Paddy the Cop

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I am proud of my Irish heritage. I rode my bicycle through Ireland years ago and marveled at the people and the countryside. Our lineage and link to the old country was through my great grandfather on my mother’s side. His name was Patrick Carroll and this is a little story about him.

Patrick emigrated to America around the turn of the 20th century and settled in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Paddy - Copy He built the first house on Stayton Street and it still stands today although a little disheveled from the original appearance. IMG_0922

Patrick became a police officer for the City of Pittsburgh and basically was a beat cop whose jurisdiction was the Marshall/Shadeland area and Woods Run. He was a good cop and raised his family with the same values as he adhered to as a police officer. When you walk the beat, you get to know the people. As I heard it told from my mother and grandmother, Paddy would rattle the fences of houses with his night stick to alert the kids that it was time to go inside. He would see the local guys moving moonshine out of their automobile trunks during prohibition and rap the fenders and tell the guys to keep that business off the street. He left the bigger bootleggers to the Feds, but the local guys trying to make a buck, he looked the other way as long as they did not abuse the privilege. He greeted the ladies with respect and looked after the local businesses on his daily rounds. In short, he was a good cop and looked after the neighborhood. My grandmother told stories about people coming to the house and delivering food and other treats for Paddy Carroll for some favor that he had done for them or for just being attentive to their business or family. This is the way it was back in the day. 86503e7dd09776ce6c0018c1e1c18336

He ended up with a house full too. His wife died at an early age and my grandmother basically ran the house for him and his two sons. My grandfather Jack Reynolds eventually married my grandmother and moved in to the house on Stayton Street. So the house was full of guys with my grandmother cooking and cleaning for the lot. Unknown to Paddy Carroll my grandfather was making gin in the bathtub upstairs in the attic and after prohibition, he switched to beer. Paddy kept an eye on things and when Grandpap Reynolds found out that Paddy was counting the beers in the cases in the basement, he would save the caps,and fill the bottles with water. Paddy would remark that Johnnie was cutting back. My grandfather would chuckle and continue the charade until he stopped drinking around the time when I was a little kid.

At that time, the neighborhood was filled with hard working, blue collar folks trying to raise their families and getting by. Patrick Carroll was a friend to the neighborhood and in reality, he was the patron of the Woods Run and Marshall/Shadeland area. Things have changed a bit in the neighborhood and these days, there are shootings, drugs, violence and other happenings that make the old neighborhood a menacing place to live sometimes. Paddy the Cop would be saddened at the condition of his home, but as life progresses, things change sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

It is said about history that you don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been. Perhaps we all could take a lesson from Paddy the Cop’s page when we look back and see how he managed the neighborhood and his job. It is a lot more complicated today with the complexity of crime and poverty. However,without deference to any race, heritage, or social status, Paddy took care of the neighborhood and the neighborhood took care of Paddy. Just sayin. Thanks for reading. IMG_0923

A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

The Local Loop

photophotophoto Every town in America has its iconic running and cycling loop. The Central Park track around the reservoir in New York City comes to mind along with the roads there that are closed to traffic on the weekends to facilitate bicycling. You can run the route along the Charles River in Boston or Lakeshore Drive in Chicago which all have the history of being where most people start to walk, run or ride a bike close to where they live. We have our own iconic loop here in Pittsburgh at North Park Lake.

The Lake Loop is 5 miles around and has traditionally been a benchmark for beginner runners and walkers. If you can make the 5 miles, you have definitely accomplished something. When I first started running out there with Ralph Schmitt and Les Brodie, 5 miles was a daunting task but eventually it became routine and variations of the route became the norm along with escaping the antics of Les and Ralph. Snowball battles, tipping Port a Johns, and other distractions along the runs became stuff of legend. Eventually, time became a factor for me and I began my quest for the all encompassing PR(personal records) not only around the loop and the variations, but in 10K races with our crew, pictured above. We had fun times back then but like Brenda and Eddy, you can never go back to the green. Different crowd, different atmosphere but………….still same old lake loop. Crowded on January 1st with all the New Years Day resolutionists, crowded on the first, nice spring day, and most of the summer. Isolated in the harsh days of winter but still observers can see the presence of the hard core Lake Loopers grinding out the miles in the snow.

