a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An awesome adventure to fancy-good burgers

The view from a gondola to the top of a Teton Mountain ridge overlooking Jackson Hole, Wyo. (Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

TETON VILLAGE, Wyo. – The cable cars to the top of a Teton Mountain ridge are mostly empty this late August afternoon during the off-season at Wyoming's rich skiing country.

Most American children are back to school now as summer vacation comes to an end and the crowds are beginning to thin at the nearby Grand Teton National Park.

"So what is there to do here now?" I ask the hotel clerk while checking into The Alpenhof, an older yet charming German-theme lodge where the flatland rises toward the steep ski slopes in Teton Village, Wyo.

She suggests taking advantage of a discount ticket to the top of the mountain or riding the free gondola to the restaurants there, one of which, the Couloir, offers of four-course meal starting at $85.

"Ride to the top and then come back down to eat somewhere else," she suggests after I say that mountainous meal plan is not in my budget.

So I take the free cable car up the steep rise to a height of 9,000 feet above the hotels, which already sit nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. The return ride to the village is not as scary since my mind is on food and the Cascade Restaurant is calling my name.

Located inside Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa, the Cascade is supposed to be among the best places to eat in this pricey, tightly-built village in the Jackson Hole section of western Wyoming.

While looking over the menu there, where a three-course meal costs nearly $40, my server is quick to suggest the buffalo sliders, or a plate of small burgers made with local dry-aged ground buffalo steak.

"Those are awesome," he says. "They are the number one seller year round."

To heck with the smoked pheasant raviolis in sage prosciutto sauce. I'm having the $15 buffalo burgers, which show up three on a rectangular white plate in what turns out to be a gourmet feast.

At first they taste a bit salty, much thanks to their being topped with thin slices of pancetta, or Italian bacon. A sweet taste also my my taste buds from the oven-dried tomatoes on these little sandwiches.

The best flavors, the server says, arrive in the truffle aioli condiment. It's a mayonnaise made with truffle oil and egg whites, he said.

It has been a long way around getting to this meal, but well worth the ride.

The wonderful buffalo sliders at the Cascade Restaurant in Teton Village, Wyo. (Beveridge photo)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Take six home to the wives

Polygamy Porter, originally uploaded by Rainer Ebert.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Among the hottest-selling local beers in Utah is Polygamy Porter, so it seems tonight.

"People who don't even like porter will have just one so they can say, 'I had a Polygamy Porter,'" said the bartender tonight at a hotel where I am staying near the Salt Lake City Airport.

Those tourists often ask him if they can buy a six pack of this beer to take home.

"I tell them, that's between you and the airline," he says.

It's a brilliant and hilarious beer gimmick in this region. Enough said.

The brewer of the label, Wasatch of Park City, advertises it with the phrase, "Why have just one."
Meanwhile, this hotel sells T-shirts bearing the label in its gift shop. I want one of them.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A losing race for a clean needle

Close up of medical syringes against a black background, originally uploaded by chigmaroff.

The young man wearing slightly soiled clothes rounded a row of store shelves and then decided to race me to the head of the line to the Wal-Mart pharmacy yesterday.

Thinking he might be needing medicine for a sick child, I slowed, allowing him to overtake me.

A desperate exchange then played out between the customer, clerk and pharmacist until he left empty handed.

The clerk rolled her eyes while calling me to her register and she had something critical to say about the guy who  just left.

"I didn't hear what he was saying," I replied.

He wanted syringes, she said, and was denied them because he didn't know the size he needed. He claimed they were for his sick grandmother, the clerk said.

"It's always for a sick grandmother," she said. "He was jacking me." She said she never sells a needle to a customer unless he knows the type of drug it would be used to inject.

I responded: "Well I have never been in the market for needles. I imagine you would need a prescription for them."

"We can sell them over-the-counter now. It's legal, you know, to stop AIDS from spreading," she said before I left wondering why she was throwing up roadblocks for junkies who don't want to get deathly sick from using a dirty needle.

Later, thanks to Google, I learn that Pennsylvania became on of the last states in 2009 to allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a physician's permission. The thinking had been that drug addicts are not concerned about their health and don't concern themselves about having sterile needles.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race 2010

Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race 2009, originally uploaded by alexisgallisa.

CHARLEROI, Pa. – Ken Wiltz is lending his name as he retires as director of Mon Valley YMCA to a zany race where adults will wear silly costume and ride down a steep hill on tricycles built for children.

