The Orbit 2016 Year in Review

close-up of golden baby in red onesie, Pittsburgh, PA

Tis the season for year-end lists and the ghosts of blogging past. As The Orbit bids adieu to 2016, our last post of this annum is a little look back at both the year’s greatest hits as well as some overlooked gems.

The former is easy to work out–we’re just relying on straight analytics for page-views. Frankly, we were a little surprised by what the green visored bean-counters turned up in their and ticker-tape results, but the numbers don’t lie–at least, they should be pretty close.

For the latter, our editorial staff selected an equal number of personal favorites that somehow managed to end up in the bottom percentile of the very same stats. Hopefully, you’ll give them another chance.

The Hits

1. Jerry’s Records and the $30 Instant Record Collection (Feb. 21)

used record bins at Jerry's Records, Pittsburgh, PA

Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill, home of the $30 instant record collection

“Jerry’s Records is a local institution and a national treasure,” The Orbit‘s #1 story of 2016 begins, and apparently America agreed. In this piece, the crew make the argument for record collecting as cheap fun and cultural preservation while urging you to pick up loose copies of ’80s soundtracks, ’30s jazz, and The Romantics’ In Heat. Nearly a year later, we stand by each and every one of these recommendations and urge you to get your keister down to sit on Santa’s…er, Jerry’s lap and tell him what you want the very next chance you get.

2. Pittsburgh’s Next Hottest Neighborhoods (March 23)

older frame houses with clear blue sky and bare trees, Pittsburgh, PA

NoCarSoSoSlo: one of Pittsburgh’s next hottest neighborhoods

Looking to invest in an up-and-coming neighborhood? Hoping to distinguish a bland urban void? NoSOak, PaHolE/WheBiJIs, and VoBeShaBlo are just three of the suggested rebrandings/”acronames” for less-defined and ripe-for-the-gentrification sections of the city. Get there now and plant some roots before all the parking is gone. Those craft beers aren’t going to brew themselves!

3. More Golden Babies! [or] A Golden Baby Boom! (Jan. 31)

Golden baby hanging from power lines, Pittsburgh, PA

One of the many “golden babies” that took The Orbit by storm in 2016

Our continued coverage of Pittsburgh’s mysterious dangling golden babies “deserves the Pulitzer,” according to one Orbit reader. Four separate stories spread over eight months of 2016 chronicle the strange tale of an elaborate act of street art and/or pranksterdom that goes all the way to the top! … or, at least, all the way to the Department of Public Works. Only the second installment made our Top 5, but check out the whole set if you really want to sort-of know what’s going on.

P.S. The saga of the golden babies is far from over, so hopefully 2017 will bring us another entry in this series.

4. The Pizza Chase: P&M Pizza, Arnold (Oct. 7)

child's head seen over a large pepperoni and olive pizza, P&M Pizza, Arnold, PA

Sunrise over molten lake of cheese. P&M Pizza, Arnold

“There’s more to hair than real hair,” George Willard reminds us in his classic song “Wig Store”. Similarly, greater New Kensington’s pizzerias are happy to let you know there’s more to cheese than real cheese. What they’re cooking up out at the great P&M Pizza in Arnold and across the river at Phillippi’s in Natrona Heights is a defiantly Alle-Kiski Valley concoction of “micro-crust ambiguously-cheesed bar pizza” that ain’t for everyone, but The Orbit calls “absolutely gooey-great”–at least, after a hard morning of pawpaw picking.

5. Street Beat: Who is the Dirty Poet? (March 20)

Photocopy of "It's Always Sunny in New Brunswick" by The Dirty Poet, taped to a light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

“It’s Always Sunny in New Brunswick”, one of The Dirty Poet’s many on-street works, Bloomfield.

