least another two decades.

She would be appalled, though, to see what has happened to the town and its surrounds in the decades since the steel and coal industries collapsed in the region.

The old Murphy’s on Fallowfield Avenue is now a dollar story, while many of the storefronts across the street are vacant, as are many of the others in the downtown that had more shoe and clothing stores than have most modern malls.

So much of the worker housing on each end of the town is vacant and rundown. The blight only worsens on the steep hill above the downtown where houses are stripped of their copper and other valuables as soon as their occupants leave them.

In this harsh economy with a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in the United States, such industrial cities as Detroit have captured headlines for their blight and having an even higher rate of joblessness and desperation.

But, places like Charleroi and a string of fading Pennsylvania boomtowns from the upriver Brownsville to Aliquippa on the lower Ohio River and beyond in America’s rust been have been bleeding jobs for decades.

This ugly recession is old news to them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Donora Hotel - two versions

In its heyday:

And today:

The Donora Hotel was dressed in bunting for a fireman's convention when the postcard, shown at the top, was produced. Someone in the crowd fell to the ground during the festivities, and the spot where he stood before the accident was marked with an X.
These days, the hotel that later became a community center and library stands in the heart of a downtown in decay 50 years after the steel industry collapsed in thist Pennsylvania borough.

An old bridge's final days are here

The old Albert Gallatin Memorial Bridge connecting Greene and Fayette counties at Point Marion, Pa., will soon become history after ribbon-cutting ceremonies are held Thursday for its nearby replacement. Local fire trucks will be the first vehicles to cross the new $21 million Point Marion Bridge after the ribbon is cut at 10 a.m.

The following is a story published earlier this year in the Observer-Reporter about the construction project:

By Scott Beveridge

DILLINER – An ironworker skirts across the top of a truss supporting the new Point Marion Bridge without flinching.

A waist-belt tied to a cable line is the only thing that would save him from certain death, should he lose his balance 116 feet above the Monongahela River.

"You can almost dance a jig up there," said Darin Glitz, project manager of the bridge that is being built in a century-old design style.

"It doesn't look like it, but there is a lot of room up there," he said Thursday while ironworkers tightened bolts that hold together the hunched Parker truss bridge.

When completed in November, this $21 million span will connect Dilliner in Greene County and Point Marion in Fayette County, and replace the nearby rickety, aging Albert Gallatin Memorial Bridge.

The state Department of Transportation turned to this style of bridge because it won't interfere with navigation on the Mon.

Modern concrete box-style bridges have most of their support beams under the pavement, and that type of span would have been too close to the water during high flows, Glitz said. To build that type of bridge, PennDOT would have needed to raise the ground level in Point Marion.

"There would have been major changes in the road level in the downtown," Glitz said.

The old bridge built in 1929 had grown weak and needed to be supported by 67 new steel beams under its deck to keep it open while its replacement is under construction.

The new bridge will be supported by members of steel above the road, a style also known as a through-truss. These bridges require much more steel at a greater cost.

When the span opens to traffic Nov. 13, it will be 750 feet long and consist of 3.1 million pounds of steel made in Delaware. The steel was fabricated by American Bridge Co. in Ambridge before it was shipped by barge to the construction site after the work began in January 2008. When finished, it will be painted robin's egg blue.

"It's a tried-and-true design, but it may be one of the last we ever see," Glitz said. "These old-school trusses could hold columns of tanks. I've been doing this for 12 years and never built a truss and never expected to."

Monday, October 19, 2009

A busy editor relishes this recipe book

By Liz Rogers

It's 6 o'clock on a Wednesday evening.

Do you know what you're serving for dinner?

You're in good company if you answered no. Lots of time-crunched folks return home from work and stare blankly inside the refrigerator, in search for a shred of inspiration.

That's where a good, hard-working cookbook comes into play, one like "The Best of Relish Cookbook," says Jill Melton, editor-in-chief of Relish Magazine, a monthly food supplement that is distributed monthly in newspapers across the country, including the Observer-Reporter.

