Pay-What-You-Want / Can

In January, Planet Money released Episode 889: The Pay-What-You-Want Experiment. In this episode, host Sarah Gonzalez interviewed Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich. Shaich opened a small chain of “pay-what-you-want” eating establishments operating under the name of “Panera Cares” in 2010. Unfortunately, all of the “Panera Cares” locations eventually closed.

However, New Kensington, Pennsylvania has its own independent, non-profit “pay-what-you-can” restaurant: Knead Community Cafe.

I ate breakfast this morning at Knead. I breakfasted there several other Saturday mornings in the past year. Knead opened in February 2017. I took all of the photos in this blog post in April 2018.

To clarify, New Kensington’s Knead Community Cafe is NOT affiliated in any way with Panera Bread. I mentioned the Planet Money episode merely to illustrate that Planet Money did a story on an innovative type of establishment similar to one that exists in my own town.

The above linked Planet Money episode referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-want.” The website for Knead referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward.” I based my below explanation on Knead’s website. If you want specific information on how the restaurant works, its hours of operation, or its menu, please visit its website and / or its Facebook page.

The booth inside of Knead’s front door explained “pay-what-you-can” as it applied to Knead:

Before each trip to Knead, I first checked Knead’s Facebook page to review that day’s menu. Note that the menu changes each day. On my first trip, I had a choice of three breakfast options.

We ordered our food and our choice of juice at a counter. Cafe volunteers brought our food to our assigned table. We helped ourselves to coffee, tea, and iced tea at the cafe’s beverage bar.

In addition to Knead’s indoor seating, Knead has an outdoor courtyard. I never sat in the courtyard, but I took a few photos of it. People who sit in the courtyard can enjoy this old city’s “ghost signs.” (Ghost signs are hand-painted advertisements on the sides of old buildings. Many ghost signs advertise now-defunct products or businesses.)

In fact, if you chose to eat at Knead, you might work off your meal with a short photo walk around downtown New Kensington. You will be able to photograph several ghost signs.


Finally, parking options are very important to me when I visit a place. I am satisfied with Knead’s parking options. Visitors can park along the street for free. Visitors can also park in a large, free public parking lot directly across the street from Knead’s front entrance.

My husband and I live within walking distance from Knead. When we visit, we often run into people that we know. However, we also chat at Knead with people that we never previously met. Knead provides an excellent place for the community to partake of a meal as fellow human beings.

Have you ever visited a “pay-what-you-want / pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward” restaurant? Tell me about your experience.

Social Media Thoughts

Yesterday I listened to the podcast Invisibilia’s most recent episode, titled “Post, Shoot.” The episode is about the curated images of ourselves that we project on social media. So, this most recent blog post is about my thoughts on social media.

I went to high school a million years ago. Up until I graduated from high school, I had no access to the internet. (I lived in a rural town in the Laurel Highlands, so I don’t even know if anybody in my hometown had internet access back then.) The summer before my senior year of high school, I met somebody my age who casually mentioned something called “email.” I was too embarrassed to ask, “What’s email?” My college freshman composition professor taught my class how to use an internet message board. That’s how old I am.

I was out of college for several years before I first heard of a smartphone.

Also, up until I met my future husband (Jonathan), I didn’t own a computer. I accessed the internet from my desktop at work, the computers at the local public library, and from a web television in my apartment. This was how I searched for higher-paying jobs. (I didn’t even own the Web TV. I had signed up for a deal with a consumer survey company in which I took surveys in exchange for use of the Web TV and internet use over my (land) phone line.)

I mention all of this because I didn’t grow up using the internet.

So anyway, I met my first post-college roommate, Erin, on an internet message board. We became friends. It turned out that Erin and I actually knew some of the same people “in real life” from different places. Then Erin moved away. Erin met my husband, Jonathan, on a different internet message board. Erin, the matchmaker, arranged for Jonathan and I to meet each other online because she thought that the two of us had a lot in common with each other. It turned out that Jonathan and I knew a bunch of the same people “in real life” from different places!

You follow me?

During this time, I visited my public library several times a week to find a higher-paying job that was also closer to Jonathan in the Pittsburgh area. I eventually found this.

So, I grew up with no internet access. Then, in the span of a few years, I found a great roommate and friend, my future husband, and a career over the internet.

Then Jonathan and I got engaged. I signed up to use the message boards on a very well-known wedding website. I shall call this wedding website “The Bond.”

Back in those days, brides could create their own wedding pages on the “The Bond,” complete with online guest books where the brides’ loved ones could leave notes of “love and encouragement.” When these brides posted on The Bond’s message boards, everybody on the message boards could click on the poster’s username to access her wedding website.

Here’s what I read about many times on these boards: a bride would set up her wedding page, and then go over to the message boards to complain about a bridesmaid or a future mother-in-law or or an aunt or something. The bride would be under the impression that she was venting on an “anonymous” message board. Some other reader on on the “anonymous” message board would screenshot the bride’s “venting” post. This reader would then click on the bride’s username, access the bride’s wedding page, and paste the unkind screenshot into the bride’s online guest book.

