Obviously, it has been a while since I’ve posted anything new, and I feel horrible about that. I was going to chalk it up to “writer’s block,” but to be perfectly honest, my absence would be better described as “shell shock” after my wife and I received a “kick in the gut.” In spite of the fact that there has been nothing new posted, I appreciate the fact that you all are still taking the time to visit The Duquesne Hunky blog.
Since I began this blog over three years ago, I have tried to write about my appreciation for Duquesne, the city, the people, the spirit, the way of life. In a city that now exists as a shattered artifact of what was once the very foundation of our existence, my hope was to be able to conjure up memories of why a smile creeps across your face when thinking about our hometown.
As I was considering what had happened to my creative juices, I thought of a question that had been raised about this blog, the need to be more relevant, and my motivations for reliving and/or dredging up the past. As I was driving home from visiting the kids in Philadelphia, I had a lot of time to just think. During that journey, I had a cathartic moment regarding what motivates me to write.
Certainly, this blog allows me to share snippets of a city that I love, a period of time that I relish, and the family and friends that became the foundation of my very being. Although that sounds very deep and philosophical, the realization of why I write this blog is actually very different than those stated reasons.
I have come to realize, that with each and every passing year, I am becoming invisible; obviously, not in a physical sense, but more so as it would refer to relevancy. Oprah Winfrey once said that every person want one thing in life, “we all just want to know that we matter.”
There came a point in my life that I realized that I would never be rich, famous, brilliant or accomplish anything noteworthy. As I advanced in years, I became more and more mindful of the fact that my past experience in my career field had surpassed a point that it was considered a benefit. It had become an issue and encumbrance that was looked upon as being archaic, outdated and antiquated.
Before I realized it, the type of people I used to seek out to hire, had become the very ones who were now making the decisions about hiring me. In what appeared to be just overnight, I had transitioned from a person whose insight and understanding was sought out, to a person whose point-of-view and mere presence at an interview was perceived as worthy of empathy from the interviewer.
All of this soul searching brought back memories of the turmoil that my father had experienced when he had to face the extinction of his business in Duquesne, due to the “Redevelopment” effort that was to happen. In his late 50’s, he was faced with having to find a job immediately. He was a “single-father” (although that term wasn’t in existence back then.) It was the late 60’s, my brother and I were attending Serra High School, and Dad had an enormous amount of responsibilities, both personal and financial that he was dealing with.
It was approximately 1966 or 67 when my dad was notified that government was exercising Eminent Domain, and taking his property and converting it into public use. In the truest sense, the lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s song from her Big Yellow Taxi album came to fruition; they paved my dad’s paradise and put up a parking lot! My father’s business was closed in order to build a parking area to serve as a parking lot for USS employees. Ironically, the lot that sat between S First Street and South Duquesne Blvd was rarely used by the steelworkers.
The news was devastating to Dad, and a punch to the gut that was hard to recover from. Dad never burdened us with his business issues, but I knew that he was shattered. You could see it in his face. Rather than retreat from the obstacles that he had to face, Dad met them head on. He secured the only job that he was able to find based on his experience, and went to work as an auto mechanic at the JCPenney Auto Center in the Eastland Shopping Plaza. Although he was the oldest member of the staff, he was given the opportunity to show his stuff and exceled as a mechanic; after all, it was what he had been doing his entire life. After a few years, he was promoted to Service Manager and remained in that position until he retired in 1981. As I reflect on his career at Penney’s, it is heartening to know that his experience and work ethic was viewed as an asset in the minds of upper management, in spite of his age.
Judging from the countless articles about the redevelopment, the intent was to revitalize and maintain a thriving town for all of the residents to enjoy. The program was NOT the brainchild of our city leaders, but rather a plan that was proposed by the Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority. I have discovered articles about the plans as far back as 1952, but it appears that the plan didn’t come to fruition until 1960 when the first wave of building demotions occurred on Tuesday, May 31, 1960. The first building chosen for demolition on that day was the Salopek Tailoring Shop at 33 N. Duquesne Avenue. The shop had closed many years earlier when it was forced out of business due to the Defense Plant Corporation’s acquisition of all properties below the tracks.
There are many theories among us about what happened to the Duquesne that we all loved as children. I now believe that it was not just one misfortune that caused the downfall of our hometown, but rather a series of flawed judgment calls that created a “perfect storm” that resulted in the city that exists today; Union and Management clashes, a failed redevelopment effort, the demolition of the Carnegie Library which was Duquesne’s cultural and architectural pride, and the onset of rapid and sweeping unemployment with the slow death of the mill. It is for all of those reasons that I will continue to write this blog and hopefully keep the spirit of our once great city alive. Thank you for reading and continuing to hang in there during my hiatus!