Melton, along with Relish food editor Candace Floyd and author and recipe developer Nancy S. Hughes, collaborated on the cookbook released this year.

"The recipes are simple and for everybody," Melton said in a recent phone interview from the magazine's offices in Franklin, Tenn. "I don't care how much of a foodie you think you are. Everybody's got to get dinner on the table at 6 on a Wednesday night. We were trying to actually hit on that and introduce people to a new spin on something but not overwhelming them with something exotic."

The book features 150 color-illustrated recipes, all of which have been published in Relish Magazine or on the magazine's Web site. All have been vetted multiple times in the magazine's test kitchens.

Recipes range from comfort dishes like macaroni and cheese, pot roast and cobblers, to newer fusions featuring such ingredients as tofu, phyllo and quinoa. There's a section dedicated to vegetarian dishes along with some recipes for gluten-free breads and baked goods. Sprinkled throughout are helpful cooking tips.

Melton, former food editoral director at Cooking Light Magazine, counted recipes for Cilantro Chimichurri, Quick Okra Sauté and Grilled Shrimp with Orange and Habanero Mojo as personal favorites. And the Orzo Veggies recipe is perfect for any potluck occasion.

"This is a reader recipe," Melton added. "We loved it. It's just all sorts of vegetables tossed with orzo and cheese and baked. It's great at room temperature. It just stands out."

Asked what makes this cookbook different from the hundreds of others jockeying for position on bookstore shelves, Melton replied: "To me, this is more of a hard-working cookbook, with a comfortable, familiar note, which I think people still want and will always want. It gives them a splash of something new.

"It's easy to digest and not overly complicated. It doesn't make you work too hard."

Liz Rogers is editor of the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa., where this article was first published. The Best of Relish Cookbook is available at bookstores nationwide, online and through Relish and American Profile magazines, distributed in the Observer-Reporter.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shepard Fairey is a perfect misfit at The Warhol

Controversial artist Shepard Fairey, right, discusses his style with Thomas Sokolowski, director of The Warhol, at the opening reception of Fairey's exhibit at the Pittsburgh museum.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Shepard Fairey wears his politics on his art and nowhere is that more evident than in his portrait of President George W. Bush as a vampire.

Bush, shown with evil eyes and blood dripping from his lower lip, is stark contrast to Fairey’s controversial poster of a pensive Barack Obamba above the word, “HOPE.” The phrase, “One Hell of a Leader,” is spelled under that of Bush.

“I’d much rather have a Democrat in office,” Fairey, 39, said tonight at a reception to open his exhibit, "Supply and Demand," at The Warhol in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The opening came the same day The New York Times reported Fairey changed his mind about which photo he used to created the “Hope” poster as he battles in court with the Associated Press, which claims a copyright to the photograph. The photographer who shot the image in dispute also is suing the artist. Fairey’s legal maneuver prompted his attorneys to petition the court to withdraw from the case that appears to have crumbled, the newspaper reported.

“In short-sighted pride I made some poor decisions,” Fairey said at the museum while being interviewed before a packed audience by its director, Thomas Sokolowski.

“I’m very disappointed with myself. I made some poor decisions," said the Charleston, N.C.-born man raised in private schools who later took to the streets as a skateboarder and street-poster artist.

The red, white and blue pop art Obama poster done in the style of the Russian Constructivism period of the early 1900s fueled claims that he is a Socialist.

But, Fairey said, he never took payment from the Obama campaign for the poster that ended up being reprinted into the millions, often via the Internet.

To his defense, he said he didn’t “bootleg” the original photograph or add to its value.

He likened his work to that Andy Warhol created from pre-existing images of Campbell’s soup cans.

“The reference is crucial to what I do,” he said.

There is no denying all the publicity over this controversy has greatly elevated Fairey’s status in the art world, or that he is inspired by Warhol’s silkscreen posters of controversial figures, movie stars and politicians. Nowhere is a museum such as this Pittsburgh landmark better suited for Fairey to take his bows.

