How and Why?

September 30, 2008
How did that scorpion get there?

How did that scorpion get there?

The light fixture in this photo is about ten feet off the ground and has only two tiny slots through which that scorpion could have crawled. How did he get inside the ceiling to find those tiny slots, and how did he get through one of them? And why did he crawl to his death like that?

I was up way past my bedtime last night living and dying with my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. They finally won the game in overtime, but lost four players to injury in the process. In the final analysis, they seemed to play their best when they were using a bunch of ‘replacement parts’. In this case I know why they did it – they had no choice. But how did the back-up players do a much better job than the starters?

These questions are a smoke screen. I’ve been wrestling with a subject for some time and trying not to write about it; maybe I need to get it out of my system.

Without providing specific information, I’m going to try to explain how and why I’ve come to be very upset with a group of which I am a member.

We have a board of directors who were elected by the membership at large. The last couple of elections presented two problems that most of us ignored. First, no one wanted to be on the board, so it was difficult for the nominating committee to find candidates. Secondly, the general membership was not given advance information as to who those candidates were. On the day of the election, we were all in such a hurry to get out of the meeting, that we simply voted in favor of the candidates and adjourned the meeting. In reality, our haste was problem number three.

Since that board of directors took over, they have forced some paid employees as well as a number of volunteers to resign their posts. The latest fatality was a person who had been a very important and productive member of the group for many years. He refused to go quietly, so they fired him. When asked why they fired him, the board told us they didn’t want to air the dirty laundry.

We held a meeting and insisted the board air the dirty laundry. A person stood and described something that happened many years ago. The person who was fired immediately stood and refuted the story. No one stepped forward to support the accuser, but people did step forward to say that the accuser had problems and could not be believed. The vast majority of the membership discounted the claims and voted to have the person reinstated.

The board claimed they had no knowledge of the person making the accusations. That implies they had no knowledge of the accusations. Therefore, we can assume there is no dirty laundry. Instead, what we have is petty jealousies. The chairman of the board has a similar skill set and it would seem he covets the other person’s job. Since he could not apply for that job until the other person left, he helped move things along in his favor.

As all of this garbage makes its way to the surface, we are discovering other questionable things the board of directors has done. For instance, the wife of the chairman has been appointed to two powerful positions within the group. There is definitely a conflict of interest on several fronts. And we, the members, have looked the other way. In that regard, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

We have also come to realize that other members of the board are willingly accepting only one side of issues – that which is presented by the chairman. Accusations are made and no one sees the need to ask questions and attempt to get all information prior to making decisions. This board has hired people for jobs that didn’t exist and offered to pay them more money than the group can afford to pay.

They continue to operate on less than accurate and total information, but have stubbornly insisted that being leaders sometimes causes pain in a group that doesn’t like change.

In many ways, I view the board in the same way I view the scorpion. They moved themselves into an impossible position because they had no real direction. Now, instead of admitting they may have made some mistakes, they allow themselves to stay in that light fixture – where they can be seen, but cannot escape without someone else’s assistance. To ask for help would be to admit they made a mistake.

There will be elections in the future. It may take a while, but we now have many members willing to serve. Eventually, the entire board of directors will be replaced and we can begin to undo the harm that has been done.

Sorry for the negatives in this post, but sometimes I just need to vent my spleen.


This, That, and the Other

September 29, 2008

Perhaps I should have named this post “Welcome to Canal City”. That’s where the fountain shown in the video is located in Fukuoka Japan.

If that was all I was going to include in this post, “Welcome to Canal City” might be appropriate, but since I’m going to add a few unrelated items, I’ll stick with the title I used.

Trivia question: What movie is that song from?

I may have included this video about Patrick Hughes before, so what! His story deserves to be told over and over… especially for those of us who thing we’re having a bad day.

Hopefully this will help you have a better day!


Musical Sunday

September 28, 2008

Today I’m simply going to share some of my favorite old songs. We’ll start with Debbie Reynolds. Remember her?

This next song is one I always associate with going on vacation. As I recall, many times my father or brothers drove overnight to get to New Jersey. When you hear this song, you’ll know why it stuck in my brain.

There were many male quartets making music in the forties and fifties. One of my favorites was the Four Aces.

Many songs bring back memories, but some zero in on a particular time in my life. For example, Doo-Wop music triggers memories of high school. But these next few songs remind me of my college years.

That’s enough for today. I don’t want to put any disc jockeys out of work.


How’s That Made… Again?

September 27, 2008

Mr. Wizard was one of my favorite shows when I was a lad. I used to wish my science teachers could keep me as interested. In truth, very few of my teachers could hold my interest for very long.

