a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bizarre thrift store sells by the pound

Shoppers seek bargains at a Pittsburgh-area Goodwill store that sells its merchandise by the pound. Scott Beveridge photo.

By Scott Beveridge

McKEESPORT, Pa. – A Goodwill worker steps out from the back room of a sprawling Pittsburgh-area thrift store to announce the next sale.

"Goodwill shoppers. Please step behind the cash registers," he screams to a room where most customers have already lined up there with their buggies in high anticipation of the incoming merchandise.

About a dozen employees of this store in North Versailles Township, Pa., then scurry about the floor carting away large blue bins on wheels containing merchandise that didn't sell over the past few hours.

"Do people ever fight over this stuff?" I ask the older woman beside me, who has already identified herself as a regular shopper at this Goodwill Outlet at 294 Lincoln Highway.

"Oh my," she replies, as the staff here quickly returns nearly 75 of the carts to the floor heaped with more used bargains. "They sometimes have to call the police."

The same man who ordered everyone behind the cash registers soon invites the shoppers back to the merchandise, with hesitation.

"Please. No pushing or shoving," he says.

Then, as if this Wednesday in late November is Black Friday, the 40 or so customers rush to the bins to sift through the 'new' items for sale.

Most of them wear garden gloves because some this merchandise is filthy dirty or includes broken glassware.

A few people here are immigrants grabbing up cheap, donated shoes and clothing to send home to poor people in Africa, another veteran customer explains. Others are here looking for cheap stuff to line the shelves of their thrift stores.

Goodwill Southwestern Pennsylvania leased this former 96,000-square-foot Ames department store in October 2010 as a way to dump stuff that didn't sell at its other thrift shops in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has reported.

The bins turn around here about every two hours. The stuff is sold for $1.39 a pound, a price that drops in stages to 59 cents a pound when a customer accumulates more than 50 pounds of merchandise

On this day the bins contain items ranging from a one-piece Jason Voorhees "Friday the 13th Part V" Halloween costume for a toddler to a semi-naked Barbi Doll with a missing leg.

I'm here with one of my aunts, and we spend $34 for a bunch of stuff we actually like.

She went home with a pretty angel to add to her vast collection of them, along with a handmade doily and a cool Steelers raincoat.

I went home with, among other things, an original signed painting of a water scene by an artist named G. Gomez R. and the biggest prize, a small metal toy Porsche.

This is supposed to be the only store of its kind in Pennsylvania, and it's worth a visit, if only once, because it's that bizarre.

An original painting signed by artist G. Gomez R. and purchased for a bargain at a Goodwill Outlet near Pittsburgh. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A great Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich

My Thanksgiving leftovers turkey salad sandwich with green grapes (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

MY KITCHEN, Pa. – My favorite part of Thanksgiving is leftover turkey allowed to rest overnight in the refrigerator and then turned into a turkey salad sandwich.

The recipe is rather simple. I use the eyeball method for measuring the ingredients, starting with a heaping handful or two of turkey breast meat cut into chunks, depending on how many people I am feeding for lunch.

Into the bowl toss in a couple of cut-up hardboiled eggs, small chunks of onion and celery, about six chopped green grapes and a heaping amount of mayonnaise and about half that amount of a good brown mustard. Adding some sliced almonds won't hurt this recipe one bit. Salt and pepper to taste and mix with a fork until the ingredients become sort of creamy.

The key to the success of this sandwich is the bread. Use something good. On this day I've selected a fantastic black pepper and Parmesan bread, toasted, from Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson Township. Seriously, I would marry that grocery store if it were possible.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mr. Conductor enjoys fun side of the tracks

Bryant Schmude of Pittsburgh entertains a group attending a child's birthday party  at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. Scott Beveridge photo.

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The green and silver Car 2711 with colorful balloons waving out its windows approaches a trolley stop, preparing to pick up a load of people attending a child’s birthday party.

Shown in the destination window above its windshield is the number 7, beside the letters NICO, – the age and name of the boy who’s hosting this party at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers Township, Pa.