The line stretched out the door for at least two hour as his admirers waited for a glimpse of him and his art, which also includes beautiful images of demure Muslim women. Fairey said he makes art about the Arab world to dispel Bush-era fear politics that led some American to believe all Muslims are fundamentalists bent on causing havoc in the West.

Fairey said it’s much easier today with the Internet to spread messages, and urged those in the audience to also use the Web and his art to empower people.

“Now you can be famous not only for 15 minutes, but in 15 minutes,” he said, embellishing on an overused phrase coined by Warhol about fleeting fame.

The early nad mysterious posters Fairey created of Andre the Giant promoting the wrestler's fake posse gave rise to the artist's street credentials. Andre and his a low-brow career created a mystique among Fairey's friends who believed they were at the forefront of the hipster crowd at the Rhode Island School of Design. He said he used that college experience to build upon his style of attempting to awaken people from the dullness of their routines.

While Fairey is wearing a well-tailored three-piece suit rather than a bizarre white wig and pink girdle to his premier at The Warhol, he arrives there with enough camera flashes that surely would have thrilled Andy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A tweet leads to sweet music

Andrea Capozzoli performs this week at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh.

By Scott Beveridge

PORCHVIEW, Pa. – A tweet on the Net was enough this week to take me away from a project around the house on a recession-proof vacation close to home this week.

The independent 91.3fm WYEP used Twitter to promote another one of its Third Thursdays happy hours that provide live performances by the best local musicians, free food and beer.

The band, “Meeting of Important People,” was on the menu alongside chips, pretzels and beer from Pennsylvania Brewing Co.

I left after few songs at the station’s community headquarters in Pittsburgh’s trendy South Side district because the music, while it had a good beat, was too loud to tolerate.

An unexpected reward, though, came around the corner at Club Cafe, where a female rhythm and blues singer was on stage.

Pittsburgh native Andrea Capozzoli immediately drew me inside the lounge at 56 S. 12th St., and her talent, and especially those scat numbers, kept me there until the set was over.

The decision was set when she performed the number, “Can you stay for a while.”

An instructor at Berklee School of Music in Boston, she also held her own on the keyboard and when she pulled out a muted trumpet. Her guitarist, Casper Gyldensoe, was spot on with his performance, too.

Capozzoli’s love songs were perfect for this dim, intimate venue accented with blue and plum walls and twinkle lights strung on tree branches around the ceiling. There were just a dozen people in the audience, making it seem as if they were at a jam session in her family room. All she needed was sexy, silk ballroom gown to melt the room, where everyone was keeping time with the beat.

“You got to make time to make love,” she crooned.

It would be hard not to fall in love with her voice.

It’s too bad that I didn’t purchase one of her albums before leaving to later liven up the mood at home during that miserable job of painting the entrance hall. Click here to listen to a sample of her music.

Meanwhile, Club Cafe wasn’t the place to seek out a good meal. The menu is limited to such small dishes as chili and pizza. The bruschetta pizza with green and black olives I selected arrived undercooked, and it didn't appear in any way to resemble bruschetta.

And while Pittsburgh is so lucky to have WYEP, the station needs to find another room to hold its concerts, or at least break a second door from the lobby into the studio to ease the congestion. The room is just too cramped.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Old coal trucks in the Mon Valley

Pfile, Marino and other unidentified coal trucks on job sites in southwestern Pennsylvania during the late 1940s. Submitted by a reader.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sorry, I slow for art

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – It happened again today, this time at a busy intersection beside a construction zone in Downtown.

A motorist blared the horn of his car horn while zipping around mine because I didn’t move fast enough when the traffic signal switched from red to green.

“Sorry,” I would have said if it was possible to that aggressive driver, but there were some pretty cool things to take in there along Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh, where a new Penguins hockey arena is under construction.

An ordinary orange plastic construction fence lining that side of the building site has been turned into temporary, public art.

Upside-down orange construction cones lining the fence have been turned into planters sprouting shrubbery. The barrier also holds colorful flowers and random woven designs, some of which were created with ordinary green garden hoses. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by such creativity?

The initiative, “Construction as Canvas,” was developed as a way to connect the community to the $321-million arena that should open next summer.

