#13 Rick Sebak TV Specials on WQED

Amongst leading experts, it is widely acknowledged that education must take place both inside and outside of the classroom. The role of the local school system is to teach children critical historical facts, such as the time George Washington lured enemy Frenchmen and Native Americans to an arts festival at the Point on a particularly rainy day during the French and Indian War. However, it is left to Yinzer parents to teach more recent history, including subjects like Pittsburgh’s bridge to “nowhere” and the mysterious sinking and disappearance of a B25 Bomber in the Monogahela River. Fortunately, Yinzer parents have a superior teaching tool for these lessons — Rick Sebak TV Specials on WQED.

The local expert on temporally-displaced things is Rick Sebak, who produces “scrapbook documentaries.”  In these specials, Yinzers are given the opportunity to wax nostalgic about things that are either not there any more, or are very different today. With old photos, film clips, and a player-piano soundtrack, people recall the time that the they met girls during Italian days or ate a very unusual sandwich.

Rick Sebak’s most-beloved special is Kennywood Memories, a 20-year old film that looks back at the local amusement park’s growth from a small park at the end of a commuter rail line to the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World” that filled the park with Yinzers in cut-off shorts and AC/DC t-shirts. The documentary provides Yinzers the opportunity to reflect on the good old days of their childhood and to tell their children just how much better Potato Patch fries were “back in the day.”

Other Rick Sebak blockbusters include the obviously-titled Things that Aren’t There Anymore, the not-what-you-think-it-is The Strip Show, the creepy A Cemetery Special, and the only-Yinzers-need-this-to-be-pointed-out What Makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh. While it is quite impressive that Rick Sebak has produced twenty-three documentaries through 2008, it might be an even greater Pittsburgh media achievement that none of his films are exclusively focused on the Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 70s.

The Pittsburgh PBS station, WQED, almost completely relies on Rick Sebak’s work for its funding. A totally fictional analysis of the PBS station’s books shows that sales of his specials alone account for 83% of the station’s budget each year. Further invented analysis shows that Kennywood Memories is responsible for about 46% of that total.

So, if you happen to run across a Yinzer, thank him for helping to finance your child’s obsession with Elmo through his purchase of another Sebak classic, A Program About Unusual Buildings & Other Roadside Stuff. Remember folks, he’s just doing it for the children.

#6 Giving Directions Using Landmarks that Don’t Exist Anymore

The next time you get lost on your way to a Yinzer’s firehall wedding/fundraiser, you may decide to stop and ask directions. If you’ve come prepared with your knowledge of historical architecture, or one your grandfather’s Moose club buddies, you’ll be just fine.

(For the record, Yinzer wedding/fundraiser isn’t a joke. It is not uncommon for 50/50 raffles to be held to help pay for the hoagie rolls.)

As an example of the bizarre nature of Pittsburgh’s “grid” layout, downtown Pittsburgh’s roadways are based on two intersecting series of roads — streets on the northern side (named with numbers), avenues on the southern side (also mostly named with numbers) — and they slam together at Liberty Avenue like two drunk Yinzers looking for cross-dressing hookers. As roads travel out from downtown into the various neighborhoods, they will often change names for no apparent reason except to spite the neighboring municipality by forcing them to buy a new sign.

In an effort to help navigate this confusing — even for a lifetime Pittsburgh resident — set of gravel/cobblestone/paved-but-full-of-potholes roadways, a Yinzer will help you navigate by landmarks instead of road names. Unfortunately, at least three of these landmarks no longer exist. Whether it be the five-and-dime that closed in 1967, the family’s home that burned down in 1982, or one of the many neighborhood Islay’s stores that haven’t been in operation since the Steelers won their second Super Bowl, you’re sure to have no better clue where you were going had you just tried to follow the ever-changing street signs.

A typical Yinzer trip plan could sound like this: “Go past the old Owls Club for about half a mile, turn right past where G. C. Murphy’s used to be, make a right and a quick left down the wrong way of a one-way street, then when you come up to the old coke works, it’ll be on your left.”

While this routing may be navigable now — most of these pieces of closed navigation still boast their original signage 40-years later — future generations of Yinzers will have a tough road ahead of them: “After the old Panera Bread you want to turn by where Starbucks used to be…no, not the one on the right side of the street, the one on the left…the one next to UPMC…no, not that UPMC, the one before that.”

For your best chance at getting around Pittsburgh, get a GPS. While directions from a Yinzer are a great history lesson in the Pittsburgh economy, they won’t get you anywhere but lost in Polish Hill. However, in the instances that even TomTom gets confused, pull over and ask for directions. Most importantly, get used to paying attention to faded signs.