Tag Archives: Erie PA

George W. Bush is Coming To Erie.

I can still feel that sun.

Hot, from high up at the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, Erie PA. Hotter still, because of the reason the seats were packed 10,000 strong. Incumbent President George W. Bush was headed down the State Street Boulevard, on his bus. This was his Presidential rally, and I had agreed to attend.

This would also be my first encounter with high security, perhaps since that flight to and from Scotland via Toronto back in 1984. But – this time – I’d be outside, passing under a tent on 26th Street to be checked for weapons by a lithe, young, lean, muscular agent with sandy curls. He was a tad cocky, smiling amusedly at my full on confident air – and, the straw hat on my head, which he eyed specifically.

I’d decided to accompany my friend, an ardent Republican from Minneapolis, just to witness the spectacle. My political leanings were already soundly Independent, not because I’d planned to skew the election results with my vote but because the two party system had already proved ripe for cell division and I could not see myself, either then or later, at either end of its fragile membrane.

We had seats, however, at the south end of the stadium, just near the descending aisle already canopied for grand, if obscured, entrance of the distinguished guests. Those behind and all around us smelled like active military, plenty of brawn and boister, leaning forward on their haunches in eager anticipation of the one man who assured them job security and a solid pension, multiple Middle Eastern tours and possibly one to the Pacific Rim notwithstanding.

As with all intentional congregations of such massive size, commencement delays only heightened the tension and collective imagination. Was he still in the bus? Was it idling, or parked? When would we see him disembark, from our choice position? The stage was set, about fifteen yards ahead of our section, microphones and seating facing north toward the lake; once he, his wife, and the rest of his contingent would appear on the erected boardwalk just beyond the canopy, we’d be watching and listening from behind his back.

But, well before that moment, there was much to occupy my attention. I soaked the sight from every visual angle. Secret Service agents, heads shaved, ubiquitous black shades, rotating from their own axes on the stadium turf. Wooden platforms, the entire storehouse I recognized from the school district garage, those I’d likely walked upon myself herding hundreds of students into seasonal performance. Stage and sound crew, all on autopilot, totally unaware of the locale or its unique surroundings, the stadium staff at their earnest beck and call. And, the ever burgeoning crowd, so many unfamiliar faces from all points further south, east, west, rural farmers, entire families of soldiers with their spouses and children from our Commonwealth, plus Ohio and New York and maybe even West Virginia. Our long-standing Democratic local leadership nowhere to be found on this day, nor so many of my fellow public school educators. None of our urban poor. I was momentarily aware of being out of my element, about to turn inward for reflection.

Then, I spied them. Off to the right, around the bend of the track and up about as high as our row was the small, uniformed “pep” band, organized and led by my very able colleague and friend in the music biz, Dave Stevens. They sat, in the grey pants with the red side stripes I’d ordered for the same high school during my maiden years as their music teacher, playing the occasional military march, waiting like the rest of the throng for the next cue produced by the unseen Oz in charge. I, however, was emboldened.

Raising my long, thin, uncovered arms high over my head, I waved them back and forth in grandiose attempt to catch Dave’s attention. Calling out, hollering some shout of affirmation in the direction of the band. No matter that my piercing soprano would land about seven feet shy of the quarter mile between us; I was getting my mojo on, ready to conquer the power of this whole event and all those determined to re-elect the man half of America had labeled “George Dubyah.”

Perhaps it was a reaction from directly behind us. Perhaps my friend’s doleful, straight ahead stare of disapproval, her Swedish reserve and poise decidedly set to counter my “ethnic” brashness. Perhaps some signal, of dog whistle proportions. But, something provoked me to turn around and look, upward, toward the concrete bannisters at the very top of my old high school.

There he was. Black head of curls, arms the size of my entire torso, automatic assault weapon cocked, ready — and, aimed right at me.

My straw hat had likely already been marked by the smaller, more wiry reception agent. Not nearly as brown as it had been in childhood, my dark complexion also part of a deftly registered profile, locked and loaded and transmitted via walkie talkie to the snipers positioned at intervals covering the entire periphery. No matter that I’d chosen my all-American cherry printed denim blue sunsuit with the midriff ruffle; in the city of my birth, at the stadium where I’d marched my own students in competition, on the bleachers where I’d sat to see the Zem Zem Shrine Circus perform every summer, at the Presidential rally of George W. Bush I was a suspect,  for having covered my raven hair with a straw hat and waved my arms above everyone else’s.

I can’t tell you what the incumbent President said, that day. I watched him talk, with the eyes of a creative director of drama, the ears of a musician, the mind of a constantly evaluating sometimes critical and always diverging thinker. He was taller than expected. His wife was trim and perfect. His stance was assured, his tone and inflection all too familiar. And, from where I sat, if there were teleprompters they were not visible to the audience seated behind him.

