04 June 2009

A Tale of Two Cities (With Apolgoies to Dickens)

I love hockey. Sorry that I may disappoint my more radical Anarchist friends but give me a hockey game at any level, a beer and I'm one happy Buddhist camper. Right here in Pittsburgh we have game 4 of the Stanley Cup about to start. I love the Penguins. Sorry again. As Anarchists we are supposed to be sullen, moody individualists cursing such institutions that advocate mandatory dress codes in the form of the dreaded "white out." Sorry to my Buddhist pals, we are not supposed to be attached to anything, right ? Well, Nirvana just might be a little closer if # 87 hoists the cup over his head.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were born the same year as me, 1967. Like me, they've undergone a few changes in ownership, close brushes with bankruptcy and a will to fight on despite the fact that their fan base had dwindled. We've both been locked-out, cursed-out and nearly knocked-out by forces beyond our control but still we soldier on.

Many local, and national, news sources are starting to pick up on the whole "rust belt" Stanley Cup finals between two declining industrial towns. They point to Pittsburgh as what Detroit should aspire to, since Pittsburgh is (by their definition) so much further ahead. Here's a story from Detroit. And here's another from....Fort Worth ?? Pittsburgh is no longer a steel town, Detroit is no longer a car town. On and on and on.

What nobody wants to point out is that both cities were killed by the same gun- globalization. Pittsburgh's mills and Detroit's car manufacturing were both killed by political decisions. Both were done in by cheaper foreign labor and a government lacking the resolve to protect industries of national importance. I know, I know, you are screaming right now and jumping up and down- it was the unions that were paid too much, management that was paid too much, not enough innovation etc. etc. Believe it or not, I have an MBA and understand these things. In fact, I'm looking at it right now. Huh, nice. And where has globalization gotten us to ? Cheap Hyundais, and empty main streets in Detroit and Pittsburgh.

I remember when I was a kid heading home from the arena. On the right side of the road, sitting against the Monongahela River were massive steel works. Fire and smoke belched into the night sky. A vision of Hell but in some ways comforting as well. Roll down your window and hear the mill's roar, smell the stink. The slag piles were massive cliffs with burning saplings as new hot slag was dumped down the hill. I still remember that, small burning bushes in the night.

Ride up the River and the mills are gone. Redevelopment of office parks and technology companies. Mill towns are a shadow of their former selves. The Churches speak the names of where the workers were from- England, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Ireland, on and on. Except there are no parishoners. The kids have moved on. They are now living in enemy territory- home of the Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes. Towns with no hockey history, undeserving of even having a franchise. The homes of the suits and the fur coats, the place to be seen. But now that you can't win anything the pretty boys and girls have left the building.

Bring the teams back to where they belong. Working towns like the Original Six and their expansion brethren of 1967. We are the idiots still hanging on to a hope and a belief, a fierce love of where we are from and witnesses to how a team can briefly bring us all together. Pittsburgh is a strange place that way. A Bermuda Triangle of loyalty that can have have atheists hugging priests, conservatives hugging liberals and myself telling everyone to go fuck themselves. Good luck Pens, bring it on home.

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