I read about this happening many times. I read about instances in which the subject of the complaint read the complaint snapshot.

I should also mention here that the personalized wedding pages on The Bond provided brides with an opportunity to list all of their vendors. I read accusations on the message boards that some visitors to The Bond would punish other posters by calling up the other poster’s listed vendors and cancelling them. I have no idea how many of these accusations were true. However, at this time I had a family member who worked at a church. This family member told me that the church had received a message to cancel a church member’s wedding date. When the church staff called the prospective bride to confirm the cancellation, the prospective bride advised that she did NOT actually reach out to the church to cancel her wedding date. My family member who worked at the church was completely puzzled as to what happened until I explained what I had learned about the vengefulness that I witnessed on The Bond.

So anyway, I learned to post NO personal information on The Bond.

Around this same time, I used a different message board that I shall call “Shoot the Breeze.” Shoot the Breeze had a frequent poster that I shall call “Jane.” Jane liked to complain about her job and her manager on Shoot the Breeze.

Jane didn’t provide her real name or the actual name of her place of employment. However, Jane provided other details about herself and her employment. She posted the name of the city where she worked. One day, she mentioned on the message board that she walked one block to a very specific coffee shop in this specific city.

A few weeks later, Jane posted again to allege the following: Another poster pulled up Google maps and identified all of the places of employment that were within one block of this coffee shop that Jane mentioned. This other poster accessed the employee directories of all of these places of employment. This other poster used details that Jane provided and thus identified Jane and her manager. This poster forwarded screenshots of all of Jane’s online work complaints to her manager.

Anyway, I developed an interest in how people use the internet “spitefully” after I read about these alleged incidents.

We’ve all read many times now about people using the internet spitefully. In case you haven’t, though, here are some other links to content on the subject:

Criminal podcast, episode #109, Homewrecker

When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life, by Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo

How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life by Jon Ronson, New York Times

Okay, so now I’m going to talk about Invisibilia:

Invisibilia is an NPR podcast in its 5th season. The podcast description on the iTunes app and on the website describes it thus, “Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia – Latin or invisible things – fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.”

I think that I listened to every episode of every season released thus far. I really liked Season #1. To be honest, though, the podcast has confused me off and on ever since Season #2. For instance, on several of the episodes, the podcast will start off with a story. Then, the podcast will switch to a different story. Then, the podcast will conclude that both stories make the same point. Or else, the podcast hosts will maintain that the stories make competing points. I don’t understand how the hosts arrived at many of the episode conclusions. Huh. Perhaps I’m just not intelligent enough to “get” Invisibilia.

That being said, I highly recommend that you listen to the most recent episode: Season 5, Episode 2, Post, Shoot, hosted by Hanna Rosin.

Here’s a link to the episode and also the transcript. You can also download this from whatever app you use to download podcasts.

Rosin starts with the story of Brandon Wingo, a teenager from Wilmington, DE. Another teenager shot Brandon in 2016 over something that Brandon posted on Facebook.

Then, Rosin points out the effort that Wilmington teenagers put into curating online identities for themselves on social media. Wingo curated an online identify that did not match the way that his “real life” loved ones identified him. The teenager who murdered Wingo only knew Wingo from his online identity and his Facebook posting.

This episode really spoke to me.

Post, Shoot explored the social media activity and the social media curation of African American teenagers in Wilmington, Delaware. I’m a white adult in suburban Pittsburgh. I, too, see significant effects on my social circle and family dynamics from social media activity of my friends and loved ones.

(In fact, before I write each blog post, I ask myself whether the post could hurt my career or my relationships with my loved ones. I actually posted a link to my blog on my company’s intranet and on my online employee profile. This way, if some wise guy identifies my employer and emails the blog link to my manager, there are no surprises!)

I would like it if you listened to this podcast episode or read the transcript.

If you are familiar with the episode, what are your thoughts?

Rachel Carson Graduated Here From Parnassus High School

I spent a day on Chatham University’s main campus in Oakland (Pittsburgh) for an event last fall. I grabbed lunch at Cafe Rachel, Chatham’s coffee shop.

Chatham named the shop after environmentalist Rachel Carson. Carson graduated from Chatham in 1929 when the school was called Pennsylvania College for Women. She wrote Silent Spring in 1962.

One wall of Cafe Rachel detailed Carson’s life. This wall noted that Carson was born and raised in Springdale. (Springdale is across the Allegheny River from New Kensington.) The wall told me that Carson graduated from Parnassus High School in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

(I already knew this. Wikipedia already knows this. However, I was psyched to see the Parnassus reference on a wall at Chatham University.)

Do you have any fun facts to share? Post them here. 

Taj Mahal on the Mon

I gave you a full month to catch up on my blog! You’re welcome.