Over the years the television executives have aired a number of programs designed around showing us how things are made and the science behind many things we take for granted. Around the same time as Mr. Wizard, there was a series called “Industry on Parade.” I wasn’t able to locate an episode of that show, but the following clip will give the younger readers an idea of how the show went.

Unfortunately, when I tested this post, instead of seeing this video, I was shown a message saying the video was no longer available. My apologies. What the video showed – and what “Industry on Parade” was all about – was a demonstration of the manufacturing process of different products. It was a proud testimony of what Americans were doing, and often focused on handicapped WW II vets and how they’d been retrained to become skilled laborers and craftsmen.

For more information about “Industry on Parade” go to http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives/d4507.htm.

After television became a bit more sophisticated, Tom Chapin – brother of Harry – starred in a show called “Make a Wish”. The show was a basic stream-of-consciousness romp through one’s imagination.

Each week, Tom would wish he was something. His discussion then led through a myriad of possibilities.

Similar – but much more educational – shows were James Burke’s “Connections” and “The Day the Universe Changed”.

I’m sure the majority of our TV viewing audience prefers to watch “American Idol” and all the ‘reality’ shows. (I’m not sure whose reality the shows are supposed to be exposing – it certainly isn’t mine or anyone else’s that I’m aware of.) But I feel fortunate that some producers out there are still putting together the “How it’s done” type programming. One of my favorites is John Ratzenberger’s “Made in America”.

Of course, John Ratzenberger is much better known as Cliff on Cheers.

Fortunately, he’s a much better spokesperson on his new show.


The Iceman Goeth

September 26, 2008
An Elmo Birthday Cake

An Elmo Birthday Cake

All my grandchildren love Elmo… just as much as I loved Rodney and Knish, Howdy Doody, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and King Friday XIII. It makes me wonder if Elmo, Ernie, Bert, Big Bird, Barney, and the other childhood favorites will be distant memories fifty years from now. Let’s face it, even the Bible tells us there’s a time for us to put away our childish things and start acting like adults.

Realistically, it’s more than our childish things that get put away. As the world around us changes, we humans must adapt or die… just like the dinosaurs and other beasts. Face it, yesterday’s gone!

As a young boy, I was aware of a number of workers who frequented our neighborhood. Most of them are long gone.

The first to go was the ice man; refrigerators eliminated the need for someone to go from house to house delivering ice. For a while, the ice houses stayed in business selling blocks of ice to picnickers who needed to keep their food and beverages chilled while they frolicked in the parks. Today, it’s rare to find an ice house that sells directly to consumers. Bags of ice cubes can be purchased at the grocery store and blocks of ice can be bought at machines… if you can find one!

The ice man was soon followed by the men who delivered coal to homes. In many cases, those were the same workers – delivering ice in the summer and coal in the winter. Home owners rapidly changed over to cleaner, more efficient gas and electric furnaces. The reduced consumption of coal not only affected the people who sold and delivered to home owners, it also reduced the number of coal miners needed to supply the shrinking market. Many more coal miners lost their jobs because of mechanical mining devices.

Before we begin to feel sorry for the men discussed so far, bare in mind that their trucks eliminated the need for horses; that put many blacksmiths out of work.

Years ago, neighborhoods were also frequented by men delivering baked goods, milk and other dairy products, and produce. Many dry cleaners also had trucks to pick up and deliver laundry. The paper boy was usually on time – on foot, pulling a wagon, or riding the bicycle he bought with his earnings. In a typical week, one might also spot a delivery boy from the drug store, a knife sharpener, a rag man, and a Western Union messenger.

Slowly those workers were eliminated along with the dishware in the boxes of laundry detergent, the trading stamps at the gas station, and the cartoons and newsreels that preceded the movies at the theaters.

I’ve also seen many mill workers lose their jobs as the steel mills closed. The closing of the mills also meant many people in industries that supported the mills lost their livelihoods. Many people predicted that cities such as Pittsburgh would die, but they were proven wrong. Like many workers before them, people who lost their jobs went out and learned new skills and earned their places on other payrolls.

While I’m sure that people will continue to adapt with the changing times and technologies, I sure miss a lot of things that were commonplace in the old days. Supermarkets have not only eliminated the small independent grocers, but have also led to the demise of butcher shops and bakeries. While the products available at those gigantic stores are cheaper, the quality of the meat and baked goods can’t compare to the smaller scale operations. We’re fortunate to have a few meat markets in our area, but there’s only one decent bakery within thirty miles of my home… if it’s still there!

As the song says, all good things must end some day. It makes me wonder what my grandchildren will be missing when they reach my age.