As he closed his speech, and moved toward the boardwalk and its canopied ascent, my friend and I could see him clearly. As in all such breaks with fantasy and imagination, the moment was surreal. Just as he might have reached the level of our row, unseen beneath the canopy, I called out to him. “Save the MUSIC teachers, Mr. President!!!”

To this day, I return to that moment, for a whole host of reasons. Was I temporarily insane? Would he have heard me? Would his wife, Laura Bush, have made note of my plea? Was it all for naught, one life and its specific concerns rendered completely void, subsumed by the mob effect and a political system intended to serve the people in theory but lost in increasingly corrupt practice?

So many of us, myself included, had already decided who The Decider was that year. He was, to us, an entitled elite, the next in line to the Bush dynasty, fully buoyed by the monied and mercenary, a figurehead for those aligned with a mentality determined to maintain notions of a brand of conservatism tested mightily by time and circumstance.

It wouldn’t be until his administration had run its course, the next two following, that the harsh, blinding, burning light of realization that is our present would mark us all. Now, each of us lands in the sights of the automatic weapon poised by the true village idiot of Nostradamus prophecy. We only thought we knew who that was; but, we were all soundly mistaken.

The Jefferson Educational Society, our local moderator of all things frontal lobe, has secured our former President’s attention. This time, he will speak in both retrospect and reflection, date yet to be announced, at the Bayfront Convention Center as part of the Jefferson’s annual Global Summit. The sun, instead of beating down, will illuminate our path to the front door and, while likely positioned outside, there will be no need for snipers in the room.

Perhaps now it might be time to lean forward and really hear what George W. Bush has to say. Here’s hoping he’s prepared to tell us what we should be willing to know.

I’m feeling ready.

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© 8/14/2020     Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

The Sweet Thanksgiving.

The brisk breezes would stir the “whisker” tree’s fist sized tumbleweeds, scattering them between our feet as we scrambled up the steps and took the path between the rock gardens to the front porch at Mammy’s house. In summer we’d take the lazier, flat wide stone walkway from the drive, parallel the porch, the potted geraniums and succulents snuggled side by side along its railing under the broad, royal blue canvas awning flapping in the wind. From that side path, we could almost look Mammy in the eye, cushioned into her steel porch rocker in the far corner awaiting our appearance, smile alight.

But, come fall, we’d hasten past the battened down and molting toward the warm yellow light framed by the front door, halfway up the porch already hearing Aunt Martha’s belly and Pappy’s booming laugh rising out of the maelstrom of chattering chaos already testing the outer walls of the entire house. Grasping the round, brass doorknob, and leaning into the glass paneled hardwood, we’d push and burst through, hardly noticed by the throng until one face turned and then Pappy, arms above his head, hands curled from hard work, roared out his raging welcome and everyone except the aunts who never stopped talking turning then to gather yet another of us into their arms.

Kicking the snow from our overshoes onto the multilayered hooked rugs, we’d stack them and take the short diagonal between the twin bookcases past the round oak dining room table and the African violets in the east window through to the kitchen, passing the ceramic cookie jar setting our paperbagged salad fixings carefully on the kitchen-turned- server table next to the apple, mincemeat, pumpkin, and rhubarb pies, where Mammy stood over the stove in her rick rack trimmed cotton apron, stirring a pot of gravy with a wooden spoon, the pressure cooker’s indicator bobbling and sputtering over the back burner like a steam train waiting in the station. All the aunts took their wide hipped turns in the kitchen, two of them diligent about the food and the other two appearing to inspect and taste test, the youngest with a wink toward a niece or nephew as she licked her finger.

Pappy was loud, and three of his four son in laws quiet, each quick with a joke or a witty comeback, Uncle Frank sitting with a closed eyed smile, Dad who was called Uncle Tony with his hands in his belt, napping already in the only scene where he would not command the center of attention, Uncle Bud standing tall near a corner already giggling through a long, spun yarn for the home movie camera, and Uncle George, egging Pappy on with his bright, Irish bell tenor.

