Enough Crude to Keep Us in Business: Five Years in Orbit

photo collage of numeral 5 found in address signs

Five years in Orbit, man!

Five years. That ain’t that long in geologic or astronomical time, but it’s an eternity in the blogosphere. Why, a child born on the eve of The Orbit‘s maiden voyage, in late January, 2015, is old enough to have jettisoned countless sad toys from perambulators and open minivan doors by now. If you were following the physical evidence of The East End Dangler or the mystery of the golden babies, well, it’s all gone up, come down, and the trails have gone cold.

Golden baby hanging from power lines, Pittsburgh, PA

One of the golden babies in Lawrenceville, 2016: still a mystery, but no longer hanging around.

In the world of petroleum exploration, there is a known paradox. On the one hand, crude oil is a limited resource that takes millions (billions?) of years to be naturally brewed and we human beings are (quite literally) burning through massive amounts of it every day. Even setting aside all of the wake-in-the-night-screaming affects of global warming, this is simply an unsustainable pace that can’t last forever. We’re going to run out, sooner rather than later, right?

Well, you’d think so, but the history of oil exploitation tells a different story. It’s one where repeated technological advancements continue to open up entirely new, untapped resources and have, amazingly, kept gas prices incredibly low. Stand back and think about how a limited supply natural resource can get extracted from the earth, shipped over oceans, run through the refining process, distributed across America, and still be cheaper per ounce than bottled water. It is mind boggling.

diorama of oil drilling on Oil Creek, Pennsylvania

Oil drilling on Oil Creek. Part of the large diorama of Petroleum Center in Oil Creek State Park, Venango County.

A similar conundrum faces the speculative journalist engaged in hyper-local niche blogging. As long as there are children, their teddy bears and baby dolls will inevitably end up left behind on playgrounds and sidewalks, sure, and we’ll (hopefully) always have artists finding new ways to express themselves on dumpsters, street signs, and the backsides of buildings. In this pained analogy, these are the Orbit‘s evergreen renewable resources.

But it’s unlikely the region will see any new Russian Orthodox churches, epic sets of city steps, or ghost signs for Owl Cigars and Mother’s Best Flour. We can get exactly one story each from oddball cultural attractions like the Donora Smog Museum, Randyland, or DeBence Antique Music World–and then that ship has sailed, likely forever.

exterior view of onion-domed St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Donora, PA

Limited resource: we’ve got a bunch of them, but there are still only so many onion-domed churches to go around. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Donora.

There is a long list of potential story ideas that’s been kicking around this last half-decade. It’s got a bunch of new prospects and lots of things have gotten crossed-off as they’ve been reported-on, but many just haven’t had any movement. Will we ever get to tell the story of The Cardboards or Hans Brinker & The Dykes? Did the documentation on Andy Warhol’s weight set die with John Riegert? When will we ever make it to Latrobe for a Jioio’s pizza?

Three cuts of pizza from Beto's, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Not your average pie. Beto’s Pizza, Beechview.

SO, reflecting on this fifth anniversary–three hundred and some articles into the deep exploration of greater Pittsburgh’s nether regions–the desire to keep doing the poking, the picture-taking, the ink-spilling is as strong as ever, but … we want you do us a favor, though.

If you’re a regular reader [and if you’ve made it this far, we’re guessing that’s you] then you know the kinds of things we’re after. If you’ve got a tip on a unique pizza joint, a super-fan’s crazy antics, the keys to a long-locked ex-tavern, a street art phenomenon, connections to the polka underground, or anything else too far off-the-radar for, you know, “lame stream media” (other media sources: just jaggin’!) then we would love to hear about it.

You can reach the Orbit hot tip line either through our Contact page or email pittsburghorbit [at] gmail.com.

hand-painted sign reading "Mail Box Side Porch", Pittsburgh, PA

You don’t actually have to go to the side porch to contact us.

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone who’s ever taken the time to read a story, pass it on to a friend, participate in one of our goofy contests, contribute a tip, or leave a thoughtful comment. This is largely a solo endeavor whose main purpose is a kick-in-the-pants to get out the door, go do things, and exercise the fantasy journalist within. So we’d probably still be doing this even if no one was paying attention, but we won’t deny that it’s nice when people do.

Just like those wildcatters drilling for black gold in the blown caliche of West Texas, we’ll keep poking holes in the ground and hopefully we’ll find enough crude to keep us in business.

number 5 found on building's address

Heavy Petting: The Anthrocon Fursuit Parade 2017

parade marchers in fursuits including large rabbit, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Tongues out, ears up, that’s the way we like to strut. Big bunny and other Fursuit Parade marchers.

Let’s get something straight: there is a lot of fake fur. Short pile like a hiker’s Thermafleece® and the deep shag of a drug lord’s living room carpet; zebra-striped, tiger-blazed, and leopard-spotted; black, white, and every color in-between.

