February 15, 2012

The World's Largest Street Sign

world's largest street sign

Apparently the World’s Largest Street Sign is located within the confines of the great city of Pittsburgh, PA (USA) and can be viewed while descending Brookline Boulevard en route to Wenzell Avenue.

While I applaud the city’s savvy in capturing a Guinness Record, I can not help but wonder what kind of driver would require such a large sign.  Possibly the kind of driver that does not have the vision necessary for operating a motor vehicle?

This West Liberty Avenue sign has been officially filed under the label of “things that make you go hmmm….”.

February 1, 2012

The B11 Party Bus is Our Vengabus

The B11 Party Bus

Slumbering in an overlooked nook directly behind South Side High School at the corner of Sarah and 10th Street is The B11 Party Bus.  Each time I pass by this majestic machine my mind will hark back to Donzi’s nightclub while the Vengaboys classic “We Like To Party” thumps through its sound system.  A 2:00 AM pretzel or hot dog from the cart out front always hit the spot before the jitney ride home.  Oh the good ole days.

I know very little about Pittsburgh’s own Vengabus.  Given that the beast has literally been dubbed “Party Bus” my guess is that it probably houses slot machines, mini stage for sword swallowers, hot tub and combination massage table / tattoo chair.  This clearly is not your mama’s Port Authority carriage over to the East End.  This is a fully functioning intracity disco.

I wish that I possessed more insight as to the inner workings of this most excellent land yacht for merrymakers.  Is it for hire at a reasonable rate or do members of a local techno dance troop only board it?  Are glowsticks and body paint provided or is there a strict bring your own sundries protocol?  What do you think?  Please share your thoughts so that we can collectively crack the code on this critically important topic.

January 16, 2012

Who Was William Thaw?

william thaw

Somewhere on Wood Street between the avenues of Third and Fourth a bronze placard is firmly perched on the stone façade of a once grand building.  It reads:  On This Site William Thaw Was Born October 12, 1818.  Authority and significance ooze from within the sign.  After all, we are talking about the William Thaw.

Who was William Thaw you ask?  You are not alone.  Poll 10 people from each of the city’s 90 neighborhoods with “what do you know about William Thaw” and one can expect blanks stares, states of confusion or chuckles coupled with uncomfortable grinning.  Carnegie, Frick and Mellon are the names we all know and love.  Thaw?  Isn’t that something that happens in the Spring?

A Google search on William Thaw reveals a brief Wikipedia summary of the man.

·      2 wives and 10 children
·      A murderer son that invented speed balls
·      Helped fund the Allegheny Observatory
·      Top 100 wealthiest Americans of the time

Definitely a very interesting and diverse rundown that could possibly surpass Downton Abbey in suspense and intrigue.  Given this, an incremental question arises.  Why are we so unfamiliar with the name?  Slightly deeper into Google a lengthy document entitled In Memoriam William Thaw emerges from the annals of an online archive.  The document includes a collection of writings that summarize Mr. Thaw’s societal contributions along with an account of his funeral and reprints of several letters he wrote.

Early in the memoriam William’s trusted pastor reveals the answer to the question of present day anonymity by penning, “he resisted all attempts to have his name connected with his benefactions.  Thaw universities, colleges, halls, homes, chairs, libraries, etc. could have been dotted all over this land with his money had he so allowed it, and there would have been no harm in it; but this was not his idea.”  Interesting.  Quite interesting indeed.

Scanning through the remainder of the document Thaw is uncloaked as being extremely well known and loved by many in his time.  Completely dedicated to making Pittsburgh and the world around him a positive place.  I have traveled Wood Street literally hundreds of times over the years.  Consumed with my own happenings I never once observed the placard until recently.  I am glad I saw it.  I now know more about our great city and one of its historic figures.  Three cheers for William Thaw!

January 7, 2012

Closing The Books On 2011

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being incredibly awesome and 1 being downright crappy, how would you rate your 2011?  This is the conversation my party was engaged in for a few moments during New Year’s Eve.  The discussion was certainly not unique and nobody actually used a rating scale but more than three quarters of Shawn PM revelers were absolutely giddy to close the books on 2011. 

Mind you I was not spending the evening with a gaggle of Debbie Downers.  Nay, these are individuals that are upbeat, successful, non-finger pointers that are absent of excuses.  You might even secretly pine to be one of them.  Over the years participants have entered and exited the gaggle but its New Year’s Eve sentiment has generally remained the same.  So what gives?  Why all the “good riddances” on just about every 12/31? 