The first Ken Wiltz Big Wheel Race will take place at 4 p.m. Aug. 29 on the steep road leading down to the YMCA off Route 88 in Carroll Township.

"There is a lot of interest. We won't know how many people will show up until that day," said Lorys Crisafulli, who suggested the race after learning about a hugely popular race of this kind that takes place every year in San Francisco.

Crisafulli, 84, of Monongahela, seems to have few inhibitions as she is known around the globe for producing a 2009 calendar featuring photographs of her and 11 of her older female friends posing semi-nude. A follow-up calendar is in production for 2011. That one will will include photographs of the women posing naughty with older guys.

Meanwhile, Wiltz, 65, has always kept a low profile in his 40-plus years at the YMCA. That is until now. He, too, took off some of his clothing to pose for the calendar.

Ken Wiltz, executive director of Mon Valley YMCA, and Janet Ratchford, a retired Monongahela nurse, pose as Mr. and Miss November for a 2011 charity calendar featuring a dozen scantily clad older women from the Monongahela, Pa., area.

As for the race: "It's a neat concept. We're looking forward to it a lot," Wiltz said.

Participants in the race must be 18 years old. Registration is $5 and will be accepted the day of the race, or by calling the YMCA at 724-483-8077, or the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce, 724-258-5919.

Wiltz surely will be missed at the YMCA, which was little more than a near-vacant storefront when he began working there.

"It was just a Ping-Pong table and offices," said Wiltz, who began his career there as a janitor in 1968 following service in the military police in Vietnam.

Struggling for money in the 1970s, the Mon Valley YMCA planned to hold a ravioli dinner until someone accidentally pulled the plug to the freezer where the main course was stored.

The more than 100 dozen homemade ravioli had melted into "one big blob" by the day of the fundraiser, said Ken Wiltz, the Y's executive director.

"We went out and bought spaghetti and turned it into a spaghetti dinner," said Wiltz, while recalling one of his favorite memories after working at the nonprofit for four decades.

He became director in 1973 after achieving a four-year education degree at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh.

The Mon Valley YMCA had earlier formed in a merger of the Charleroi and Monongahela chapters and had grown to include an outdoor swimming pool in a rural section of Carroll near Taylor Run Road and Route 88.

Under Wiltz's leadership, it has undergone two multimillion-dollar expansions. In 1986, the YMCA built an indoor, stainless-steel swimming pool, racquetball courts and a gymnasium. A new educational wing and wellness center opened six years ago.

(Portions of this story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper, Washington, Pa.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

A mistake in clay

Sometimes people like me spent hours in art school fooling themselves into thinking they were creating masterpieces.

Then a reality check settled in when this ugly blob of clay walked back in my life after it spent three decades hidden away in the attic of mom's house.

It's no wonder she stashed away this art fail produced at California University of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Odd mourning art frames this house museum

By Scott Beveridge

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – This story would probably be better told at Halloween because it involves an old portrait of a dead girl with creepy eyes.

Some claim those eyes follow them while they visit the children's room where the retouched photograph hangs at an historic mansion in State College, Pa.

"It's a death portrait," says Mary Osborn, a docent at Centre Furnace Mansion dating to 1792, when a nearby factory was constructed to forge pig iron ingots.

"If a child died before anyone had a photograph taken, they would have one done while the child was in the casket," Osborn explains. "It was a fashion at the time."

Such artists would retouch the photograph to make it appear as if the child's eyes were open.

Oddly, mourning art was a big fad in the late 1800s when Queen Victoria ruled Britain and spent three full years wearing black following the death of her husband, Prince Albert. The fashion of it having been more important how one wore their grief than the death itself spread wildly, especially among women.

No one knows the identity of the Centre Furnace child, whose morbid portrait is among an impressive collection of Victorian antiques in this mansion. The house museum owned by the Centre County Historical Society also is home to a colorful framed grouping of tiny flowers intricately handcrafted in wax and adorned with several locks of a young girl's blond hair.

Wax flowers with blond ringlets created by Laura Yearick Martin and adorned with the hair of her niece, Estella Artimitia Shaffer, after the girl received her first haircut. (Scott Beveridge photo)

There is wonderful piece of not-so-grim folksy miniature art under glass featuring bunny rabbits nibbling on carrots around a Christmas tree in the kid's room, as well.

"There are at least two holidays in there," Osborn said.

The early history is sketchy at best as to who built and lived in this house. It began as a one-story log structure and was remodeled into a four-story Georgian mansion with Victorian adornments as its owners made a fortune in the iron industry.

