Friday, February 29, 2008

Gramley vs. Wilson, Round 147

(News-Herald, February 28) Can’t we all just stay out of each other’s pants?

I’m talking about the unending flap over the recent appearance of Namoli Brennet in Oil City (and yes, I realize that I’m now contributing to its unendingness—but there are certain things I have a professional obligation to make fun of).

As might have been expected, Diane Gramley and the AFA sent a mass mailing out to protest—well, according to the letter, to protest the false advertising.

I’m not exactly sure what the “false advertising in promoting the event” was. Namoli Brennet was advertised as a Tucson-based folk singer. Gramley did not contest Brennet’s residence, nor complain that Brennet, instead of performing folkie music, launched into an evening of heavy metal polkas.

No, the problem seems to be that Brennet was not clearly identified by gender and sexual preference.

Brennet is what’s sometimes called “transgender,” born a man and self-identifying as a woman. Even I, a middle-aged white heterosexual male, know that “transgender” and “homosexual” are two different kettles of fish (other than it raises the confusing question—if a biological guy crosses the road to identify as a woman, but still likes women, is that a newly-minted lesbian chick or an unusually-dressed heterosexual dude?).

Well, Gramley apparently wants all this identified up front. I shudder to think what this means for future performers in the area, who will apparently be required to publicly declare their sexual preferences. This revolutionary approach certainly could have shaken up the entertainment industry had it been implemented sooner. Imagine the advertising for Liberace or Jerry Lee Lewis. And I don’t even want to begin to think about what kind of inspection will be needed to certify a performer’s gender before taking the stage.

Of course, across the aisle through this brou-ha-ha has been Joe Wilson, who has decided in recent years to make it his personal crusade to straighten out (you should pardon the expression) all us poor backward hicks in Venango County. His promos for the concert breathlessly announce the concert that “will blow the closet door off its hinges.”

So apparently both sides of the issue agree that mere exposure to someone who’s not traditionally heterosexual will cause everyone in the room to be affected by gay cooties.

Call me crazy, but if I’m going to see a performer, all I really care about is how well they perform. A singer, dancer, brain surgeon, tree surgeon—all I need to know is how well the person does the job. The only reason I can imagine caring about the sexuality of performers is if I think a part of concert-going is to imagine having sex with the performer afterwards—and if that’s the case, I’m far scarier than anything happening on stage.

I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that none of this stuff is any of my business, and personally, I tend to resent anyone who insists that I make it my business. I always thought that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a good start for a policy; I would just add one more and that’s “don’t pretend.”

I’ll admit my bias—I tend to think that asking someone not to be gay takes us back to the days when left-handed students were coerced into trying to switch hands. Didn’t do anybody any good; did many people a bunch of harm. At the same time, announcing “Hey, I’m gay” strikes me about as useful as announcing, “Hey, I’m blond.” Thanks for sharing, but what do you want me to do about it? I’m going to love you as much (or as little) as I ever did.

So I don’t plan to ask, and I don’t feel the need to have you tell me. However, I also don’t feel the need to ask you to pretend. Nobody should have to go through life pretending that a big chunk of who they are doesn’t exist.

Ironically, this is something I think homosexuals and evangelicals have in common—both often find themselves surrounded by people who wish they would just pretend not to be That Way. I have no interest in going back to the days when Cole Porter felt the need to fake marriage, nor do I think the world would be a better place if conservative Christians had to meet secretly in basements. If you live your life as the person you are, that will tell me everything I need to know about you.

It’s an imperfect balance, hard both to strike and maintain. I’d prefer to lock the Diane Gramley’s and Joe Wilson’s together in a room somewhere and let the singers, dancers, and plumbers do their jobs. And maybe the rest of us could just spend a little more time minding our own business.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Monarch Park

(News-Herald, February 21) The dead of winter may be the perfect time to remember our own little oft-forgotten Venangoland garden spot. Once upon a time, Monarch Park, our own little amusement park, existed out near what is now Deep Hollow Road, along the back half of the giant trolley loop that connected Franklin and Oil City.

The park was opened in 1896 by Mr. Smithman, who had many large plans, including the development of a small lake. In 1901 the whole business was turned over to the Citizen’s Traction Company and Smithman Park became Monarch Park (operated by a corporation named the Monarch Park Hotel Company).

The park became the major draw of the area. On major holidays, both Franklin and Oil City were virtually empty—everyone was at Monarch Park. It was a location that was designed to serve the entire family.

