American Spirit

Sarah’s Wisdom Behind the Counter

by Kate Benz, photography by John Altdorfer
“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.

Tommy the Unlikely Donut Man

by Kate Benz, photography by John Altdorfer
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.

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

by Kate Benz, photography by John Altdorfer
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…

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.

A Baker’s Ways

Calling it “Joe’s Bakery” would never work. Who wants to buy pastries from some guy named Joe?

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.

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.

A Fine Suit of Clothes

by Kate Benz, photography by John Altdorfer
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…

The Voice of…Living

by Kate Benz, photography by John Altdorfer
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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

Gino

Dinners plus two daily sides and bread…$6 each reads the inner page of a card-​sized, laminated menu.

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…
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