Anthrocon’s annual Fursuit Parade features more plush, fuzzy softness than you’re likely to encounter in a lifetime…or until next year’s convention, whichever comes first. Like the allies storming Omaha Beach, wave after wave of fluffy fixed-faced cartoon cats and permanent growl ear-tagged wolves assaulted the senses and delighted spectators in their relentless pursuit of high-paws parade-route salutations and head patting approval. And we gave it to them–oh yes, we gave it to them.

group of fursuit-wearing parade marchers, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

A handful of the 1,890 different fursuited parade marchers

fursuit costume of cat with glasses in baseball uniform for team Piecats, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Baseball cat: Piecats manager.

fursuits various color dogs, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Orange fox* and friends.

Anthrocon, the “world’s largest convention for those fascinated with anthropomorphics” was back in Pittsburgh last weekend for its twelfth consecutive summer meetup and twentieth year overall. For the festival’s annual four-day run, both full-on suited-up furries and the dreaming-of-the-big-time ears-and-tail crowd carouse and kibitz throughout downtown streets. Whether you’re participant or gawker, it’s a lot of fun.

But if you really want to see the fur fly by–as well as witness the hyperbole of furry fandom–ground zero is down by the convention center on Saturday afternoon. There, the annual fursuit parade makes its short route out one door, around a horseshoe-shaped path nearly up to Penn Ave., and the back inside the other wing of the convention center. It draws thousands of local onlookers for their best, closest look at the full technicolor menagerie.

indeterminate fursuit costumes with shirts "#KRUMP" and "#VOGUE", Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Let’s party! Two-thirds of the #TWERK / #KRUMP / #VOGUE crew.

fursuit costume of bear with long rabbit ears, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Grrrrrr. A “crux”*.

fursuits of green and pink bear, blue and white bear, and evening attire fox in wheelchair, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Evening wear fox, blue-and-white tiger hybrid, and psychedelic friend*.

It’s a short route–certainly less than a quarter mile–but getting mummified in the nearly-universal head-to-toe blanket of fuzz and shuffling through stifling July heat and humidity takes the dedication of a marine. Up close right at the mid-point, we could hear participants breaking character to wheeze sotto voce support for each other, “keep going, we’re half-way there.”

Anthrocon’s FaceBook page puts the number at 1,890 participants for this year’s parade and I can tell you, it felt like even more than that. Forty-five straight minutes of uninterrupted disco mice and barbed-wire baseball bat-brandishing bears, seductive lady foxes and goofy tongues-out psychedelic mutts[1].

fursuit costume of bear with baseball bat covered in barbed-wire Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Someone needs to switch to decaf! Barbed-wire baseball bat bear.

fursuit costume of scary rooster with arms extended over head, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Drop nuggets! Atomic rooster FTW.

fursuit costume of white dog with purple features, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Move over, Spuds McKenzie–these dogs came to party.

There is a point, however, when it’s just too much fur. While each and every anthropomorphic costume is its own unique creation, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences. Sure, somebody went crazy with the color palette here and there’s a wacky prop, in-joke, or movie reference there, but it’s remarkable how much of the same each of these animal riffs ends up being.

Not knowing what’s in these (largely much younger) folks minds, the obvious touchstones seem to be the kind of grinning goofiness and high saturation of “classic” Saturday morning cartoons–think Scooby Doo, Deputy Dawg, Mighty Mouse, and Kung Fooey. Parade marchers would not be out-of-place in the worlds of Hanna-Barbera or Sid & Marty Kroft–although the frequent additions of ’90s style rave attire, wink-wink naughtiness, and anime sheen are deployed liberally.

fursuit blue bear costume, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

blue tiger*

group of fursuit-wearing parade marchers, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

parade marchers

fursuit costome of leopard wearing cheerleader outfit, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Go team! Cheerleader cheetah, rollin’ cougar*.

It seems strange that this subculture–as vulnerable and ripe for ridicule as any set of outsiders–would be as internally uniform as it is. (At least, to non-participant.) While the suits are all unique–don’t go looking for one at Target–they’re rarely handmade. Companies like Made Fur You and Kilcodo Costumes charge upwards of several thousand dollars for a full head-to-toe custom outfit that fits within a very narrow cartoon aesthetic. The inspiration may be animals, but this isn’t the world of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom; other than these few, rare outliers, it’s strictly the prolonged colorful, safe adolescence of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

So it is a pleasant detour–a relief even–to see the off-script giant shark, an obviously homemade sad dragon, the couple birds with fully-articulated wingspans, and an alien lizard creature in clinking in metallic silver scales. It’s not The Orbit‘s place to tell furries what to do, but just like Chabad’s menorahmobiles, we’d love to see more fans take the costume-making (literally) into their own hands and create something truly original in the process.

homemade fursuit of green dragon head, tail, and gloves, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

A rare homemade (partial) fursuit. Green dragon.

costume with silver metal scales and wings, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Colonel Clink. Silver metal-scaled dragon*.

fursuit costume of dragon in police uniform, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Those don’t look like regulation footwear. Police dragon.

young woman in blood-spattered skirt and blouse, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Oops…wrong convention! Blood-splattered spoilt Victorian child.

