How To: The Series

How To: The Series

Most people in powerful positions – and lots of people in powerless positions – must undergo a background check between being offered a job and being given a contract to sign. But some of the most powerful people in the world don’t give HR anything but their social security number before their start date. Those people are politicians, and for them a background check is nothing more, and nothing less, than their constituency’s scrutiny.

In my generation one of the largest and longest-lasting figures on the national stage has kept his seat for over forty years. Between elections – of which he won a 23, consecutively, – Baby Boomers came of age, the Greatest Generation faded away, and Millennials began voting. His city burned and was rebuilt. His district moved – geographically stretching north and demographically expanding to include people who didn’t look or sound like him. During that time his district went from being a drug-dealing stronghold to a bastion of economic development to a gentrified neighborhood. Yet, through it all, his district hold one thing to be true – Representative Charlie Rangel was the right man to represent them. A junior congressman, a friend to the civil rights movement, a leader of the most powerful congressional committee, or a man censured by his colleagues, Rangel held his seat and helped his people. Want to know how he’s done it? He’ll tell you about it with his signature smile. Or you can read selections of how to do things so that, like Rangel, you’ll never have a bad day.

I Support You

I Support You

When I turned 18, I registered to vote. At 18 and  one day, I began my one-woman campaign to register people to vote. I asked everyone my age if they were registered. If they weren’t, I got them a voter registration application – which I picked up in bulk quantities. I never volunteered with an organization, I never asked anyone’s politics, and I didn’t take no for an answer. I believed that every citizen had the right to vote, and if they were not yet registered it was because they didn’t understand the difference they could make. Every vote counts. Every citizen’s voice can be heard. Registering means you get to choose who will represent you – which determines everything from when the snow gets plowed to if there’s a nuclear holocaust.



Really, voting is about making sure we all get quality time with the Roving Art Cart, Pittsburgh’s summer arts program which provides free craft workshops in the city’s parks. That, and avoiding nuclear holocaust. (Photo credit: City of Pittsburgh)


When I was young I supported voter registration. Now, I just support you.

I support your right not to register to vote. As long as it’s your own vote, it’s your right to withhold it. If you don’t think you can make a smart decision about the person who will represent you – on the school board, as mayor, or as president – then you need to educate yourself. But it’s also your right to not care about your future. It’s your right to be uninformed or even misinformed. You can care so little yourself – for your right to vote, travel freely, purchase a home, or buy cheap goods from China – that you aren’t willing to decide who will help create the future in which you want to live. If you choose to turn a blind eye to the world around you, then I will stand with you and your decision. If you choose to let others select the people who determine if you deserve to get clean water or breathable air, I respect that that is your choice to make. It’s a bad one, but I’ve learned that I can’t help you. I can, and do, support your right to vote. But if you don’t care enough to register yourself, then I’m not going to help you do it. Because if you don’t think it’s important to register to vote, to be able to exercise your right to change the course of history and snow removal, then I don’t trust your judgement to elect anyone.

For those who still want to vote in the 2016 Presidential Election, but don’t know how to make that happen, today is a great day to register. And here’s the place where you can sign up to vote and leave this country better than you found it.

Happy National Voter Registration Day

Travel Guide: Pittsburgh

Travel Guide: Pittsburgh

A friend went on vacation to Pittsburgh. Since they didn’t know the region, I offered to pull together some hot spots and pro tips. I considered the vast array of cultural, social, and natural attractions Pittsburgh has to offer. Then, I winnowed down the options to a carefully curated selection, as seen below. I sent my list to Special Correspondent Ellen to make sure I had chosen wisely. Ellen confirmed that my list was a good sampling, though she inquired as to why I’d put together weeks of activities for someone spending only a weekend there. Because there’s just too much fun to be had there, Ellen.

Public transportation

Buses require exact change, unless you want them to keep your money. You pay getting on the bus if you’re going into Downtown and you pay getting off the bus if you’re heading away from Downtown. Riding Downtown – all six blocks – is free. Thankfully, you can also ask the bus driver when you get on whether he wants your money now or later.

Squirrel Hill:

Frick Park includes a playground, as well as miles of trails. Some of them lead to:

Frick Nature Conservatory; while it’s technically it’s part of the park, this part has a welcome center and has cooler trails. I’m not sure exactly why, but it was definitely a field trip destination.

Afterward, stop by Rita’s Italian Ices. Pittsburgh isn’t known for its kosher food, but the ices and gelato here are kosher and delicious. There are branches all over the country, but the chain started in Pennsylvania, so I’m consider it a cultural delicacy.

