Archive for December, 2010

Christmas in the City
December 27, 2010

Television news is a unique fast-paced business that is never boring and never dull. It gives you an adrenaline rush and becomes less of a job and more of a passion as you get deeper into your career. That being said, there are sacrifices you have to make. Working weekends and holidays … and for me, since my folks are in Chicago … that means Christmas in Pittsburgh. Still after anchoring the late news on Christmas eve, I was able to enjoy a unique Christmas celebration … and a creative one too.

The first skaters on the ice at the Winter Classic community rink

While most kids couldn’t wait to rush downstairs and open all the presents Santa had brought, I couldn’t wait until noon Christmas day to rush down … to Heinz Field. I knew with the all the excitement over the Winter Classic, there would be very little time to actually skate on the community rink without drawing a crowd. So I got there, paid my $7, laced up my skates for the first time in 2 years and hit the ice with downtown Pittsburgh providing the postcard background.

The Whale lives … at the Winter Classic Community rink … with Joe Fishel from Butler

Now, I’m not a great skater, but I did manage to make it 40 minutes and not fall. It was fun watching the little kids in their Pens jerseys skate around the rink located just across from Heinz Field. I talked with families, posed for some pictures with the kids and even met Joe Fishel from Butler wearing the jersey of my childhood team, the Hartford Whalers.

My new young friends, including the well-dressed younger version of me, at a Christmas eve party

There were also holiday parties to attend. One of the best is hosted by the woman who runs La Peri Dolce, a wonderful East Hills bakery. She has brought some of her delights to WTAE, so I knew the food would be good. What I didn’t expect was her little nephew Jaxon. He came to the door dressed just like me: dark suit, red tie. He had that anchor look … and he apparently likes to imitate me when he’s watching the news. That was fun.

Nothing like a little “retail therapy” to wash away those winter blues!

Christmas is really for the children. For adults like me, the real gift giving comes after Christmas at those post-holiday sales. I got up bright and early Sunday and ventured north to Ross Park Mall. I managed to get there without dealing with any traffic. In fact, I was there two hours and never hd to wait in line. I was done by ten and made it home without so much as a stop light. Wendy likes to call me “Mr Full Price” because she thinks I’m not a sales guy. I can say without hesitation that I did quite well when it came to saving money … thought I did do some damage with the plastic as the picture shows.

All in all, it was a wonderful holiday, filled with friends, food and fun … and I got a nice little surprise at the end. Word that my brother had proposed to his girlfriend AND SHE SAID YES.

A Merry Christmas indeed.

“Immaculate Reception” at 38
December 23, 2010

It’s the single greatest play in Steeler history. It’s the single greatest play in NFL history. It may be the single most important event in Pittsburgh history.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a good bounce and a great catch by Franco Harris.

Still, the importance of the “Immaculate Reception” cannot be underestimated. It’s the official day “Steeler Mania” was born. The Steeler franchise, which had not won so much as a play-off game, went onto win six super bowl titles and a world-wide following.

I spoke to Franco Harris today, 38 years after his play turned the tide for the team, the city and its fans. He told me Iw as the first media person to call him today. I guess with time, it only becomes a big deal on the 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries. Franco told me Joe Greene did call to wish him a “happy anniversary”, but thought it was 28 years, not 38.

From his office at his business “Super Bakery”, Franco told me how the playoff game itself was a turning point for the franchise. His Steelers went 11-3 and were playing the kind of ball that would be the launching pad for 4 Super Bowl titles in 6 years but the team needed a signature moment to start the run.

He says the fans that day were fired up like he had never seen them in 1972, perhaps sensing greatness was within their reach. The Steelers trailed the mighty Oakland Raiders late in that game when the moment happened – a moment witnessed only by those inside Three Rivers Stadium because the game was blacked out.

