5-11-2008 Breaking news: Wilkes-Barre blows

Give me a second here. Okay, Iím all ready now.

This is my impression of Congressman Chris Carney. Even though Iím a worthless peon, Iíll dare to speak for him.

Now that her opponent has all but sown-up the nomination, and being that my hayseed constituents--these John Deere-driving hicks--have demonstratively, unequivocally endorsed Hillary Clinton, I now want to endorse Hillary Clinton for president.

How completely lame.

Where I come from, thatís called pussy-whipped.

Now wait for the positive spin.

I didnĎt even consider posting anything during the past week. Too busy. Too busy with work. And too busy with family stuff.

We buried my Aunt Rosemaryís cremated remains yesterday morning at St. Maryís cemetery. Despite the miles that separated them throughout their adult lives, she and my mom managed to stay very close. Something that was impossible for me to do with my cousins after the rock of the family--my grandma--forever exited the scene. With Rosemaryís brood living in Virginia, they made infrequent trips up here to Wilkes-Barre to see the rock. Unfortunately, after the rock went away in 1980, the trips north stopped. Well, save for the occasional funeral or wedding.


Long story short, I had not seen any of Rosemaryís five kids since 1980. It took me a while to come to that realization, and it kind of shocked me. 1980? Wow!

Personally, this trip to the chapel and immediate surrounds had me filled with some trepidation, since I have never visited my momís grave since she was planted there 20 years ago. And since Rosemary would also be placed in the shadow of her parentís tombstone, as had my mom, there was no avoiding it. I think about her often. But I never tagged along with my siblings when they frequently visited the grave. I donít know, I just never saw the point in going out of my way to bum myself out.


We arrived at the chapel, walked on in and I was shocked. Those cousins of mine, whoís youthful images were burned in my memory just a few seconds before looked like, for lack of a nicer termÖsenior citizens. Bald, shiny scalps. Scraggly, gray beards. Greatly expanded waistlines. Huge cabooses in tow. Most of whom I didnít even recognize. I know this sounds awful, but I thought to myself, ďI donít look that bad, do I?Ē In all likelihood, I will never see them again, but I will recommit myself to menu planning and working out.

Anywho, after the loss of 28 years, I found it very difficult to converse for more than a few uncomfortable seconds at a time. I remembered these people as kids, who were now surrounded by their kids and their grandkids. None of whom I had ever even heard of before. When Sue told one of them that my brother Ray passed away just last year, we got this look that smacked of, ďWho?ď It was awkward. Didnít matter, though. My intent was to pay my final respects to the lady I both liked and respected, and in that, I succeeded. She met Uncle Mike in 1947. And they were married in 1952, and were forever joined at the hip. Inseparable. He looked devastated. For the first time ever, he looked frail.

So, I finally went and did it. I visited my momís grave. And I even went and found my sisterís grave, which has always been well-hidden by advancing grasses and the like. And oddly, I didnít feel sad. I just felt kind of cheated, as if something was taken from me long before I was done with it. A surreal kind of happy/glum numbness came over me. I dunno.

After the ceremonies, the packed cars were off to a rented hall somewhere in Plains, but my sister and I decided to skip the eats and drinks. To be blunt, I couldnít see myself sharing a beer with people I hadnít seen in over a quarter century, and with people I am likely to never see again. I almost regretted that decision later in the day, but whatís done is done.

Iíd like to believe in all that religious mumbo jumbo they were offering in the chapel. I really would. While she can no longer speak to us, we will continue to hear her. And even though sheís no longer with us, she is now with other long since departed loved ones. Iíd really prefer to believe that. I really would. When I die, Iíll hook up with everybody, weíll be joyous forever more, and my mom will no longer object to Cheap Trick blasting loud enough to rumble loose even the moorings of the gates of Heaven. I hope thatís what comes about. I really, really do. But what I expect is something closer to what happens to a blade of grass after the lawnmower makes a sudden appearance.

Anyway, itís been a weird, reflective week.


IĎve been following this mine subsidence story right from the get-go with the keenest of interest.

From the Citizensí Voice:

WILKES-BARRE ó Bonnie Lukachinsky knew there were old mines near her Matson Avenue home. After all, she grew up on this street in the cityís Parsons section. Her parents still live a block away.

