Hey, wake up, your eyes weren’t open wide

In which I start to read a fun story about an old-timey car factory, and stumble over a giant race riot

(This started out as kind of a history/car post and turned into a political rant. You have been warned. If you want to skip this, go check out “Love Is” instead. It’s about two naked eight-year-olds who are married.)

A 1949 Packard convertible — the kind of car for a nut who’d build a time machine out of a DeLorean

I’m a big car nut, and a major history buff, and one of my favorite topics is defunct car brands — you know, the kinds of cars that haven’t been made for years and are mostly punchlines to jokes, like Fozzie Bear in his Studebaker and the dad buying an Edsel in “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

I was sitting in a waiting room on Tuesday with several hours to kill, started surfing old-time car blogs, and fell down a wormhole, reading about the Packard car company and its giant factory in Detroit.

Of all of the defunct car brands in the U.S., perhaps none has a stronger fan base than Packard. Before the Great Depression, it was considered one of the “three P’s” of American luxury cars — Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow — that rivaled Rolls-Royce in prestige and quality.

When the demand for luxury cars collapsed in the early 1930s, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow exited the business, but Packard soldiered on, mainly by moving down-market and making cheaper cars. During World War II, Packard, which was famed for its high-quality engineering and manufacturing standards, supplied aircraft engines for fighter planes.

After the war, unfortunately, Packard reintroduced the same cars it had been making in 1941 and 1942. Though fashionable before the war, styling trends had moved on. The company quickly got a reputation for being too conservative and stodgy. Increasingly, its cars were bought by little old ladies, retired bankers and clergy.

Packard’s motto was (the not-very-inclusive) “Ask the Man Who Owns One,” but the man who owned one was likely to be an elderly doctor driving a plain black one with no radio and rubber floor mats. (When I wrote my G.C. Murphy Co. history book, one of the people I interviewed remembered her father, the company president, driving a Packard in the 1950s. His kids would hide on the floor when they saw their friends. “It looked like a hearse,” she told me.)

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Look out kid, it’s something you did—God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again

I don’t know anything except for the fact that I don’t know anything. Someone give me a TV show, quick

James MacLeod cartoon

Former President Donald Trump says “I may go to Israel.” My God, hasn’t everyone over there suffered enough already?

All I have to say about the Israel-Gaza conflict is that a hell of a lot of people need to get the hell off of social media and touch grass.

Everyone’s so quick to pick a team, like this is football, and we’re supposed to root for one side, no matter what they do.

At her Substack newsletter, The Present Age, Parker Molloy hears echoes of 9/11, when another former President, George W. Bush, asked the world, “Are you for the terrorists or against them?”

Well — and this is me talking — who the f–k is “for” the terrorists?

But similarly, who the f–k is in favor of apartheid?

And as for the people who insist on bringing this conflict home — and taking out their fears and prejudices on their local Jewish or Muslim neighbors, either in-person or on social media, in the form of antisemitism or Islamophobia — I think they’re deeply damaged, whether by cable TV or social media or God knows what.

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Not so funny any more

2007 cartoon that I posted for a small audience on a Usenet group

(Today’s trivia question: I’ll award one solid brass figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm to the first person who can tell me the significance of the names on the tombstone. Answer at the end of this post.)

We moved recently and I’ve been cleaning out some old files. I found this cartoon that I did in 2007 and thought I’d share it.

I used to spend a lot of time on Usenet, the pre-social media all-text message board service. Before there was Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, before even LiveJournal, Usenet was an international network of message boards. In the 1990s, it was mostly open only to corporations, colleges and universities. Somewhere in the late 1990s, America OnLine, Delphi and other Internet service providers enabled their users to access Usenet — the so-called “endless September” or “eternal September” — and the volume of traffic soon increased. So did spam, trolls, abusive conversations and everything else that has come to define our current social-media climate.

That’s right, kiddos, every time someone says “there was no way to predict that lack of moderation on social media would lead to an increase in Nazis and white supremacists,” I’m here to say that everyone on Usenet saw in, like, 2000 that unfettered Internet access to public opinion led directly to an increase in abuse, including a rise in hate groups and con artists, and eventually made Usenet almost unusable. (“Marge, my friend, I haven’t learned a thing.”)