The play itself was more of desperate heave than a well-conceived execution … and that brings up the only mystery. Did John “Frenchy” Fuqua touch the ball on the collision with Jack Tatum that allowed the ball to wind up in Franco’s hands. If Fuqua touched it, by 1972 rules the play would have been whistled dead because the ball could not be advanced from one offensive player to another. 

Franco told me that Frenchy wasn’t saying and neither was he. In his words, let’s keep it “Immaculate”.

“Dear Lexa”
December 14, 2010

There’s no story that touches those of us that work in TV news more deeply than the death of a child. Whether it be by accident or something more sinister way, it’s never easy to talk about and the shock and suddenness of it all can leave a family and a community stunned. Such was the case of Lexa Cleland. The seven-year-old was recently killed in an auto accident.

Her death left all who call the community of South Park in a state of mourning. However, like all things, the initial grief dissipates and life does go forward. It often leave only the family and close friends to continue to mourn and to remember. However, this is not the case in South PArk. That is where Lexa’s memory is being kept alive … by a somewhat surprising group of people.

Lexa  would have entered South Park high school in the late stages of  this decade. Now, a school which she will never attend is paying tribute to her … and helping her family. South Park student Katrina Lenhart, with the help of  her fellow student Nicolette Kalafatis came up with something they call “Dear Lexa”. Nicolette explains the concept to me during a visit to the scool Monday night. The idea is quite simple. Raise money to donate to the Cleland Family fund which is in Lexa’s name. From passing around the donation jar at Monday’s girls basketball game to planning a fun night for the students at Lexa’s elementary school, the girls and their fellow students are on a mission to not only raise money but keep her memory alive.

They have even started a Facebook page ebpage which is gaining more and more members every day. It’s quite an effort for young people who didn’t know the little girl, but know what her death means to her family and community. It’s not only selfless, but it’s also inspiring to see young people think and act beyond themselves.

The kind of thing I’m sure Lexa Cleland would have done for someone else.

Reading Day
December 8, 2010

Its something we all like to do at  Channel 4 Action News. We enjoy taking the time to read to children. Whether it be those of us with children, or those without, all of us like to take the time and read to our youngest residents. These children are the future and the time you spend with them can do wonders … well beyond their grade school years.

As you can see from the picture, I spent the day with the first graders at Trinity West elementary in Washington. I read two books: “The Three Snow Bears” and “Snow”. Even those these are children’s’ books, I enjoy reading them as much as they enjoy listening.

I’m the big kid amongst these first graders at Trinty West Elementary School in Washington

Maybe because it takes me back to a place in my past when I didn’t read for work or for business. I read to learn and to explore. As a child, my favorite books were the “Clifford” series. The big red dog who always found trouble captured my young imagination. I still miss reading those stories.

Thanks to all my new friends at Trinity West and thanks for the ties. I wore the pink and blue on at 6pm. I save the black and gold for a Steelers Sunday.

A Home For the Holidays
December 7, 2010

How can anyone so “no” to an adorable puppy?

Sadly, thousands of people do. Each year, thousands of dogs and cats are abused and abandoned. Some left to die. Its heartbreaking and that’s what makes the work of animal friends so important. They not only nurture and care for those animals, they also work to find homes for them. However, they can’t do it alone.

This time of year, there are more animals than cages which makes it hard for them to save many. So, in order to make space to save our furry but forgotten friends, Animals Friends runs a foster care program. It’s essentially a temporary home for dogs like “Burgh” to enjoy a family. These foster families care for so many different types of animals: expectant moms, orphaned babies, those animals that need hospice and those that need special behavioral training.

Meet “Burgh”. He can be your guest this holiday season thanks to the Foster Care program at Animal Friends

Animal Friends covers all costs associated with the animals, they just need your help. They just need you to open your homes for a short time and your heart forever. You can contact Animals Friends on our website, This link will take you to their site and show you how to become a foster parent. 

It’s also a great experience if you have never had a pet and are thinking about getting one. This will allow you to experience what it’s like to have a pet in your life. Who knows, you may even keep your new friend.

