Saturday Diary / The Marcellus Shale prom, a sign of the times

Behind the dressed-up couple, trucks rolled down a newly graded road ...

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Umbrellas hovered overhead and skirts were held high off the pavement when a group of friends gathered on a recent rainy Friday night in Westmoreland County for pictures in their prom gowns and tuxes.

Bright orange, seafoam green, clear red, fuchsia, gleaming gray and blue fabrics draped the young women, the rich colors popping against a dreary sky and alongside the dark suits that turned their dates into confident young charmers.

One couple — either more patriotic or more brave than the others — walked across the damp grass to a flagpole in front of the house for a picture.

Behind them, yellow trucks rolled along a newly graded road created to open up land across the rural road for drilling in the natural resource-rich Marcellus Shale.

The energy boom that has shaken up Western Pennsylvania with new jobs, new money, new traffic and intense debates over the region’s future had nudged its way even into the time-honored traditions of a high school prom night.

The teens paid little attention, focused more on responding to requests for smiles from camera-laden parents. There was the shot of all the girls, the shot of all the boys, the couples’ serious pose and the do-something-fun shot.

Pairs broke out for their own moments. Video rolled.

The driver of a stretch limo hired to get the group safely to the various stops on the prom tour — first the high school and then the banquet hall — stood by, ready to check everyone for anything illegal before letting them into his impossibly long white vehicle.

One grandmother reminisced about junior/​senior proms she and her husband had gone to in their dating days. Another man remarked he hadn’t been able to afford to go to prom as a kid, what with all the expense of fancy clothes and hair and dinner.

A school bus honked at the assembled prom-goers as it drove by the house and passed the construction work on the other side.

The trucks had apparently arrived several weeks earlier — a bit of a surprise to some of the landowners. They had leased their rights years earlier as part of a group — long before the Marcellus Shale was a familiar term. The new road was cut between two older farm houses.

The home across the rural route — the one adorned with prom-goers and their paparazzi — had a commanding view of the valley below. It was a place worthy of family picnics, sledding and posing before big dances.

Proms reflect the era, which is why they show up in so many movies with the dress and tuxedo styles capturing the moment. Baby blue tux? The 1970s. Big hair? Probably the 1980s. Who couldn’t love the 1950s cars that carried the girls who’d been poured into cocktail dresses to the dance in “Grease.”

Generally, it is only in hindsight that the markers of a particular time can be identified. Or at least appreciated by those closest to the event — those focused in the short term on keeping their up-dos from undoing, on catching the slow dances, on enjoying these last days of high school.

On this night, it seemed to take forever before the limo driver opened the door to his enormous vehicle. Couples climbed in as parents hurried to snap another good shot.

The big car lumbered out of the driveway, away from the SUVs, pickup trucks and sedans scattered on the lawn — heading off to the promenade at the nearby high school.

As the white limo turned right, a muddy work truck loaded with equipment from the drill rig pulled out of the new road across the street and turned left.

Teresa Lindeman is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette (tlindeman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2018).

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