By the way, that Elmo birthday cake was created by my bride… and the grandchildren loved it!


Recycling – Pittsburgh Style

September 25, 2008

WW II Submarine at Science Center

WW II Submarine at Science Center

Pittsburgh has been recycling for years. When I was a child, Pittsburgh was definitely a blue collar town; the largest employers were the steel mills and related factories. Today, most of the jobs are of the white collar variety. The mills are long gone, but the spirit of the city lives on.

The submarine shown in the above picture is a WW II vintage vessel. It now serves as part of a science exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center. The USS Requin holds the distinction of being the Navy’s first Radar Picket submarine; but that’s just the beginning of her story.

Rook Station near Carnegie

Rook Station near Carnegie

I grew up within miles of the above structure. It was a roundhouse for the steam locomotives and known as Rook Station. I only saw it in operation once or twice. Back then, such things were taken for granted and my parents saw no need to take me there to see things first-hand. Today, most of the structure is gone, but the terminal building serves as office space for various companies.

I apologize for only showing the top of the building. When I went to take the photograph, a work crew had dug a large hole in the front of the building and their equipment blocked my view.

St. Car Barn - Ascension R.C. Church

St. Car Barn - Ascension R.C. Church

Another vestige of the bygone days was the streetcar, or trolley. As a child, I rode trolleys as often as I rode buses. It all depended on the final destination. Unfortunately, the powers-that-were decided to replace all the trolleys with buses, and they removed the tracks and sold the right-of-ways that made it possible for the trolleys to travel their routes much faster than the buses… that had to contend with rush hour traffic. Some might suggest that General Motors made contributions to various candidates, but such allegations would be difficult to prove.

In any case, when the trolleys disappeared, there was no longer a need for car barns – the buildings used to maintain the trolleys. Many of them were sold off and demolished to make room for other construction. One exception was the building shown in the above photo. People around the area still refer to it as Saint Car Barn, but the Diocese of Pittsburgh calls it Ascension.

It’s interesting to note that over the last twenty years the Port Authority of Allegheny County has laid new tracks and opened old right-of-ways to accommodate what they call their “light rail” system.

While we’re on the subject of rail systems… when I was a child, what is now Point State Park was railroad yards and warehouses. The Wabash Building was the center of attention back then as people crossed either the Point Bridge or Manchester Bridge on their way into downtown. A bridge just up river from the Point Bridge carried trains across the Monongahela River and through a tunnel under Mt. Washington.

The bridge is long gone, but the piers are still there… as is the tunnel. However, the rails inside the tunnel have been removed and replaced by a concrete roadway. The tunnel is now used by express buses that travel along the path of the old railroad tracks. I recently rode one of those buses to the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport on my way back to Georgia.

P & LE RR Station

P & LE RR Station

Another symbol of the old railroads that has been recycled is the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad station on Pittsburgh’s South Side. It is now known as Station Square and is the center of a complex of hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and an indoor shopping mall.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture for my last item on Pittsburgh-style recycling. But I can send you to a website. A friend of mine – former fellow employee at IBM – is now selling pens made from recycled materials. In the words of Bill Poliziani – “I am a native of Western Pennsylvania and a self taught woodworker who enjoys creating things for others.  I try to use recyclable materials whenever possible, such as old furniture, counter tops and even corn cobs.  Each pen is made individually.  There is no mass production … that would take all the fun out of it.”   To see some of Bill’s work and learn more about it, please visit his website at http://www.writingstix.com/.

I still have lots of photos from my recent trip to Pittsburgh, but I may move on to other topics for a while, It will give us all a break!


Double Dose of Nostalgia

September 24, 2008
Franco at the Airport

Franco at the Airport

As I was leaving Pittsburgh, I had to take this picture of the statue of Franco Harris at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. Not every city has a statue such as this. Franco is bending down to catch a deflected pass that resulted in a last second touchdown to beat the hated Oakland Raiders. While I was in attendance at that game, I failed to see the “Immaculate Reception” as I was too busy looking for a penalty flag that might have given the Steelers one last chance to win the game.

By the way, Franco’s likeness is right beside a life-sized statue of some guy named George Washington. I guess that guy also had something to do with Pittsburgh.

Franco’s likeness sure brought back a flood of memories… as did my entire trip back home. In the photo below, the building that is second from the left used to be known as the IBM building. It is where I began my career with “Big Blue” in 1968.

A Portion of Downtown Pittsburgh

A Portion of Downtown Pittsburgh

Floods of memories are good things. I can attest to that based on another of my favorite pastimes. I am a member of a band called “Nostalgia” that entertains at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other senior citizen venues.

