There never was a great character who did not sometimes smash the routine regulations and make new ones for himself. – Andrew Carnegie
When I had just turned 18, I worked nights at J&L Steel’s Hazelwood (Pittsburgh) by-products plant, usually shoveling the damp, crushed coal with which the coke ovens were charged. I would spend what down-time I had sitting high on a balcony overlooking the river, reading the Sporting News and enjoying the man-made beauty that only a Rustbelt boy could appreciate. A celestial firmament of lights twinkled in the hills along the rivers, and Downtown glowed like Oz down around the riverbend. I would often see a horizontal shaft of light magically materialize over the river, which would intensify for ten minutes until its source, a towboat pushing a dozen barges filled with pierogies, would grind past. I could hear any train in the valley and almost count its cars just from the sound. It was quite a show.
“Joe Sibbitt” of the title is a fictitious any-man in blue-collar Pittsburgh. Someone might know someone who knows his neighbor’s sister, since all Pittsburghers are removed from one-another by only a couple degrees of separation. The bigger-than-man machinery, the dirt, the rivers, the rust, the lights twinkling in the smog, and the houses clinging to the hillsides; these were all things we grew up with and took for granted that the resta yins jagoffs might not git.