The nasty motorist today wasn’t connecting. At least he didn’t show me a raised middle finger, an expression that I often witness on the road.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finding comfort with chicken and dumplings

By Candy Diamond Berko

The skin on my grandmother’s hands was papery-thin. They fluttered around the kitchen, stirring this, slicing that, putting one dish after another into the oven. She really held it down. In my own kitchen, I also slice, stir and bake, but without the same skill or zest as my old granny. My hands don’t flutter. I definitely don’t hold it down.

Comfort food was her specialty. Comfort food is satisfying, yet simple; it brings back memories while also making new ones. It tastes familiar and calming. But, dinner has never been very calming for me. It’s always been a bit stressful, dealing with the fears of doing it wrong, making meals that everyone likes, and dealing with the complaints if they don’t. Plus, being a success in the kitchen is always difficult with my two kids running around and demanding constant attention. Then, there is the clean up afterward. Not very comforting! So why is it called comfort food again?

Last week as I was putting together my shopping list and planning my meals, I decided to try making chicken and dumplings. How was I supposed to pull this one off? If I could just find an easier way to make the dumplings…so, of course, I turned to the busy mom’s friend, allrecipes.com.

Wow, this recipe was going to be easy! You place 4-5 raw chicken breasts (cut up) into a crock-pot, along with one small can chicken broth, one can of cream of chicken soup and one can of cream of celery soup. Let that simmer for about 5 hours on high, and then get two cans of Giant Eagle brand buttermilk biscuit dough out of your fridge. This was my kind of recipe; four of the ingredients come from cans. Comfort.

As the kids woke from their naps they noticed me in the kitchen. My son said “I help, mom-mom.” My daughter got two chairs and they stood next to me breaking biscuit dough into little bite-size bits, talking and laughing while they worked. We placed the bits of dough into the crock-pot. Looks of pride painted their faces because they “helped” with dinner. Comfort.

Dinner simmered in the crock-pot for another 3 hours on high and then it was ready. I served the chicken and dumplings in bowls with vegetables on the side. Even my picky four-year old had seconds. The looks on everyone’s faces told me that I had succeeded in making an easy meal that was still delicious. It was then I realized my own definition of the term comfort food.

Here is the recipe if you would like to make this delicious, easy dinner:

4-5 raw cut up chicken breasts
one small can chicken broth
one can cream of celery soup
one can cream of chicken soup
2 cans of Giant Eagle brand buttermilk biscuit dough
season salt to taste
dill to taste
pepper to taste

Place chicken, broth, and the soups into crock-pot. Season to taste. Turn on high and let simmer for 5 hours. Break your biscuit dough into bite size pieces and place in crock pot. Let cook an additional 3 hours. This serves about 8, and costs about $1.25 per serving.

Candy Diamond Berko is a 2002 graduate of Point Park University, stay-it-home mom and former social worker.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Socialism isn't a bad word here

A Louis Goaziou poster promoting a circa 1949 meeting circa of United Steelworkers of America Local 1758 at the Slovak Hall in Donora, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

CHARLEROI, Pa. – A historical society restoring a print shop founded by a famous Socialist in America’s labor movement has discovered a time capsule inside the century-old building where time has been frozen for as many years.

Members of Charleroi Area Historical Society, while moving heavy shelves in the Louis Goaziou Building, found printing proofs of his jobs to make posters advertising the many unions that once held power in the Mon Valley.

“I mean the whole place is a time capsule, really,” said Nikki Sheppick, chairman of the society in Charleroi, Pa., a town that was a hotbed for union activism during the 1920s and 1940s.

Goaziou’s legacy was destroyed by his relatives in a hurry during U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's 10-year witch hunt to rid the country of Communists through 1957. To avoid problems, the Goaziou family burned everything that linked it to Louis Goaziou, who has been called the most-prominent leader of the Franco-American Socialist Movement.

He was born March 22, 1864, in Scrignac County in the French province of Brittany, where his family raised him to be a priest. He shunned the church, immigrated to America in 1880 and settled in Charleroi, where he published a French-language newspaper, L’Union Des Travailleurs, which, when translated, means The Union of Workers.