If that loop could talk, you would have the most interesting book in print today. New mothers relating stories about their children,ER docs relating their care of gunshot wounds, couples discussing life together and life’s troubles, hard core runners not thinking about anything but heart rate and time, and cyclists battling the crowded bike path and surrounding roads with cars always to their left. Heck, Mick Jagger used to run the loop when he was in town. Imagine some of those conversations. I am sure Keith was not with him but the Pittsburgh Marathon staff certainly were entertained by Mick who was a faithful 7 mile runner. I have had some interesting experiences around that lake. Once time returning from a road ride out north, I was rounding the loop back to the parking lot at Stone Field when I felt a “WHAK” on the back of my neck. It was a chipped ham sandwich with mayo( the classic Pittsburgh Teddy Bear sandwich) along with a scathing, yelling commentary from the passing guy in the passenger seat of a car telling me to ” get the f@#$ off the road, a@@#$%^. Not really what you want to hear at the end of a pleasant road ride in the country, but I kept my head down and kept peddling none the less. I don’t mess with angry drivers- they carry guns.

It is interesting that things have changed a bit around the Lake Loop. Lots more people, and now with separate running and cycling lanes, the coveted real estate is guarded by some aggressive types. Our group comments all the time about people running and cycling around the lake who hold their ground and you better get out of the way or you risk getting run over- literally. There are road riders who fly around that lake. I call them the North Park specials because they ride in a pack and are really fast around the flat lake loop but never seem to venture out of the park to ride a hill. Some folks are clueless when they walk or run 4 abreast forcing those going in the opposite direction to seek refuge in the road along the loop. This can be a little dangerous and many crashes and falls have occurred. Courtesy sometimes plays second fiddle to the dedicated lake loopers who get their ride or run in come hell or high water. Get out of the way or prepare to die. Not the way it used to be but things seem to mellow as the season moves on and the enthusiasm of the rank and file seems to wane with the changing seasons. The hard core are still there but the newcomers and less dedicated seem to vanish as the temperatures and weather change. But the loop- remains constant. 5 miles. No getting around it.

I remember the days of 30 minutes around that lake. I look at the fast guys now and wonder what happened to the time. I generally run trails in the winter so the loop has been ignored by me with the exception of returning from a ride or walking with my wife. I wonder what I will look like in the years ahead running or walking around that lake? I am sure I will return at a much slower pace and continue the walks. I will age and get slower but one thing remains constant- the lake loop will always be 5 miles- winter, summer, spring, and fall. Thanks for reading and give some love to your local loop.

Why I like Pittsburgh

IMG00035IMG00012-20091025-1208Giant Rubber Duck's American Debut Goes Swimmingly - Wired Scienceneil_walker.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxphoto Imagine if you will coming into the airport in Pittsburgh,Pa. and not knowing much about our fair city. The first two guys you see are shown above. One is George and one is Franco. Now George made a big splash here in 1753 as a surveyor and almost literally drowned in a big splash in the Allegheny River. But he went on to great notoriety as a British officer and helped to secure the cornerstone of our city’s early existence -Fort Pitt. He later made many trips to our region and Pittsburgh was near and dear to his heart. The other guy, Franco made a great catch in a football game against the hated Oakland Raiders that went down in gridiron history. If you ask most older Pittsburgers today, they will all tell you, in a friendly way, that they were at the game and saw the “Immaculate Reception.” Now if that were true, I would estimate that there were 600,000 people at that game. Wow- that must have been crowded. I don’t rememberit being THAT crowded because I was there. ( Yea – sure you were Pat). But I was.

As you make your way through the tunnels, you are treated to a spectacular collage of buildings and 3 rivers that form the “Point”. You can see the most beautiful baseball field in the country( PNC Park), as well as Heinz Field that is the home of the Pitt Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But as you make your way to the Strip District and perhaps the South Side, you will begin to notice what makes Pittsburgh so special- the people. Pittsburghers are a friendly lot and will be glad to help you find your way even take you there if they have the time. In many larger cities, folks are in survivor mode and will hip check you to get a cab, or they will do whatever they can to get over on you just because there are so many people. It is survival in the bigger cities, but Pittsburgh is just small enough that the pressure of urban civilization has been lost a little bit on our community.