The museum is frozen in time to represent the era when the house was occupied by Moses Thompson, shown at left, who donated nearby property in 1855 to form the Farmers High School, which evolved into Pennsylvania State University. The school charter actually was signed during a formal dinner in this house.

The last occupant was Penn State physics professor Davie Bowles Garver, who died in 1975 and left the house to the historical society, which spent millions dollars to restore the place. The work included peeling off cheap paneling from the interior walls and replanting the grounds with a kitchen garden.

Its obvious upon walking through the doors of 1001 E. College Ave. this historical society works hard and lovingly to preserve its treasures, which fortunately include a large number of items that once belonged to the Thompson family.

Society members provide free tours highlighted with great stories, creating a fantastic tourist destination in this mountainous region of central Pennsylvania.

Centre Furnace Mansion, the birthplace of Pennsylvania State University and a gem of a house museum in State College, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A creepy Paul Bunyan at night

This giant Paul Bunyan roadside advertisement is looking a bit scary tonight outside a tire shop alongside the Route 51 entrance to Uniontown, Pa.

But during the day, the Fiberglass statue appeared to have been given a spit shine and a new coat of paint to keep it there for years to come.

This is one of a dwindling number of these quirky roadside attractions that once beckoned motorists into a chain of muffler shops in America. This one for years held a big tire in its hand until it started to fall apart and then lean to one side before the Import-Export Tire Shop had it restored a few years ago.

I used to get so excited as a boy to see this statue that stands more than 20 feet tall when my family would travel into to this small Fayette County city on our trips further south to visit relatives in Morgantown, W.Va.

It's comforting in a silly sort of way to see it still standing and well taken care of by its current owners.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

High school 1973-style

High school 1973-style, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

Somehow our get-ups then were caught between two generations favoring the white gloves and pink carnation look and over-sized Velor, pimpish bow ties. Goodness only knows why I didn't wear my multicolored suede platform shoes with that tux. We must have been inspired by Pepto-Bismo before dressing for the Belle Vernon Area High School prom. Fashion fail

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sweet baby dinner

It appears Bonnie Mortimer has come up with dinner and desert in one setting.

The Mount Pleasant, Pa., woman accomplished that with her spaghetti and meatball cupcakes, which bowled over the food judges today at the Washington County Agricultural Fair.

The taste-testers in "Little Washington," Pa., gave her the best-of-show blue ribbon for her unusual concoction. Actually, she rocked and rolled them by also winning first place with her chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and third place for her blueberry muffins.

And those judges were two prestigious chefs/instructors at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh. There were not only judging the food for taste, but presentation.

"Those people are just so kind," she said. "They are tough judges and I've learned a lot of things down there."

Mortimer said she probably got the idea to make the entirely-sweet cupcakes while she was on the job as a state employee, after making several years ago a similar, but larger spaghetti cake. She made the meatballs with fudge, and them drenched them with a strawberry jam, which is sort of the color of tomato sauce.

That's what you call being creative in the kitchen.

Bonnie Mortimer of Mt. Pleasant, Pa., with one of two blue ribbons she won for her baking at the Washington County Agricultural Fair. (Beveridge/Observer-Reporter)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Barcelona street entertainer

Barcelona street entertainer, originally uploaded by BSH 2008.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A straight-talking barber

Dennis Lancy of Charleroi, Pa., enjoys listening to barber Frank DeLost reminisce about his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression while receiving a trim in DeLost's Strabane shop.

By Scott Beveridge

Frank DeLost is one of those old-fashioned, hard-to-find barbers who still uses a straight razor sharpened on a leather strap to smooth the necks of his customers.

On top of that, the 88-year-old guy has a barber shop a block away from one owned by his brother, Tony, in the small town of Strabane in southwestern Pennsylvania.

So I ask Frank, "Didn't you ever worry about cutting into each others' business?"

He replies, "Our father was a barber here, too. He always said, 'It doesn't matter as long as they come to us.'"

DeLost hasn't had to worry much about business. He's more concerned about conversation, talking with his customers, some of whom have the most-stylish comb-overs at that age when they've developed bald spots on their heads. Some days there are guys seated four deep in his tiny shop beside the kitchen in his house.

He has never kept a radio or television there, or stocked it with magazines and newspapers. Those things, he said, would distract his clients from talking to him about their lives or the problems of the world.

"Oh, so you are a psychologist AND a barber," I say.

He says he's not so sure about that, but just enjoys a good conversation.