In an earlier propaganda sheet, Goaziou promoted the violent Pullman Strike against railroads in 1894. Later, he touted visits to Charleroi by Eugene V. Debs during that man’s unsuccessful bid on Socialist ticket for the White House and the spunky coal mining activist known as Mother Jones.

But behind the shelves of his shop, Sheppick found on a windowsill under an inch of dust a stack of print jobs for unions, work that sustained the Goazious on a day-to-day basis.

There she found a ticket stub for a 1923 boxing match in Charleroi, an event that cost $2 plus a 20-cent tax to pay down the debt of World War I. There are other signs promoting union meetings at U.S. Steel mills in nearby Donora, as well as those for a bar run by a union bartender, a union barbershop and the Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Projectionists.

The printing presses, and all the type that went into these posters, remain to this day where Goaziou arranged them in his modest, two-story brick storefront building.

Yet it’s going to take some time for this museum at 807 Fallowfield Ave. to open to the general public. The society is wading through the complicated steps of winning architectural and borough approval to erect handicap ramps to the entrances, something that could happen as early as November.

Click here to read more about Goaziou on this blog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pittsburgh now has smarter trees

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The two guys in this photo may not know it, but they are not standing alongside an ordinary row of trees in Pittsburgh.

These trees are too sophisticated to grow in inner-city soil along Liberty Avenue outside the new August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

They are planted in Silva Cell technology, which allows gardens to thrive in car-polluted urban environments by their having roots growing in aerated soil.

This landscape should add beauty to the new $34.5-million theater named to honor the late Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize wining playwright whose plays were often set in the city’s black Hill District. The bland building that looks like a long giant gray hammer needs all the help it can get to blend into the city’s growing Cultural District.

The strong plastic cells are stacked three high slightly underground, allowing the tree roots to stretch and swell in good soil without pushing up the ground and cracking the sidewalks.

While this streetscape project is among the first in this region to benefit from the technology, a Wal-Mart in Lakeland, Fla, beat Pittsburgh in the race to have better shade trees growing in such cells in a concrete jungle.

By design, the cells are supposed to store storm water rather than allowing it to drain straight to the city’s three rivers. Along the way, the trees should live longer and have fuller canopies than the others in Downtown that usually die in seven years because of stunted root systems.

(This project is largely funded by the R.K. Mellon Foundation)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Where good tweeters go to camp

Pittsburgh PodCast4 conference attendees play with their cell phones and other electronic devices while Michelle of the Burgh Baby blog discusses blogging tips for finding inspiration to write. The controversial blogger formerly known as PittGirl is seated , second from right. #PCPGH4

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Speakers at a popular blogging conference lecture on the power of the Internet while those in the audience tap on their laptops and cell phones, seemingly uninterested in the topic at hand.

However, it’s not considered rude behavior this weekend at Pittsburgh PodCamp4 to text message or browse the Web during the breakout sessions. This is an "unconference" where people with addictions to Internet social networking sites also are encouraged to follow the “rule of two feet” and move along when they become bored.

“It’s a little scary how fast (she) can text,” someone uploaded to twitter in an endless feed of tweets from the crowd that are are projected live on two large movie screens in the hub of the activities.

“Wiped me out today,” another PodCamper tweeted after Saturday’s program ended.

The conference with roots in Boston arrived in Pittsburgh four years ago, and attracted more than 100 attendees. This weekend’s event is drawing 362 people to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh who are crowding classrooms to limits that surely violate the city’s occupancy ordinances.

Michelle, who blogs at BurghBaby and doesn’t reveal her last name to protect her daughter from future embarrassment, said it’s important to know why bloggers want to write for the online audience.

In her most-recent post, she pens an open letter to her toddler and mentions how the child’s maternal grandmother’s closet was lined with gross, colorful Polyester stretch pants. That wardrobe didn’t move Michele as a child to dress up in her mom’s clothing.