When she and her husband, Gerard, bought their property in 1989, there were no houses on their side of the block. They picked their lot after checking with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation, Lukachinsky said, but now sheís waiting for the gaping 10-foot-wide hole that opened beneath her home in August to finally be repaired.

ďIíve had it,Ē Lukachinsky said. ďIím done. I want to move as far away from Wilkes-Barre as possible.Ē

In all honesty, when I read that she planned to attend last weekís council meeting, I grimaced noticeably. In this city, if your tube of toothpaste goes missing, itís somehow councilís fault. If your sidewalk is dirtier than youíd like, you go and grandstand in front of council. Oh, and you make sure the reporterís have the correct spelling of your name.

To this ladyís credit, she did not go before council and noisily demand satisfaction. Rather, she went and pleaded for help. Iím not sure what can be done for her by anyone employed by the city, since this falls under the direct jurisdiction of numerous federal agencies.

But the thing I find annoying beyond belief is the fact that the coal companies--the robber barons--were just allowed to walk away from the billions of dollars in almost irreversible damage they did to this areaís subterranean infrastructure, as well as itís ecosystem. They haphazardly plundered their way through the Northern Anthracite Coal Fields with nary a thought given to anything but profits, and obviously, with nothing whatsoever resembling meaningful governmental oversight. And when they were done, they simply pulled up stakes from the entire mess and it became everybody elseís problem, from the municipalities, the state, the feds and individual homeowners.

What is this lady supposed to do? Her home is next to worthless. Oh, but theyíre going to dump some more concrete in the new hole and, again, hope for the best. How do you live like that? To go down into the basement and risk being swallowed by the earth, or to not goÖ.


Why canít the feds just buy her out? Why wonít they do that? Theyíll give millions to Earth Conservancy, but not a hundred grand to her? They allowed the coal barons to get away with environmental murder, but a hundred grand is too much to offer to her? They bought-out and helped to relocate entire towns, ala Laurel Run and Centralia. But Bonnie Lukachinsky has to simply grin and bare it? In my spinning vortex of a mind, thatís unjust.

Take this recent subsidence in Drifton for example. Iíve been underneath a few of those homes, which were slapped together by the very defunct coal companies in question. The long and short of it is, I have vinyl albums worth more than most of these glorified lean-tos. So, it wouldnít take much cash to buy these people out and let them walk away from the reoccurring problem they did not create. But, instead, the feds stick with the ridiculous concrete-down-the-hole program. And the homeowners are stuck there, unable to sell a home sitting on who knows what, if anything.

So, in this case, he feds are shoring up the same property for the second time, now. So, doesnít there come a point where it makes more sense to buy out the homeowner, bulldoze the home and zone it a ďno buildĒ zone? Does there come a point when the shoring up of the property costs even more than the property itself? If youíve ever been in Drifton, youíd have to believe there does come that point.

All I know is, the feds allowed industries to walk away from a problem they alone created, but they steadfastly refuse to allow average folks like us to walk away from a problem we didnít create. And if that doesnít sound like a gross injustice to you, youíre either a federal employee, a nincompoop, or a direct descendant of one of those greedy coal barons.

All Iím saying is, give her a check and let Bonnie walk.

This one has been simmering within me for a while now. And itís boiled over.

For many a year now, Wilkes-Barre has taken itís lumps in the media, and deservedly so. But the hobbled Wilkes-Barre of 2002 bares absolutely no resemblance to the suddenly hopping Wilkes-Barre of 2008. In short, we have turned the corner in a multitude of ways, and very noticeably so. Yet, the bashing of Wilkes-Barre goes on almost unabated, and especially so on WILK talk radio.

Look, Iím a big boy. I know the deal. And the deal is that any moron with an unstated axe to grind can call a talk radio station, use a name other than their own and blather away with whatever they want, true or not. Any goober can fire off a hundred-word attack on Wilkes-Barre to the editorial page editors. Negativity does not require much usable brain matter, or any cognitive skills to speak of. That sort of stuff usually makes me feel sorry for the ill-informed, ill-equipped authors. Poor bastards. If only they had stuck it out and finished the 8th grade. Hold the pickle.

