The Day I Played Chicken with a MACK Truck

November 23rd, 2014 No comments

2 inches more inches and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

I shouldn’t be here.

20 years ago today I was in accident which if the MACK truck hit me any harder I would have had a part of my car through my head.

Me inside the 1981 Monte Carlo

My 18th birthday and the new ride

The year was 1994, I was a freshman at UPT and it was the day before Thanksgiving break. I told my friend Kristi that I would drive her home so her parents wouldn’t have to come get her. It wasn’t really on the route that I would normally drive home but it wasn’t too far out of the way either and I like driving through PA in the fall. What we didn’t expect was the amount of snow that would fall while we were sleeping.

My car was a gem. Near mint condition Midnight Blue 1981 Monte Carlo. FAT wheels on the back and the car could haul some serious ass. It was a present from my parents for my 18th birthday and I loved this car. I was never a car guy growing up but this beast was amazing. It was fast, powerful and turned heads everywhere I went. I can still feel the steering wheel grip in my hands and myself sitting in it. The car was my baby.

When we woke on the morning of November 23rd, the ground was covered in white. We heard there might be snow but this was more than a dusting. We got slammed. Growing up in Erie, driving in the snow is like any other day so I didn’t think twice about it. I loaded up the car with my clothes, an N64 I rented from the local video store and her luggage. No sweat. This drive will be longer but easy.

We were just outside of Spartansburg when the snow was starting to let up but all cars were taking it slow as we were starting to come down a hill. As we approached a bend I saw a MACK truck was coming up the hill but something was off. He was driving in the middle of the road! With the roads covered in snow there wasn’t much to do but hold on. I tried to move the car off to the side of the road but it was too late. My focus went from the whole road to zooming in on the point of impact.


The car is thrown partially into a ditch and someone’s front yard plus I’m knocked out. Kristi shakes me to wake me up and all I see is a mangled hood through my windshield and the engine on fire. People from the house came out to check on me and phoned 911 but they were Amish (I was told) so they had to run to a nearby building which had a phone. Medics arrive on the scene and load me into the ambulance. State police arrive and start grilling me on what happened. I’m barely functional and this guy wont let up to get me to say I caused the accident. What I didn’t know at the time was that the car behind me was my English professor and saw the whole thing. I would find out later that she confirmed my story but that apparently wasn’t enough for the trooper.

I’m rushed to the hospital in nearby Corry where Kristi’s mom happens to work. I’m in and out of consciousness and recall my trip to get scanned but not much more. I can hear the doctors talking but I can’t open my eyes. I was freaking out and relaxed at the same time. Was I dead?

By the grace of God the only injuries I had were a banged up knee that smashed into the dashboard and a concussion from my head hitting the steering wheel since cars weren’t made with airbags back then. The medics apparently waited around to see if I was OK and handed me the hood ornament from my car which I still have today. The doctors tell me that one of the medics said that if I was hit any harder or moved in the slightest, a piece of the frame would have shot up through the floor and killed me instantly.

I’m discharged and spend time back at Kristi’s house while we wait for my parent’s to arrive. I’m sure that wasn’t a pleasant phone call to my parents to let them know their son was in an accident with a MACK truck. We meet at a McDonald’s in town and then made the tough trip to the junk yard where my car was towed. I do a quick job cleaning out my personal materials out of the car and say goodbye. If I was driving any other car my family had at the time I know I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I was lucky. No, I was DAMN lucky.

It would take me a few years before I was back to 100%. My headaches were severe for a few months following and what  a lot of people don’t know is that I was a distance runner for years. After that wreck I wouldn’t even attempt to run again for 20 years.

I have never gone back to the site of the accident after we took pictures to have on record but thanks to Google Maps and Photoshop here is the location with a little from 1994 and 20 years later and a very young version of me.

The accident 1994 and 2014

This is a collection of all of the photos of the car after the accident when we visited the junkyard to collect the rest of my personal items.


Categories: Erie, Family, Misc.

When we were Napster. Downloaded – the movie.

November 20th, 2014 No comments

Downloaded The MovieI’ve been on a Netflix binge lately and it’s not just TV shows but also ALL Netflix media. This past Saturday while my wife was on a trip, my boys were being full-blown jagoffs. Since I wasn’t going to have my day ruined while waiting for her to return, I decided to get creative. I fired up Netflix and made them sit through 2 episodes of Ken Burns 18 1/2hr series “Baseball”. I enjoyed it being taken back to the early gritty days of my favorite sport. The kids were bored to death and took a nap. Life was good.

Over the weekend I ended up watching several documentaries but one really sucked me in. It was one I felt I was a part of because like many college kids at the time, we were all users. It was Downloaded, the story of Napster.

Quick overview:
The movie touched on the founding of Napster, the people behind the scenes you never heard about, the rise and fall of one of the most popular internet companies of all time, and how they reshaped the way we consume music today.

