Palm trees in Pittsburgh

Every reporter at the Trib had to come up with a few holiday brights — or stories that entertain while they educate. Here’s one of mine. I had seen this Strip District body shop in the summer and noted that it looked like it belonged in Florida, with palm trees planted in front. I wondered how the owner keeps them alive during the harsh Pittsburgh winters. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.

Keith Hodan, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Keith Hodan, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Steve Schaffer dreams of the day he buys a second home in Key West, Fla.

Until then, the native Pittsburgher makes his own tropical paradise for as long as it lasts — planting palm trees in the spring and then, at this time of year, watching them wither and die.

By Keith Hodan, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

By Keith Hodan, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“It creates the illusion that we’re somewhere we’re not,” said Schaffer, the owner of City Collision II auto body shop in the Strip District. “I call it a cheap vacation, every time I look out.”

A few hardy Pittsburghers are willing to do what it takes to bring a little bit of the tropics north of the Mason-Dixon line — even if that means keeping up the Sisyphean task of buying tropical plants each spring.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Pittsburgh Hustle

Courtesy of American Hustle.

Courtesy of American Hustle.

American Hustle never happens without a little Pittsburgh hustle first. The movie that comes out today tells a story inspired by a 1970s super-swindler named Mel Weinberg who ended up working with the FBI to nab members of Congress in a bribery scandal. Investigative journalist Robert William Greene Sr. first told the story in his book The Sting Man. Weinberg ends up working with the feds only after first getting nabbed in Pittsburgh.

The story goes that Weinberg scammed a Pittsburgh real estate guy, Lee Schlag, who needed money to purchase a dairy. Weinberg offered to line up the financing but had no intentions of coming up with a loan. So when Schlag paid for the loan application and never received the money, he turned everything over to the feds.

sting manI talked this week with several of Schlag’s family members. He, unfortunately, died several years ago, never married and had no children. Until I called, the family had no idea about his connection to Weinberg, the book or the movie. The full story appears in today’s Tribune-Review.

I’m loving the book and can’t wait to see the movie. Hat tip to my friend Salena Zito, who often says that all roads lead through Pittsburgh.

Here, not home, for the holidays

Spare a moment during the hectic holiday season to think of Mario Hausdoerfer. He comes from Bavaria, where they do Christmas better than almost anywhere. And yet he will be here in Pittsburgh, selling his hand-blown glass ornaments. I spent some time with him this week…


Mario Hausdoerfer of Haselbach, Germany, hangs glass ornaments from the ceiling of his Holiday Market chalet as dusk settles in Market Square Downtown. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stephanie Strasburg

Few places do Christmas better than Germany, home of “O Tannenbaum,” wooden nutcrackers and vast holiday markets in every town square.

And, yet, Bavaria resident Mario Hausdoerfer, 41, will mark a 10th straight year an ocean away from the crackle of a Yule log in his own home fire.

That’s because the maker of hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments will be in America, where his wares are more rare and buyers are willing to pay a premium for artisan crafts.

He is among a half-dozen foreign vendors relocating to Pittsburgh for the next month to participate in the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square.


Hausdoerfer will miss spending the holidays with his children, a daughter, 20, and son, 11, to work at his “Old German Christmas” chalet selling wares from Germany through the holiday. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stephanie Strasburg

The market, which opens at 10 a.m. Nov. 23, has grown 250 percent larger since its inaugural season last year and features fresh Christmas trees for the first time, more vendors and Santa, of course. Every vendor from last year returned.

Hausdoerfer has put a lot on the line to be here: He and his wife, who traveled to the United States with him, will miss spending the holidays with their children, a daughter, 20, and son, 11.

But if he has to be away from home, he welcomed the idea of returning to Pittsburgh.

“I like the city, and I like the people,” he says. “So, that makes it easy to come back. The city was very friendly to me.” To read the rest of the story, click here.

Also, I made a video to run with the story that shows Drew Hine making glass snowmen at his South Side factory, Vessel Studio: Click here

Real food. Real men.

Sure, the food was supposed to be a prop — but you can’t put breakfast in front of me and then tell me it’s not breakfast. Eat up! Even my calorie-conscious cohort got in on the action. Thanks to DeLuca’s in the Strip for supplying the authentic Pittsburgh background.


And I’m not saying that DeLuca’s has to replace that old plaque on our seat with a new one…


…but I’m pretty they will want to. There’s really no comparison…


bw conte fabregas