A large open-air playground kept small children entertained, while nearby there were flowing brooks and large gardens and wandering paths for the more sedate grown-ups to stroll. There was a bowling alley for those who wanted some mild exercise. An auditorium hosted many renowned speakers and performers, and a dance pavilion, complete with spacious open porches, featured both local and nationally known bands.

The park was prodigious employer of Oil City and Franklin’s top musicians. In some years the house band would provide four or five concerts over the weekend, plus a three-hour dance on Saturday night.

Looking back, it’s hard to grasp just how modern the place was in its day. In 1902 the park premiered its electric tower, a 120-foot structure covered inside and out with electrical lights (the first Presidential Christmas tree with electrical lighting had only just appeared in 1895). The outside lights shone throughout the park, while the inside ones illuminated windows of colored glass.

In 1913 the park added the Whirlpool, a typical fling-the-capsule-around-the-circle ride, except that at rest the capsules rested on the water in a pond. The other big addition of the season was the Thriller, a roller coaster that would seem tame by today’s standards, but which represented an impressive level of excitement and thrill for the time. A cafĂ© provided foods of wide varieties, and the White Way featured an ever-changing assortment of booths filled with treats and games.

People loved the place. It’s hard to imagine folks heading out to simply hang around the park for a day, taking picnic food, and strolling about the grounds, a small valley oasis in the middle of the Pennsylvanian woods.

I’ve always been intrigued by that isolation—there were eventually roads that ran to the park, but by all accounts they were awful. The only real acess was by streetcar. Once you were there, you were there. More than the gardens and ponds and carousel and light-up buildings, that says something about the pace of those days. Imagine any situation today where hundreds of families would put themselves in a situation where they could not leave at any moment.

In Franklin, the death of the park is often associated with the destruction of the Big Rock Bridge in 1926, but by then, the park was already in trouble. 1924 was a slow season, bad enough that the park was leased to another management company in an attempt to make it work. A few changes in entertainments were tried, but even an outdoor movie theater in the old band shell was not enough of a draw.

Perhaps it was the rise of the automobile that made it easier for people to pick and choose their destinations, to come and go as they pleased. Perhaps it was simply that the 1920’s, even in Venangoland, were a whole new and different and faster world from the pre-Great War era.

By 1926 the trolley company announced discontinuation of the Oil City-Franklin route. In April, the Citizens Traction Company put many of the park buildings up for sale. It was picked apart bit by bit. The dance hall became lumber to build three houses. The bowling alley was dismantled and sold. The Thriller became lumber for building a warehouse. I’ve heard from many old timers that the carousel animals were purchased moved to Conneaut Lake Park, though I’ve never seen any corroboration.

In the 1930’s the Izaak Walton League bought the land and still owns it today. I’ve been out there to poke around, and traces of the park are still visible—stones marking a foundation, the whirlpool pond, some concrete pillars and bits of the old brook. It had lasted barely thirty years, and perhaps that was long enough. Something may not last forever, but that makes it no less beautiful and gracious while it lives.

Friday, February 15, 2008

PA Graduation Exam Dopiness

(News-Herald, February 14) The state board of education has decided that Pennsylvania school students need more tests, and so we now face the prospect of graduation exams for commonwealth students—ten (yes, ten) of them. If dumb ideas were top forty hits, Harrisburg would be Elvis.

Let me stress—it is in no way dumb to expect quality from schools. Schools should be accountable to the taxpayers who foot the bill just as any branch of government should be answerable to the electorate. People should be able to get some idea of whether or not schools are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Folks should be able to find some sort of answer to the question, “Are my schools any good?”

Standardized tests are an exceptionally poor way to get an answer to that question.

In the ed biz, this is not news. Prior to the eruption of No Child Left Standing, the hot trend in education was Authentic Assessment. Ed biz experts announced that the best way to know if a student could do something was to have the student do it. In other words, if you want to know if Johnny has learned how to make foul shots, you don’t give him a multiple choice test—you hand him a basketball and tell him to shoot. Teachers across the nation greeted this revelation with a resounding, “Well, duh!” We put away our standardized tests, but then NCLB arrived.

Standardized tests are the lazy way to evaluate students, but they aren’t totally useless. If a school is achieving a ten percent proficiency rating on the PSSA, that’s probably a safe indicator that something is wrong. But it does not follow that a high rating means that something is right.