One dude (and yes: it is a dude) with a healthy set of legs, one big roll of Scotch tape, and a whole lot on his mind has been distributing his poetry throughout Pittsburgh for the last fifteen years. By turns, the verse is loose, personal, true, vulgar, cynical, sly, smart-alecky, profane, and, yes, possibly (but not usually) dirty. You’ve either seen his colored Xeroxes on telephone poles and street light bases or you haven’t been looking.

We tracked The Dirty Poet down, signed the non-disclosure agreements, and filed a pretty tasty piece on the whole deal. Enough of Pittsburgh must have been wondering about this guy too as this poet’s post earned him a spot in The Orbit‘s year-in-review Top 5.

The Sleepers

Up In Smoke: Ex-Snack Shops (April 20)

mural of soft-serve ice cream cones in colorful silhouette, former Tastee Queen, Ambridge, PA

Mural from the former Tastee Queen, Ambridge

This one sure had The Orbit‘s editorial board chortling smugly: we’ll run a story about former munchies supply shops on 4/20! Maybe our audience was just too doobied-up to bother reading the day’s news, but this fun look at a bunch of ex-ice cream parlors, Coney houses, and corner stores featured some great photographs of long-gone snackeries and sure struck our collective smoke-free funny bone.

Muffler Man: The Cadet Cowboy (May 22)

looking up at the giant fiberglass cowboy known as "Sam", Cadet Restaurant, Kittanning, PA

“Sam”, the giant resident cowboy/muffler man of the Cadet Restaurant, Kittanning

It can’t be easy standing thirty feet tall, but Big Sam is lucky enough to know a place with hamburgers just his size. This giant has been vigilantly watching over the fantastic Cadet Restaurant, just outside Kittanning, for more than 60 years. One taste of their mind-melting rhubarb pie and you’ll consider a long-term stay yourself.

Pittsburgh proper doesn’t have a single, legitimate “muffler man”, but there are a handful in the larger region. Not having made it down to see Mr. Tire in Uniontown yet, Big Sam is definitely the most impressive of the species we’ve come across.

An Orbit Obit: The Lost Art of Found Photographs (June 22)

water-damaged wallet size photograph of an unknown girl

A blast-from-the-past found photo

The Orbit goes all blast-from-the-past in this trip down (someone else’s) (psychedelically-distorted) memory lane. There was a time you could find printed photographs jettisoned from car doors, torn up in tear-stained despair, and blown by the wind in almost all manner of public space. That time is gone (sigh), so we were thrilled to have Kirsten Ervin’s amazing park cleanup treasure to clear the cobwebs and blow the mind.

Alien Landscapes: Color Run Cleanup (July 20)

Peak of PPG Place seen through a cloud of yellow dust, Pittsburgh, PA

North Side Pittsburgh: alien landscape

Six months later and we still have no idea what “The Color Run” is all about. That said, if you happen to arrive on the scene of one of these events just after the whole thing winds up, you’ll wander into a weird alien landscape of iridescently-colored swirling winds and technicolor-bathed Star Trek set pieces. The dazed, color-battered participants slog through North Shore parking lots like refugees from some alternate world where Trey Anastasio is sultan and YPPAH is dictum.

Fairywood: The World Without Us (Nov. 20)

fire hydrant in field of tall weeds, Pittsburgh, PA

Former Broadhead Manor public housing project, Fairywood

Fairywood exists as a superlative city neighborhood in many categories: its position is the most geographically distant to both the south and west, it is (perhaps) the smallest by residential population, and, of course, it has maybe the quaintest of names this side of Narnia. All those features drew us to it, but it was the huge plot of land that was once the Broadhead Manor public housing project that really caught our attention.

Today, all the residential buildings of Broadhead Manor are gone, as are its former four thousand residents. But the ex-project’s infrastructure–roads, street lights, sidewalks, fire hydrants–remain in what resembles every post-apocalyptic sci-fi vehicle you’ve ever sat through. Nature is coming back fast and hard to Fairywood and it’s a fascinating thing to see in this limited window before the whole place gets paved-over once again.

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