What does bother me is that the talk show hosts on WILK seem intent on holding Wilkes-Barre in complete contempt, and despite the ongoing obvious. Recently I heard Sue Henry begrudgingly admit that Wilkes-Barre has made some progress, but sheíd much rather see some private investment, instead of the sizable public investments that have been made to help jumpstart the resurgence. Um, somebody had better take a closer look, because plenty of private dollars have been and are still being invested in Wilkes-Barre. Smarten up.

So, federal and state and county tax dollars are in play here, and thatís suddenly a bad thing? Billions are earmarked for projects all over this country of ours every day, but here in Wilkes-Barre, thatís a contemptible happening? Why the double standard? What, Scranton used zero tax dollars while reworking their downtown a decade ago? Hazleton retooled the bean stock-sized Markle building all on itís own? The Kanjorski Center in Nanticoke was built after the locals collected three hundred and forty billion aluminum soda can ring tabs? And what of the proposed parking garage recently gone bust? And Pittston? What, the elected officials in Pittston didnít even know federal and state monies could be had for the purposes of urban renewal? Cut me a freaking break.

And, SueÖpotholes are not indigenous to Wilkes-Barre. On the very same day you were belly-aching away on WILK about losing a tire on Wilkes-Barre Boulevard, I hit cobblestone at the bottom of a very deep divide right near the Preston fire hall. Or, in other words, right in your neck of the woods. I guess you didnít notice that one. Well, being that it wasnít in Wilkes-Barre, that is.

Oh, and as far as your perceived lack of progress at the Hotel Sterling is concerned, since you and yours at WILK fancy yourselves as award-winning journalists, I would have thought that one phone call could have gotten to the bottom of all of that. But, since bad old Wilkes-Barre has become WILKís preferred NEPA whipping boy of choice, why investigate when you can bash? Why answers, when the leading questions can be so damning?

And WÖBÖstands for ďWhy bother?Ē

ThisÖfrom a talk show host who once said a parade in Wilkes-Barre was sparsely attended, even though he was not in attendance. A parade, by the way, that I was at and which was one the most heavily attended I had ever seen. So, why the undeniably bald-faced lie coming from the curmudgeon with the unstated agenda, or perhaps, the unannounced bias? This from the ďenlightenedĒ guy who ran away to the ďsafetyĒ of the bucolic suburbs and who now lectures us about our prohibitive energy use. This from the all-knowing ďprogressiveĒ who openly calls us racists, but who lives in a Lilly-white community seemingly one step short of gating the purposely segregated community.

Why bother? Iíll tell you why. Because some of us werenít afraid to stay and fight for that which we still believed in. Thatís why. And I need not be talked down to by a guy who stands and fights for nothing other than a bar stool. A guy who was too completely self-centered to tie the knot. A guy who was too completely self-centered to raise any children. A guy who is too completely self-centered to listen to anything but his own brilliance in the making. A guy who is too completely self-centered to stand for anything other than some laughable and completely unattainable pie-in-the-sky utopian constructs.

Why bother? Because unlike yourself, some of us are doers. Some of us do more than hide in the suburbs and talk incessantly. Some of us believe. And when you believe in something and publicly state as much, you risk being disappointed, possibly even humiliated. And with being disappointed and humiliated comes the realization that you somehow failed. And why risk being a failure when you can sit detached from reality at a very safe distance and openly mock those who arenít afraid to commit, mock those who arenít afraid to risk failure and mock those who would stand and fight for something worth fighting for, rather than offering little more than scattershot, barely intelligible talk?

Why bother? If you donít really know, perhaps itís better that you stick to drinking and hitting on women one-third your age. If you donít know why people bother, the truth is, they donít need you. Something you must be used to by now, not being needed.

And then weíve go that shouting Neanderthal, who seems to think his obvious Marxist leanings arenít readily apparent to those of us still able to make it through at least part of his show before suddenly lurching for the on/off button.