Say you wanted a quick, easy way to evaluate a basketball team’s performance. So you checked after each game to see how many points they scored. If they were scoring fewer than ten points per game, you’d know something bad was happening. But if you knew they were scoring over seventy points per game, what would you really know?

You wouldn’t have enough information to know how they were doing. What did the other team score? And was the other team a really good team, or did the team get their score up by scheduling games against a kindergarten wheelchair team?

Think about everything you’ve ever considered valuable about your own education, everything about school that influenced and helped you in life. How much of that could best be measured by multiple choice questions?

There are two false premises at the heart of the More Standardized Tests proposal. First, that standardized tests are a good measure of anything other than students’ ability to take the standardized test. If the tests were merely a bad measure, that would be bad enough. But by making a standardized test the measure of educational success, the bureaucrats send a clear message—any kind of higher order thinking, expression, understanding and exploration is an unnecessary and unwelcome frill. The tests don’t measure what they claim to measure, and they demand a steady diet of mediocre pablum from schools.

The second unproven premise is that our schools are in some state of disaster. Pittsburgh Superintendent Mark Roosevelt wrote for the hearings in Harrisburg, “For far too long, local education agencies or school districts have been permitted to issue diplomas to students that are not worthy of the paper on which they are printed.”

Really? Really?!?! The industries of the commonwealth are packed with hires from other states because Pennsylvania grads are unemployable? Pennsylvania grads can’t get into college, and when they do, they all flunk out?

I don’t imagine that our schools are pillars of perfection, but the fact is, nobody has any useful data about how successful we are, because politicians are too busy trying to generate short, simple numbers that will fit conveniently in sound bites and press releases.

If we want to know how well we’re doing (and we should), here’s a thought. Elementary schools are supposed to prepare students for middle school. Middle school students are supposed to be ready for high school. Graduates are supposed to be ready to be successful students, citizens and workers.

If that’s what we’re supposed to be accomplishing, let’s go check it out. We can certainly follow the students through school, but let’s not stop there. Let’s survey students five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years after graduation and see how they’re doing. Ask them. Did we prepare them for a job? Did we get them ready for college? Did we get them ready for life? And if any of them say, “I just wish you had taught me more about passing a multiple choice test,” I will eat my hat.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's Goat-skin Thong Time Again

(News-Herald, February 2002) Well, it’s Valentine’s Day again. Is there any other holiday that so aptly harnesses love and guilt in a stew of commercial blackmail? Christmas has too many different shades of meaning attached, but on Valentine’s Day there’s no room for doubt—if you didn’t send a present/card/heart-bedecked token it can only mean that You Don’t Really Care. Want to keep your relationship (or prospective portion thereof) alive? Then fork over some money at the store of your choice.

I felt moved this week to do some actual research. It would be easy to assume that Valentine’s Day is purely a creation of cardsellers and florists, but in fact it has a history long enough to be vague and mysterious.

Some authorities link VD to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. This festival was celebrated February 15 to coincide roughly with the coming of spring (the calendar has shifted a bit since those days) and, depending on your authority, was meant to either A) chase away wolves and/or B) ensure fertility of flocks, fields and folks of Rome.

Goats and dogs would be sacrificed on Palatine Hill, after which Roman men would run through the streets with thongs cut from the fresh goat-skins, lashing women in the streets as they went. I have no idea how such a fun tradition was lost over the years; perhaps one of the local Chambers of Commerce would like to revive it locally.

Somehow we get from Lupercalia to St. Valentine, who was any one of three martyred saints.

One story associates Valentine with illegal marriages. The Emperor Claudius II allegedly outlawed marriages in order to increase the supply of single men for soldiering (he felt that married men made lousy soldiers, though it seems to me ancient Roman single guys would have been preoccupied with goat-skin thong flogging). Valentine stood up for True Love by marrying folks in secret.

Another story has Valentine in prison, falling in love with a woman who may or may not have been A) blind and/or B) the jailor’s daughter. Supposedly he sent her a note saying “From your Valentine.” At any rate, Valentine was dispatched around 270 AD. Pope Gelasius tagged February 14 with his name around 498 AD.

February 14 has carried a number of charming traditions. At one point, the bachelors of a city would draw single women’s names from an urn, thereby acquiring a partner for the following year; that was eventually outlawed as un-Christian.

February 14, back when it was the beginning of spring, was thought to be the day that birds chose their mates. In keeping with the bird theme, another belief was that if a woman saw a robin fly overhead on VD, she would marry a sailor. A sparrow signified a poor man, and a goldfinch meant a millionaire.

