Monday, August 31, 2009

P-G launches an online salvo

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has launched a War on Bloggers. Sure, we all knew this day was coming, but I think we deserved more of a warning. The P-G is adding a membership-only feature to its Web site that will require a $36 annual fee to access a major portion of the online information. I applaud the P-G for having the guts - and the content - to roll out this program. But why are they announcing this less than eight hours before it goes online at midnight?

For the past week, I saw vague advertisements in the print edition touting a GIANT + that didn't even begin to explain what would be coming. So we now have to react immediately by signing up for a membership that we don't entirely understand. I would suggest the P-G offer a 30-day trial period to the public, then pull the plug after we become acquainted with the new site. Otherwise, I'm going to wait until I see what content I'm losing before dropping $36 on something I don't necessarily need.

I think we're all interested in seeing how this works because the P-G is now the leading edge for online content. All I know, though, is that I just found a new blog about the WVU Mountaineers, and I'm going to be pretty disappointed if I lose it after one day. Plus, I don't know how Pirates Nation will do without the PBC Blog by Dejan Kovacevic if that is included in the package, as well. On second thought, to whom do I make out the check?

The closing door

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

In Stephen King’s book “On Writing,” I learned that he believed that while every wordsmith has her own style and method of composing, one rule of thumb is essential: Write with the door closed and edit with the door opened. That was like a ray of light to my career in newspapers. I stopped questioning my leads and running them in front of my peers. I think King was trying to advise me and other young writers to follow our collective guts when it came to storytelling.

I was lucky enough at the Observer-Reporter to work with reporters who never tried to point out what was wrong – only what could be improved. And through all those edits and all those stories, I stopped questioning myself so much as a writer. Mistakes are the reason the delete key was invented, after all. I was able to finally be writing clean and tight – two skills that had eluded me all those years since.

And here I am, sitting on my couch, looking at a box full of court transcripts and handwritten letters from a young man imprisoned at 17 for a crime he says he didn’t commit. I was super excited to be a part of the Innocence Institute again. I worked on its flagship investigation and received credit for the series, which ran in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I’ve been over every piece of paper. I’ve made lists of notes. I’ve read manuals and done research online to understand some of the legal things I just couldn’t wrap my brain around.

Then, last weekend, I visited this now-32 year-old man’s parents and younger brothers. I sat with them for two hours and in the midst of our conversation the phone rang. It was him. His mother smiled broadly and told him he had someone he wanted to introduce, and then handed me the phone. And after talking with the young man, and being thanked by him for my time, I felt too small to write the story.

I’ve made an outline, but every time my fingers try to flush out a lead, nothing comes. I’ll type a few words, stop, read what I have written and promptly erasing them. And with that sentence gone, only the blinking cursor remains – my enemy. I questioned everything.

The "what ifs" surfaced shortly thereafter. What if it isn’t good enough? What if my mentor didn’t dig it? And I realized that I lost more than my job, I lost the people who were always more than coworkers and more like coaches or cheerleaders. Since I couldn't turn to my podmates for a bit of reassurance, I turned to my familiar muses – I read some Emerson and Rilke and Thoreau. But nothing made me feel big enough to be able to do this story justice.

Then a voice from my high school years came floating up into memory. A local author, Albert French, told me that at the end of the day, a writer just has to fill the page. And I was heartened. I’d forgotten that we writers can be great or we can completely flub a story on any given deadline. But at the end of the day, the writer has to write.

So I ignored that mocking cursor and started at the beginning.

With the door closed.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at

Friday, August 28, 2009

A new approach

It's obvious paper resumes and bland cover letters are not making an impact on potential employers. That means it's time to use every resource available, so I'm now trying to consider alternative resources by taking some advice from one of the blog's first readers.

"Roger" mentioned two months ago that it would be wise to produce personal business cards. I figured I would have a new job by the time the cards rolled off the printing press, but I obviously was wrong. Instead, I lost a couple of opportunities to sell myself. While freelancing for the Tribune-Review recently, I have met people who asked for a business card, but I was left empty handed.