Michelle warns the overflowing crowd at her session to prepare for hate mail from readers, especially those writers in the room who might want to produce a mom blog. Such bloggers tend to be accused of bad parenting for the things they share online, she said.

“It’s unbelievable how mean people can be to each other,” she said.

The funniest presenters Saturday are Mikey and Big Bob of the 96.1 Kiss Morning Freak Show who are using social media to broaden their radio audience.

They are a hit on the Web and with the geeks gathered here today with their YouTube video spoof of those silly Snuggies blankets in which Mikey poses in his white briefs while exposing his beer belly. These guys are a riot, with our without Polyester.

Their bosses don’t really get twitter in an era when so many dinosaur, Web-stunted media executives are becoming fossilized long before their time.

“And they pay us for this stuff,” Big Bob says.

Today’s sessions end with the once-anonymous blogger who became a local sensation under the pseudonym, PittGirl, discussing why she yanked her blog after her true identity became known. Virginia Montanez of Irwin, Pa, and her potty-mouthed attacks on the Pittsburgh political and sports scene between 2005 and 2008 on the Burgh Blog ended up costing her a public relations job after she became outed.

While Montanez admits to reading from cover-to-cover the local newspaper each day, she said print writers likely resent her popularity because she isn't a trained journalist. Those writers are working for a sinking ship and don’t know when the boat is going to go under water, she said.

Yet those same newspaper writers typically provide such bloggers as PittGirl with the inspiration they need for the rants they attach to the Web.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gumby does yoga

Gumby Doing Yoga, originally uploaded by pranksterjay.

You think?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A riot going on

The Suit, originally uploaded by mknobil.

There are riot-gear photos from the G-20 in Pittsburgh, Pa., and then there is this RIOT-gear shot from that global summit.
This is another fantastic photograph from Pittsburgh filmmaker Mark Knobil.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A heavy church

God loves fat people at the Webster United Methodist Church in this Pennsylvania village named after statesman Daniel Webster.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An old town full of ghost stories

Sue Bowers, president of the Monongahela Area Historical Society, with one of many strange artifacts in the group's museum in Monongahela, Pa. Photo: Observer-Reporter

By Scott Beveridge

MONONGAHELA, Pa. – Sue Bowers believes in ghosts and she’s convinced at least one is haunting the shelves of the historical society museum she runs in an old Monongahela River town.

She’s not the only member of the Monongahela Area Historical Society who is creeped out by the things in the group’s collection of local treasures.

“Some members are afraid to be here alone,” said Bowers, a retired elementary schoolteacher and president of the society in Monongahela, Pa.

Maybe it’s the human skull sitting on a shelf near the front door to the museum that gives people the chills. No one knows how the society came by that artifact, or to whom it once belonged, Bowers said.

Maybe it's simply the age of this city that gives it so many strange beliefs. Monongahela, which traces its roots to a ferry crossing on the Monongahela River in the late 1700s, is among the oldest settlements in the Mon Valley.

“A lot of these places are old, and they come with baggage,” Bowers said.

She still can’t believe what she unexpectedly found sitting out of place not too long ago in the museum at 230 W. Main St.

A spooky, century-old photograph of a woman in her 30s had been pulled out of storage and placed beside a black funeral card for Sadie Patterson, who died in 1892 at 35. Bowers said she had never before seen the photograph or card, and that none of the society’s members admitted to having ever come into contact with them, either.

Bowers doesn’t even know if the woman in the photograph was Sadie Patterson, but this is a ghost story that she surely will add to the collection of them she has been gathering for more than a decade.

She will tell a whole bunch more of them later this month when she leads visitors on candlelight ghost walks past the many historic houses that line the city’s Main Street.

The tours will begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 and 24 in Chess Park, 600 block of Main Street. Reservations are required and can be arranged by calling 724-258-2377.

This unidentified old photo was mysteriously found one day next to a funeral card for Sadie Patterson in a museum of local history in Monongahela, Pa. Photo: Observer-Reporter

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Ella" patters beautifully in Pittsburgh

"Ella," the season-opening play at Pittsburgh Public Theater, bears some resemblance to an older production about Billie Holiday, but it ends on a happier note.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Ella Fitzgerald doesn’t do chatting between songs, a gimmick that is better suited to such performers as "Lady Day" Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra.