One of his best conversation pieces is the sign on the mirror indicating his haircuts cost $5 apiece in an era when some men pay hundreds of dollars to style their hair with big girly bangs like those worn by the teen sensation Justin Bieber. Even the 33-year-old NFL quarterback Tom Brady is sporting a wannabe Bieber hairdo these days. Seriously, what is Brady thinking these days?

Meanwhile, DeLost said he never changed the price of his haircuts as a joke.

"Some guys don't think anything about crumbling a five dollar bill in my hand. Others have learned how to spell the word tip," he said.

I had the pleasure of meeting DeLost to photograph him for a story in the Observer-Reporter newspaper that employs me in Washington, Pa. I could have stayed in his shop that day for hours listening to him gab about his life. He seems like a really nice guy.

He started cutting hair in his father's basement when he was 10 years old, practicing on his brothers.

"When I turned 13, I started cutting elementary kids' hair for 10 cents a head," he said in the O-R article written by Karen Mansfield.

These days, though, he has to be among the last of his breed. That is a shame.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A cave to savor

Our tour boat returns to the dock Saturday after an adventurous cruise into the fascinating Penn's Cave in Pennsylvania. (Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

CENTRE HALL, Pa. – A school of large rainbow trout greets visitors to a pool of green water at the base of a 25-foot-long stairway into America's only all water cavern.
The fish trail lights on tourist boats into this cave as the small vessels return from a man-made lake fed by the same fresh-water spring that drains into Penn's Cave in rural Centre County, Pa.

"Eleven million gallons of water flow from it a day," said Will, the guide on our boat as we embark on the half-mile voyage into this dark, wonderful cavern to Lake Nittany on the outskirts of Centre Hall borough.

The Presbyterian Rev. James Martin made the first recorded discovery of the cave in 1795. It's been open for tours for the past 125 years, and owned since 1908 by the Campbell family, which also hosts wildlife tours on the sprawling well-manicured, above-ground farm.

Ahead in the cavern rooms, which are anywhere from 25 to 100 feet underground, great examples of stalagmites and stalactites formations await tourists riding in motorized, steel flat bottom boats. One rock looks a bit like the Statue of Liberty, while others are compared to Niagara Falls, Jabba the Hutt and the Pennsylvania State University mascot - the Nittany Lion.

But it's the mythological Indian Princess Nita-Nee who provided this cave with its best story. Legend has it she fell in love with a European trader, Malachi Boyer, and her seven brothers disapproved of the relationship. They tossed him to die into a sinkhole leading into the cave, where he swam around in the 38-degree water looking for an entrance until he died. People apparently still claim to hear echoes down there of Boyer calling out for his lost love.

There isn't much of a danger of drowning now because the water is only about 3 feet deep, Will said. He also reveals that bats are rarely seen here in the summer months, but they show up to hibernate in the winter.

Water that drips from the ceiling allows the natural rock sculptures to grow by one inch every 300 to 500 years, he said. One of them falls every 10,000 years, so there is nothing to fear on this visit, he insists.

Some of the rocks have turned red naturally from iron oxide. Others have been tinged red from boat scrapes. Those in the dry room are brilliantly lit by red, blue and yellow electric lights after Will stops the boat and he flicks a row of low-tech power switches attached a wooden board jutting out from a wall. Early explorers to this room also found Indian arrowheads, pottery and beans, he says.

"The Indians didn't live here. They used it as storage," Will said.

Like him, the other tour guides appear to be in their 20s and all of them have a corny sense of humor. One of them flashes a peace sign as he passes by, seated like Buddha at the helm of his ship.

The guides certainly add to the charm of this place. However, the gasoline-powered boat engines they operate fill the cave with obnoxious fumes.

That pollution is my only criticism of this destination, whose owners really need to find a cleaner energy source to power their boats. Those fumes cannot be healthy for the rock formations, which would be spoiled by a single touch of a visitor. Anyone who touches these formations would be charged with a felony crime, Will warns.

Aside from the smell, Penn's Cave is a fascinating place to tour, and one more reason why I keep my home in Pennsylvania.

Penn's Cave is nearly 17 miles northeast of State College, Pa. It is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as the month of January. Tour reservations are not accepted in advance.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boom crash fire

As storm clouds rolled in today amid disgustingly oppressive humidity, I opened the balcony door at work to allow some fresh, cool air into the building.

A bolt of lightening soon startled me as it struck this hillside, igniting a blaze at a mobile home near the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.

We sent a reporter and photographer. I left for an unrelated meeting. No one apparently was hurt, but the heavy rain flooded roads, backed up traffic and made it difficult for fire crews to reach the scene.