Usenet, in other words, was an early victim of what Cory Doctorow calls “enshittification.”

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No wonder I’m never voted the “best local radio personality”

Sarcastic? Moi?

WQED-TV posted a photo of Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh from the 1970s on Facebook, which prompted a viewer named Cindy to lament that was “Back when the city was safe (and) good.”

Yes, Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh was well-known for being safe in the 1970s. Why, hardly anyone ever bothered the prostitutes or drug dealers that worked there.

It brings to mind a joke from Jack Bogut: “One night on Liberty Avenue, someone tried to sell me some pornography, but I told them I didn’t have a pornograph to play it on.”

As most native Pittsburghers know — as long as you’re over the age of 45, but don’t yet have Fox News brain-rot — Liberty Avenue was the city’s notorious red-light district in the 1970s. If there was something illegal in the 1970s, you could probably find it on Liberty Avenue. Once the original David L. Lawrence Convention Center opened in 1979, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the convention and visitors’ bureau and the city broke their backs to clean up Liberty Avenue, and have been more or less successful.

Anyway, remember back in the 1970s, when Liberty Avenue was safe? Those were the days. Mister, we could use a man like Dante “Tex” Gill again.

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‘Twas farewell that it was singing

It turns out a Catholic school education was a dangerous thing. It taught me to think for myself.

I doubt David Zubik, Roman Catholic bishop of Pittsburgh, reads this blog. Or listens to the show. But I wrote him a letter anyway. And I’ll even play him a long-distance dedication:

Dear Bishop Zubik:

I was born and raised Roman Catholic, was baptized in the church, attended 13 years of Catholic school, and served faithfully as an altar boy throughout my teen years. I knew many kind and generous priests, deacons, friars and nuns.

They stood for social justice. A friend of mine points out that Joe Biden, for all of his flaws, has a classic mid-20th Century American Catholic outlook when it comes to justice and equality.

So it pains me to see what the bishops of the Catholic church in the United States now seem to stand for, which are performative culture-war stunts and gimmickry — like denying liberal Catholic politicians communion because they support birth control or abortion rights, or refusing to baptize the children of gay parents.

It’s the reason I left the church of my birth about 20 years ago, and never looked back.

I think of myself as pretty cynical, but maybe it’s a good sign that I still managed to be surprised by your decision to force the cancellation of a Catholic mass for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff at Duquesne University.

It was a cruel, callous, and petty thing for you to do. And, if I may say so, most un-Christlike.

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I was seriously thinking about hiding the receiver, when the switch broke ’cause it’s old

The experience that turned me into a radio ne’er-do-well happened when I was about 7 years old. Sony Walkmans were the hottest electronics item anyone could have. For my birthday, my grandparents … didn’t get me one. (A real Walkman wouldn’t have been an appropriate gift for a 7 year old anyway.)

Instead, they got me a tiny AM radio disguised as a Walkman, complete with headphones. My grandmother probably got it from Murphy’s Mart or Woolworth for $10 or $15.

I say it was probably from one of those stores, because if I remember correctly, it didn’t even have a brand-name. If it did, it was something like “Randix” or “Yorx.” (Amazon didn’t invent the practice of making up brand names from random combination of letters.)

The first night I had the radio, I tuned around the dial and to my astonishment, picked up CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. A radio that could tune Canada! From Pittsburgh! Then, I picked up KMOX in St. Louis! Another miracle! And WLS in Chicago!

Wow! I had a magic radio!

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I’ve got a dream house I’ll build there some day

A few notes on “Dear Hearts & Gentle People,” and not-so-dear-hearts or gentle people.

Tuesday morning get-up-and-get-motivated song:

I thought he was supposed to be “Mr. Relaxation”

Canonsburg’s Perry Como is rightfully known for his laid-back, almost somnolent stage presence — memorably parodied by Eugene Levy on “SCTV” — but for my money, his relaxed style was really outstanding when he sang against an uptempo arrangement like this one.