If she was really brave, she could go to the graveyard and run around the church twelve times at midnight, chanting. A less ambitious maid could stand at her window on VD morning; the first man she saw walking by either was, or resembled, the man she would marry within the year. My sources don’t say anything about whether he had to be carrying a goat-skin thong or not. There is also no record of any VD tradition calling for bachelors to sleep till noon.

Charles, Duke of Orleans sent the earliest valentines to his wife while he was locked up in the Tower of London. Commercially created valentines first appeared around 1800. Early versions contained such romantic zingers as “My orb of day departs with thee.” Esther A. Howland started cranking out mass-produced American cards in the 1840’s. Today an estimated 1 billion cards are sold each year (second behind 2.6 billion for Christmas).

Canada, the UK, Mexico, France and Australia celebrate VD; in many Islamic countries, it is illegal, but celebrated quietly underground.

My favorite VD treat, those little candy hearts, have been factory-made since 1902. NECCO, the current manufacturers, regularly rotate the little sayings. New sayings for 2002 include “IN STYLE,” “DIVA,” “WHAT’S UP,” and “URA QT.” NECCO notes that some outdated sayings over the years have been permanently retired, such as “DIG ME” and “YOU ARE GAY.”

My box included “HUG ME,” “PAGE ME,” and “MARRY ME.” Plus one with a smiley face. Before being factory-made, candy hearts were made with paper notes inside with classy sentiments such as “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail.” It’s no “My orb of day departs with thee,” but it still beats being flogged with a goat-skin thong.

Friday, February 08, 2008

So Long, Conneaut Lake Park

My apologies to my regular on-line readers (both of you), but after resurrecting the old column about the park, I couldn't resist revisiting the topic for the newspaper column. A bit redundant, I know, but the completist in me requires that the new column be included here.

(News-Herald, February 7) When the Dreamland Ballroom at Conneaut Lake Park burned down last week, stored in the maintenance department underneath it were most of the major mechanicals for the remaining rides. The park has perched for years on the brink of oblivion, and I suppose one more miraculous escape is possible. But it seems more likely that this is the final kiss of ignominious death for the park.

The ballroom itself was actually the second in the park’s history; the first ballroom burned down in 1908 and the Dreamland Ballroom was opened in the 1909 season. The park, like Cedar Point, Waldameer, and Venangoland’s own Monarch Park, was built as a destination park, set up by a transit company as a way to sell train tickets.

Like most grown-ups in the region, I have fond memories of the park. In the eighties, I played in a Dixieland band that performed on the midway every summer Saturday night. The park paid us a modest stipend supplemented by free food during our supper break. (Management eventually wised up—Bob and Fred Frye were in the band and for what the Frye boys could eat in an hour, the park could have hired the entire Philadelphia Symphony for a week.) It was a great job; I don’t think any other job allows you to see so many people, particularly little tiny people, dance around just because they feel happy.

The food was fairly decent park food, with better than average fries. The rides weren’t eye-poppingly enormous, but made up for it with a certain dangerous edge. Was there ever a time when riders did not suspect that the Blue Streak or the Wild Mouse might actually collapse at any moment?

My ex-wife’s family used to take a yearly vacation by renting a cottage at the lake. Some of my best CLP memories are from those times; in the evening we would just stroll up to the park and wander about (eat some fries), play some games (eat some fries), and just watch people (and eat some fries). The park, at its best, was like a fireman’s fair that stayed open all summer.

I didn’t see the inside of the ballroom often—it wasn’t in use a great deal, and in some ways I think that saved it from being “modernized” too much.

For those of you still trying to remember where it was, here are the directions. As you walked up the midway, toward the lake, you eventually got to the last big intersection before the lakefront street itself. On your right, the fun house, and ahead on the right, the mini golf course. Ahead on your left, some sort of store or game on the corner, and on your near left, in the corner of the building, the entrance to the ballroom.

The ballroom was the entire upstairs of that building. In its prime it was advertised as the “largest uninterrupted ballroom between New York City and Chicago.” It was a big space with lots of arches, wrapped all around with porch space. In the thirties virtually every band that mattered played there.

The Park was eventually sold by its longtime owners. Big name parks were supersizing, adding new massive rides every year. New owners made the ludicrous choice to join the wave; they put up fences around the park and made everyone pay to come inside. They ripped out the cheesy old rides and replaced them with fewer cheesy new ones. It didn’t help.