Christians dedicate their new labyrinth

Members of Faith United Presbyterian Church dedicate their new labyrinth last week in Washington, Pa. Photo: Christie Campbell, Observer-Reporter

It's interesting to see Christians gathering now around a labyrinth outside a newer Presbyterian church in Washington, Pa.

These mazes predate Christianity and were believed to be traps for evil spirits or paths for people to perform rituals.  Later, they would be used at holy sites for Christians to seek salvation.

Members of Faith United Presbyterian Church of Washington last week dedicated their new labyrinth as a place of meditation, according to the Observer-Reporter newspaper. Writer Christie Campbell explains it further in her story:

The seven circuit labyrinth is patterned after labyrinths used in major cathedrals in Europe. Jim Riding, a member of the church’s property team, developed the labyrinth following a suggestion by the church pastor, the Rev. Ed DeLair Jr. The walk calls for people to set aside some time and focus on their body, mind and spirit as well as moving closer to God.  The labyrinth pattern is laid out over more than 60 tons of gravel with various rocks and stones creating a circular path. During the dedication church members, who had been asked to bring a stone from their own property to the site, laid them in the labyrinth as a way of connecting with the place.

This decoration at 900 E. Beau St. looks pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An evergreen rises in the Mon Valley

An ironworker waits to position into place the heavily-decorated last roof truss atop a new $54 convocation center under construction at California University of Pennsylvania. Photo by Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter

It turns out the Christmas tree that often sits atop a new building under construction has nothing to do with a religious holiday Christians celebrate each December.

The placement by ironworkers of an evergreen tree on such a building involves an ancient Scandinavian custom of builders displaying a tree sprig on a roof during construction to appease the gods for destroying a forest for a new building.

This is a story told today by Cliff Rowe, chief executive officer of PJ Dick Inc. of Pittsburgh, which is building a $54 million convocation center at California University of Pennsylvania. It's contractors also attached to the last truss set into place today a new broom to represent a clean sweep and a U.S.  flag as a show of patriotism.

The university added to the display a cap and gown, a man's shirt and tie and sports jerseys to the 198-foot-wide truss. The items represent academic achievement, executives who will rent the convention space and Cal U. sporting teams that will use the 6,000-seat gymnasium, respectively.

It appears to be a smart move by Cal U. to construct the largest building of its kind between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va.

The larger businesses and charities in Cal U. territory have always needed to rent party rooms in Pittsburgh for big fancy galas, and local executives who attend them typically have complained about spending their money away of the Mon Valley or Washington County. When this building opens in 2011, it will give these organizations the right-sized space to spend big bucks closer to home.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A sloth in the laundry

By Scott Beveridge

These here Purex COMPLETE 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets are the best things going since flip top beer cans for a lazy guy like me whose dirty clothes often end up on the same floor as those just out of the dryer.

You see everything I need to clean them right comes in one thin sheet - that's right, the soap, the fabric softener AND the anti-static guard - to get my tighty-whiteys easily bright and clean from the washing machine right through the dryer cycle.

When you buy this stuff, you no longer need to measure laundry soap. If there is a big load of dirty clothes, you just have to toss in two sheet of this miracle product.

Seriously, though, my favorite part of this invention involves its ability to eliminate bulky plastic laundry soap jugs and other related products from the waste stream. For less than $10, one small package of this Purex stuff has the capacity of cleaning 38 loads of clothes.

While this product had been introduced about a year ago, it's taken this long for it to either find its way on the shelves at the Wal-Mart stores in this neck of Appalachia, or I sadly have been wearing blinders while shopping. It's true, I do grumble at the thought of grocery shopping, and also chant F-bombs under my breath while I'm in those kinds of stores until the experience is over.

And, I am not alone in giving Purex the seal of approval for this invention. The Discovery Channel gave the product a gold star two months ago at its Edison Best New Product Awards in New York.

“Innovation is more important now than ever,” Sarah Miller Caldicott, great-grandniece of Thomas ALVA Edison and chairman of the awards committee, stated in a news release.

She nailed that one right.

Somehow I managed to find the motivation to run two loads of clothes through my laundry room this weekend, and they came out perfectly clean and without static. Well except of a few T-shirts that have black ink stains on them now because I left two pens in a shirt pocket.

But, thanks to Purex, I have had a little more time to waste.

(PLEASE NOTE: This blog does not accept invitations or money for product reviews or endorsements.)

Billy Price rocks Little Washington