Holiday has something interesting to say on stage because she’s lived through more than enough drama with a drug addiction and string of bad men to drip melancholy with the blues, according to a play underway in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Fitzgerald is known as “the good one” because she never captures headlines for making bad choices, says actress Tina Fabrique, who lends her perfect-pitched voice to “Ella,” a hit play that is opening the 2009-10 season at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

“Lady Day does patter,” Fabrique said while her character’s manager urges her to cut a song in an upcoming concert lineup to make time to talk to the audience in Nice, France.

It’s 1966, two days after Fitzgerald buried her beloved sister, Frances, and the crowd not only wants to hear her voice, but needs to know if she’s OK, the manager, Norman Granz, explains during rehearsals.

Directed and co-conceived by Rob Ruggiero, the Public’s showing of “Ella” is the 20th time this two-act play has gone to production since it’s world premier in 2005 at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Conn.

There can be no doubt that Ruggiero’s “Ella” draws its inspiration from “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” a play about jazz singer Billie Holiday by Lanie Robertson that took the stage at the Public in 1995.

Both stories are told in similar fashion between songs about black women who crossed racial boundaries to make hit records. But while “Lady Day” that starred Debra Tidwell is a story about self destruction, “Ella” leaves the stage on a good note and without the singer having to turn to heroin to get through the show.

And, Fabrique seems to channel the late Fitzgerald with every slight degree.

The first act takes the audience to the rehearsal for the Nice concert where Fabrique is wearing an ordinarily black dress suited for a funeral. It doesn’t take long, though, for the story line to reveal some of Fitzgerald’s darkest moments that defined her sultry voice and made her the “First Lady of Song.”

The story touches on the time Fitzgerald spent in a New York reform school after her mother died young, how she escaped it only to be molested by her stepfather and then went to work for a pimp dancing on the street to lure customers into his brothel.

A new manager – Norman Granz – eventually helps to make Ella a star by encouraging her to sing scat, or improvised music where random syllables mimic the sounds of the instruments.

“I’m no glamor puss Mr. Granz but I will sing you songs that barely have a word,” she says at the prospect of playing Carnegie Hall.

Fitzgerald would go on to perform on that esteemed New York stage 26 times before her death in 1996 at 81 from complications of heart disease and diabetes.

Meanwhile, Fabrique belts out 23 Fitzgerald favorites in vocal a range that allows the audience to pretend for just two hours that maybe Ella is still alive.

Her version of “Something to Live For” is the song from this show to remember.

It comes near the end when Ella – dressed in a sparkling blue ballgown - cries uncontrollably over the loss of a sister, while also acknowledging her shortcomings as a mother. The spotlight shifts to a fantastic trumpet player, Ron Haynes, only to reappear moments later on the star at the microphone after she regains her composure, knowing the stage is her one true love.

Fabrique takes the song home, delivering Ella on stage in a performance that is worth seeing a second time before the final curtain is drawn November 1 on this production.

More info: www.ppt.org or 412-316-1600.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gunmaker with a sound work ethic

Gunsmith Frank Robinson in his Waynesburg, Pa., workshop. Observer-Reporter photo

Master gunsmith says...

It's custom-made that counts

By Jon Stevens

WAYNESBURG, Pa. – Frank Robinson, like many 15-year-olds in the 1950s, wanted a rifle so he could go hunting with his friends.

But also like many 15-year-olds in the 1950s, Robinson didn't have any money to buy a factory-made rifle.

He sent away to Klein's, a mail order company in Chicago, and for $29, purchased a 1917 Enfield ex-military rifle.

The teenager, who was living in Richhill Township just outside of Wind Ridge at the time, also purchased a kit from a company in Waseka, Minn., to reblue the gun metal.

"And, I also bought some Japanese woodworking chisels," said Robinson, 67, who owns and operates Robinson Custom Guns at 861 Ridge Road, Waynesburg.