If I had known then what I know now (Pearl Jam – Red Mosquito)
The summer after I moved to Pittsburgh is when I learned about Napster. I moved here to work at a big tech company and every day I would come home to my small 1BR apartment with a box of wine or cheap case of beer to meet my best friend. We would spend the rest of the night writing code, geeking out, hanging in MUDs and IRC, playing with webcams, building computers, fixing what we broke and downloading as much as my 56K modem could handle. I was in the butter zone baby!

It was a great time to be alive and online. We knew something big was about to happen with the Internet and we crammed as much knowledge as we could into our heads in order to be ready for it. We could see the future in online media and had the vision but couldn’t get over the hump to make it happen. We were poor college kids living off ramen noodle & cheap booze, there was no way we were starting a business. My generation thrived on bootleg CDs and tapes so it made perfect sense that we would be the ones leading the online music revolution.

What amazed me with the story of Napster was how fast everything came together and also crashed. Thinking about how close in age Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker were to me when it happened blew my mind. I know at that age I was in no mental position to run a company, let alone deal with the music monsters wanting my head, yet they kept going until the end.

Watching the artists freak out over downloading digital music for free seems pretty extreme today given how many resources we have to listen to the music we want and when we want it (I’m listening to Pearl Jam on Spotify as I’m writing this.). We didn’t have mp3 players and smart phones like we do now. We’d still have to burn CDs and store music on computers so while we obtained music for free, enjoying those tunes was a pain in the ass.

Fast forward to 2014 and the way I consume music has changed. I barely have any mp3 files that aren’t digital downloads of concerts and I’ve never paid for music on iTunes. The only music I listen to is from streaming services and honestly I still have hundreds of CDs and some vinyl. When my work time drives were longer I subscribed to Sirius/XM and today I listen to podcasts or local radio.

Looking back on my 20s I don’t know if I would have the same curiosity and excitement as a student today as I did then. There was something special about creating for the future and now the pursuit of innovation has been replaced with a culture of Mean Girls and glorified high school experiences.

Categories: Movies, Pittsburgh

The proposal

November 19th, 2014 2 comments

Assumption Church Derda Wedding

10 years ago tonight I proposed to my long time girlfriend while watching the fireworks from Mount Washington during Pittsburgh’s traditional Light Up Night. How we got to that point in the evening though almost didn’t happen.

We never really “dated” in the traditional sense. We met in college and became close friends after many nights of libations and Pink Floyd. Over the years we’d go out but never anything really exclusive. We both dated people once in awhile but it wasn’t until we were both 29 that we seriously started talking about a lifelong commitment. I guess you could say we were technically together for 10 years.

We started talking about a wedding a few months earlier and how we wanted it to be. We were both fans of the fall season but she really wanted pictures filled with colorful trees. Me? As long as there wasn’t a Pens game I really didn’t care when the day was (The Pens ended up playing on our wedding day BTW AND freaking U2 had a concert in Pittsburgh that night. Thanks jags).

The day before Light Up Night I met up with our friend Terri who was a jeweler and picked up the ring. She was one of my wife’s closest friends and had to be sworn to the utmost secrecy not to give any hints or breathe a word. How I was going to give her the ring was still up in the air and now I started stressing.

Proposing at a big event like Light Up Night can be considered unoriginal or a bit cliché but since we’re not native yinzers and with only a few years under our belts it was an event that we both enjoyed together.

The day arrived and I had a plan. I’m going to poke the bear. Not just poke but also I’m going to see how pissed off I can get her. I had told my dad about the plan and he said with a chuckle “Yeah, good luck with THAT!”. He was the only person besides those involved with the night who knew this was going to happen. If you know my wife and I well, this is something we’d do to each other.

We had taken the day off and I made it absolutely impossible for her to go out to lunch with Terri and told her she needed to stay home and clean. Around dinner time we left and I took the longest way to Mt Washington plus parked at her cousin’s house that was several blocks from where we had to be. We walked around looking at the city and I would just nag her with little things I knew that would get her going. She’s very anti-public display of affection, hates people playing with her hair. Random things like that.

Night was starting to fall and it was getting cold. I convinced her we should drive to the other end of Mt. Washington by the Duquesne Incline because that was the best place to see the fireworks. She’s now cold and hungry at this point, which is not a good combination. I see a group of photographers in a patch of grass and come up with an idea. I tell them what I’m doing and ask if someone could snap a picture of us when I propose and I’d even pay them. They all told me to get the hell out of their way and mumbled some Pittsburghese. Nice eh?

We walk up to the spot I think is perfect and BAM! Some other dude drops to his knee and proposes. I look around, ANOTHER guys does it. Son of a… I knew it wasn’t original but come on guys! She is now PISSED at this point. The wind is kicking, it’s cold out and her jacket, I conveniently forgot to bring, is in the car. We walk to an isolated area overlooking the city; I put my jacket around her and say…

Well what was said is between the two of us. She starts crying, says yes, calls me a son of a biatch realizing what I did and hits me. Phone lines to Erie and her hometown are on fire with the news and we head over to Griff’s house for food and many, many beverages.

I could have gone elaborate with the night but wouldn’t have been us. She’s pretty good at sniffing out when I’m going to pull something and anything out of the ordinary would tip her off. We got what we wanted, a private moment between the two of us that would start the next chapter in our life.