This is my first post about the “Secrets of the Mon.” You can read here about the “Taj Mahal on the Mon.”

“Taj Mahal on the Mon” is my name for Nemacolin Castle (aka Bowman’s Castle) in Brownsville, here in Western Pennsylvania.

See, Nemacolin Castle sits on a bluff above the Monogahela River (known by locals as “the Mon”).

(My dad graduated from nearby Cal U – California University of Pennsylvania. Cal U also sits on the Mon. Dad refers to his alma mater as “Harvard on the Mon.”)

About 40 miles or so downstream from Cal U and Brownsville, the Mon joins the Allegheny River. This confluence forms the Ohio River at downtown Pittsburgh. (The Ohio flows into the Mississippi River.)

Now, a very long time ago, tremendous earthen mounds dotted the banks of the Mon, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.

From where did these come? If somebody built these, then who? 

Archeologists maintain that indigenous people built these hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But how? 

One theory claims that humans significantly larger than ourselves – those known in lore as the “Tall People” – built these mounds.

Some storytellers insist that aliens from another planet built the mounds.

What is the truth behind these mounds?

Did these mounds bring special energy – special power – to the Mon?

In the 1700’s, British settlers spoke of the Mon and Allegheny’s confluence as the “Forks of the Ohio.” In the 1750’s, Britain and France quarreled over the Forks. They both wanted access to the Ohio River. The French and Indian War started. George Washington served in a British army under General Edward Braddock. Braddock marched up from Virginia and Maryland in an attempt to seize the Forks in 1755. The French and their Native American allies ambushed Braddock. Braddock’s army suffered heavy losses in this defeat. Braddock himself died during the retreat. Washington witnessed all of this. In 1758, Washington served in a different British army under General John Forbes. This time, Forbes seized the Forks for Britain. The British built Fort Pitt at this confluence that formed the Ohio River. The site of Fort Pitt became Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.

I bring this all up right now just to point out the Mon’s importance to local history and folklore.

Now, as I blogged above, Brownsville sits on the Mon. The town includes the spot that European settlers called “the Redstone Creek River Crossing.”

The river crossing sat on Nemacolin’s Path. This path emerged from  a series of trails used by Native Americans to travel through the region. 

White settlers named the path after the Shawnee chief Nemacolin.

General Braddock’s army actually marched on part of Nemacolin’s Path on their way to the Forks of the Ohio in 1755.

Then, as I just blogged, General Forbes reached the Forks (present-day downtown Pittsburgh) in 1758.

In 1759, British Colonel James Burd built a fort on the earthen mound overlooking the Redstone Creek River Crossing at the Mon. This became Fort Burd. 

Then the British won the French and Indian War. 

After this, the white colonial settlers fought against the Iroquois Confederacy during the American Revolution. 

Around the end of this war with the Iroquois, Thomas Brown purchased much of the land surrounding the Redstone Creek River Crossing.

Brown sold part of this land to Jacob Bowman.

Jacob Bowman built his trading post and tavern out of material taken from the old Fort Burd.

Remember, the British built old Fort Burt on a very old earthen mound. A mound that some claim to be an indigenous burial mound. A mound that others claim was built by an ancient tribe of giant people. A mound that still others claim was built by visitors from outer space. Then the Bowman family used part of Fort Burd to build the family home. How much ancient history – how much ancient power – did the Bowman family import from this mound into their home?

Now, here’s how Jacob Bowman’s trading post and tavern became the architectural “wonder” that we now call Nemacolin Castle:

Jacob Bowman built a room above his trading post. Bowman and his wife lived in this room. They added more room as their family grew.

The home morphed from a trading post to a colonial home.

Jacob’s son Nelson inherited the home in the 1840’s.

Nelson Bowman added the east wing and the brick tower.

Thus, the 1789 trading post grew into a 22 room Victorian mansion. A Victorian mansion with a tower. A castle.

During this time, the Bowman family saw births, marriages, and deaths. Lore claims that this home functioned as a stop on the underground railroad. The family’s tragedies and the land’s bloody history figure in ghost stories here.

Three generations of the Bowman family lived in the castle until the Brownsville Historical Society acquired it in the 1960’s.

The castle’s official website refers to it as Nemacolin Castle but also states “also known as Bowman’s Castle.” The website confirms that “Nemacolin” is in reference to Nemacolin’s Trail.

I toured the castle with my sister E.R. in October 2011. We joined a special “ghost tour.” As the name implies, our guide dressed in nineteenth century period clothing and told us ghost stories about the castle.

I felt uneasy during the “ghost tour.” But not because I saw any ghosts. I felt uneasy because the house is such a hodgepodge of architectural styles.

As E.R. and I waited for our tour to start, we ran into our Aunt L. and our cousins R. and J. Our cousins explained that they toured the castle every year for Halloween. One of my cousins revealed that she once felt something grab her ankle as she stood on a stairway inside the castle.

Did you ever tour Nemacolin Castle? Did you see any ghosts?