“He’s really into it,” said museum worker Alison Gregg, referring to the man operating the trolley built for Philadelphia in 1947 by the St. Louis Car Co.

“He wants them outside at the right time so they can see the car arrive,” Gregg said. 

Otherwise, the children would become bored, she added.

In real life, the trolley operator is Bryant Schmude of Pittsburgh. But, on many weekends throughout the year, Schmude transforms himself into Mr. Conductor, a boisterous child-like character he invented to keep children interested in trolley history.

Schmude has been doing this routine for 18 years, having raised a considerable amount of money to support the museum.

In the weeks before Christmas, he redecorates the trolley in tinsel and with animated holiday characters to host rides on the Yuletide Shuttle to the South Pole, as opposed to visiting Santa at the North Pole. He does a little act then as Mr. Conductor, reminding children they might receive a lump of coal for Christmas if they behave badly. He changes the schtick a bit every year to keep it fresh.

He arrives here Friday nights before weekend birthday parties and sleeps in an old, retired Monongahela Railways caboose, which holds a bed, desk and small pot belly stove.

He awakens the next day about 3 a.m. to give himself time to make each birthday sign and decorate the trolley for the party about to arrive.

When the time comes to greet the children, he pulls the vehicle into the station bearing a wide smile, repeatedly sounding the vehicle’s horn and waving to the crowd.

“Would you like to take a ride on the Nico Express?” Schmude yells, receiving a resounding “Yes!” from the children and their parents.

“Well, the door’s right here,” he says, welcoming them aboard for a short ride to the museum’s car barn, all the while pretending to be taking them across the plains of Montana before taking a wrong turn to a dead-end in Kansas City.

Nico and three of his pals are huddled together on one seat behind the conductor.

The boy loves everything about trains, said his father, Ralph Castelucci, who also is a big fan of Mr. Conductor.

“He’s the greatest,” Castelucci said before Schmude reaches for a tool to reverse the trolley’s gears to back out of the end of the line, turn around and head back to the museum.

“I’m astonished that people come here as a result of something I created,” said Schmude, who prefers not to discuss his life outside of his museum act.

“I wear many hats in many places,” he said.

Birthday parties at the museum at 1 Museum Road are on hold until spring to allow the staff to host trolley rides with Santa Nov. 23-25, and Saturdays and Sundays in December through Dec. 16., events that coincide with the Yuletide Shuttle.

(This article first appeared in the November/December 2012 edition of Living in Washington County magazine, a publication of the Observer-Reporter.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Growing my MO

By Scott Beveridge

This morning, for a split second, I didn't recognize myself in the mirror when I went to the bathroom sink to shave my face.

No. I'm not in the early stages of dementia. Yet.

There are two week's worth of mustache growing under my nose for the first time since I was 18 years old and sprouted peach fuzz there in hopes of looking older than puberty to my college dorm mates.

As a disguise after that one grew in, I used a tiny brush daily to color it brown mustache wax because it grew in a shade about a bleached blonde as Marilyn Monroe's locks and the hair on top of my head was dark brown.
          Dad and me with a Mo in 1975

At some point I even tried coloring it with Clairol only to unfortunately discover that the hair dye formula in the 1970s burned my sensitive skin, lips and nostrils.

Sometime in my early 20s I removed what had become a nicotine-and-coffee-stained bush from above my lips and, until Nov. 3, have since been a relatively clean-shaven man.

That Saturday this month I challenged myself to join Movember, a global male bonding experience every November when dudes grow mustaches to raise money for men's cancer research. You might call it the guy version of the Pink Ribbon Campaign.

For reasons that are not important here, I am not going ask my friends and acquaintances and strangers to create a Movember account to support my "team."

Instead, come December 1, I am going to make them each give me a dollar for making it through the month with hair tickling my lower lip, and then match the donations up to $100 to send directly to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

The money will be given in memory of my pal Tom Sypula, a WTAE cameraman who put up a good fight against a male form of cancer before suffering a fatal heart attack nearly two years ago while reporting spot news in Washington County.

What happens to my new mustache after Nov. 30 is yet to be determined.