For a while there were rumors that some Big Time Amusement Park People were buying the place. It also took a swing at becoming a great outdoor concert venue, booking acts like Steppenwolf and Bob Dylan, but there is an inherent problem with any NW PA business plan that uses the phrase “outdoor concert.” The park passed through a series of ownership deals involving some people who really loved the park and some people with, well, allegedly very colorful financial backgrounds.

The last time I set foot in the park was 2000. By then the place was just a sad shadow of its former self, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to go back. I suspect there are many folks who aren’t even sure they know how many of the last few summers the park has actually been open. But still—as long as the pieces and the real estate were still there, there was a lingering chance that somehow the park might be resurrected.

But like many slices of yesterday, the park had already surrendered a big chunk of its heart and soul. Sometimes you can go through a rough patch and come out the other side. Unfortunately, you can also just run out of time and money and luck.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

From the files-- Remembering Conneaut

I wrote the following in the summer of 2000 after a return visit to Conneaut Lake Park. I have many fond memories of the place--an early iteration of the Bully Hill Brass used to have a regular Saturday night gig at the park (if you have a copy of the park history, you'll find a picture of my brother in a candystripe vest and plastic boater crouched down and playing trumpet for some small tyke). But by the turn of the millennium, things were looking pretty bad for the park. The recent fire that took the ballroom and the maintenance shed, where most of the machinery from the functioning rides had been stored-- well, that conflagration probably marks the end of things for good. It's too bad.

(News-Herald, July 2000) I love a good amusement park. Heck, I even love a bad amusement park. Amusement parks never pretended to any lofty purpose. The great parks from the turn of the century share the same pedigree with our own Monarch Park in Venango County. Monarch Park was started by the trolley company as a way to increase business-- if you give people a destination, they'll use your transit system.

Conneaut Lake, Waldameer, Cedar Point-- most all of the pre-Disney biggies were started the same way by a trolley or train company. They were full family parks, parks that served as a gathering spot for the surrounding communities. In the early 1900s, most picnics, reunions, and gatherings were held at Monarch Park. On holidays such as the Fourth of July, Franklin and oil City were empty, all of the citizens at the park, enjoying concerts, bowling, dancing, the carousel, the roller coaster, or at night the spectacle of the light-covered electric tower.

I'm partial to the old traditional parks. Waldameer is still a turn-of-the-century park at heart, with picnic pavilions and classic rides, but with a neat new water park on the side. Cedar Point has a beautiful setting and many, many great rides. A well-built ride is a work of art all its own. I know that seems like strong praise for a roller coaster, but heck, we ooh and ahh over structures like the ancient pyramids that are engineering marvels built to attest to the glory of individuals. Why shouldn't we be impressed by engineering marvels that exist to make thousands of people happy every day? That seems as worthwhile a purpose as any.

Cedar Point has always been my favorite, but I've always had a special affection for Conneat lake Park. A few of us used to play on the midway there every Saturday night for money and food. The park had a delightfully cheesy array of rides and the usual assortment of park eats including superior fries. It also offered uniqe period charm (including a ballroom once billed as "the largest uninterrupted dance floor between NYC and Chicago").

I was at Conneaut lake Park a few weeks ago, and it was painful, like finding an old friend wasted on Skid Row. I always felt Conneaut lake lost its way years ago when management put a fence around it and charged admission even to walk through. They removed many of the old rides and replaced them with "newer" rides, like their half-hearted attempt at a water park. They also tried to promote it as a concert venue (remember when Bob Dylan played there?), but rain got in the way. It all seemed wrong to me.

Part of the park's charm was that it was part park, part neighborhood. In the old days, the park blended into the cottages and homes around it. Now you can stroll for free again, but the damage seems done. The edges of the park seem empty, like the places where weeds have started to encroach on a flower garden. The grand old hotel and the beach club restaurant/lounge are still there, but rather empty and forlorn. Big chunks of buildings have been razed. The Wild Mouse has gone, and nothing has replaced it but a vacant lot.

The attendants have the relaxed attitudes of folks who spend a lot of time doing nothing. The bench seats have been refitted to make do with three slats instead of four, so you can't set your food down beside you. The park closes at 7.