Holiday Celebrations: City and County
December 5, 2010

The hardest part about the holiday season? Finding time to get out and shop between all those holiday gathering. Seems every weekend, someone is having a holiday celebration of some sort. This Saturday, I got to sample two holiday celebrations. Very different in execution, but similar in sentiment and in spreading holiday cheer.

Saturday morning, it was off to Wilknsburg. WTAE is in Wilkinsburg and each year, the community has asked us to come and celebrate both the season …. and the pride of the community. Mayor John Thompson has played in a key role in making this more about the coming of Christmas. It’s a chance for Wilkinsburg’s youngest to shine. From the youth choir to the Wilkinsburg high school band, young people play a big part in the celebration.

The Wilknisburg  High School makes its way past the reviewing stand at the Saturday’s holiday parade

I rode along as a representative of WTAE as we made our way through the streets of the community. It was cold and there were not throngs of people in the crowd, but the message was unmistakable: Wilkinsburg is proud of where its been and where its going. It’s a community which has seen hard times and now believes brighter days are ahead.

Thanks to the parade committee for allowing me to be part of the action for a third straight year .. and a nice plaque.

That night, my travels took me to New Alexandria, Westmoreland county and the home of Dale and Darlene Lattimer. They welcome the holidays with a private get-together of well over one hundred friends and family. However, instead of hosting the festivities inside, the party was outdoors under the stars. Yes, it was cold and there were rooms to head inside and get warm.

Fireworks show over New Alexandria, Westmoreland County to ring in holiday season.

While the food and beverages were inside, the real action was outside. A giant Christmas tree lighting … and then, fireworks! Yes, a Pittsburgh favorite usually reserved for July 4th, Memorial Day and the occasional Pirate home run was the capper to this chilly evening. A 20-minute fireworks display lit up the Westmoreland county sky. It was not only spectacular, but also one of the holiday celebration I had ever witnessed. So in case you live out that way and was wondering what the explosions were, mystery solved.

Check It Out
December 3, 2010

The first weekend of December brings a trio of cool spots to check out. Assuming you can get it.

Stage AE is the much-anticipated indoor-outdoor amphitheatre on the North Shore. The venue really lived up to the billing and beyond. It’s an intimate stage with standing room on the lower floor for patrons. On the upper floor, seats for those who pay a bit more. Just behind both viewing locations, there are bars serving all sorts of beverages and foods. There is even a private club for some patrons. And wait, it gets better. Wait until it warms up and they raise the garage door turning it into an outdoor venue.

The indoor stage at Stage AE. The floor in front is meant for patrons to stand, dance and enjoy

BRGR is just a play on the name of an American classic. The burger, served up with attitude, is th staple of the East Liberty location. We stopped in last night and found the place packed with people at 8:30pm on a Thursday. Inside, it has more of a lounge feel with big comfy chairs next to the tables used for dining. The crowd? A definite mix of people. We saw families and couples. People from age seven to seventy. Chef Brian Picarsic loves the fact that they can put different spins on the burger and served it up with what they call a spiked milk shake. ( No I didn’t try it. I was working ).

The dining floor at Salt of the Earth in Bloomfield. Communal dining

Last stop, Salt of the Earth. If you blink, you might miss the Penn Avenue location in Bloomfield. If not for the many cars parked out front and the small NACL logo lit outside, you wouldn’t even know it was a restaurant. Chef Kevin Sousa and company did this by design. They want a basic place to wine and dine, and thus the name. Inside, the menu is on a chalkboard on the side of the wall. There is not separation between the kitchen and the dining area. As for the seating, full house on this night with communal tables and benches. The idea is for diners to get to know one another while eating.

The food? Fresh, local and ever-changing. Frankly its tough to describe because it’s always changing and often you will find influences from different countries in a single dish.

Just three choices for your weekend that we think are worth “Checking Out”! For more choices, go to the “Community” page of  our website and see this weekend’s calendar of events.