Are we in pursuit of the wrong things in life?  Do our secret pasts hold us back?  Is Pennsylvania not the cat’s meow that we all think it to be?  Perhaps it’s a combination of these and other things.  Regardless of the source of our challenges we are all simply trying to make it each day.  Live and let live seems to increase its relevance as a motto the more I age.  What could possibly be unhealthy about appreciating others for their unique skills, traits or abilities?

Bringing it full circle I once again ask, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being incredibly awesome and 1 being downright crappy, how would you rate your 2011?  No matter your rating there are others that share it with you.  For the record I rated my 2011 at about a “2”.  I share this detail for all of the other 2s out there.  Given the abundance of positive facades in the world you just might have thought you were on an island.  Your island however is larger than Greenland and probably includes Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen.  

December 26, 2011

Help Wanted

mattress factory

Are you ready to create an enjoyable, one of a kind experience and memory?  Does spending an afternoon in a city that consistently rates as one of the most livable in America get you psyched?  Would completing one of Project Positive Pittsburgh’s Top 5 Most Incredible Activities give you an amazing sense of accomplishment?

Unique Opportunity
The Mattress Factory, a highly engaging and wildly popular installation art museum located in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, is seeking numerous full and part-time patrons to enjoy multiple modern art exhibitions. 

Essential Duties and Responsibilities
·      Evaluate evocativeness of artwork materials
·      Dissolve lines between art and life
·      Perceive interior spaces in a transformative manner
·      Prioritize artistic intention over form

Required Skills and Education
·      Ability to effectively leverage an open mind
·      Adept at thinking, smiling and thinking some more
·      Capable of proactively employing senses

What We Offer In Return
·      Immersion into sensory/narrative experiences
·      An intense atmosphere of inclusion in your observations
·      Minimal dimensional constants
·      Partially gentrified neighborhood location mystique

To Apply For Position
·      Make way for 500 Sampsonia St.
·      Navigate through Randyland
·      Clip a MF logo on your collar
·      Savor your day

Additional Details
·      Wheeled transportation devices park free at 505 Jacksonia St.
·      Gift shop contains items actually worthy of purchase
·      In-house café is akin to Le Dôme, not a museum lunchroom

Applications are only accepted in-person every Tuesday through Saturday from 10AM – 5PM and Sundays from 1PM to 5PM.  “Sites of Passage” is currently on display until February 12, 2012 while “Factory Installed” can be seen up until May 1, 2012.  Merchandise can be purchased at any time, from any place via our online shop.  The MF is an Equal Opportunity Art Experience provider.

December 21, 2011

The Pittsburgh Percussionist

Who is this unmasked man at Pitt basketball games?  This dude can seriously jam!  He started the season with spiked bleached blonde hair but recently evolved the “do” by painting half of his noggin a brilliant hue of Panther Blue.  Double the fun if you ask me.

I don’t recall seeing this Passionate Pittsburgh Percussionist in prior seasons at The Pete.  Hopefully he is an underclassman with several more years to reign over the skins.  After enjoying his awesomeness for the past two months, I recently took the opportunity of a runaway game to create a chance at 15 minutes of fame for my friend.  Out came the iPhone then came YouTube, Twitter and Project Positive Pittsburgh.  The rest is now history.

I am currently researching the submission process for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see if there is a Pep Band category.  Buddy Rich, Neil Peart and Tommy Lee clearly have nothing on my bleached bandit.  If an appropriate category exists, this guy is a shoo-in.  Agreed?

If you get a chance to visit The Pete this season, consider watching the Pep Band a little more closely than usual.  You won’t regret it.  Let’s officially close out this post in show tune fashion to the sounds of Rule Britannia.  Sing with me, won’t you?  “Hail, Drum Master!  The Master of the Drum!  He’s bleached, blue, passionate and tons o’ fun.”

p.s. – Note to Drum Master:  I am still available to be your agent/publicist if you are unsigned.  Think t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, calendars and PCNC appearances.  We’re talking more viral than “Monkey Riding Dog”.  --ShawnPM

December 14, 2011

Legendary Source Of Shade Sighted


I enjoy trips to Shadyside.  It’s vibrant, alive, happening and fun.  After years of countless trips to Walnut, Ellsworth and South Highland Streets, I somehow managed to never spot the source of Shadyside’s shade.  Sure the neighborhood has its share of trees but not necessarily any more or less than other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  The source of shade was elusive and I began to wonder if the neighborhood was some kind of East End Triangle or Area 412.