I love his mindless shtick. As he tells it, Wilkes-Barre sucks. And since he lived in Wilkes-Barre some six years ago, heís an expert on all things Wilkes-Barre. Yes, he used to live here, and this place sucks. Excuse the fact that the people that ran the city still stuck in his jumbled memory have been swept out of office. Excuse the fact that the neighborhood he still pretends to know so well has been incrementally improved. Excuse the fact that he has no contact at all with the administration of this city. And excuse the fact since he reluctantly returned to the area and settled in Scranton, to listen to him tell it, Scranton is made out of sugar-free candy, the garbage up there is edible and when it rains in Scranton, it rains dimes and quarters and nickels. Sometimes, chocolate-covered dollars. Nope, no warts in Scranton. Only in Wilkes-Barre will you find warts.

Well, Neanderthal girlie-man, I really hate to break it to you, but I travel through and work in the entire area, not just in Wilkes-Barre. And Iím here to tell you that every one of our local cities have the exact same warts, without exception. But when those warts become evident in Scranton, not a mention of it is made on WILK. Nope. Nothing. Itís as if it never happened. But that very same wart in Wilkes-Barre will be dwelled upon, because, as we all know by now, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton correctly thinks very little of talk radio and will not contact you, despite your repeated attempts to have him call in and receive the tough questions you wonít ask of Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.

Chris Doherty calls in, and heís provided with your warm, lubed, prehensile mouth. But the big whoopiní stick waits in reverse for Tom Leighton. He knows it, he shuns your abject idiocy, and you donít like it one bit. And thatís why you continue to conduct yourself like a wayward juvenile flailing away in an adult world. You see, your self-promoting waypoints mean absolutely nothing to those of us who can still think coherent thoughts, and you wonít have any of it. You are a walking, talking argument for abortion.

So, itís become personal for you. Itís clouded your cloudy judgment even further. Itís Neanderthal versus The Mayor. And if the Neanderthal canít get his way through repeated bullying, he will unfairly sully the reputation of a fast-improving city hungering for affirmation. Progress? Here? No, not here. Nothing good of note is happening here until The Mayor finally relents and submits to the whims of the caveman ďjournalist.Ē Wilkes-Barre blows. Just ask the guy who ran away to California six years ago. He knows.

ďYou better listen!Ē

Try not to blow chunks. I know, itís hard not to.

Yep, therein lies Wilkes-Barreís real problem, itĎs real wart. Until Tom Leighton relents and does as you command him to do, you will relentlessly bash Wilkes-Barre until be kowtows to you. Until he gives in to the self-aggrandizing one--yourself--Wilkes-Barre will be raked over the coals and then back again. Until he calls in, your sights are set on Wilkes-Barre. You put your personal needs above the truth, above the facts as they are. Your obvious disingenuousness is matched only by your infinite ego. You are to fair journalism what China is to free trade. You are to brains what kielbasa is to culinary excellence. You are unworthy of your current position, as are some of your coworkers.

Why wonít Tom Leighton bow to your will and call you? Why? Because, unlike yourself, heís smart, thatís why.

Basically, Wilkes-Barre is being remade and right before our eyes. Unlike the organic cavemen, I live here. And, unlike the organic caveman, I didnít run away a while back when ďwhite flightĒ was the absolute rage amongst him and those of his weak-kneed, know-it-all ilk. I stayed, as did many others. And we fought for what we believed in, and for what we thought we could make happen.

And it is happening. And for some, itís taking too long. And that impatience is perfectly understandable. Itís human nature. I donít want to wait until next year to see the Riverfront project completed. And I certainly donít want to wait another year or two to see Coal Street Park returned to what it once was. PENNDOT is not moving fast enough on the 309-to-Union Street connection for my tastes, but Iím content in the knowledge that is will happen.

The high-profile projects currently underway in Wilkes-Barre are almost two numerous to list. Yet, I keep hearing that Wilkes-Barre is an unsafe and thoroughly broken place. Well, on WILK, that is. And nothing could be further from the truth. Take a closer look, people. Forget the high-profile projects and take notice of all of the far-flung smallish buildings, long-mothballed, that are currently being remodeled. And take notice of the fact that the oft-mentioned vacant storefronts--long Wilkes-Barreís scarlet letter to bare--are being filled at an increasing rate. Not you Neanderthal, I meant, the little, non-dojo people who can at least be somewhat objective and honest with themselves.

