The Next Page: Their Daily Labor
My North Side neighborhood of Deutschtown lost a good man, and an asset to the community, when Dan Bauer died a few weeks ago, at age 52. He was not a doctor, CEO, or lawyer. He was a car mechanic who owned a tiny garage.
The franchising of businesses in America has created millions of jobs but personal customer service has suffered over the years. Dan treated us like individuals instead of statistics. Auto dealers now make more profit on warranties and parts, instead of on selling the ca. He made money by fixing them.
A while ago, Dan was unusually confounded for two weeks because he could not lower the idle in my old convertible. When he realized the tiny dealer replacement part he had installed had been altered slightly over the years, he corrected the piece in his shop. When I picked up the smoothly running vehicle, it had been washed and waxed! "Because," he said, "I had it so long," even though he knew I still had my work van to drive the entire time.
In Brian O'Neill's book about Pittsburgh, "The Paris of Appalachia," he explains how service jobs are the necessary "glue" which makes our lives move along day to day. The waitresses, cabbies, janitors and others are often taken for granted. The "lamplighters" that Tom Waits sings of no longer exist, but their modern counterparts do. Lance Armstrong spoke here during a cancer charity event in 2004. He commented that during the worst of his chemotherapy, "my doctors were vital, sure. But it was the nurses who brought me comfort each day."
Dan Bauer brought us comfort also by keeping our transportation working.
At 15, I got a job as a dishwasher at Stouffer's on Penn Avenue, Downtown. It was life-changing. From that point forward waitresses, waiters, cooks and restaurants looked different to me. I now knew that the smoother things went, and the better the food, the harder the staff was working -- and the more the owners cared about their customers.
My favorite restaurant is The Cafe on the Strip, at 19th and Penn Avenue. The owner is David Mingrone, who works in the kitchen, while his mother, Cheryl, waitresses in the dining room and at the sidewalk tables. A small, pretty blond woman with an infectious smile, Cheryl is the main cog amid one or two other friendly women who serve customers.
The first time that I ate there, the freshly prepared food, ambience and music reminded me of the small family restaurants I enjoyed in Italy. I have eaten at Cafe several times each month for the past few years and I never cease to be impressed how the small staff handles the rotation of tables that are replenished with people of all ages and backgrounds. If there is a problem it is immediately solved and people leave smiling and content. If someone orders "off the menu," as a dear friend of mine is notorious for doing, the request is accommodated without complaint.
It is not a coincidence that Cafe on the Strip is a busy place where customers return to. You can even have a free glass of homemade wine with your meal. Observing the action there, I feel like I am watching a ballet. I am glad I washed dishes as a teenager at Stouffer's and can appreciate this. If Chef Gordon Ramsay was checking out the place for his TV show, I bet he would say to Cheryl and David, "Keep doing what you're doing. You have it right."
I have had a booth at the Three Rivers Arts Festival for 10 years, selling my paintings and prints. Prior to that, I had drawn caricatures there as well as at dozens of mall shows throughout the Eastern states. I have been involved in hundreds of events. There is fun to be had, but it is hard work. Working long hours in all types of weather, hauling displays and art during set-up and tear-down, in order to handle customers of all types, is grueling.
At our arts festival, the huge event is handled by a tiny year-round staff that is augmented by dozens of volunteers during festival time. This crew serves hundreds of exhibitors and food vendors and dozens of musical acts, while accommodating hundreds of thousands of attendees.
Local TV news has a love affair with bad weather, or even the possibility of it, the way a child anticipates candy. I have been in Three Rivers Arts Festivals when the festival began with eight, nine and even 10 straight days of sun. Not a single TV crew comes by. When it drizzles the next day, every station sends a camera. We can argue the merits of this but what is undeniable is that they never effectively report the amazing job the volunteers, staff and exhibitors do when cleaning up after a bad storm.
One year, a strange weather phenomenon called a "microburst" suddenly hit, around 8 pm, as the artist's market was closing and the last band was getting ready on the Point State Park stage. It caused turmoil and real danger to anyone nearby, especially those of us in Gateway Center, as well as thousands of dollars of damage. This event was worth reporting. What was left out of the broadcasts was that the festival crew, staff and exhibitors did such a great job of cleaning up the mess, working until sun-up, that the next day there was no evidence that anything unusual had occurred.
Corporate funders and other benefactors of the Three Rivers Arts Festival deserve lots of recognition and air time, which they receive. But while it only takes a minute or two to write a check, it takes thousands of work hours, much of them unpaid, to put on the event. It is the volunteers and staff who deserve the bulk of our thanks.
Musicians. We love them. We sway, tap our feet, clap and sometimes weep. I did so recently when Pittsburgh's Glenn Pavone, the extraordinary rock-and-blues guitar player, recently lost a 20-month battle with cancer.
Like Dan Bauer, Glenn was my age, 52. I believe that God works through people and, for me, Glenn is evidence of that. Amid this great loss I took some comfort in knowing that all the news sources accurately reported that he was an even finer person than a guitar player -- and that is saying a lot! Like Dan, he was not rich, nor did he carry a prestigious title. But if one can measure the human heart, he would be royalty.
Originally from Virginia, Glenn was the local rock-and-blues equivalent of the Southern Gentleman. I learned a lot by realizing that this talented man gained more from life by having a quiet and observant demeanor, instead of having a loud and boisterous one. A packed funeral home and church service confirmed this. He let his instrument talk for him. As friend and former bandmate, Billy Price said, "Glenn was touched by the Divine." But why did he die? Because we all will. Why was he here? I could list a thousand reasons.
What most people do not think about is that, before the music, and after the music, musicians haul speakers, drums, keyboards, horns, guitars, microphones and wires, up and down steps, onto service elevators, pass by trash dumpsters, and drive hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands, to make music for us. This is done while also trying to keep some sense of balance in their personal life.
The music field has no middle class. The famous musicians we all enjoy are just a drop in the ocean of players living as described here. Enjoy what they do, as they would want. But remember Glenn, and all the rest, the next time music makes you feel something, and the hat is passed.
These are just some of the vital figures that glue our society together with their daily labor. I add in the nurses, barbers, crossing guards, volunteers, jitney drivers and others to that impressively long list. They truly are the super glue.
Be generous when tipping, and even more so when expressing your appreciation. Remember them at Christmas. May we never take them for granted.
First Published September 5, 2010 12:00 am