To go along with the friendliness of the city are the neighborhoods. Please check out a great blog, http://90Proofpgh.wordpress.com This will give you a great feel for the neighborhoods that make the city so special. Local cuisine, taverns, restaurants in corners and nooks, all are represented. Everyone thinks that Pittsburgh is all about Primanti sandwiches, but as good as they are (late at night), there are so many more eateries and establishments in Pittsburgh’s many neighborhoods that can be enjoyed. 90 Proof can illustrate it well.

Pittsburgh is an enthusiastic town. When the steel industry went in the tank in the 80s, Pittsburgh was resilient and vowed not to be a “rust belt” city. The city fathers welcomed construction of new residence communities to encourage surburbanites to think about living and working along the rivers and supporting the new life that was sprouting up out of the coal and dust of the industrial evacuation. Pittsburgh quickly became a white collar community with the UPMC Medical Facility expansion and the rise of the financial markets in town. Along with this entrepreneurial excitement and resiliency, was the spirit of our community in it’s tireless support of it’s sports teams. The Steelers are having a rough start, but that does not stop the Black and Gold faithful from attending in sell out conditions and having their beloved tailgates at every home game. We are in playoff baseball right now and it is the first time that the Pirates have been in the post season in 21 years. The other night the park was standing room only and the balance of fans were either on the Clemente Bridge watching what they could, or glued to ther TV sets at home sporting Bucco gear in their neighborhoods. The Penguins opened their season this week and Stanley Cup fever is in the air and Pittsburgh fans hang on every word that comes out of Sidney Crosby’s mouth.

We even have a 40 foot rubber duckie moored in the water!! Pittsburgh is the innaugural bathtub for the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s duck and Pittsburghers lined the rivers and the point by the thousands welcoming this piece of inflated art that will be here for a month. The crowds at PNC Park say that the duck is good luck to the Bucs and are grateful that it will be floating close to the stadium in the post season. Shaundra Miles of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust says it best when she remarked that the duck is a “reminder with all that is going on in the world, that there is joy, and joy in simple things.” That is what defines a person living in the ‘burg. We have joy in our communities, our city, our sports teams, and in our lives in general. There is a spirit in Pittsburgh that is most evident in the happiness that a kielbassa sandwich brings at a football game, the micro-brews that are enjoyed at the many local establishments, the thrill of a home run in the post season, the visual bonus of fireworks over our three rivers, the colorful buildings, and the comraderie in the streets during a game or in the work place in anticipation of a win on the ice, field, or gridiron. That spirit is alive in me because of the many nights I sat up and listened to Bob Prince (The Gunner) broadcast a Pirate game and announcing after a victory that ” we had then alllllllll the way!!!” That red plaid sportcoat is etched forever in my memory.

Pittsburgh also has a vibrant outdoor community. Visit http://www.ventureoutdoors.org to see the many hikes, beer tasting hikes, bike rides, snowshoe events, and other outdoor instructional outings that this organization so aptly make available to visitors and locals alike. Janet and I like to use the many bike paths that wind their way through the city. You can park up river and ride to the games, leave your bike in the racks at Kayak Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River, and then return without having to worry about parking. Ride to the Red Fin on Herr’s Island and take in a good lunch while looking at folks enjoying the river on their boats and jetskis. Get involved with the rowing clubs on the island and get instruction on how to take part in a great activity on the river. You don’t have to go to an Ivy League school to learn to row. You can do it on the Allegheny River with a local club.

Well, I may have exhausted that visitor who first stepped off the plane and met George and Franco in the airport. But there sure is enough for him or her to do and maybe, just maybe, they will begin to have that great Pittsburgh spirit as they enjoy dahntahhn with a chipped ham sandwich and some Blend an at. Go see the duck, root for the Bucs, and be glad that you have experienced the “Most Liveable City in America” Thanks for reading.