I have since designed two variations of the cards to distribute to different people. I plan to have a standard version that will be given to sources while I'm on the clock with the Trib. The other template will be touting Michael Jones the breadliner. I'm not sure if this will work, but I'm excited about appearing like a professional again, and I advise my fellow breadliners to consider a similar plan. Thanks, Roger, for the idea.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Riding the (t)rails

HENDERSONVILLE, Pa. - Water trickled from the ceiling and sunshine melted away into chilling darkness the farther I walked into this dank tunnel along The Montour Trail in Washington County.

The 623-foot long National Tunnel - although cold, wet and eerie - was the highlight of a Tuesday morning jaunt on this rail-to-trail that extends 46 miles from Coraopolis to Clairton. Built in 1928 and originally used by the Montour Railroad, the National Tunnel burrows beneath Klinger Road and a couple homes in Cecil Township.

It was somewhat unsettling to see the cracks in the roof and water rolling down the walls, but those perceived blemishes made the tunnel surprisingly beautiful. The water created an artistic feature to the trail that rivaled the peaceful landscape along other portions of the crushed limestone passage.

Walking through the tunnel, though, made for a lonely experience. That was until a friendly biker entered while I was nearing the midpoint. The humming of bicycle tires and his whistling the entire way calmed the nerves in a portion where no natural light enters. These rail-to-trail projects seem to be a great community investment, as I saw dozens of walkers and bikers getting a little exercise on a beautiful August morning.

But as gas prices continue to fluctuate, it is a shame that we are dismantling our rail infrastructure - the former backbone of commerce - for recreation. Still, I suppose the rails-to-trails are useful and a better option than letting these railroad treasures fade away.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The generational cycle

Two months, and not a single interview. The resumes have been flying out at a feverish pace lately, but what good does it do when yours is buried beneath 200 others? This job market sucks. It is far worse than what I remember upon my graduation in 2005, which even then wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. In the two months after graduation, I sent out only a few resumes, but still received two interviews. The second landed me a job in Charleston, W.Va. Now, it appears harder than ever for us to showcase our skills to potential employers.

So where does this leave any of us in the bread line? Greg Tarr has a good plan by starting his own photography business. And Amanda Gillooly is freelancing while also doing research for the Innocence Institute. Others think going back to school would be the best idea. But none of these is even remotely close to a guarantee.

Which brings me to the generational gap of prosperity. The retired generation - our grandparents - fought in World War II and reaped the benefits of the post-war society. Suburbs and highways popped up as America recalibrated itself for peacetime. They earned everything, and took nothing for granted. That wealth trickled down to their children - our parents - riding the wave or prosperity and going to college. But in the end, that generation - the George W. Bush generation - took for granted what their parents gave them. Most of them worked hard, but the over-privileged and well-connected clicked the cruise control - giving their hardworking peers a bad name - without ever contemplating what would be left for their children.

The economy today is in its worst state since The Great Depression when our grandparents were young. So now it is up to us to rebuild this country, this economy. That's why I think the election of Barack Obama is so interesting. He rode the wave of a younger generation to win the presidency, and I think that signals a change in the direction of our country. Young people are a new force - just like in the 1940s - and it is now our turn to put our stamp on America. The status quo is finished. It is now our turn to fix the mistakes by the previous generation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fierce competition

It's hard enough to find a job nowadays without competing against your friends. We're all looking for new jobs because none of us in the newspaper industry feel safe. Unless you're a civil engineer, brain surgeon or a Pennsylvania state legislator, your job probably is in jeopardy.

So I found out today that two of my buddies applied to the same job at an unnamed nuclear power plant builder in the area. Take a wild guess where it's based (I'll give you a hint and say it is headquartered in a township named after a berry). I thought I had scoped out a sweet deal, only for them to never call me back, nor did the company ever call back my friends. So how many other people are applying for these jobs? It's a vicious market out there right now. If you're lucky enough to find an opening somewhere, then you have to be equally as lucky to actually score an interview. And I don't even know which saint you have to be praying to in order to actually get the job.