So, with his 1917 Enfield, his bluing agent and chisels, Robinson "sat down, fitted things up" and proceeded to strip down the rifle.

His neighbors and friends saw the finished work and decided they would like to have something like that.

Soon, he was taking orders and was making some money, "which I needed as a kid.

"You have to remember, there were no gun laws, no restrictions and no licensing we have today," Robinson said.

Now, nearly 52 years after he made that first rifle, Robinson is considered to be one of the premier gunsmiths in the country.

And, he is not reluctant to say he was self-taught.

"Working from my basement, I developed my talents. This presented a challenge, one that I really enjoyed, with my hobby becoming a very big part of my life," he said.

Robinson's day job, so to speak, was working for Carnegie Gas Co., but since his retirement in 1997, his "hobby" has become his livelihood.

And he is doing quite well at it.

Many, if not most, of his customer business comes from long-distance advertising or from the Internet.

"My work has been written up in Rifle magazine and people from around the country who are very interested in buying a custom-made gun know where to look," he said.

Robinson begins his most popular custom creations with Greene County walnut wood.

"We make only a true custom wood stock, no synthetics, and our rifles are as accurate as they are beautiful," he said.

Robinson buys stump wood and pieces of walnut from the part of the trunk where the limbs attach, where he says the grain is best.

He has the wood cut by a portable sawmill, leaving bark in place, and then dries the wood for nine to 12 months before cutting it into planks.

He often orders English walnut and other select woods from as far away as California.

Customers can choose the wood and the design specifications, including checkering. They can expect delivery within 12 months. The rifle is created to order. Accuracy is guaranteed.

"No two guns are ever alike," Robinson said. "Cookie-cutter guns are produced from manufacturers. Our rifles, that are worked on between 40 and 50 hours each, provide the finest materials handcrafted for outstanding accuracy and appearance at an affordable price to our customers."

Robinson said in a good year, he can make 30 rifles. "We do shotguns and bolt-action rifles. No assault weapons," he said.

He also said he does very little repair work, "except for the convenience of some customers. We are now listed as a manufacturer and most of our business is creating rifles."

To eliminate time and reduce costs, Robinson built his own power carver, a machine that duplicates stocks from original and old patterns. It cost him $1,200 to make. A similar cutter from the factory costs about $16,000.

The most Robinson has ever charged for making a rifle is $5,000, but actually, "When it comes to financial considerations, there are some people willing to pay two to three times what I charge," he said.

Robinson said many gunmakers require the buyer to purchase the action (the metal working that actually fires the weapons). "Some will charge $8,000 to $10,000 for a custom-made gun," he said.

He remembered being at a gun show in Pittsburgh where he and others had their products on display.

People would walk past and admire his guns, but would leave without making a purchase.

A few booths away, another gunsmith from Harrisburg told Robinson that he had a "fine product," but Robinson said no one was buying.

"That man told me I had to charge higher prices because buyers feel the more expensive the gun the better the quality. All I was trying to do was give a good product at a reasonable price."

And just how much people are willing to pay for a quality custom-made rifle was demonstrated when a man came in to his shop in Waynesburg carrying an English Purdy.

"He asked me if I knew what I was looking at and I said, 'Yes, it is a Purdy.'"

The man wanted the stock replaced with English walnut and asked Robinson, "how much?"

"I told him about $3,000 and he told me I was $17,000 cheaper than Purdy. The weapon he had cost $165,000," Robinson said.

Purdy is a London-based company and Robinson said many times prices are dictated by the name. Purdy is top-of-the-line.

Robinson is a man with a sound work ethic. Having worked two jobs – the gas company and gun-making for most of his life – he was able to put four kids through college, including one through medical school.

"Forbes magazine did a story once on the best investments. It ranked the top three this way: Guns, real estate and gold."

(Jon Stevens is bureau chief of the Observer-Reporter/Greene County. His story originally appeared in Greene County Living, a publication of the Observer-Reporter. It was reprinted with permission.)