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I’ll write more on Wednesday, because I’m pretty beat now — working a shift during the afternoon, co-hosting Craft Beer School and then going back to work for an election night shift will do that.

But I had a great time at Beer School, and I hope you did too. If you were there, I really appreciated it.

in session.

By this time tomorrow, I will be basking in the glow of a successfully completed Craft Beer School.

(Actually, at this time tomorrow, I’ll be back in the newsroom, typing in election results. Small newsroom, election night — there’s pretty much no way around it…)

I’ve done a lot of bitching about being nervous about tomorrow night; that’s because I’m actually nervous about tomorrow night. But I’m also a little more confident about how things will go than I’m letting on.

I talked with Tony, the host of the Craft Beer School series, about how things will go. I also did my own tasting session tonight at our kitchen table; I found three of the four beers we’re sampling tomorrow and wrote up some notes, so I know what to expect. Pilsners are tough, in the sense that the flavor differences are subtle; it’s not like trying to suss out the differences between a couple of IPAs, so I think the little preview I set up for myself is going to be helpful.

As I said — I’m a little nervous about this. But you guys have been very encouraging, and I appreciate that. There are a shit-ton of you coming to watch, and I appreciate that even more. Knowing that there are a bunch of you in the audience — even if I can’t actually see you past the stage lights — is going to help me enjoy myself. I hope you guys will too.

See y’all tomorrow.


beerschool 004

If you skipped class last night, you missed a good time.

Mrs. Crappy and I attended this fall first session of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Craft Beer School on Tuesday, mostly because of the co-host: our own Father Spoon, of the infamous Should I Drink That? podcast. Spoon and our mutual friend Tony Knipling of Vecenie Distributing in Millvale had some winners picked out for us, and were pretty entertaining along the way.

The beers and my Twittered notes from last night (along with some additional comments):

  • Victory Festbier: Hoppier than expected at the start. Crisp finish. Very good. (The folks at Victory love their hops, and it’s unusual for the style to have them so prominent. But it’s not over the top, and it’s a nice changeup from some of the malty beasts we usually see this time of year.)
  • Dogfishhead Punkin Ale; Mild, balanced flavor. Real pumpkin ale, not just spiced. (That sounds like a slam on the nutmeg-y beers that start showing up in the fall; it’s not. I love most of ’em, but Punkin is near the top of my list.)
  • BrewDog Punk IPA: This one is a challenge; thump of hops, rich underneath. I like; I am in the minority. (Seriously. I was the only one at our table who liked this. It’s an unusual flavor for an IPA, and it’s not dry at all — I’d like to have another taste of this one.)
  • Troegs JavaHead Stout (debuted in our backyard): It kicks ass, but you knew that already. (This is the one that Dahcheet brought from Harrisburg for us to sample at the Pizza-Off, a couple weeks before it had it’s first official appearance in the Burgh. The coffee flavor is enormous, but, surprisingly, not out of balance. If you like the coffee-flavored stuff, you need to give this a try.)

We also had good food, a taste of another — very different — pumpkin beer afterwards, a little time with two of our favorite Jens (Jenn and Jenda) before they had to split for Stomp’s opening show. Can’t beat a night like that.

If you missed it last night, you have another opportunity in a month. Spoon may not be the host — unless the trust asks him back later — but you’ll still get good beer, good beer knowledge and an excellent night. My advice? Don’t skip class ever again.

flw, ftw.


On Saturday, I was able to check a couple significant things off my list of stuff to see — along with my parents, we toured Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the mountains east of Pittsburgh.

Wright built a stairway to a small deck at the creek, so the Kaufmanns could be that much closer to the spot they chose for the home. You can hear the waterfall in every room of the house.

Fallingwater was first, and I may be the only one in our group who felt fortunate to be in the house while a thunderstorm rolled by. Our guide explained that FLW tried to blur the barriers between the structure and the cliffs, forest and water that surrounds it. With the rain falling as we looked out the corner bedrooms on the second and third floors, that line disintigrated further. I’ve never been in a structure that would have put its residents so close to their surroundings; turn nearly any corner and you’re faced with a wall of windows or a doorway to one of the terraces that jut out over the gorge.

