11-18-2005 It was the leaves?

My daily commute to and from work requires that I pedal my way through a total of 8 miles. It’s my daily workout and it provides me with some much-needed solitude along the way. And I will not allow the weather forecast to change my daily regimen. Rain, snow, depleted hurricanes and what have you, I’m getting in my 8 miles no matter what. Stupidly, people ask me how I manage to stay so thin.

Needless to say, when it comes to wild and wooly bicycle rides, I’ve pretty much cycled my way through it all. I’ve been pelted with hail so large, I had to ditch under a bank drive thru. I once rode through the downtown as the remains of a hurricane blew Times Leader paper machines on their sides. I once had a lightning strike miss me by about 15 yards while riding the river bank trail near the prison. I’ve endured rain so friggin’ heavy it’d get you normal people running for cover and whining about your ‘spensive hairdos. But I ain’t seen nothing like what I saw on Thursday night. In a word, it was nuts.

This is what Lyndall Stout at WBRE had to say just as the 6 PM newscast was kicking off Thursday night: “Too much rain, too fast.”

I frickin’ hear that.

And since the entire city was flooding at quite the accelerated rate, WBRE went to the weather dude, Josh Hodell, right quick. And because Wilkes-Barre had 3.42 inches of precipitation (Rain, for you local activists) dumped on it in but a few short hours, Josh had the following to say: “This is just an amazing amount of rain in a short amount of time.”

They also reported that Lou Barletta had declared Hazleton to be in a state of emergency due to the heavy rains and the resulting flooding.

The Emergency Management Agency was “live” on the scanner long before I arrived here at the humble adobe at approximately 5:50 PM. Apparently there was already flooding and potential flooding all over the immediate area.

Then there’s this from the Voice web site which was posted Thursday night somewhere around 8 PM:

Wilkes-Barre declared a state of emergency

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton declared the city a state of emergency as of 7:30 p.m. The mayor called for a voluntary evacuation in several areas of the city due to high, rising water. Residents living along Solomon Creek, Spring Bowman Run, Coal Brook Creek and Laurel Run Creek have been asked to evacuate. Solomon-Plains Elementary School and GAR High School have been set up as temporary evacuation centers.

Motorists are also asked to avoid the Cross Valley Expressway ramps in the Parsons section of the city due to high water.

Wilkes-Barre City officials assembled flood walls at the South Franklin Street and Waller Street bridges, Planning and Development Director Butch Frati said.

According to Luzerne County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Bekanich, mudslides were reported in Plains Township near Route 315. Old Turnpike Road in Butler Township has been closed, Bekanich added.

The Times Leader had this breaking news to add to the watery mix: Officials have reported that a bridge on First Street in the Irishtown section of Plains Township has collapsed.

Oh, And the Emergency Management Agency (by way of the scanner) reported that approximately 50-60 homes in the Kerry’s Patch section of Hanover Township was under water after the nearby “crick” overflowed.

Then there’s this from yesterday’s impromptu press conference:

Breaking News: Wilkes-Barre mayor estimates $3 to 4 million in flooding damages

We got deluged. We got dumped on. We took enough storm runoff from up the hill a ways to flood any city. We got…flash flooded. And like I said, I’ve ain’t never seen nothing like it.

As I was prepping for the ride home, my coworkers were discussing how they would shuttle me home. And they were shocked to learn that I had no qualms about heading on out into the hellacious downpour. (Does it pour in Hell?) I told them it was just rain. The responses ranged from crazy to idiot. I get that a lot.

My first clue that something was seriously amiss was when I encountered a lake directly in front of the new Turkey Hill store on Hazel Avenue, a lake that was three-feet deep, rising and forced me to gear all the way down to first gear to make my way through it. In fact, even in first gear I was passing the cars that were inching through it. True to form, I was thoroughly enjoying myself while cavorting in the rough weather and such. To say I’m like a big kid on way too many occasions would be an understatement. Thing is, despite my advancing years and all, I like being a big kid and I refuse to grow up no matter what you may do or say to me. ( I stick my tongue out at the lot of you.)

Penn Avenue behind the post office always floods when the heaviest rains crash down, so I was not surprised to encounter that growing lake. What did shock me was to see the second and third blocks of South Main Street flooded to the point where it was virtually impossible to determine where the street ended and the sidewalk began. Cars inched their way through the watery morass and waves cascaded across the way and lapped at the bases of the surrounding buildings. “Cool,” I thought.

I stopped at the Anthracite Newsstand, bought myself a single Newport 100 and stood outside watching people running here, there and everywhere with newspapers over their heads. As if that was going to keep them dry, right? Me? I fret not. I go with the flow. It’s raining cats and overweight groundhogs, so I’m going to get wet. Simple, ain’t it? Ah, why sweat the really small stuff? Have a smoke and watch everyone else act as if they are going to die by rainfall.