If you’re really loving loving the public parks in a city go to Schenley Park too. Like Frick, but further west. Schenley also leads into the neighborhood of


The Nationality Rooms of the University of Pittsburgh has a different room for each language they teach; the rooms are decorated in the style of that country or region and tours are fun.

Across the street is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The building is awesome, the books are better. Andrew Carnegie poured a fortune into the building – the floors are made of marble so precious that Italy ran out of it – and it shows. If you’ve ever wanted to see what the restricted reference area in the New York Public Library’s main branch is like, you should check out the Carnegie – it’s stacks are exactly the same but open to the public and with a circulating collection.

It’ll probably be raining, so it’s a good thing that you can walk into the Carnegie Museum of Natural History from the library. Inside are: Dinosaurs! Gems! More natural history than you can shake a stick at! Dinosaurs!

The modern wing of the museum is actually the Carnegie Museum of Art – I think it’s as good as the Met but on a smaller scale – it’s got a little bit of everything.

Across a bridge, you can find Phipps Conservatory which is filled, top to bottom, with flowers, cacti, bonsai, and more flora – inside and outside.


Market Square has free lunchtime concerts on Wednesday and a farmer’s market on Thursday. They used to put out rocking chairs on Fridays but they reconfigured the square a while back so they might have stopped that.

It’s right by PPG Plaza, where the plaza turns into a fountain, which you’re welcome to run through. Shoes always required. Sometimes closed for maintenance.

Walk to the end of the city, and you’re in Point State Park. The park includes the Blockhouse – part of Fort Pitt, it predates the USA -, enough green space to run an ultimate frisbee game, and The Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where Pittsburgh’s three rivers – Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio – meet and there’s a giant fountain that’s on for most of the summer. It’s a nice place to sit and watch the rivers while eating lunch.

If you want to be like George Washington you can ride down Mt Washington on a horse. If you want to be like a Pittsburgher you can take the Incline instead. It’s a trolley that goes straight up the mountain. Then you walk around the top of Mt Washington to take in the view and ride back down.


If you can borrow bikes and are up for the hills, you can ride the Jail Trail from Squirrel Hill to Downtown. It’s flat – part of the rails to trails program – along the river. It goes past the jail but as far as I know, it hasn’t been used in any escape attempts.

If you’re not up for biking in the city, you can always go out to one of the nearby state parks. I think Moraine State Park has bikes, and it definitely has boating, geese, and a herd of deer.

Outside the city, and not accessible via public transportation are more not-to-be-missed opportunities:

Tour Ed Mines: You haven’t been to Pittsburgh till you’ve been in a coal mine. This one is non-operational, so it won’t give you black lung.

Triple B Farms: where you can pick berries and pet a goat. Fun for the whole family.

Carrie Furnace, a furnace at a former steel mill. It’s been cleaned up in the past few years and the site is now used as an alternate location for events and clubs. Very hip among the younger generation, though the old generation doesn’t feel the need to connect with the furnace’s legacy of smoke and pollution nor are they interested in hanging out in an abandoned and still decrepit factory.

Pittsburgh: where there’s too much to do to stay for less than a lifetime.

Can’t Complain

Can’t Complain

Mrs. Hoffman drove without cartilage in her knees.

Bubby couldn’t draw a full breath after walking a full block.

Zaidy was in so much pain he didn’t notice new ones – his doctor had to be the one to tell him.

None of them complained.

I was under doctor’s orders to stay immobile unless absolutely necessary, on decreasing amounts of pain medication, and with a head still clearing from the anesthesia. And everyone wanted to know how I was doing. My responses varied from “Great!” to “a-ok.”

“You know you can complain?” a friend asked, after watching me wince in pain as I shifted my weight from the couch on which I was lounging.

I could walk.

I could breath.

I could tell when I was in pain.

I had no complaints.


How To Win the War on Drugs

..when you tell a kid, “Don’t do drugs because you’ll lose your reputation and your job,” and they know damn well they have no reputation and no job to lose, and that things will not get any worse for them being involved, no amount of “just say no” is going to work. To the extent that we have more kids with more opportunities, we have a much better chance at defeating the dug dealers, who remain alive alive and well in business.

…I’ve always felt that as you improve the quality of people’s lives the more they have at risk by dabbing in drugs. The more opportunities and options people have, the less likely they are to choose drugs.

– Rep. Charlie Rangel from And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress