Friday, January 28, 2011

The New Yinzer - The Workshop of the World

I have always been fascinated with the South Side of Pittsburgh, a place that is as colorful and diverse as the people that live there. I remember going to the Beehive to get coffee with friends while still in high school and thinking it would be a ‘cool’ place to live (except for dealing with the drunk people peeing and puking on your property).
Over the past few years, the South Side has changed considerably, to say nothing about the past decades. I am not just talking about a new bar or dance club opening up—there’s been the dismantling of the glass and steel industries, the newly created shopping plaza, and also the new bike trail.

Historic Roots
The South Side has a long and rich history. In 1763, King George III of England offered John Ormsby nearly 2,400 acres along the bank of the Monongahela River. This was payment for Ormsby’s service during the French and Indian War.
The land would be divided into four subsequent boroughs: South Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East Birmingham, and Ormsby. The boroughs were annexed to the City of Pittsburgh in 1872.

In the early 1800’s the South Side helped establish Pittsburgh’s reputation as the “Workshop of the World.” There were 76 glass factories in the South Side alone; then in 1854 Benjamin Franklin Jones and James Laughlin became business partners and formed the American Iron Works.

During the latter part of the 1800’s there was a surge of immigrants who came to work the South Side mills from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, and the Slavic nations. The immigrants went on to build their own schools and churches, where they could continue their native customs and speak their native languages. I think that this diversity is what makes the South Side such a unique place to visit, as many of these places are still in existence today.

Today’s Residents
Recently, I talked with a few people that have either lived or still live in the South Side. I found their stories indicative of the rich and diverse community that the South Side continues to be today.

Curtis Schmitt was born and raised (until the age of 16) in the South Side, and his father worked at J&L Steel. Mr. Schmitt claims that, in his eyes, the decline of the steel mill was the biggest tragedy to hit the South Side. Children and families could walk and up and down Carson Street with little to no trouble. Not that you cannot do these things now, but depending on the time of day you go down to the South Side, you are either weaving in and out of shoppers or inebriated people. Mr. Schmitt also stated that you just felt like you knew everyone—he knew all of the people that he went to school with and you’d walk down the street and would know the people you ran into. Also, according to Mr. Schmitt, the South Side was not divided into the Slopes and Flats while he was growing up there. You simply said what street you lived on and people just knew it was the South Side.

Sean Soisson, (a man in his late 20’s or early 30’s) has lived in the South Side for over three years now. Sean moved to the South Side not because of the history, bars, or location, but because he needed a cheap place to stay and his friends had room. He moved to the area called by the locals as ‘The Hollow’ which is the back most area of the flats. It isn’t your typical South Side flat area—“its hidden, quiet, and generally friendly,” Sean says, “I am close with many of my neighbors, but it definitely took a little while for them to warm up to me. It’s a nice mix of elderly people whose families have been there since the first houses were built.”

One of the many benefits of living in the South Side for Sean is that it is close to his work in Oakland. His band performs at many of the bars located on Carson Street and he likes how everything is close—the groceries, the bars, the coffee shops, etc. However, like many that live in the area, he too dreads the Friday and Saturday night mayhem of trying to navigate throughout the neighborhood, or finding intoxicated people vandalizing your car or urinating on your property. Sean even noted that one night while going back to his house, he saw a fairly expensive car pull over and a man get out, open both doors of his car (as if to create some sort of barrier around him) and urinate right in the middle of Sarah Street as other cars drove past him as if nothing was happening.

I also chatted with Stacy Piscitelli. She and her husband moved to the South Side in 1996 and don’t plan on moving. Piscitelli told me that several factors made them lean towards the South Side—close proximity to work, the historic buildings and homes, and the overall electricity the neighborhood has. The Piscitellis love walking out their door and going to the shops and restaurants, the movie theater, or the South Side Square to catch a band. Being able to walk to the post office or grocery store is also a plus.

While some things may have changed over the decades, apparently the neighborhood feel is still there—as Mrs. Piscitelli states, “Walking our dogs we have met and become friends with many of our neighbors throughout the area.” She is afraid, however, that the increase in rental properties will eventually drive down the value of the homes in the area.

Legacy and Evolution

While all of the heavy industry is now gone from the South Side, the legacy that remains is a vibrant neighborhood, rich in ethnic charm and Victorian homes and businesses. It is because of people just like Curtis, Sean, and Stacy.

What I learned through these interviews is this: the South Side of Pittsburgh is a place that draws people in. Whether you go to the South Side Street Spectacular, or want to get a cold cider from Piper’s, sandwiches from McCoy’s, relive the past in the Groovy store, or just have a night of drinking and dancing at any one of the bars that line Carson, there is a certain energy that fills this part of Pittsburgh. Some stay for a short visit. Others never leave.

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Nicole Sebula is an editor at The New Yinzer. When not editing TNY, Nicole works full time at the University of Pittsburgh. Nicole published her first book My Crazy Life and is now trying to figure out subject matter for a possible second book.

Musings For Moms: Fresh Starts And Resolutions

So here we are again, another year behind us and fresh starts and resolutions ahead. Two of the top resolutions it seems every year are to get healthy or go to the gym. I know, for me, the most exercise I get is walking the few blocks to and from work and chasing after a very active 18-month old. Clearly the chasing is a little crazy at times, but it isn’t a consistent workout.

I used to belong to a gym and I used to go on a semi-regular basis. I have to say for me, that this is a dead and done idea. I just don’t have the will or motivation to get into gym clothes, drive a few miles to a gym, and get my workout on. Then there is also the issue of what to do with my son if I went to the gym. While many of the establishments offer child care services, and some even offer free child care, I think it would be difficult for me to drop him off in there. Not that I would doubt the employees capabilities in watching my son. I would just be thinking about him, and if I happened to hear him yelling ‘MOMMA’, well, my workout would be over.

The gym can also be very intimidating for a lot of newbies. All the muscle bound people, grunting loudly as they pump iron. When I was a member a few years back, I had friends that were also members, and I went at absurdly early times on the weekends. This cut down on some of the grunting and overly muscular people. Another reason I don’t want to go back, I do not want to end up looking like looking like Kelly Ripa, she is very toned to say the least.

Before the holiday’s I saw a commercial for a new video game, ZUMBA. If you don’t know what ZUMBA is, it is a dance fitness workout developed by dancer and choreographer Alberto ("Beto") Perez in Colombia during the 1990s. And let me tell you, it gets your heart rate up and be prepared to sweat. I got the video game for my Wii and I must say, I enjoy playing the game.

Wii Zumba is the perfect solution for new moms to single women, to moms whose kids are grown and out the door. The novice workout (which is where I am right now) is only 20 minutes long. I can definitely fit the entire workout in during the little guys nap time and still have time to shower and do a few other things before he wakes up. The workouts are segmented into several sections, a warm-up, two higher energy routines, and a cool down. Each segment is only a few minutes long and you get a few second breaks in-between the end and start of a new routine. This is where I down some water, because you definitely will need it.

The game also gives a workout calendar so you can either take their suggestions on when to work out or create your own schedule. I have noticed that it is a three-day a week work out. In my opinion, three days a week isn’t too bad especially for those who aren’t used to working out. As I stated before, I am still a novice at the game, and I cannot wait to see what else the game has to offer once I get a little better at the technique and skill levels.

Zumba is just one of the ways I have come up with to squeeze in a decent workout, while watching my son (or while he is napping). Sure there are other things to do, walking with a stroller, or going to the park, but I find this to be a higher impact workout. Feel free to email me your workout regime with napping babies or while they are awake.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 11:27