What I'm trying to say here is that it's difficult enough to find a new profession. But why do friends have to compete against each other? Maybe it's just a sign we're all in the same boat... with or without a paycheck.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A shorter bread line

I awoke this morning to sad news: Another potential Bread Line Blogger has found work. Sure, it was a long shot, but why wouldn't Brett Favre want to write a few posts about his fourth retirement in three years? I'm sure Favre could comment about how tough it is to spend time with the family and not earn a million-dollar paycheck. But what I see in Favre is that older employee in the office who can't leave. For whatever reason, Farve just can't give it up - and I think it's pathetic.

In fact, I am more annoyed about the Minnesota Vikings signing Favre than I was about the Philly Eagles picking up another former breadliner - or should I say chain ganger? - better known as Mike Vick. What Vick did with Bad Newz Kennels was heinous, but he has paid a hefty price. Two years in prison and bankruptcy will humble a man, even superstar athletes. But in America, you have the right to make a living, so I applaud NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for not suspending Vick for the entire season. Now, that doesn't mean I think Vick deserved a contract offer, but he certainly has the right to pursue one. His actions off the football field will show if he truly is sorry about what he did with his dog-fighting sideshow.

As for Favre, his actions show a lazy man who manipulates teams and the system to skip out on training camp. While it is not as overt, this is no different than a cocky wide receiver holding out of training camp until he gets that bigger contract. Imagine if Ben Roethlisberger did that in Pittsburgh. But because everyone loves Brett Favre, most people will consider this a victory for the league. Not me. Although I love how he plays the game, I'm sick of Brett Favre's tired act. If you want to play, Brett, then don't announce that you are retired and confirm that decision a few days before training camp only to return three weeks before the start of the season.

Of course, this decision has consequences. With news of the signing, I would like to formally welcome soon-to-be former Vikings quarterback John David Booty to the bread line. And while he will be losing his jersey number and eventually his job, he's more than welcome to write for this blog. Maybe we'll call it the Booty Blog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Enter... With Cameras

By Greg Tarr
BLB Guest Blogger

I'm approaching a month and a half of glorious unemployment and all I can tell you is that there's nothing glorious about it. I hate it. I hate the fact that every time I spend a dollar I get a sick, nervous feeling in my stomach. It has to end soon, but I'm not sure it will. So I'm taking that bull by the horns and deciding my own future. No one to depend on but myself.

A few days after realizing that the medical field wasn't for me, I had an idea pop into my head. "Why not make money taking pictures?" I thought to myself on a Sunday afternoon while driving back home from Subway. Gotta eat fresh, right? And more importantly, gotta eat often.

Photography is what I know. It's all I know. I've stopped wracking my brain trying to figure out what new path I could take. Let's just say I'm hiking in the same forest that I've been in the past 10 years, but trekking down a new trail. I have officially retired from the newspaper industry. The future isn't all that bright there.

Now, my new concentration of photography is going to be weddings. It's something I had feared shooting for years, but it's time to drop that fear. I was afraid of the pressure to capture moments that happen once in a lifetime. You only get one shot. But then I told myself that I've shot under pressure situations as a photojournalist and I've produced quality work when called upon.

I'm so excited to get started documenting weddings for a career. I will be shooting in a photojournalistic style, which has become very popular with brides the past few years. I'm looking forward to documenting the ceremonies without having to worry about posing photographs. It's what I love about photography.

That's my future and I think it's pretty darn sexy. Unfortunately the present is about as sexy as a bikini clad Rosie O'Donnell. I'm researching the field, trying to learn all about business plans before I write my own checks and decide what equipment I'll need. Although it's not a lot of fun right now, I know that it will all pay off at some point later. And it's what I love to do.

I just wish I had the gear now so I could start shooting immediately! I'm trying to be patient. But a man can show only so much patience when he's depending on Uncle Sam to pay the bills.