Nostalgia

Nostalgia

This photo shows some of the group. We have a pianist, a sax player, a harmonica cat, a few guitarists, a drummer, an emcee, a few vocalists, and some designated groupies. We play more songs than we know and are constantly improving with age. As the T-shirts in the photo say, “The older they get, the better they were!”

In the past, we’ve been invited to perform at a church’s annual community Thanksgiving celebration. We’ve also performed at a Senior Prom – no one under fifty-five was permitted.

Prom Night

Prom Night

You’ll notice that the band has a few people under fifty-five. In fact, the young lady in the red dress was one of the founding members of the group… along with the pianist and the sax player. We often have younger artists join us as singers, dancers, tambourine players, and featured performers. Lately we’ve featured a young man who goes by the stage name of Hoolio Sanchez. He may have trouble spelling things in Spanish, but he’s getting pretty good on the guitar and sax.

Nostalgia performs at about ten different senior citizen haunts and plays about three out of every four Friday evenings. While the folks love it when we do songs from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, they only get to hear us about every six to eight weeks.

We love what we do – we have a great time just rehearsing – and wish we could do more gigs, but we can’t. What we do is try to encourage others to do something similar. Form a band, or put together a group to visit the seniors and play bingo. Do something to give those folks a chance to relive some of the things they loved most about their youth. If you bring tears to their eyes, you know you’ve rekindled a fond memory.

Nostalgia represents Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia. You don’t need to represent a church or any other establishment. The seniors will love to see anyone who is willing to spend some time with them. Take the time to sit and chat with them; you’ll learn quite a bit about how things once were. And they’ll love having someone to listen to them.

I took a ton of pictures in Pittsburgh that rekindled many memories of my own. I’ll warn you now – I’m a senior citizen. Expect to hear many more stories from my past!


Fifty Years Ago

September 23, 2008

As I walked around downtown Pittsburgh I noticed a sign encouraging people to celebrate Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary. The one shown in the photo below was next to the William Penn Hotel, which just happened to be where Langley High School held its Senior Prom in December of 1961.

Celebrate Pittsburgh Banner

Celebrate Pittsburgh Banner

The slogan reads “Imagine what you can do here” and provides a web site address. The robot represents how much Pittsburgh has changed over the years. That thought reminded me that fifty years ago I was wandering around downtown taking pictures of the features that were added to commemorate the bi-centennial. Those features were rather significant… the opening of the Hilton Hotel in Gateway Center, the Fort Pitt Bridge, and the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Come to think of it, a portion of the Fort Duquesne Bridge was also built around that time, but it took years before it lost the title of “Bridge to Nowhere.”

The following picture was taken from Point State Park. A museum is in the foreground and the Fort Pitt Bridge and tunnel are in the background… against a backdrop of Mt. Washington.

Fort Pitt area

Fort Pitt area

The park is at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers… and the beginning of the Ohio River. Prior to the Revolutionary War, the land changed hands a few times – between the French (Fort Duquesne) and the English (Fort Pitt). Pittsburgh became the official name in 1758. The item shown in the next picture isn’t quite that old; it was manufactured around 1900.

Heavy Duty Bellows

Heavy Duty Bellows

If I hadn’t already learned what in the heck that thing is, I might’ve put it on my ??? page. It’s officially known as a blowing engine, but I like to think of it as a giant bellows. It was powered by steam and used to force air into the fire of a blast furnace to increase the temperature enough to turn the iron ore into molten iron. Believe it or not, that blowing engine could blow enough air to fill three Goodyear blimps in one hour.

Another thing I spotted during my walking tour included one of the first blast furnaces used in Western Pennsylvania.

Clinton Blast Furnace

Clinton Blast Furnace

Even more surprising to me was discovering that the original University of Pittsburgh consisted of a log schoolhouse on the Boulevard of the Allies.

Original site of Pitt

Original site of Pitt

The celebratory slogan is “Imagine what you can do here”, but we don’t have to imagine what has already been done here. The University of Pittsburgh has moved from a log cabin into the Cathedral of Learning – also known as Skyscraper U – and the iron and steel industry has come and gone. The mills are gone, but the offices continue to grow. Pittsburgh is a vibrant city. It makes you wonder what kind of pictures I’ll be taking in 2058.

Oh! Wait a minute! I’ll have to leave that job to one of my children or grandchildren. It makes me wonder what sort of camera they’ll be using. In 1958 I used a Kodak Instamatic. This past week I used a Kodak digital. My! How times have changed since fifty years ago!