I don't mean to be hard on management; I'm not sure there is a way to make money with a park like this in a small, modern market. Many parks folded in the '20s. Conventional wisdom says that Monarch Park was killed off by the destruction of the Franklin trolley bridge by ice, but the newspaper record shows that Monarch Park was already struggling by the time the bridge went down. But the automobile meant that families no longer traveled to the park toegther. Each family, and even each family member, could choose a separate destination and activity. Monarch Park was doomed.

So maybe it's just a miracle that Conneaut lake Park is still there at all. But it's still a beautiful setting, and I left thinking that it would be fun to stay a weekend at the hotel. And while I was ruminating about its faded glory, Junior Park Tester Caleb (age 7) was running excitedly from ride to ride, pleading with his mother for the opportunity to ride th Blue Streak just fifty times more.

It helps me remember that while a sense of history is nice, sometimes it's better to just hush and let folks enjoy what they find now and remain blissfully unaware fo what's been lost.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Renting the West Unit

(News-Herald, January 31) Tuesday morning, when I read Rod Bedow’s slightly hysterical missive about the county commissioners’ meeting (about “silent dictators,” the need to “pray in fear” and “indenture servants”—I think he meant “indentured”) I knew I’d have to go to the meeting and see what all the fuss was about. A real reporter covered the evening confab for the newspaper, so you already know what happened. Let me give you my biased account of what it was like.

The meeting was to discuss any questions about the county’s plan to lease the old West Unit from ORA as a place to house the county Human Services departments.

Chairman Tim Brooks kicked things off with a very stern tone, saying there would only be asking the board questions about the lease, laying out some rules, and expulsion for misbehavior. Bedow’s hired attorney further set the tone by immediately standing up and threatening the commissioners with a lawsuit and suggesting that the previous commissioners were crooks who “foisted” this deal on the current set.

Had the Forest County attorney been any slicker, he would barely have kept from sliding out of his seat. He did a great deal of talking at first, loosing such gems as “I would hate to see this degenerate into a lawsuit” and expressing his “hope of engaging you in conversation to avoid triggering a lawsuit” as if the lawsuit were a wild dog that wandered into the room and not a gun that Bedow has chosen to point at the county’s head.

Bedow brought a variety of arguments with him, including the suggestion that residual radioactivity might well be loose in the old hospital building.

What exactly are the major objections? One appears to be that when Bedow spends government money on something, he wants to own it. His point was that businesses lease because they may want to leave, but county government will not move to Tennessee. He wants the county to own a building.

This touched of a period of great confusion (i.e. several people with strong opinions supported by nothing but opinion and hearsay). That was ended by the attorney, who gave a long condescending answer that wasn’t really an answer, but I think it sapped everyone’s will to continue down that path.

One important question was unanswered—if the government owns a building, what can it do with the equity? Can the county take out a home equity loan on the courthouse, or is government-owned property a big unconvertible asset? This would be useful to know, but I still don’t.

Eventually the attorney, with a fairly simple question to which he surely knew the answer (“what is a stipend”) opened up the can of worms that many people had wanted to take fishing in the first place—the ORA.

There are a few separate objections to the ORA. One is that they deal in real estate—some people are certain that economic development is concerned with machines to make stuff, but not places to put the machines.

Everyone agrees that such an outfit should be self-sustaining, but to some people that means a timeline of many years (e.g. Franklin’s Third Ward incubator) and to some it means tomorrow. And, as often the case, some people object to paying employees a salary. One audience member asked ORA head Randy Seitz if he was paid a salary, demanding a yes or no answer as if we were uncovering a deep, shameful secret.

Government should own the real estate. People should work for the greater good and not for money. I had no idea that conservative Venango County housed so many communists.

Numbers were thrown around, most in a manner that was meaningless and didn’t prove much of anything. A few folks got heated up. The attorney dispensed some more threats. (“If it turns out I’m right, you’ve got real problems.”) Bedow delivered one more oration, and the meeting—not so much informational as a great chance for everyone to share and vent—broke up.

By the end of the evening, everyone was behaving amicably and politely (Randy Seitz could teach master classes in shmooze). I’m still not entirely sure why some folks are so agitated. Bedow declared he could build a suitable new building for five million, so perhaps he just wants the business. Afterwards, one opponent allowed “I get angry when I see government handing something to some low life who isn’t willing to work,” so maybe we’re just mad at the human services department.

Personally, I’d much rather spend my tax dollars on ORA than on law suits. At least the ORA is doing what very few have done for the region in the last thirty years—something.

From my Flickr