No, the big box stores are probably not coming to Wilkes-Barre anytime soon. But, such is urban living in 2008 in a small town noticeably short on developable space. No, Wilkes-Barreís newfound niche may not facilitate the opening of a Home Depot or a new super, super duper Sprawl-Mart, but slow, steady progress need not be measured in terms of what will one day be called regrettable urban sprawl.

No, Wilkes-Barre is steadily clawing itís way back from the edge of the reverse-gentrification and financial abysses. And if the talk show hosts at WILK simply canít stand it, if they are all too afraid of losing their favorite municipal whipping boy, well, perhaps they should try sounding more like the award-winning journalists they so often claim to be and far, far less like the dimwitted, uninformed callers to the Times Leadersí former SAYSO column that they so often sound like.

Whether they like it or not, Wilkes-Barre is rebounding and then some. You see it everywhere you bother to look. Yet, they continue to do this city an unfair and unearned disservice by telling all that will listen that the Wilkes-Barre of 2008 is no better off than the Wilkes-Barre of 2002. While some might call that prevaricating, Iíd call it a lie borne of borne of self-induced ignorance. And in one particular case, Iíd call it a lie borne of continued self-importance.

All I know really is, Iím as mad as a dog tick with a pair of tweezers pressed against his engorged neckÖand Iím not going to take it anymore. All of our local cities; Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Nanticoke and Pittston have problems. But to listen to the on-air hosts at WILK tell the tale, Wilkes-Barre is the only local city not currently being considered for Nirvana status. And they can spin and mutilate the sordid tale any which way they choose to for their own designs, but the undeniable fact is, thatís a bald-faced lie.

W Here in Wilkes-Barre, weíre on our way back. And weíll be just fine with the passage of some more time. The problem is, our image as a city continues to suffer because nobody in the local media chooses to tell you as much. And, yet, they wonder aloud as to why they are losing significant market share to new, fast-developing technologies.

Funny, the folks in the local dinosaur media are always telling us that we canít trust the information we happen to glean from the internet. Although, they will willfully distort the truth if and when it fits in with their own personal agendas. But unlike the great majority of them, I live in Wilkes-Barre. And I write on the internet as well. And Iím here to tell you that Wilkes-Barre is doing just fine. Itís not nearly as good as it could be, but itís not anywhere near the Wilkes-Barre we were all shocked by at itís most recent worst.

And to those radio talk show hosts I would say: Hit the refresh button already. A necessary update is long, long, long overdue. Or at the very least, dispense with the needless personal stuff and try being fair, maybe even honest for once.

Trust me, Iím not holding my breathe on this one. Think about it. Some old burn-out whoís new claim to fame is a hopelessly moronic song about kielbasa thinks he can take his commie manifesto all the way to the urban planning bank. Heís as clueless now as he was when back in the heady days when he, admittedly, drank heavily while carrying a concealed weapon. Nice. Smart. Future know-it-all leader of men there.

So, in conclusion, while listening to these doddering, ďwhite flightĒ converts at WILK, consider the far less than credible sources. One lives in Hanover, pretty close. One hides-out at Harveys Lake, far, in fact, totally detached from the diversity he promotes on a daily basis. Another resides closer to the New York border than Luzerne County, but pretends to have her finger on the pulse of Luzerne County. And, these days, yet another moves about just as often as the wind suddenly changes direction. And no matter where the winds might take him, itís always better than here. But, what they all have in common is their unflappable belief that Wilkes-Barre sucks.

Tom, if you call any of these people at any time, you will immediately lose my support. Because WILK radio is no friend to Wilkes-Barre. It never has been, and as far as Iím concerned, given the current lightweight roster, it never will be a friend to Wilkes-Barre.

And with that said, itís time to get on out there and pedal a few miles through the length of Wilkes-Barre proper. Scary, I know. Gee, I sure hope I donít get robbed, beaten, raped or stabbed. Well, a rape might be doable depending on the plumbing of the perpetrator involved. Maybe even something to look forward to. Never know.

And, no, no WILK on the expensive waterproof AM/FM radio.

Iím thinking 97.9. New rock sure beats well-worn, unsubstantiated talk.

I know itís a couple of months away, but itís time to examine where you plan to be on the 2nd Saturday in August.

I know where Iíll be. Right here in Wilkes-Barre.