Washington Street in the area of the Steam Heat building was flooded like I’ve never seen it flooded. Some guy in a car stuck in the middle of the street had his window down and yelled something indecipherable to me. I did hear the world jackass, so I responded by using a single finger. Besides, what was he going to do, chase me? From the looks of him, if he stepped into that body of water it would have caused a devastating tsunami. Let’s just say he’s had 1,000 too many Whoppers with extra, extra cheese. This boy displaces more water than the U.S.S. Intrepid. Got the picture?

It wasn’t until I arrived at the Turkey Hill at the intersection of Penn Avenue and North Street did I realize that I was pedaling my way through what could only be described as a natural disaster. Again, cool! During past disasters of these sorts, frustrated people tended to raise an angry fist to God. But since 2001, these sorts of calamitous events are just too Rovian in nature to blame on the big guy from Pearly Street. So we must ask ourselves why George W. Bush did this to us.

The traffic on both streets was at a near standstill as far as the eye could see, and the intersection was a literal free-for-all. There were cars inching in every possible direction, cars were cutting through the flooded parking lot, horns were blaring and unbelievably people were deliberately driving under the Lionel train bridge where even a good cry usually causes a flood. Some sort of tiny import car was stuck smack dab in the middle of the watery mess just as a police cruiser shut down North at W-B boulevard and another inched northward to block the intersection I was standing but a foot away from.

I tried to videotape the insane proceedings, but it was raining so completely hard my camera kept shutting off and turning back on again. Didn’t matter though, the waves caused by the passing cars were coming over the top of my handlebars and my normally waterproof bags were filling with water. I was standing in three-plus feet of water, waves were hitting me hard enough to force me to brace myself against them and the rain pelting my glasses made it difficult to even see. Still, that advice we always get about not driving our cars into raging torrents of deep water went completely unheeded. There does come that point when the surreal becomes the sublime and I was already well past that point. And the little boy in me was telling me continue touring the city rather than heading home like the adults were trying but failing to do.

So I made my way across North Street towards Wyoming and had great difficulty trying to do so. Once I hit some actual dry land, I found candy wrappers, leaves and part of a political flyer jammed into my gear sprockets and the like. I yanked enough of that muck out of there to be able to use a sum total of four gears and towards the modest adobe I headed.

As I said, the camera was freaking out, so the videos suck.

Penn Avenue and North Street:

So, I made it home only to watch water trickle out of both of my waterproof bags, my riding sneaks were filled with soil, leaves and some unknown substances which seemed to be of the rotting organic materials variety. I was dripping all over the carpets, as was the bike. And get this, Wifey didn’t even yell at me. Like I said, this was not your average rainfall event. This was nuts.

Predictably, the scanner was glowing white hot from overuse. The cops, firemen and DPW guys were trying to respond to damn near every street in the city. Or so it seemed. For only the second time that I can recall, I heard the mayor’s concerned voice come over the airwaves as Solomon Creek was once again rising and rising fast. After I toweled myself off a bit, a case of beer and night of monitoring the scanner seemed like a plan, so Ebon and I set our for Beer Super over there on Scott Street a ways. Penn Avenue was not navigable, so East End it was. The only problem being that we could not get there. Kidder Street was flooded at McCarty Tire and some nearby residents were trying but failing to steer the traffic from turning north towards the mall. That tiny bridge on Scott Street was overwhelmed by raging waters, so we tried to do an end run down Mundy Street and turn left at the Jiffy Lube. When we arrived at the base of Mundy, we stared in disbelief. The bottom of Mundy Street looked as if terrorists were somehow pouring the entire Atlantic Ocean down it’s length. I’ve been around these parts for a while, but I ain’t never seen nothing like that at that intersection. The storm runoff from an overdeveloped Wilkes-Barre Township just gets worse and worse, and I think we should probably expect flooding whenever it rains from here on out.

Again, this video sucks, but you can hear Ebon say she wanted to drive around the city in search of beer. Basically, she wanted to go rubbernecking and I don‘t blame her. What we were witnessing was beyond description. But with emergency vehicles flying all over the place, we headed back to the adobe after scoring a twelve-pack at C.J.’s Pizza. Beer and a hyperactive scanner; what could be better?

So what could only be characterized as a unexpected natural disaster raged on all around us and we huddled around that scanner as if it was providing us with warmth on a bitterly cold winter night. I wasn’t having fun at somebody else’s expense as much as that little boy imbedded within me was. Sorry, but immaturity seems to work for me.

