Friday, August 31, 2007

Playing Catch-Up

If you're one of the three people who regularly read this page, you may have noticed that it hasn't been updated in quite a while. Unfortunately, I'll have to resort to the usual excuse for things of this nature- I've simply been too busy. Part of why I've been so busy, though, is that Mighty Mahoning has moved its headquarters from Cleveland to Youngstown. Obviously, this is a good thing- why would you want to be anywhere else?

Anyhow, there are a few Youngstown-related things to catch up on.

Chris Barzak World Domination Day

August 28 was unofficially designated "Chris Barzak World Domination Day" by our good friends over at the Oakland. The reason for this, of course, was that his first novel, One for Sorrow, was released on that day. If you've been keeping up with the other Youngstown blogs (and of course you have), you've probably already heard about this. There are lots of interesting and exciting things to say about this, and presumably, many of them have already been said. In simplest terms, though, it's something for us all to be proud of and it's another great example of what a great scene we have when it comes to the arts here. I urge you to read the book (I hear it's great, although I haven't read it yet myself) and check out Barzak's blog over at

Something to Crow About

County fair, county fair
Everybody in town'll be there
So come on, hey, we're goin' down there
Hey, little girl with the long blond hair
Come win your daddy one of them stuffed bears
Baby, down at the county fair."

-Bruce Springsteen, County Fair

This weekend, as you know, is the Canfield Fair, one of the supremely important items on the Youngstown area calendar every year. It's hard to articulate just why I love the fair. As a city kid, I know very little about what qualifies a pig as a blue ribbon winner or just how one can grow a pumpkin the size of a Geo. The smell of several tons of horse and cow manure is a pretty foreign and pretty awful scent for me, too. It's not that I dislike the country life, it's just that I can't relate. Regardless, I love the fair.

Of course, everyone loves the fair. It's a great tradition and one that has been more or less preserved in its proper state even though everything else around it has changed. One imagines that, when the fair first started, Canfield was a pretty remote place, made up almost entirely of farmland. Obviously, things have changed around town- but the fair really hasn't. That's reassuring for a lot of people. The fact that things are almost always the same there- sights, sounds, smells- brings back lots of memories.


The Penguins take on the Buckeyes this weekend in the Tressel Bowl. I'll be there, proudly clad in my Defend Youngstown t-shirt. Go Penguins.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Seen Around Town, Vol. I

The old Stambaugh's Hardware near Elm Road in Warren once had the phrase "Improve your home" proudly painted on the side of the building in huge letters, easily visible from the highway. Over time, the building underwent some changes, and either a paint job or wall replacement ended up altering the writing on the side of the building. It's blank and nondescript now, but up until a couple of years ago, the side of the building had the following phrase, which I would see as I drove back and forth to college in Cleveland:

"Improve your ho."

Wise advice. Wise advice indeed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"...Now That's Italian."

Tonight, Thursday, marks the beginning of the 2007 Brier Hill Italian Fest, which runs until Sunday night. This year is, I believe, the 16th year for the Fest, which features Italian food, Italian music, and loads of other things (including some of the best people-watching opportunities you'll have anywhere in the city).

The Fest takes place right in the heart of the old Brier Hill neighborhood, down the hill from St. Anthony's. The Brier Hill neighborhood was the heart of mill life in Youngstown for years. Although the neighborhood had people from a number of ethnic backgrounds, it was always a predominantly Italian place. This Italian population was the source of much of the Italian-American culture in this area. (Of course, Brier Hill culture is a little different than your run-of-the-mill Italian-American culture. Words like "sangweech" and "manicotts" aren't exactly textbook Italian terms, for example.)

There's not much left of the old neighborhood, but the Fest, which is overseen by a committee of people who mostly grew up in Brier Hill, does a great job of recapturing what it must have felt like back in the neighborhood's glory days. The Fest closes each year on Sunday night with a performance by one of Youngstown's best live acts, Dom Tocco and the Brotherhood. Tocco himself hails from Brier Hill, so his annual performance at the Italian Fest is usually one of his best.

Unfortunately, the Feast of the Assumption up in Cleveland's Little Italy is also going on this weekend so, if Italian festivals are your thing, you'll have to split time between the two. If you're from Youngstown, though, be sure to get down to Brier Hill and experience a little bit of true Italian-Youngstown-American culture. You might even want to pick yourself up a "Youngstown, Ohio: Mobtown, USA" t-shirt from the Trolio's booth.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

WFMJ Covers Youngstown Blog Movement

Last night, on the 6 o'clock news, WFMJ ran a brief story on the Youngstown blog phenomenon. A number of sites were mentioned, including Youngstown Pride, Defend Youngstown, and the Mayor's blog. Our own Mighty Mahoning was even shown briefly on screen. I wasn't contacted about this story (nor would I expect to have been), but a few of my fellow bloggers were and had the chance to offer their input. Defend Youngstown's Phil Kidd was even interviewed on camera.

Obviously, I'm happy about all of this. It's great to see the online movement get some press. Letting people know about these sites and what they represent can, hopefully, help spread the wave of positivity that's starting to gain momentum around the city. Despite the progress that Youngstown is making, we still have a long way to go- and a positive attitude about what's going on and where we're heading is an incredibly important part of the long-term solution.