Greg Tarr previously worked as a staff photographer at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa. The photo above - entitled Last Minute Prep - was shot by Tarr in May 2005. He can be reached by e-mail at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the public interest

"I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a reporter. I don't know where I got the idea that it was a romantic calling."
-Charles Kuralt

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Nobody gets into the newspaper industry for the money. Of all the things ever said or written about print media and the daily deadline, I think I can definitively say that getting rich just ain’t one of them. I have worked with some people whose motivating factors were less than noble: People who rested on their proverbial laurels and never tried to hit above the mark and others who have more passion for controlling headlines and bylines that they forget the true meaning of the free press.

Because all of my journalist heroes - who include everyone from Woodward and Bernstein to Bill Moushey and Scott Beveridge - innately feel that their jobs are greater than their egos. The true newspaper men and women know somewhere in them that they are the purveyors of truth and the official record of our daily lives. And despite what some people might have a person believe, greatness of a newspaper man stems from the idea that a free America is rooted in the idea of a free press.

You can lay a newspaper man (or woman) off, but you can’t take those philosophical ideologies away because those professional standards are at the heart of why we go to work each day - each morning starting anew. And to be one of the best of us, heart is what matters most. Reporting is about a natural curiosity and comfort with asking questions - even the cruelest or the saddest ones - and about believing that we are more like the fictional Super Man than his dayside character Clark Kent.

I was counseled by Gene Collier, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when he reviewed some of my college work and taught me that the first thing young writers have to learn is how to be unafraid. I thought I got it then, but I know I get it now. There’s being afraid of writing, and being afraid of reporting. But I like to think that maybe he meant that the great ones aren’t afraid of being great on any given deadline - to be ready for their questions to have answers that can effect change… That help prove my point that, most of all, a newspaper man must believe in his heart that he is - above all things - a public servant by nature.

When I sat it hours-long meetings in Anytown, Pa. during my six or so years as a professional, it could get boring. It count get technical. It could be about sewage and variances and stuff I thought I might need either a law or an engineering degree to even begin to understand. But I counseled myself with the knowledge that while I was there technically and professional to represent the various publications for which I wrote, there was something in me that knew that my role in those municipal building and board rooms was more.

I reminded myself when my mind wandered to the after-work beer or weekend event that I was there to serve the interests of the public -- to ensure that the public bodies conducting business by the books, and to let the people know in their absentia about the events that will, in some way or another, affect their daily lives.

America is a land built on checks and balances, and I really believe that a free press is one of them. At the very least, I believe even my most mundane stories helped someone, whether it be about a tap-in fee or a detour or crime in the area. I had the privilege of writing about a Washington neighborhood's struggle with drugs and a questionable response from the city. I was giddy when Beveridge and I were awarded first place for enterprise reporting by the Associated Press. But that was nothing in comparison to how I felt when the two of us went back to "The Hill" and chronicled the goings on there one year later.

Stuff had changed. Drug dealers were in jail. A new leader had been elected. And while I would never be so arrogant as to say I had any direct role in that process, I will be so arrogant to know that maybe journalism did. That is why I feel so happy that, even though I am unemployed at the moment, I am still a newspaper woman. I am still trying to be that voice of truth (and as I write I do realize how corny I sound). While I take pride in every story I tell, I am particularly pleased to be again volunteering for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University.

Moushey runs it, and the work he and his students have done has helped bring light to some injustices. I was lucky enough to be part of its flagship investigation in the deaths of two small-time Bear Rocks drug peddlers that led to the conviction of a man named David Munchinski. As a senior at Point Park, I was part of a small group of students who reviewed thousands of pages of documents and wrote a story filled with information casting doubt about the man’s innocence. Munchinski’s attorney, Noah Geary, is still fighting a legal battle in federal court, arguing for his immediate release.

Working with an organization you know can change lives helps me remember the best of journalism at a time when the medium I grew to love to the point of being cheesey is in what many people have come to believe is gasping its dying breaths. During a conversation a few moments ago with a peer and fellow newspaper geek (ie: laid-off reporter) we recalled some of the worst calls we’ve seen in our brief careers in newspapers. It is too easy to remember the bad stories, the bad editors, the bad days and the small paychecks. It is easy to say, “To hell with it, I want to be in public relations. Newspapers are dying anyway.”