But I must remind you, this is Wilkes-Barre. And in Wilkes-Barre, people are allowed to be and often are irretrievably stupid. And while people were filling sandbags, people were being rescued, relocated and selflessly pitching in, still others felt the need to play politics with a natural disaster. Yup, the never astute Homer Simpson of Wilkes-Barre politics had spoken once again. The following appeared on the internet as the scope of the ongoing disaster was still unknown:

Walter said...

I am listening to the Scanner and it is really chaos in WIlkes Barre as usual...If the City would clean the leaves before the heavy rains come, maybe the streets would be clear and not flooded...This Administration is so blind to the obvious...I hear the Fire Dept is responding to all the calls but the Police Dept is not available...and the Mayor wont hire more Fire Personnel !!!! seems the added Police Personnel isnt helping the residents ...I think the Mayor should stop taking care of his Brother in Law, Chief Dessoye and start taking care of the residents...

5:10 PM

What was that line from Disney’s Cars? While Wilkes-Barre was being besieged upon, Walter was happier than a tornado in a trailer park. His message? Death and destruction has come to Wilkes-Barre in the form of torrential downpours, it’s the mayor’s fault and you need to vote for me. If there is a more hapless budding politician, I have yet to suffer through his useless swill.

Excuse me for being out and about in the crazy mix unlike some who were making political hay from the relative safety of their homes, but I witnessed water rushing up out from some of the storm drains--not draining down into them. We were getting it from the skies as well as from Wilkes-Barre Township. We were being overwhelmed and while the leaves had to have had an effect is some low-lying areas of the city, they did not cause what happened here on Thursday night.

And please explain to me how the hell the city should be expected to eradicate leaves from the landscape when 50% of the city’s properties are rentals and the occupants could care less about policing the leaves on those properties, let alone much of anything else. It’s not possible. By the way, this week alone I saw city crews removing leaves not only in Parsons, but in Walter’s neighborhood as well. I guess he missed that extensive operation practically in his own back yard, or maybe he simply chooses his facts very selectively.

The leaves caused it? You’re serious? Ages-old retaining walls were blown away, bridges collapsed, storm sewers worked only in reverse, the totality of Hollenback Park became Wilkes-Barre’s new lake and you’re telling us the leaves caused it? That’s the best you have to offer? The mayor did it? Boy oh boy, somebody needs to get themselves unfu>ked and in a big, big hurry.

Long before the raging flood waters even began to subside, you shot from the hip for the purposes of self-centered politicking and pigeonholed yourself into a laughable position that is clearly indefensible. I don’t know who you might envision voting for you next May, but I’m thinking your one and only chance of getting yourself elected to city council depends on whether or not you can capture the stupid vote. The leaves? Get over it, man. You are to adept leadership what Kevin Lynn is to tolerance of a differing opinion.

And I’ll tell you what, when the votes are being tallied come election night, I’m going to be sitting here drinking a few brews and reveling while the end of your fledgling political career unfolds before me. I’m gonna party while you crash and burn. Walter, you’re done and it’s time to fall on your fork and let all of that superheated hot air bleed out.

It was the leaves?

Is this the best the local Republicans have to offer?

One more time with the slideshow, heh?

This one sure caught my eye.

Wilkes-Barre gives Greco 10 days to raze or repair building

Greco, through his company GNET Commco Inc., purchased the $2 million mortgage for the steam heat building in 1996. He plans to turn the building into a central office and innovation center for fiber optics that, he said, will bring “super fast connectivity” through the city’s underground steam pipes. The project could create 5,100 jobs that pay employees an average of $53,000 a year, Greco said. He claims the city is holding up his plans and not helping him receive grants.

“Every year they got grant money, they gave it to someone else. The chamber took it for the Innovation Center. They took it for the movie theaters,” Greco said. “They won’t give it to technology because they don’t understand the vision.”

I spotted him at the site earlier this week with a surveyor in tow, so I’m hoping he intends to fix that property. I’m not holding my breath, but I am getting tired of having shards of glass raining down on me as I pedal past that eyesore.

I find it somewhat perplexing that he would blame that project’s lack of progress on the city. Excuse me, but the chamber turned a vacant property into a Barnes & Nobles, with a Starbucks thrown in as a added bonus. And the theater is obviously the catalyst by which the downtown is slowly being reborn as a vibrant, enjoyable place. Has the chamber screwed up somehow? We don’t need businesses in the downtown, what we need is his vision of Wilkes-Barre and his vision alone?

Didn’t the county just pay him $5.8 million for the station complex? Well, there ya go! Develop your “super fast connectivity” dream, you’ve got a few bucks laying around.