The entrance to Kentuck Knob. The orange tile to the right of the door is Wright's signature, a practice he started late in his career. Our guide said he didn't leave a similar signature at Fallingwater.
The entrance to Kentuck Knob. The orange tile to the right of the door is Wright's signature, a practice he started late in his career. Our guide said he didn't leave a similar signature at Fallingwater.

As beautiful as Fallingwater is, I might have liked Kentuck Knob better, at least in once sense — I have an easier time imagining that I could live there. The proportions are more traditional, thanks to the occasional insistence of the Hagans, the Uniontown family that commissioned the home, that some of the original plans be altered to better suit their needs.

The design of Kentuck Knob is based on hexagons and triangles, and they are everywhere. This is a drain spout in the carport there.

Guides in both homes referred to Wright’s practice of “client-proofing” his structures, or building them in a manner that they could not be easily altered down the road. And although he acquiesced to several of the changes the Hagans requested, he was notoriously cranky about doing so.

More hexagons at Kentuck Knob, this time in the form of skylights along the rear porch.

He was equally notorious about underestimating the cost of his projects; according to our Kentuck Knob guide, the Kaufmanns, for whom Fallingwater was built, advised the Hagans to tell Wright they were willing to spend about half of what they could actually afford when they asked him to build the house.


Both homes are worth the trip, and the money you’re asked to pay to see them. Both are breathtaking, and if you haven’t seen them already, you should go.


The trip also generated two grumbles; neither were a big enough deal to spoil the day, but both, I think, are significant enough to address.

Fallingwater carport. The last stop on the Fallingwater tour is the former guest house carport, which has been enclosed and fitted with Wright-style sofas that patrons are encouraged to sit on. There’s also a large television in the room and a staff member who greets you and chats a little bit while everyone gets settled.

What I expected: A final chance to ask questions about the property and maybe a short video about the home’s recent restoration or other ongoing projects. What we got: A 10-minute commercial for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy — the group that owns Fallingwater — including a pretty heavy-handed pitch to leave some money in a donation box at the front of the room. I understand that the conservancy is a non-profit. I realize that the upkeep of that property must come at an astronomical cost. And while I’m familiar with the conservancy and what it does because I live here, I know that many visitors won’t have the same knowledge. So take 60 seconds and explain that the conservancy is a non-profit and that donations would be appreciated. Have someone available to answer questions about the conservancy and its mission. But when you force patrons to sit though that pitch at the end of the tour, you risk turning happy customers into grumpy people. I know we weren’t the only ones griping.


Photo policy. First: no interior photographs, at either home. No problem; these are museums, and few museums allow patrons to shoot their stuff. But then, there is this, on the back of each and every ticket at Fallingwater:

Through purchase of an admission ticket to Fallingwater, visitors agree that photographs, paintings and sketches of Fallingwater are not to be offered for sale or exploited for any commercial purpose or in any way made available for any third-party use.  All photographs, paintings and sketches generated during your visit are for personal use only, and cannot be sold, published or posted on a website without permission of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Original works may be exhibited, but reproductions or prints may not be produced. This includes, but is not limited to all photographs, paintings, sketches and drawings generated during your visit.

OK. The non-commercial part is fine; that, in fact, is perfectly in-line with the Creative Commons license I’ve chosen for this site. But, I still have questions for the folks at Fallingwater. You tell me my photographs cannot be displayed on a website. You tell me they can be exhibited. What if I choose to exhibit them here? Does that constitute a violation of your policy?


Hm. I guess we’ll find out.

twenty five.

I’ve been tagged for this over and over and over, so it’s a little hard to ignore. I am, however, ignoring most of the rules:

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

Just about everyone I know has been tagged already, so I’m skipping that part. If you haven’t yet been tagged, consider this as your big chance.

1. I saw the Grateful Dead 39 times between 1984 and 1995. Eight different states. By far the most shows at the old Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland.

2. The best show? Could be Atlanta or Hampton ’88, could be one of a couple shows at Deer Creek, could be night one of the run at Chapel Hill. The worst? A clunker at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1992. I should have known better than go to Detroit for spring break.

3. I wasted a lot of time mourning Garcia’s death in 1995 when I could have been seeing some kickass Phish shows.

4. My Pittsburgh friends assume I know much more about technology than I actually do.

5. I never had a craft beer epiphany — no one single moment when I realized I had been wasting my life drinking Budweiser and Old Milwaukee.