I honestly do believe in the aforementioned "wave of positivity," by the way. Look at what's been going on in the debate about the median strips on Federal Street. Regardless of how you feel about the issue (I happen to be on the side of keeping the green space intact- i find it ironic that we're known for one of the largest city parks in the country but have next to no green space at all downtown), you have to be happy that people actually care about it- and care about it enough to cause a controversy. As Mangino said on 570 the other day, it's refreshing to see that this is even an issue- that Youngstowners care about downtown enough to want to make sure that it looks nice and that there's enough parking downtown to accommodate everyone who they truly believe will come down there for different events.

We're continuing to hear mixed reviews about what's going on downtown. For example, although the WWE events that recently took place in the Chevy Centre have been praised as a huge success, the arena continues to lose money. People are coming downtown, though- I was at the Italian Fest on Friday and saw a pretty good crowd (one that was, as I've heard, dwarfed the following night by the crowd that came down to hear Dom Tocco and the Brotherhood, that most Youngstown of bands). The Italian Fest actually moved back to downtown from the Canfield Fairgrounds- something I never thought I'd see. As the radio promos for the SteelHounds are fond of saying, "something's howling down on Front Street" and throughout the downtown area.

The local media is also picking up on this. I've criticized the Vindicator for its anti-Youngstown agenda (and, I still feel, rightly so), but local TV and radio is doing a much better job at helping advance the city's resurgence. WYTV (Channel 33), for example, recently built a studio downtown with glass walls that look out toward the street, and they frequently cover positive, semi-newsworthy events in the city (like a recent beer tasting event at the Youngstown Club)- the type of things the Vindicator only covers if they happen in Boardman. 570 WKBN's morning and evening drive time shows have also done a nice job of balancing coverage of the city, of the surrounding areas, and of national issues (despite callers' best efforts to steer every conversation toward what's happening at GM and Delphi).

What's going on around the city right now is great. It's particularly exciting to see so many young people (many of whom had parents that moved away from the city years ago) get involved and get passionate about the city. That's what it's going to take. Okay, admittedly, it will take more than just that- but that's the crucial first piece we've been missing for decades. I'm glad to be a part of this movement.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Y, Wild West

Youngstown is like nowhere else. It's been compared to a lot of places, of course, with varying degrees of success. It's a little like New Jersey (at least the Sopranos version of New Jersey), it's kind of a cross between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, it's sort of a smaller version of Chicago, it's possibly the point where the Midwest, the Northeast, and Appalachia all meet, and, maybe, it's reasonable to refer to Youngstown at times as "Diet Akron." Still, though, Youngstown is a place all its own. But... if I had to compare it to anywhere else, I'd compare it to the Old West.

Sure, there's nothing typically "western" about the city (with the possible exception of the Chaney Cowboys), but there are a lot of more abstract similarities. First, there's that pioneer spirit. It's a hard life in Youngstown, and over the years, people have done a lot of crazy things to get by. Maybe you can say it started with John Young and his expedition to the Western Reserve. Ingenuity, creativity, hard work, and the odd effects of cultural isolation are all symptomatic of life in the City of Youngstown. We still value hard work, perseverance, and a fighting spirit. I've written a lot about Kelly Pavlik on this site, and for good reason- he's in many ways a living embodiment of what it means to be from Youngstown and that's one of the reasons Youngstowners find him so easy to root for. He's like us, he's one of us- boxing is the most "Youngstown" of all sports, and not just because of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini (Youngstown's Own Hands of Stone). It's the purest display of an individual's physical and mental toughness- and that's what it takes to grow up in the Yo.

In line with this, Youngstown also has an obvious appreciation for the culture of the outlaw. While we never really had any cowboys (except for, again, Chaney), we've certainly had our fair share of mobsters. And, as many others have said, Youngstown hasn't rejected this part of its identity. Rather, we've embraced it. Whether it's the "Mobtown USA" t-shirts at the Brier Hill Fest or the fact that we've voted for Traficant time and time again, there are clear signs all around town that we're proud of that aspect of our identity. Most of us recognize that organized crime and the political corruption that came along with it is one of the primary reasons our city has fallen apart, and most of us also realize that there's no place for organized crime in the city's current resurgence movement. Still, though, we think it's pretty cool that we had mobsters here.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of our "Old West" identity, though, is the general lawlessness of the city. Believe it or not, that's sort of a positive thing. Like one of those isolated mining towns in 19th century Arizona, this is a place where we pretty much make and enforce our own rules, ignoring the petty stuff so that we can go about our business. This is probably most obvious when it comes to driving. I think it's reasonable to say that no one in the city of Youngstown has properly used a blinker since the early 1970s. In addition, red lights and stops signs are pretty much optional for us. We've got bigger things to worry about around here- I'll drive how I want, you drive how you want, and we'll leave each other alone. Of course, you don't ever want to get into an accident, since pretty much nobody has auto insurance- but if everybody plays along, it should all work out. What's even better is that local law enforcement pretty much recognizes this fact. They'll take care of the robberies, the murders, and the other big stuff- just try to keep it under 65 on the side streets.

Obviously, this is all pretty tongue-in-cheek. The point is, though, that Youngstown is still, even after all these years, a place all its own. It doesn't really fit in with anywhere else. It's nice that the people at Cleveland Plus thought of us, but we're not really part of that crew. It's a special place, and maybe it's a place only those of us who grew up there can ever really understand or appreciate. Regardless, its our city, and its worth preserving, revitalizing, and defending.