If you’ve seen Fursonas, Dominic Rodriguez’ locally-made 2016 documentary on the furry community, you’ll not soon forget its most controversial figure. “Uncle Kage” (pronounced kah-GAY) comes off as a perpetually deep-pour rosé-swilling megalomaniac who lectures rapt convention-goers on a level of deceitful media manipulation that would make Steve Bannon blush.

In Kage’s mind, the world is out to get the fursuited few, and it is only through a strictly-committed loose lips sink ships effort of Trumpian loyalty and intensely mannered public relations that the community’s lifestyle is able to survive the forces hell-bent on destroying it.

man with lab coat and bullhorn in Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Uncle Kage (with bullhorn) and entourage

So the sight of Uncle Kage closing out the parade in his trademark lab coat, barking an abbreviated version of his patented stream-of-consciousness ranting through a bullhorn–a top hat-wearing lackey in tow–really did give this blogger chills on a hot day.

If Kage’s ultimate goal is acceptance, he’s got it. While the convention is in town, downtown’s burger joints and pizza parlors roll out the red carpet for Anthrocon’s tail-wagging attendees to walk their paws in for supper. Nice, suburban families drive in to take selfies with permanent grin pooch-people. Every local news outlet sends their perky human interest beat reporter to smarm and eyeroll through a two-minute feel good piece.

KDKA News photographer and reporter covering Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

The Orbit wasn’t the only media outlet covering the Fursuit Parade, but at least we weren’t invited. KDKA News.

Whatever goes on behind closed convention-rate Westin Hotel doors is those humanoid badgers’, muskrats’, and flying squirrels’ business. Maybe at one time the fears of freaky, deviant sex got people up in arms, but frankly, I don’t think anybody cares that much–at least, not anymore. There’s just a lot bigger problems in the world than worrying about whether some twenty-somethings are turned-on by polymeric fibers.

We certainly have them–bigger problems, that is–but every year that Anthrocon comes to town and puts on the dog (sorry) for us locals is not one of them. It’s an annual highlight, for sure, as well as a wonderful evolving get-to-know-you mystery in the way all long-term relationships are. Let’s hope it keeps growing.

two children posing for photograph with person in fursuit costume of sabretooth tiger at Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Good old-fashion family fun. Sabre-toothed tiger and fans.


* Many thanks to Reddit /r/furry community member Shetani (username acinonyxjubatusrex) with help identifying the species represented in these fursuits. Our original post was updated based on Cheetah’s personal knowledge. We appreciate the help.

[1] Having a blown a trombone for well over an hour during last year’s event, this blogger can tell you 2016’s parade was even longer.

Chet’s Tiny Backyard Dream World

garden with waterfalls and model pirate ship and dock

The Orbit hit pay dirt right away at the great annual Highland Park neighborhood yard sale. The very first stop yielded copies of The Floaters cheese-soul astrology by way of the classified ads slow jam Float On” (the full 12-minute album version). Sadly, thirty-eight years later, Larry is still looking for a woman that loves everything and everybody.

We also found one from that other Larry–Larry Norman and his bluesy Jesus-rock concept album Something New Under the Son (recorded the same year as “Float On”!). So this off-duty blogger slash on-duty record fiend was sated almost before he’d begun.

Of course we soldiered on, following some enticing signs off Highland towards a side street. There, we came to one particular sale that didn’t have any merchandise worth perusal, but the most amazing back yard world opened up behind the sale tables set up along the street.

The house’s owner Chet (we only got a first name) told us that he’s been gradually building this tiny fantasy world for the last thirty years. On the one hand, it’s an outdoor two-or-three-season model train set, but it’s also so much more.

Chet individually hand built huts, log cabins (one includes an outhouse–in use), a church, farmhouse, stable, greenhouse, bungalow with garage, pirate ship, floating river dock, a bridge, surf shack, windmill, and fire tower. He told us he rearranges the train set and building layout every year when the world re-emerges each Spring. And that’s all on top of the permanently-landscaped pair of waterfalls and flowing river that run through and around this part of the yard.

The full eco-system lives outside for the duration of the season with only the thick cover of the giant elm tree over head as protection. It’s miraculous that these tiny wooden houses survive so well. But then again, they’re protected by magic.

model cabin with man in outhouse

backyard train set with model buildings

model house, garage, and old pickup truck

model hut and church

model church and surf shack

model log cabins with waterfall in background

model river scene with bridge and dock