When my Feature Writing class begins at the college about a week from now, I’ll tell my students that journalists don’t “create” stories the way novelists do. We “recognize” them.
And sometimes, to our great appreciation, others recognize them first and call them to our attention.
Such was the case last week when I got a 7:27 a.m. text message that read: “Ed, Charlie Dominick Jr. here. Do you have a couple of minutes for a call?”
I couldn’t call fast enough. Did something happen to Charlie’s dad?
No, thank God. Nothing like that. Charlie Jr. just had a column idea for me that he said couldn’t wait. He apologized for the early hour. I assured him it was no problem since I am always awake at 5 a.m. “And I was looking at the clock since 6 waiting for a reasonable time,” he said.
The idea, he explained, came from a conversation he had with Jimmy Albert, a local attorney whose bearded face greets motorists from a billboard as they enter Pittston on South Main Street. His colleagues George Oschal and Karl Kwak are up there with him.
Charlie and Jimmy had been talking about the rush hour traffic jam on Main Street now that the Firefighters Memorial Bridge is temporarily closed. What they saw in the long lines of stopped or, at best slow moving vehicles, was not a problem but an opportunity. An opportunity to appreciate the rejuvenated downtown.
Now, why didn’t I see that?
“Think about it,” Charlie said. “The slow moving traffic is reminiscent of one of those Joe Borini paintings of Pittston in the ’40s and ’50s.”
I knew exactly what he meant. One of those Borini paintings hangs in my dining room.
In that brief phone call, Charlie began writing the column for me. He brought up the Pittston Bypass, constructed in the 1960s. “It’s very name exposes its cruel intention,” Charlie said in a sentence worthy of John Steinbeck. His point is well taken. When drivers had an opportunity to by-pass downtown Pittston, they did. And it was the beginning of the end of Main Street.
Main Street has become such an uplifting sight that I, myself, have eschewed the speed of the bypass in favor of a slow drive through town. Especially at night, with the new period street lights shining bright from Robbie Johnson’s Red Mill Tavern to the Dale Kridlo Memorial Bridge.
Charlie does the same. “I take the long way home,” he said, “just like the song.”
The more I thought about a slow drive along Main Street or even being stopped in traffic, the more I thought about the positives of taking a good, long look at the downtown. The kind of look you don’t get when speeding up to run the yellow light at William Street. You might take notice of the colorful paint job on Sabatelle’s Market and remember you can stop in and grab a sopressata sandwich anytime you like. No need to wait for the Tomato Festival.
Or you might notice Fuji, the beautifully appointed Asian restaurant on South Main and make a mental note to come back one evening for dinner. Or look to your right and see Petals, the new, dynamic florist.
Perhaps you did not realize Luzerne County Community College has a Pittston campus right in the heart of town. I’ll be teaching a couple of public speaking classes there this semester, and another in interpersonal communication on Wednesday nights.
If it’s early evening, you may see diners at the outdoor tables in front of the upscale restaurant Rikasa, and promise yourself to be one of them some night soon. Or, as Charlie Dominick wrote in a follow up text, “If you’re really lucky, you’ll find yourself stopped in front of Majestic Lunch.” In which case, I say, find a parking spot, and indulge in a hot dog or two.
The traffic jam doesn’t happen until you reach the middle of town, so you most likely will be moving at a pretty good clip as you pass The Gramercy restaurant on South Main, but I have a suggestion. Pop in and treat yourself to one of owner Mike Augello’s “summer mules” and wait until things settle down up the street.
Mike introduced the cocktail a couple of years ago to toast the return of “Tony the Mule” to the downtown. A key ingredient in a mule is ginger beer. When I asked Mike what else goes into his summer mule, he said if he told me he’d have to kill me. It was during the Tomato Festival, and I recall writing, “There are many items at the Tomato Festival to die for. The recipe for Mike’s summer mule is not one of them.”
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.