But its people like Beveridge and Moushey and organizations like The Innocence Institute that remind me of what the best of journalism is. So while I weather this newspaper storm (confident that while inky print may die, it role in society never will) I still aspire to be one of the best of us.

Employed or not.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Worst Moments

On Sunday, I shared my favorite memories as a newspaper reporter. Today, I added the worst moments on the job.

3: The fatal - Nothing is more chilling to hear on the police scanner than an officer reporting to dispatchers that a car accident is “Code Black.” That was the lingo in West Virginia for a fatal car accident. Although it was my job as police reporter, I hated going to the scene, especially for motorists who were ejected from their cars. I saw things that no one should see and would never be described in print, although I have no doubt firefighters and police officers saw much worse. It’s something I hated, but certainly was important for the public to have a reporter at the scene to get the most accurate information.

2: Grieving families - After each tragedy, the public invariably wants to know about the deceased, and no one has better information than relatives. People grieve in different ways, and it was my job to contact them for interviews. After finding their phone numbers, it would take me a minute - and a few deep breaths - to suck up the strength to dial those digits. After introducing myself and my intentions, I always offered my condolences. Each time, I tried to put myself in their shoes and consider how I would feel about a nosey reporter calling during a difficult time. But I found that many grieving relatives were happy to talk. I’m not sure if it was therapeutic, or they just wanted the public to know a little bit about their family member, but more often than not, I was met with little resistance. Even though it was my job to produce a story, much of me hoped the conversation helped console them. In a sense, I gave them a final chance to talk about their loved one.

1: The murder-suicide - Just a couple months into the job in Charleston, I had the chance to meet a man creating a customized motorcycle - ala Orange County Choppers - to honor West Virginia. I interviewed the man and wrote a full-page story about the creator and his motorcycle, which would be raffled off for charity. It was a story I was proud of. But just seven months later, I had to report that the man fatally shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. While doing a follow-up story, I interviewed one of his wife’s friends, who was in the house at the time of the shootings and she told me in chilling detail about how the couple’s two young children witnessed the killing. I wrestled with my role as a story teller and how it affects people’s lives. The hurt it caused the family weighed against the public’s interest in an important story. That report earned me a 3rd place award for feature story in West Virginia, but it still haunts me more than three years later.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The life of kings

“… as I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”
-H.L. Mencken

Four years ago today, I began my journalism career at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail. I enjoyed the job immensely because it was so unique. I saw things and talked to people that would make many jealous and/or cringe. What follows over the next two days is my list of best and worst moments on the job.

The Best Moments

1: Katrina - I became a reporter because I wanted a job that few other people could do. Little did I know that three weeks into my career, I would be thrust into one of the biggest stories of my generation. We all remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, and how it took days to get aid to the evacuees. But I was just a spectator until four days after the storm when my boss at the Daily Mail turned to me and asked if I wanted to go to New Orleans. The 130th West Virginia Airlift Wing was preparing to leave immediately to evacuate the injured and offered one position for a reporter on the C-130. We would be gone during Labor Day weekend and none of the other reporters could go, so my editor turned to me. I packed my bags, rushed to Yeager Airport and was in the New Orleans area before midnight. I never entered the city, but spent much of the time at Louis Armstrong International Airport. There, I saw things that I could barely describe in words, especially for a rookie reporter. It was the most difficult and satisfying assignment of my career.

2: Obama stumps at W&J - It’s not often you get to cover the future leader of the free world. But there was Barack Obama, standing just a few feet away from me at Washington & Jefferson College, discussing veterans’ care. Although he still had not secured the Democratic nomination for president, it was clear he would in just a couple months. As exciting as this assignment was for me, I could only cringe watching the traveling press that had to follow him to each campaign event. How boring would this be to hear the same speech and dig to find that small nugget of new information. Sen. John McCain came to Washington a few months later while introducing his new vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin. My only regret is that I was not in town that weekend and did not have a chance to cover the Republican challenger.