Year after year, visit after visit I would equip myself for a Shadyside trip by jamming a backpack full of items such as digital camera, video recorder, pepper spray, mini tranquilizer blow dart gun, rope, duct tape, weighted net, zip ties, footprint plaster cast kit and a six pack of I.C. Light.  All of this, for the sole purpose of tracking, sighting and perhaps even capturing the source of Shadyside’s shade.  I am sure you can imagine the looks I received while sporting my backpack o' fun whilst dining at Girasole.  In addition to stares and jeers, I also heard people around me mutter things like “honey, I think I saw him twitch” and “just don’t make eye contact with him”.  I guess my U.S. Woodland camouflage pants and mask didn’t exactly help matters.

I however remained undeterred.  What did I care if others didn’t understand me?  I was on a mission and missions are made to be accomplished.  The scoffing rolled right off of me.  I needed to know.  I would prevail.  On one fine recent Saturday afternoon the naysayers were silenced in the blink of an eye.  I spotted and photographed the source of Shadyside’s shade!  If you already saw my historic interview with Ellis Cannon on WPXI’s NightTalk then you already know the story and can proceed to the final paragraph of this post.  For all others, here is how I captured Pittsburgh’s version of Bigfoot.

I awoke to a slightly crisp and mostly sunny Saturday morning.  I knew if there was to be a sighting, conditions were ripe for it.  After donning my signature backpack I made my way to Shadyside for a little political volunteer work.  I met other volunteers at Coffee Tree Roasters on Walnut Street and then proceeded out into the neighborhood to evangelize my candidate.  All went well and the day was gloriously pleasant.

Around noon the team had accomplished its goals for the day.  Slowly but surely, one by one, the team began to disband for greener personal pastures.  Some wanted to shop, some wanted to eat.  Others simply wanted to return home for family.  I on the other hand was immediately on the hunt.  Out came face paint and camouflage hat.  A tiny voice in my head told me that after all of these years, today just might be the day.

As I worked my way West on Walnut Street my wife and her sister sought out delectable baked goods and my brother in-law bumped into a friend.  I nevertheless remained focused amid the distractions and continued my stealthy prowl.  Just as I was prepared to adjourn the hunt in lieu of an Elbow Room dining experience, I saw something move out of the corner of my left eye.  Could it be after all of these years?  I pivoted left and there it was.  The experience was similar to that light switch moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything that was black and white turned to color in one miraculous moment.

There in front of me stood a black, ginormous Joshua Tree at the cross street of Bellefonte.  Mystical red and black birds leapt from branch to branch and its magnificent silhouette was bathed in a beautiful lomo plastic bullet camera hue.  I could see the tree cautiously drinking a little water by dipping its roots into the city’s sewer system.  At first I thought the I.C. Lights were playing tricks on me but quickly realized that I was witnessing The Source of Shade in Shadyside. 

I immediately dove into a prone position on the sidewalk so as to make my profile small.  While one with the concrete I reached into the backpack for my camera and weighted net.  Not wanting to lose any evidence, I grabbed the camera first in hopes of ensuring my immortality.  Snap, snap.  Just then I realized that I forgot to place the shutter on silent mode.  The ensuing echo triggered a high tail stage left by the aforementioned fairylike Joshua Tree.  The legend was now burned on an SD memory card.

Near the end of my interview with Ellis he asked me “So now what?  After 20+ years you have fulfilled your quest.  Where do you go from here?”  To which I replied, “there’s got to be something behind the name Squirrel Hill.  My backpack is still full and I intend to find out.”  What are your thoughts on Squirrel Hill?  Could it be that a band of meerkats escaped from the zoo in the late 1800s and took up residence in the area?  Maybe the hill was originally settled by frontiersmen that took a shine to squirrel stew?  After all, the neighborhood has its share of squirrels but not necessarily any more or less than other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

If you have time this Saturday I am organizing a 10AM meetup at Commonplace Coffeehouse to launch an expeditionary force in search of Squirrel Hill’s source squirrel.  Comfortable clothing, shoes and camouflage are strongly recommended for obvious reasons.  I will be Tweeting live for those that are only able to attend in spirit.  Tallyho!