Walking Around the Old Home Town

September 22, 2008
Kaufmann's Clock

Kaufmann's Clock

That clock now hangs on the corner of the Macy’s department store, and I’d bet there are many Pittsburghers who still use it as a meeting place. “I’ll meet you under the Kaufmann’s clock,” is a phrase I heard many times while living in Pittsburgh. I wonder if they still refer to it as Kaufmann’s clock rather than Macy’s. I’d guess it would depend on the age of the individuals.

Speaking of age, as I wandered around the streets of Pittsburgh I encountered a number of dinosaurs. Evidently, there was some sort of fund raising event involving dinosaurs. Perhaps someone in the know will add a comment and fill us in with the details. The prehistoric monster in the picture below was near the Chinatown section of town.

Dino in Chinatown

Dino in Chinatown

I’d imagine many life-long citizens of Pittsburgh didn’t know we had a Chinatown. If they’d like to find it, it’s to the left of the Boulevard of the Allies as you start up the ramp leaving the downtown area.

Stepping back a bit with my story, I should mention that I began my tour at Station Square – the old Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad station that has been converted into a thriving tourist attraction. It was there I met another dinosaur – Bill “Punch” Golla.

Bill Golla

Bill Golla

Bill was my Big Brother at Edinboro State Teachers College and, although we hadn’t seen each other in decades, I consider him a good friend. Our combined tour of the city and trip down Memory Lane was delightful. It was one of those experiences when you feel you can simply pick up where you left off… the many years between encounters melt away within seconds.

Bill and I share a special feat – we’ve both been to all fifty states! In addition, we both enjoy camping and share numerous other interests. Bill and his wife Pam raised three sons. My first wife and I also had three sons, but we also had one daughter.

As we wandered the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, we found ourselves looking up at the wonderfully ornate trim on many of the older buildings. I invite all visitors to downtown to do the same; you’ll be amazed at what you see. Bill commented that he was glad he was with me because he never recognized the uniqueness of the architecture. The truth is… neither did I! When I lived in the area, going downtown entailed a specific purpose. Therefore, I wasn’t looking up; I was looking straight ahead. It’s amazing what we miss by not looking up and down.

Of all the buildings – both old and new – there was one that left us scratching our heads. It’s the building with the red roof in the photo below.

Mystery Building

Mystery Building

The picture was taken from Grant Street looking down toward Liberty Avenue. We may have been on the corner of Sixth or Seventh Avenue. By the time we got closer, we could no longer see the red roof. Thus, we couldn’t identify the building. The architecture leads us to believe it is an older building, but I don’t remember ever seeing it before. I guess I never looked up!

I’ll place a close-up shot of the roof on the ??? page. If you recognize the building, please let me know. Thanks.


It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

September 21, 2008

Superman wasn’t the only thing flying around the skies of my neighborhood in the forties and fifties.

In the late 1940s there were many things flying over our neighborhood. We were relatively close to a flight path to the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. Come to think of it, that airport may have opened during my early childhood. I vaguely remember talk of the Allegheny County Airport located out near the slag dump.

While Superman was flying around on our thirteen inch black and white television – and on the pages of comic books – the real skies were occupied by numerous propeller driven airplanes. Many of those airplanes were military craft coming to Pittsburgh to be turned into scrap metal. As the years went by, the military craft was quickly replaced by commercial airlines. The true workhorse of the time was the DC-3.

If we attended a baseball game at Forbes Field or a football game at Pitt Stadium, there was a good chance we’d see a bi-plane pulling a long advertising sign in its wake.

As the 1950s began, we began to see F-86 Sabre jets flying into the National Guard air station at the airport. It wasn’t long until the newer F-100 Super-Sabres were being showcased at air shows. Although the Air Force was quickly moving to jet fighters, there were still many giant propeller driven cargo planes; I believe they were known as Globemasters.

Meanwhile, the commercial airlines had moved up to the DC-6s and DC-7s. People were still making sure to dress properly before boarding those flights but, because of the cost of flying, most people were still traveling by bus or train.

Most of the boys I grew up with enjoyed building models of the military planes. We all looked forward to the annual community picnic at Kennywood Park where we could put pennies in machines in the Penny Arcade and get pictures of the experimental planes. We all wanted to grow up to become pilots and loved every movie featuring airplanes. Most of the movies were based on World War II, but there were a few that dealt with problems on commercial airliners.

Regardless of what we were doing at the time, when we heard the drone of an airplane, we all stopped and looked up. Sometimes we could identify the plane based on a model someone had built or a picture we had seen. At other times we were at a total loss.

Many times people would shout, “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a frog!”

I couldn’t locate a video that included Shoe Shine’s famous words, but just in case you forgot… “Not bird nor plane nor even frog. It’s just little old me – Underdog!”