From his 1959 album, “Como Swings,” this version of the song was arranged by Joe Lipman. The orchestra is conducted by Mitchell Ayres, Como’s longtime bandleader, who also worked with Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra and others become becoming the music director on ABC’s “Hollywood Palace” until his untimely death in 1969.

“Dear Hearts & Gentle People,” written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard, has a Pittsburgh connection beyond Como’s recordings of the song. It’s based on the last words of Pittsburgh native Stephen Foster.

This scrap of paper was found in his wallet when he died in January 1864 and researchers speculated it was an idea for a song:

Stephen Foster Collection, University of Pittsburgh

I don’t know that Foster ever envisioned Fain and Hilliard’s jaunty lyrics or a swinging RCA Victor Living Stereo recording.

Trivia Question: Which artist featured on the soundtrack of “Pulp Fiction” covered “Dear Hearts & Gentle People” in 1961? Answer at the end.

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And now for my next impression, Jesse Owens

The first “buggy” race at Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1920. The event is no longer so unstructured. (Carnegie Mellon University Archives)

A bug crawled across my arm at 4:57 this morning. Roger Bannister in 1954 couldn’t have gotten across the bedroom any faster. I must have looked like a paunchy, pasty, Saturn V rocket.

Try getting back to sleep after that.

Anyway, with the help of a lot of coffee and refined sugar, I’ll be doing a show today from 12 to 3 p.m. Eastern on our flagship station, WRCT (88.3) and Tube City Online Radio at www.tubecityonline.com/radio.

Don’t forget, WRCT is Carnegie Mellon University’s station, and this is CMU Spring Carnival weekend, so the start of the show may be a little bit delayed due to CMU’s Sweepstakes races — more commonly known as “buggy” — through Schenley Park.

Buggy started out in the 1920s as a fun, “anything goes” race between fraternities and sororities, but the motto of Carnegie Tech has always been “nothing succeeds like excess” and it’s since become a deadly serious competition, with pages and pages of rules, long training sessions for judges, vicious disputes over alleged infractions, and bitter recriminations for years afterwards.

A lot like America, in other words.

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Your compliments and cutting remarks are captured here in my quotation marks

(Sorry about the lack of posts last week. It was a week with five Mondays.)

I changed jobs in 2022, which means I’m working in Oakland again for the first time since 2016. One of the first things I did when I moved into my new office was to bring in my “smart books.”

“Smart books” is a phrase I borrowed from the late Doug Hoerth, who used to talk about the reference works he kept in the studio to answer questions from listeners.

In the pre-Internet age, listeners would call Hoerth’s show on WTKN, then WTAE and finally WPTT, trying to get the answers to questions like “who was that one actor who starred in that movie?” or “what was the one-hit wonder that recorded that oldie?”

If Hoerth didn’t know the answer, he’d throw the question out to his audience (“the smartest audience in the world,” he said) or he’d look it up in one of his “smart books.”

I may not have as many listeners as Doug Hoerth, but at least I have my smart books. They include three dictionaries, three news-writing style manuals, and two New York Public Library desk references.

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If you want to stay just like you are, you know I think you really should

Beware The Ides of March! Although they released seven singles from 1969 to 1971, “Vehicle” was the group’s only record to make it into the top 10, let alone the top 50, making them a true one-hit wonder, though one of their members would go onto much bigger success, as we’ll soon see.

Formed by a group of kids from Berwyn, Ill. (all together now: BERWYN?), the band was originally called The Shondells Unlimited — named in honor of singer Troy Shondell, himself a one-hit wonder with the song “This Time” in 1961, and no relation to the later Tommy James-fronted group also known as the Shondells. Some of the members of Shondells Unlimited had known each other since Cub Scouts and elementary school, and two supposedly were born in the same hospital on the same day.

About the name: “Ides” merely means a “division,” as in the half-way point of a month. In ancient Rome, the Ides of March (generally on the 13th or 15th) was the first full moon of the year on the Roman calendar and the day was marked by religious observances and the public settling of debts to be paid. Notoriously, the emperor Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March in 44 B.C., setting off a two-year-long civil war.

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