Sunday, October 4, 2009

Alex & Shirley's-Bethlehem Pennsylvania

Kate’s Aunt Shirley and Uncle Alex live just outside Bethlehem, PA where we were scheduled to do a show at Home & Planet, an eclectic home furnishings and art gallery in an up and coming section of the old downtown. Bethlehem is an iconic symbol of the destruction of jobs and the disruption of lives that has occurred here in the heart of the Rust-Belt. While the industries that were destroyed here were anything but green, they represented both the ingenuity and work ethic of the American worker, and the arrogance and greed of the companies owners and executives that eventually caused their destruction. To me it also represents the opportunity we have to rebuild our industries with a new ecologically sound model and bring jobs back to the American people who are willing and able to work again.

Alex worked for Bethlehem Steel for almost 20 years when he lost his job as the company began the long slide from the largest steel producer in the world to its ultimate bankruptcy and eventual closing. During our conversations, Alex shed some light on the “glory days” of the American Steel industry and some of the causes of its demise. As one of the company’s top engineers, Alex helped manage the maintenance and logistics of the massive infrastructure that supported its operations. As we drove by the now empty shell of the 34 story building that used to house its headquarters, Alex shook his head and began to describe some of the perks and privileges that the same executives that had failed to see the handwriting on the wall received. This symbol of excess was actually built at a time when the industry was probably already in serious trouble, and while this same privileged group of executives completely failed to realize it, they continued to be rewarded for their incompetence. Alex described in detail the perks these executives were given. The private jets, golf memberships, and maintenance and upgrades on their homes at the company’s expense were just a few of the things they took for granted. They continued to stumble forward while their business dissolved around them, and the jobs that had once made this area a good place to live and raise a family were shipped overseas.

Unlike some of the cities we have been through that look almost like the bombed out remains of Europe after the war, Bethlehem has struggled but managed to remain as vibrant as possible under the circumstances. Although there are depressing rows of dilapidated houses in some areas, they are doing their best to reinvent themselves and create new jobs to keep their young from leaving. For the most part, these are people with a very strong work ethic, and while the Unions can also be blamed for many of the problems that led to their downfall, these are people who want to work and are willing to work hard. If only some of the billions of dollars we spent to prop up some of the worthless scum on Wall Street that got us into this mess had been spent to create new green industries in these hard hit areas, then perhaps there would have been real job creation in this country. I firmly believe that America can be a leader in creating these new green jobs, and these are the people who can do them.

Our show at Home & Planet( a huge success as the people of Bethlehem poured into the streets for this formerly run down business districts "First Friday” celebration. The crowd was predominately younger, but there was a good mix of all ages. At many points throughout the evening there was a line of people waiting on the sidewalk to view the Airstream. Up and down the boulevard people were playing music, eating food and getting pretty mellow on the wine that was being served in some of the shops. We stayed open until 10pm and really enjoyed our visit with the gracious people of this great American city.

We spent a couple of more days at Alex and Shirley’s while I did some maintenance on the Airstream. Their daughter Miranda graced us with a visit, and Shirley who is a Pillsbury Bake-Off prize winner and an excellent cook kept us well-fed. Alex helped me with the trailer and a few martinis to help ease the pain.

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