Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blessings and Oddities on the Road in Pennsylvania

I've been visiting a lot of small towns in Pennsylvania recently, and I've run across some strange and amusing  sights. Come along for the ride...

 The Chop Shop in Butler served the best burritos I've had outside of Texas. That wouldn't be saying much, but these weren't just good - they were delicious. Here's the owner after a rough lunch shift. The place was hopping - with good reason. Great food, great atmosphere, great staff. If you're in Butler, PA- go.
 I have no idea whether this little gargoyle is supposed to be picking his nose or just thinking hard. He was only one of a dozen or so that circled a building in downtown Butler, and each one is different. Seemed like no one else even noticed those quirky creatures perched just over their heads. The whole building reminded me of that line in Ghostbusters when Aykroyd's character says, "No one EVER built them like that."
 Roadside oddity. It just caught my attention so I turned around in the rain and went back to take a picture.
 Another face on the side of a building - this one in Ephrata. I'm not sure what the significance is of these faces on buildings. You sure don't see this kind of whimsy on modern buildings.
 Here's a sculpture entitled, Amish Boy on His Tractor. It's stuck off on a side street on a lot strewn with huge, hewn stones, and no one seems to know what the purpose of the installation was. Are the stones a foundation that has fallen into disrepair? Or are they leftover building materials that were dumped there?
 These daffodils and crocuses made me happy. This was last week, so it's safe to say that spring sprung early this year. Blessing, indeed.
 Another quirky face, this one in an iron foundation grating. The people who built these buildings would, I imagine, have been deeply religious, so I'm not sure what the purpose of these pagan-looking faces could have been. Whatever it was, I love it. 
This is the leftover trunk of some kind of vine which was trained (I assume) to grow over many years entwined in this iron fence. It's at least 6 inches thick in some places, and thoroughly embedded into the fence. Amazing that the fencing held up this long with minimal distortion. This is also in Ephrata. I wonder if it will sprout again as the weather warms?
 Looks like a loo to me, on the grounds of the Ephrata museum.
 Who could resist getting their car worked on at a place with such a great sign?
This cemetery is in Mifflinburg. Don't those mausoleums on the hillside look like Hobbit homes? 
 This is a blessing. Can you say, "bucolic"? I knew you could.

After a rainy day, I saw this lovely rainbow along Route 104. It may not be visible in this photo, but all the colors were sharply delineated. A true, full rainbow. May you find your blessings - pot of gold or otherwise - on your journeys.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

There's Oil City in Them Thar Hills!


  Former depot for the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad.

Sidewalk grate in Oil City, PA.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A New Ore to Mine

Ashland, Pennsylvania is in Schuylkill (school-kill) County in the heart of coal country. They even have a museum, Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine Museum dedicated to the borough's first major industry.

This storefront window display was captured just before Valentine's Day, 2012.                                                     
Sadly, there isn't much industry left in coal country these days. What remains is the legacy of fanciful buildings created by a proud and creative people. Storybook turrets and fanciful colors war with yawning, vacant storefronts. But there is life here, and a rich, proud heritage. No one here is looking for a handout. One can't help but sense though, that for a community that gave so much in sweat, blood and spirit to build the foundations of our country, they are being pushed into the backwater of history.

I'd like to imagine that these old storefronts will one day be filled by enterprising entrepreneurs who see, not decay, but opportunity. Surely I am not the only one who sees these graceful places and feels the excitement of a possibility ready to be realized.

There's gold in these buildings, if we only have the courage to mine for it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Crowdfunding for Fun and Profit

Amy Cortese started a small tidal wave with her book Locavesting. Subtitled, The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit from It, Cortese's book poses the question, why are we dumping our money into retirement accounts over which we have little or no control, and yet we cannot invest in the small businesses right in our own towns? These businesses cannot access the capital they need to survive. If people invested closer to home, the theory goes, they would have a stake in patronizing those businesses and keeping them alive.
Crowdfunding has been going on for some time. This method of raising capital relies on the generosity of others. For the most part, the money that people contribute toward a business idea on websites such as www.peerbackers.com and www.kickstarter.com leverage the reach of the worldwide web to help entrepreneurs raise the money they need to get their projects off the ground. But it's not enough, and it's important for small businesses to comply with SEC regulations when raising funds to avoid legal hassles that could destroy their businesses. The Senate is now considering legislation that would make it legal for small businesses to raise capital. House Bill 2930 blasted through the House with wide bipartisan support. Go figure. Democrats and Republicans both feel the bill benefits small business without any taxpayer burden. The Senate however, wants to analyze the legislation to make sure that people who are not savvy investors don't get taken for a ride by smooth-talking Joes with a slick business plan -- but no intention of ever doing anything beyond collecting the cash. I also fear that Wall Street is whispering in a few Senate ears to water down the bill that threatens to take investment dollars away from Wall Street and give them to Main Street. Surely there's enough to go around, isn't there?

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Little Bit of Bedford

Bedford is an old town just off the Old Lincoln Highway in western Pennsylvania. These photos were taken during a dreary winter day, but because the buildings are so well decorated and inviting, they avoid looking drab.
I've heard it said that we are living with the town planning decisions that were made hundreds of years ago. It is therefore up to us to make wise choices about how we take care of what has been passed on to us.
The Union Hotel. Bedford didn't -- as far as I know -- see any action during the Civil War, but they left no doubt about which side of the Mason-Dixon line they were on.
Hand spun, dyed and knit wool clothing anyone?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What Goes Up...

I love walking through an older town and tracing the rise and fall of its fortunes by the styles of its architecture. As you look at a graceful Victorian mercantile, and then note the subtle lines of an Art Deco bank building, it's clear that a town underwent several changes in status over the years. Where has your town been? And where is it going to be in ten years?
As bad as the current economy is, it's important to remember that this isn't the first time Americans have faced hardship. It won't be the last. What seems to get us out of our worst times is a surge in creativity. Not only in art, but in architecture, literature, music and theater. When Depression-era leaders chose to send people back to work by supporting them in the arts, it was a giant boon to this country. Optimism lifts me every time I see one of these old WPA murals. Public art was important back then.
Why isn't art important now? It seems as though the impetus is on technology to lift us out of our current malaise, and it's true that technology is crucial to our recovery. But we must also have the kind of art that spurs creativity. Creativity is the heart of any recovery.
The divine spark is what makes us human.
These photos are from a WPA mural in an old post office in Iron Mountain, Michigan. I heard they want to get rid of it.