6. My favorite beer? Way too difficult. My favorite brewery? Also difficult; let’s go with East End for now.

7. I realized that writing might be the way to go for me when I researched and wrote my first-ever term paper — for a composition class during my junior year of high school — the night before it was due. I got an A minus, after being docked a few points for typos.

8. If I had to give up every single other sport I watch in favor of just one, the one I would pick would be college football. And it’s not even close.

9. I still think journalism is important. I’m not yet sure where I’ll be doing my thing in the near future, though.

10. I went through a vodka phase when I was younger. That’s over now, for the most part. I’ll have bourbon or Irish whiskey, please.

11. I am proud to carry on my father’s fondness for Manhattans.

12. I love cooking. I don’t do it enough.

13. I’m pretty good with Italian food, too, although I have absolutely no Italian in me whatsoever. I make better spaghetti and meatballs than you do.

14. Sometime during the mid-1990s, I stopped skiing. For no reason. There was still snow, and I still had skis; I just didn’t go. That changed a few years ago, when I did a story about the little tiny ski hill at Boyce Park, a county park east of Pittsburgh. I haven’t stopped since. I don’t think I could stop ever again.

15. I used to be a pretty good water skiier too, good enough that I made OU’s team the first time I tried out. I know why I stopped that, though — I got fat and it hurt my back.

16. I think Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both abysmal as solo artists. If there was ever a musical couple who needed each other, it’s those two.

17. I recently became a homeowner. After three months, I still wonder how that happened. And I’m still thrilled that it did.

18. I’m a cat person. Always have been.

19. I hope I always have some kind of homemade jewelry hanging on my wrists.

20. I hate spiders. And I’m afraid of heights.

21. I declared myself an NFL free agent fan in 1996, after the Browns left for Baltimore. It’s possible I could do that again, if I am forced to endure another few seasons like the one that just finished.

22. If Athens, Ohio, had a newspaper worth a shit, I might still be there. I loved that town that much.

23. I love jazz in all its flavors. if you ask me to choose a genre, I’m going to pick Dixieland. Every time.

24. I don’t think I’ll ever learn to dress like a grownup.

25. I’m lucky. I married the person I was supposed to spend my life with.

something else.

As hockey season winds to a close and baseball … well, the Indians can’t hit and the Pirates are just being the Pirates … it’s getting close to the time when I have to find something else to occupy my time until college football starts.

Yes. That would be around mid-July.

The Wife makes a year-round habit of sitting on the front porch and reading; I don’t mind the cold, but sitting on our porch for any extended period of time in February isn’t high on my list. I tend to wait until the weather gets warm to join her. And that works well — between now and October, I have the chance to sit with her and get through some of the books I’ve been putting off.

I have a pretty good start — three of them going at once.

News Junkie, Jason Leopold: This will be a quickie. This memoir was written when Leopold was Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires; he’s since worked for several other print and online publications. I’m having a hard time with his professional ethics, or the lack thereof. He’s been involved in a bunch of big stories and won some recognition; he’s also had full stories retracted by Salon and run into other problems. It’s fascinating; it’s also pissing me off.

Big Weather, Mark Svenvold: The writer follows an experienced storm-chaser around the Midwest. Anyone who knows Weather Freak Boy shouldn’t be surprised I’m enjoying this.

Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace: This collection of essays is a warm-up for the summer’s main event — Infinite Jest, the novel that’s been mocking me from the bookshelves in our living room. All 1,078 pages of it. I’m loving the first book, though. Detailed, dense and hysterical.

Aside from Infinite Jest, there are a couple others I’ll tackle this summer as well. While nosing through an antiques shop in Gettysburg last fall, I found something I didn’t know existed — an account of the Kent State shootings written by James Michener. I’ve always been fascinated by the student riots that swept across Ohio in 1970, and to find that Michener had written about Kent State was a nice surprise. And then there’s The Joke’s Over, a memoir by artist Ralph Steadman that focuses on his relationship with Hunter Thompson. There are a lot of terrible HST biographies out there (E. Jean Carroll’s book Hunter comes to mind) but Steadman was close enough — but also prickly enough — that I’m expecting a good story that doesn’t veer off into fawning.

Lighter stuff? Newsweek. Sports Illustrated. Relix. Beer magazines and tabs. Starting in July, college football preview magazines. And then there’s the two or three newspapers I pick up every day. Just like you guys do.


Of course.