3: The byline - Even four years after my career began, I still got a rush from seeing my name next to a story. Sure, not a lot of people actually care about who wrote the story, but it does give some insight on the author and how the story will read. There is something about the byline that puts a stamp on your story: You stand by your work. And to make things even more interesting, we reporters include our e-mail addresses and work phone numbers so any angry reader/source can easily contact us to let their complaints be known. In a time when the Internet allows for anonymous posts and comments, a newspaper reporter literally put his name beside his work.

My worst memories on the job will appear Monday…

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This isn't your mother's garden

MURRELLS INLET, S.C. - Thousands of statues and an endless collection of beautiful flowers greet visitors in this massive botanical garden just a few miles south of Myrtle Beach. The Brookgreen Gardens are an impressive and unique attraction in a region where go-karts, amusement parks and beaches rule. My girlfriend, Tiffany, and I traveled to the gardens last weekend on a day when dark rain clouds dampened a day at the beach. Volunteers hand you a map that hardly gives new visitors an inkling of what they'll see. The plan on which gardens to visit quickly collapsed and we just walked wherever the path led us.

After more than an hour, we had seen enough statues to satisfy a lifetime, so we went to the historical section of the park - a walking tour of the four plantations that once dotted Brookgreen. Eleven stations along the Lowcountry Trail allowed a recorded voice to explain the lives of the plantation owners, overseers and slaves who used these swampy fields fed by the Waccamaw River to harvest rice.

It began raining halfway through the tour, but it made me think about the the ugly conditions these Africans faced more than 200 years ago. We took shelter under the drooping trees and eventually continued the tour. Platforms overlooking the rice patties allowed us a glimpse into the slaves' lives. But we weren't down in that muck and the water.

We came for the gardens, but found more than just flowers and statues.

(Photos by Tiffany Wheatley)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Final thoughts

It has been a sad 24 hours for those of us from Pittsburgh. We've learned about the victims, the killer and the circumstances surrounding the Tuesday night shootings near Bridgeville, Pa. The facts are helping us to understand why it happened, but they can't possibly explain anything to grieving family members. That leaves me with some final thoughts before we move forward.

The basic facts are that the killer obviously was psychotic, he purchased the handguns legally and hated women. Although he did purchase the weapons legally, he was using double magazine clips that held 30 rounds for each of his two 9mm handguns, meaning he did not have to reload while firing nearly 50 shots in about a minute. These clips are apparently legal in America after the assault weapons ban expired in 2004. My one question is: Why would any law-abiding gun owner need to fire 30 bullets before reloading?

Crimes like this have been happening across our country for years; Columbine, Virginia Tech and many others. They are meant to create terror, no differently than the 9/11 attacks. But just as travelers began flying on airplanes the following week, people here also began moving forward with their daily lives. Some of the businesses in the shopping center that is home to LA Fitness were bustling with a few curious spectators gawking at the numerous satellite news trucks in the parking lot. I had one thought as I drove past the crime scene to a neighboring shopping center to buy groceries: If these angry, psychotic killers think they can terrorize us and change how we live our lives, they are wrong... We will not live in fear.

The next day

Disturbing details are emerging about the 48-year-old Scott Township man who opened fire last night at a local fitness center, killing at least three women and injuring several others. The coward, who will remain nameless on this blog, posted numerous angry and rambling messages on an online log that were only accessible to those who knew his birth date or other personal information. He clearly was a loner and talked about his problems meeting and dating women. I'll wait for investigators to make a final determination, but it's clear he hated women and likely targeted them inside the health center.

It is clear he wanted as much publicity as possible after his death, so his blog will not be linked here, unlike other local media Web sites. He even goes so far as to copyright his material and request anything that is republished be edited for grammar mistakes. I find it pathetic that some suckers in the media are linking to this blog to give this man the attention he does not deserve. I have no problem if they clip some quotes from the log, but please limit the amount of exposure this man gets.

What is most disturbing, though, is that he wrote about walking into the fitness center on Jan. 6 with a duffel bag full of guns. He was going to carry out this plan then, but lost his nerve and left. So how many other people are walking around with duffel bags full of guns or pistols strapped to their legs, just waiting to kill? That's a question all of us are left to ponder.