We grandchildren were fifteen in all, the firstborn Alan, a brilliant artist and pianist, rarely able to come home anymore being married in Michigan, his four other siblings Philip, Lydia, Lois and Frannie often present, living only two doors down, the elder girls wearing their engagement rings dressed in wool sweaters and straight skirts and pointed pumps, Frannie in keeping with her other, younger counterparts in winter wear warm enough for playing outside if there were enough snow later. Then, cousin Bonnie and half brothers Butch and David from Lawrence Park because Uncle Bud worked at GE, and me and my two brothers, Nathan and Paul, having walked from around the corner and across the street and, finally, our four cousins from Ohio, Becky, Beth, Timmy and Kathy, the latter two with flaming red hair. Being either the first or last to arrive, once all were in house the card table would come out, and the floral painted linens, we among the smallest cousins relegated to the workroom where the rugs were braided and the clothes sewn and the toybox waited and, while the piano took turns being played and songs chosen for singing, the family like a choir from an old country church, Pappy the only tone deaf voice among them, the potatoes were mashed, the boiled bacon drippings poured over the salad, the parsnips and rutabaga and peas and Lima beans and corn ladeled into their divided serving dishes, the silver plated forks knives and spoons set on each soft, embossed linen napkin, tomato juice poured into the slender tulip glasses and set at the center of each China plate, head lettuce leaves placed on each smaller one for salad, fruit filled Jello squares lifted onto each leaf, one half teaspoon of Hellmann’s to dot each center, the gravy poured into the boat, the butter set in its silver dish, the roast carved and, finally, the Parker House rolls, ready and hot, in the round, linen lined bowl basket to table.

Pappy could be heard from any room in the house, but usually Aunt Dora Mae or Aunt Betty would call all to the dinner table. Aunt Dora Mae was hands down the better cook among them, Mammy’s eldest, but Mum’s voice was the most penetrating on account of her hearing loss and Aunt Frances was likely in earnest discussion with another of equal intellectual bent and Aunt Martha busy, laughing in a far corner, her nephews gathered around her ready audience testing their latest comedic mettle.

But, the food drew us all, to the oak table round circled by both Dora Mae and Betty as they’d labored the delivery of their firstborn, to the card table in the living room where Risk, Monopoly, Probe, and Life were won and lost, to the child’s table and chairs that Pappy made in the workroom just beyond the pantry and we, the Sweet family, sat our chaos down to the warmth of hot, family style Thanksgiving dinner and bowed our heads while Pappy thanked the God who brought him all the way across the Commonwealth to build cranes at BuCyrus-Erie, to the street corners to preach, to the City Mission and the Gospel Assembly Hall to settle his family in the east side neighborhood at 923 East 29th.

Then, everyone filled their faces, still all talking at once, Mammy finally sitting down at the kitchen end of the table, laughing with her mouth full, Pappy hunched over his plate, gumming his food with his teeth out, the aunts and uncles and cousins all tasting the same food with their own unique manifestations of the family DNA, all together, the whisker trees’ tumbleweeds flying about outside the east windows, as remnants of the feast wafted throughout the house to leave behind its everlasting aroma in the wallpaper, the white silken window curtains, the ceiling plaster, the floor underfoot, and the dark wood framing each room in the house, the collective spirit of nourishment sustaining life on one small, thankful speck of the planet as the world spun around once more.

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© 11/27/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo     All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.

From the heart of Sweet gratitude: Happy Thanksgiving! from littlebarefeetblog.com

“Undercover Billionaire” builds UNDERDOG BBQ in Erie, PA.

Just watched the Season Finale of “Undercover Billionaire” on the Discovery Channel – after following every episode, all summer.

This is a story of faith, and commitment, and the work ethic which built our city. That team, so artfully chosen by Glen, staying strong on a volunteer basis, just because some guy walked into their lives with a proposition.

Glen Stearns has me convinced as an adorable, warm, genuine, positive, and true guy, and I really don’t care what his net worth actually is. Admittedly, after the first episode, I wondered how he could get somebody to buy used tires from him on a discard lot, and I said so on Facebook.  Then, about three weeks ago, I and members of my string quartet had lunch at UNDERDOG BBQ, the restaurant he and his team built in 90 days.

We had a really great time there! The sandwiches were hearty, the portions were generous, I had well more than a scant one or two gluten and soy free options, detecting no added sugars or excess salt in the meat – in fact, my lunch was complete – (about which I was ecstatic!), and the service from Carmen was personalized and memorable.

Some locals have compared their food to Federal BBQ on Peach, but I have never yet been there so I offer no quality judgments; what I will say is that I cannot wait to return to UNDERDOG BBQ for a rib rack on a plate and a fair taste of the entire menu. This multi-faceted, multi-armed venture has the potential to do so much for our beloved hometown and people who are really willing to w.o.r.k., just like his team, and we should get b.e.h.i.n.d. them 150%!!!! In fact, as a former “waitress” to Panos, on Pine, Denny’s on Peach AND W 26th, and Friendly Ice Cream, this old retired teacher might just show up and apply for a summer job!

I’m SOLD.

UNDERDOG BBQ — featuring ribs, brisket, multiple sides/love the collard greens, original sauces, complete gluten and soy free options, and a hallmark craft beer, Undergrog.
Where: 3040 W Lake Rd, Erie, PA 16505
Phone: 814.790.4001.  Merch available online.
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© 9/25/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo, Erie PA.
littlebarefeetblog.com