Categories: Family, Pittsburgh

Fast Food Friday: Arby’s Kings Hawaiian BBQ Brisket

November 14th, 2014 No comments

Arby's King Hawaiian BBQ Brisket

When Arby’s debuted their Smokehouse Brisket I was skeptical about the quality especially after the 13 hour commercial they ran showing the meat being smoked. I admit, it was a tasty sandwich. Granted not the quality from some of our local smokehouses but it was one of the best meals in fast food.

Recently while out for wings with some friends the conversation shifted to the new Arby’s Kings Hawaiian BBQ Brisket and eyes shifted towards me for a review. Since I started working out over the summer I’ve been oblivious to the latest trends in fast food and I feel like I’ve failed you. *sigh* I get a lot of traffic and feedback when I share my views on food so I have a lot of ground to make up. I just need to work out more often now.

Let’s get down to it shall we!

Arby’s Kings Hawaiian BBQ Brisket

Kings Hawaiian BBQ Brisket Nutrition Info

What Arby’s says

“Sweet and savory. Fluffy and smoky. We combined the best sweet buns in Hawaii with our Texas-smoked brisket to create a sandwich that makes both states proud. Send your mouth a souvenir from Hawaii and Texas without ever leaving Arby’s.”

Kings Hawaiian BBQ Brisket

What I say

I think someone smashed it down with their hands to cram it in the box. Either that or they really wanted to make the flavors get up close and personal. Ooohhhh our meat is so close! The website says the ingredients are Smoked Brisket, Smoky Q Sauce, Crinkle Cut Pickles, King’s Hawaiian Bun. In other words “We’re jacking up the price for some bread that really doesn’t do much to the sandwich and you’re getting quite possibly the most basic meal possible. Oh hey here’s a pickle!”

Without looking up the sandwich prior to my visit I went in thinking that Kings Hawaiian would entail pineapple or something Hawaiian. In fact, this would be BADASS with pineapple. Other reviews I saw online said the bread should be on the sweet side but I wasn’t getting that. Soft and enjoyable, yes. Sweet, no. Instead the name comes from a California based bakery specializing in Hawaiian breads. OK I can dig that but come on, put some effort into this sandwich. It’s almost insulting to the specialty bread.

Medium sized meal was around $8 and for the price I’d say pass. After a few bites I slathered it down with Horsey Sauce packets and plowed through my lunch.


Pittsburgh Polish Festival

November 11th, 2014 No comments

Polish Dancers

There’s a lot about my Polish heritage that I’m unfamiliar with. Until recently while working on my family tree, I knew I was Polish but I didn’t know where on the tree it came from. My mom’s family is hardcore German so I knew the answer was on my dad’s side, but where? When I heard the Pittsburgh Polish Festival was going on I knew I had to be there. Handmade pierogies, smoked meats and chocolates on every corner along with exposure to a culture I wanted to learn more about.

Last Sunday Teaspoon and I made the trip to the Cathedral of Learning to see what it was all about and the things we found were amazing.

This was my first trip to the Cathedral since I was a student at Pitt in the 90’s and right away I felt like I was at home. We were greeted by a very friendly polish couple who explained what was going on and asked what brought us in. Saying that you want to find out more about your heritage is the golden ticket as they gave me more handouts than I could handle, offered Teaspoon free homemade bread and told me who I should speak with if I have questions. Awesome people.

I have attended the Polish fest in Erie called Zabawa a few times but really went for the food and beer. When you’re 22 that’s all which matters. They were nice events but nothing to this scale. Although I’m sure going back now would be a different experience.

We watched the dancers for a few minutes and Teaspoon was in awe at how the little kids moved plus I think deep down he wants one of their outfits. We sampled foods, walked around the upper floors of the building since it was Teaspoon’s first trip, and met with a few elders who were able to help me out with family tree info I brought along.

One thing the Cathedral doesn’t have is a steady flow of air so after awhile it got REALLY warm and we were ready to go. Teaspoon asked if I could show him our family tree and what I do to work on it. A 5yr old wants to know about history? WIN! We walked across the street to the Carnegie Library and visited the 3rd floor which is where I spend a lot of time when I get a break from the kids. I showed him how to use the microfilm machine and how to do research on the computers which is similar to what I do at home. I could see the little guy was wearing down so we picked up and left. Well I thought we were done.

As we pulled out of the parking garage he realized he didn’t have sunglasses and the meltdown began. Library was closing in 6 minutes, he wanted his glasses and I really didn’t want to drive back to Oakland later this week. I floor it around Oakland and somehow manage to find a parking spot in front. We sprinted in and back up to the 3rd floor to see his specs sitting behind the microfilm machine. Of course, he blamed this one me.

The day was fun and it brought me joy discovering our family heritage together. My wish is that someday he carries on the mission to find out more about our family and history.

Oh, and just because it’s freaking beautiful, here’s a pic of the Cathedral of Learning we took before leaving.

Cathedral Of Learning