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Flo’s Wisdom—on the Eve of 50 Years as a Waitress at Pamela’s

Around 1 p.m., right after the lunch rush, 87-year old Flo Silbach will start slowing down. She won’t quit, though. Oh no, no way she’s quitting. Her shift at Pamela’s Diner in Millvale doesn’t end until four. So, instead of shuffling around the tables and booths, jotting down orders in neat cursive and clearing empty …

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Sarah’s Wisdom Behind the Counter

“Okay, what’s today’s joke?” The guy at the counter orders his Americano, sits down, lets the anticipation build for a few seconds. His eyes are dancing behind thick black glasses, grinning like he’s about to bubble over into a thousand little joy bubbles, because he’s got a joke. Today’s joke. “Okay, ready? Why do restaurants …

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Tommy the Unlikely Donut Man

Tommy Gozion had never made a donut in his entire life. Which was weird, given the fact that he tacked some neon to the storefront along Route 8 and announced to the world that Valencia Donut was open for business. The idea of donuts popped into his head when he was at the beach a …

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All Quiet on the Ohio—Just the Way He Likes It

There’s a lot of sitting and waiting, on a day like this. The water in the Ohio is calm, running chocolate-brown like something out of Willy Wonka’s Factory. Clear, blue sky. A handful of cottony clouds skirting by. Nothing like the winter, when the damned ice ensures you can barely move. When you worry about …

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Thrifty Tom and His Peanut Butter

The 52-ounce can of Planter’s Peanuts came from Sam’s Club. Because they’re the best, really. Extra Large Virginia Peanuts. You’ll never find a bad one in the bunch. And the food processor? Well, yeah, originally it rolled off some assembly line at GE with an outrageous price tag, but here’s the secret: buy them at …

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A Baker’s Ways

Calling it “Joe’s Bakery” would never work. Who wants to buy pastries from some guy named Joe? At least, that’s what Joe thought. And if Joe thought it, others might be thinking it, too. So, he named his bakery in honor of his daughter, Dana. For the past 37 years, Joe has been turning on …

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Walking the Dog with Dave

Dave has his boss’s dog on a leash. A yippy little black and brown dog the size of a football that is completely oblivious to its unimpressive size, snorting and slobbering its way down the sidewalk near its home on Observatory Hill. It looks like Dave is walking the dog. But the dog is walking …

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The Corner Barber Shop

The guy currently occupying the Emil C. Paidar barber chair circa 1932 showed up at 11:30 a.m., half an hour before the Humble Barber Co. opened for the day. He thought he’d be the first in line. Turns out, he’s second. Which might have seemed odd. But the last time he walked through the doors …

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A Fine Suit of Clothes

You’re never going to see him cross his arms. Why risk wrinkling his suit? You’ll also never see him walking around with scuffs on his shoes, covered in dirt from the last steps he took. No chance he’s going to ruin his soles. Has about a gazillion of them. He likes the suedes. Likes his …

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The Voice of…Living

It’s that voice. Like smoldering embers from a raging bonfire, three ice-cold rocks swimming in aged whiskey. No, make that scotch. Deep. Mysterious. Alluring. The no-way-in-hell-you-can-or-want-to-ignore-that voice. “Yeah, all coming from a short, skinny guy in Baden.” The short, skinny guy in Baden is leaning out of his kitchen door, taking a few long drags …

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A Crumbling Pittsburgh Treasure

There may be an historical marker outside 1727 Bedford Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, but the building’s condition says a lot more than the words on the marker. Plywood patches where a front door used to be. Beyond it, plaster has fallen from the interior walls, exposing the crumbling red brick frame. The living room …

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The World Through a Food Truck

“Just don’t tell Baba our chicken is better.” It’s the only request Ryah asks customers who stop by to visit Leena’s, the food truck she operates out of a ’91 Chevy Step Van that began its life delivering the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Baba is her father, Mohammad, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp before …

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Seeing a Garden in a Pile of Debris

Julia had fired up the chainsaw because she had been bored, really. Retirement had been fun for an hour or two, but she needed something to do. She had grown tired of watching people dump things in the vacant lot adjacent to her East Hills home: couches, loveseats, enough beer cans to make you a …

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Mario’s Corner of the World in Sewickley

Mario spends most of his life in the dungeon. That’s what he likes to call his Sewickley Shoe Repair shop, the dungeon, although his beaming face betrays him. His customers come from all over—Aliquippa, Cranberry, Erie, Weirton—ready to launch with their “savior of my sole” puns. They’re mostly right, because there isn’t much that Mario …

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Gino

Dinners plus two daily sides and bread…$6 each reads the inner page of a card-sized, laminated menu. Breaded Veal, Roast Beef, Cube Steak, Hot Sausage, Meatloaf, Chicken…all $6.00. The bread comes from Mancini’s, “Proudly Served” according to the banner hanging from the ceiling. Photography by John Altdorfer Gino has been operating his namesake restaurant at …

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The Basement of Precision

The fork brace will steady the custom-built 1973 FXE that’s currently in progress. Right now, it’s sitting on a lift in the garage that sits in the alley behind Jeff’s house, sandwiched between single rows of towering red T&E tool chests and a ’75 Camaro waiting patiently for plates and insurance. That unsteadiness is what …

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Offering a Way Out

There are about two dozen men—black, white, young, old—gathered in a well-lit commercial space that occupies 704 Main Street, Sharpsburg. In the front window is a white cross with an orange life preserver draped over it that reads Jesus Saves Lives. Anchored against the interior wall, in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors hangs a wooden cross—about …

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James Dean

Half of James Dean’s body is under the hood of a ’63 Chevelle that’s missing all of its doors, a portion of his 50 years hanging over navy blue work pants as he twists awkwardly, trying to get the right angle. He’s in the middle of grinding a piece of metal, orange-tipped sparks cascading overhead …

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