But that is a question we will consider later. Today, I would like to offer my condolences to the victims and their families. Sadly, I suspect even those who made it out of the gym without gunshot wounds will hold internal scars for years. In fact, all of us feel a little different this morning.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Enough is enough

I returned from vacation tonight to devastating news near my hometown in Western Pennsylvania. Although this blog is supposed to be dedicated to unemployment, my problems pale in comparison to what happened at 8:16 p.m. - just about 20 minutes after pulling into my garage following a 10-hour drive from Myrtle Beach, S.C.

I live just a couple miles from the LA Fitness in Collier Township, Pa., and am sickened by the mass shooting that has killed multiple people doing the abominable act of exercising. When - as a people, as a country - will we decide enough is enough? I'm afraid, we'll never tire of this bloodshed. Something needs to change.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that at least four people - including the cowardly gunman - are dead. Several others are in critical condition, so the death toll could rise. Many media outlets are saying this shooting was prompted by a break-up. What a joke.

There are two helicopters hovering in the distance where the Great Southern Shopping Center is situated. I have frequented those shops ever since I was 5 years old. The media has gathered in the Bob Evans parking lot where I've eaten numerous times. From the copter shots, I can see the Wendy's restaurant where my buddies and I gathered after high school football games. Next to the fitness center is the former building that housed the Old Country Buffet where I ate with my mom. My mother actually called me about the incident because she heard the constant wailing of ambulance sirens rushing by her house to nearby St. Clair Hospital. This is hitting home hard.

This is not the first time our area has dealt with such a horrific shooting spree. Four months ago to the day, three Pittsburgh police officers were (allegedly) gunned down by Richard Popolawski. I hate that word allegedly, by the way. It was the deadliest day for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in its history. Two other officers were seriously injured during the gun battle.

In April 2000, Richard Baumhammers killed five people during a racially motivated rampage through several neighborhoods. The killing began in my hometown of Mt. Lebanon and our high school was locked down that day. This is becoming all too familiar.

Monday, August 3, 2009

PA Debit - It's nowhere you want to be

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. - I made a trek last week to the local Rite Aid to pick up only the essentials: An albuterol inhaler and some gummy bears. I set my items down on the counter, and swiped my official Commonwealth of Pennsylvania debit card without thinking about the keystone emblazoned there on the flimsy piece of plastic.

The cute 20-something guy on cash register duty hadn’t said much more than the typical “Good morning, how are you?” when he broke the silence as I was punching in my pin: “So, you’re unemployed, huh?”

I paused -- and I wondered if there was something about me that said “Hey, brother, can you spare a dime for the bus?” I almost said something smarmy about the poor economy and it being tough out there when the young man reached into his back pocket, whipped out his wallet and unveiled his own official debit card through the state unemployment office (one each of us in the bread line get with our first unemployment payment.

My bad.

For the first week of unemployment I was mostly in shock. That rapidly morphed into bitter, self-pity mode with only two possible options: Sleeping until the end of time or fleeing to Mexico with my few assets to live like a queen as the proprietor of a road-side stand to peddle trinkets to tourists.

But then, the day after I got my walking papers from the Observer-Reporter, one of college friends e-mailed to let me know she’d been let go from the public relations job she’d held for years. A few days after that, two other friends let me know that they, too, had been furloughed.

So when John or Jim or Jebediah there behind the counter commented on my card, it wasn’t out of judgment, or some unconscious social ineptness, as I had first assumed. It was just a bit of conversation, a few brief moments of understanding between strangers. And oddly, when I left the store, I had one of those “Wonder Years” moments of clarity. Yeah, it is tough out there. But we’re all in it together. Whether we’re behind the Rite Aid counter or freelancing for a small local daily, we are all just trying to get though this.

I left comforted that if I have to be in the so-called bread line for a bit, at least I’m in good company. I thought being unemployed made me a loser. A 28-year-old has-been -- embarrassed because I thought what if I would have worked a little harder, or wrote a little tighter.

Nope. Not the case. And it took that inconsequential chat with John or James or Jebediah that helped me finally get it.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at