He did get one thing right, though. Those visitors to the soup kitchen are a plague upon that neighborhood that will stifle any chance of gentrifying it until the idiot magnet in question is either relocated or permanently closed. While that may come off as sounding mean-spirited, it is spot-on accurate.

Nobody is going to invest any money in any property that is used as a public toilet, a tent city or a drinking hangout all week long. The soup kitchen is a glaring example of good intentions gone horribly awry. And that empty hole where a vibrant neighborhood could and should exist is proof positive.

Sez me.

This story didn‘t faze me in the least until Kevin Lynn got my hackles up by bashing not only our chief of police, but our entire police department by extension. The aging ‘60’s rejects just can’t help themselves. They hate authority, so police officers are anathema in the minds of the dopers.

To protect, serve and munch? Free food for police debated

Paul Lindenmuth spent 25 years as a detective and during the 1970s worked as a special agent for the U.S. Justice Department investigating corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department. One of the questionable actions of those metropolitan police: favors for fast food.

Ethics issues surrounding the policy of gifting vary by police department. There are no state-level regulations against the practice, but Lindenmuth said accepting gifts can create a public perception that certain businesses curry favor with patrolmen because of handouts and freebies.

“Police are held to a higher degree of accountability than any other worker and they’re not allowed to accept any gifts whatsoever,” Lindenmuth said. “Some believe if an officer takes a free cup of coffee that it’s the beginning of the slippery slope. It opens them up to preferential treatment of the businesses that do this. It sends out a bad impression to people.”

That’s all well and good, but if I was still managing restaurants, I’d be offering free food and free coffee to police officers regardless of what my higher-ups, Chief Dessoye or that imbecile Kevin Lynn had to say about it. And the reasons are twofold.

Not very many of us have had to oversee 192 seats filled with inebriated, beer-muscled tough guys in the wee hours of the morning. Not very many of us have had to control what is often beyond anyone’s control. And not many of us have had to protect a physical plant, our employees and our customers alike from the violent chaos that can easily result when alcohol makes sophistry of coherent thought processes. And in my mind, if two eggs, toast and a cup of coffee can maintain the peace for a half an hour, I’m making that investment. And if my competitor refuses to make that investment for whatever reason, well, then he can trade punches with the idiots who smash the paper towel dispensers off of the bathroom walls, the idiots who toss their cole slaw across the dining room, or the idiots who mistakenly think that all waitresses secretly hope to be gang-banged by their drunken customers. I’d much prefer to relax for a half-hour, while a couple of local cops enjoy a free breakfast. And if you take issue with that, you have never had to explain to your wife in the morning what the doctors did to your person as a result of last night’s brawl.

Been there, done that. I did my tours of duty, and I fully understand that while some people really are begging out to be hurt, it’d go a lot easier on all of us if the cops visited our place on a very frequent basis. While I thoroughly enjoyed “going to guns” all too often, I knew it had to be the last resort. You see, only two things could come about when the alcohol dictated the goings-on. You could beat on me (doubtful), in which case you’d get arrested afterwards. Or, I could beat on you (most likely), in which case you’d get arrested immediately afterwards. Oh, but there was that third option. We offer the cops from free grub, and then everybody goes home without any sutures, or gauze covering their head. Pick one. Sutures, or no sutures.

The other thing that played into this is my respect for those who don a gun and a vest and make it possible for me to drift off to sleep without a care in the world. While I’m revisiting that recurring dream about Godzilla stomping on the Stop ‘n’ Shop in Derby, or that one where Marcia Brady all but begs me to ravage her, somebody is out there in the darkness seeing to it that the peace is maintained. And, sadly, many of those charged to keep the peace earn less than I do. Much like those in our military, our police officers accept the risks, the inequitable pay scale and press on despite knowing full well that those they are duly bound to protect cannot fully comprehend the inherent risks they face day-in and day-out. They protect and serve, that‘s what they do. And if I want to provide them with a few inexpensive courtesies they obviously deserve, no one, Kevin Lynn included, will ever dissuade me from doing what I know is the right thing to do.

When it comes to my interaction with those who provide for my safety, disrespect is not an option, nor will it ever be. If we can provide “dollar off” coupons and “buy one, get one free” cutouts for the oft-struggling masses, then why not offer a premium to those who keep the struggling masses in check despite themselves? Sorry, but this is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. With crime being what it is these days, all I’m saying is we should support our troops. I will, and I’m steadfast in my belief that Wilkes-Barre has a professional, motivated police department second to none in these parts.

Free food?


The world’s very first punk band?

Why do they even bother to debate this?

The New York Dolls:

Need more convincing?

That’s it for today. Gage and Taylor want to see Santa make his grand entrance into Wilkes-Barre. The trusty Radio Flyer wagon is ready to go and so am I. Sort of.