Still Working

If At First You Don't Succeed ... You May Ruin Your Lawn

7 hours ago
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

It is said that practice makes perfect. In the case of retired physician Demetrius Ellis, it also produces some divots in the backyard. After a neighbor introduced him to golf, Ellis spent hours practicing at home before he dared showing his face at a real golf course. In his retirement, Ellis has worked to find ways to stay in shape, both physically and mentally. Golf requires a lot of decisions — related to club choice, weather, terrain — to get the ball to the pin. “All those decisions … keep your mind somewhat more alert,” he says.

A Late-Blooming Love For The Game Of Golf

Jun 19, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Retired pediatric nephrologist Dr. Demetrius Ellis has played sports his entire life: soccer, racquetball, tennis. But a sudden onset of tennis elbow in his 60s prompted his neighbor to introduce Ellis to golf. “I thought it was an extremely expensive sport for rich people who were very compulsive,” Greece-born Ellis laughs. Ellis plays nearly every day at the public course, the Bob O’Connor Golf Course, in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Shikha Goodwin moved to Pittsburgh last year with her husband, two small children, two cats, and all of her hopes and dreams to start a new job. The city has dealt her some tough blows and she is now looking for work. Even in the midst of her uncertainty and doubt, however, Goodwin says Pittsburgh has grown on her, thanks to moments like driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel early in the morning.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Mary Sprajcar has volunteered at the Humane Animal Rescue Wildlife Center for nearly 10 years. In that time, she’s seen her share of escape attempts. Volunteers spend a lot of time cleaning the temporary habitats of their patients, and doing so requires extra vigilance, as Sprajcar experienced two summers ago.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Mario Ulizzi started training as a shoemaker in 1991. His then-girlfriend, now wife, Carla, came from a family of shoemakers, and her father suggested he try it. “It just became a part-time job and then a passion and a career,” he says. But sometimes he worries about what the constant exposure to glue, shoe polish, and dust means for his health.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Working for a wage is a big part of life for most adults in the United States. Since last August, Still Working explored what those jobs mean, or don't mean, to people, and how work affects how they view the world. The final episode of the series, however, looks past paid labor. Shihka Goodwin describes the difficulty of searching for a job. Mary Sprajcar discusses her volunteer labor at the Humane Animal Rescue Wildlife Center in Verona, Pa. And Dr. Demetrius Ellis reflects on his retirement and the newfound time for family, friends, and golf.

The Trouble With Ideals Of Appearance

May 15, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Sadly, fitness does not work by the property of osmosis. Sitting next to an Adonis on the bus does not turn us all into museum-worthy Greek statues. It is a tough reality that means there is plenty of work out there for personal trainers. Still, the osmosis theory dies hard: personal trainers often face “pressure to look as fit as … clients hope to be,” says Nkem Chikwendu, a trainer at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Mobility researcher Brandon Daveler has spent years learning how to design and build better powered wheelchairs. But starting a company to sell the first model that can be fully submerged in water required a whole new education. “Business owners are the only people that will work an 80-hour week to avoid working 40 hours a week for somebody else,” he laughs.

This Is Not A Pizza And Beer Operation

May 1, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Moving can really test a friendship. (Why, dearest pal, am I carrying dozens of boxes filled, it seems, with bricks, to a third story walk-up on the hottest day of the year?) Such discomfort is traditionally smoothed over by food and drink. But professionals have a different approach, as Anthony Turner learned when he began working for a moving company more than seven years ago. Moving is “more than just putting stuff in a truck,” he says.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

For sugarmaker Matthew Emerick there are few things more lovely than maple syrup on pancakes. He’s a third-generation producer and can’t imagine spring without tapping the maple trees in the family woods. But he acknowledges the attributes of other tree syrups, even if they’re not for him.

'Moving Is Essential To Life'

Apr 24, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Helping someone move is often a favor done for a friend in a jam. By seemingly universal custom, the reward for this assistance is pizza and beer. But for some western Pennsylvanians moving is no favor; it’s part of the job. Personal trainer Nkem Chikwendu keeps other people fit. Mover Tony Turner makes sure clients’ possessions make it from point A to point B safely. Shoemaker Mario Ulizzi rebuilds and maintains quality footwear. And mobility researcher Brandon Daveler develops new wheelchair technologies.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Andrea Slozna is a guidance counselor at the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square, as well as a mom to two tiny people. Both her 3-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son required intensive medical attention after their births, but she was able to nurse both of them. It can be a bumpy road, feeding a new person with one’s body, especially when there’s so much pressure in the first few months of a baby’s life to ensure he or she gains weight, Slozna says.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Carly Penn left the stress and late hours of restaurant kitchens behind when she became a chef at UMPC’s Strabane Woods assisted living facility near Washington, Pa. At Strabane Woods, Penn works regular hours and knows well in advance what her menu is and how many portions she’ll prepare. But once a week, she relives her restaurant days with a Friday morning treat: made-to-order eggs.

'We Call Ourselves Sugar Makers'

Apr 3, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

When maple sap emerges from a tree, it’s a long way from its prized place at the breakfast table. Sap has a disappointing sugar content, just 1 or 2 percent, and doesn’t taste sweet. Syrup-making hinges on removing most of the water in the sap, traditionally by boiling.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

The production and distribution of food in the U.S. is a lot of work. The industry employed more than one in 10 Americans in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available.

Cars, They Don’t Break Like They Used To

Mar 27, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Mike Kirsch has been working at Brunner’s Garage on the South Side for more than 43 years. Over his career, car repair has changed quite a bit, he says. Even smaller jobs, like replacing headlight bulbs or rearview mirrors, have become more time consuming and expensive. But it is not all bad. “New cars … don’t break like they used to.”

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Dentist Lorraine Callen sees a lot of patients at Allegheny General Hospital. Using special magnifying lenses, called loupes, she is able to see their teeth much better. It has also played havoc with her memory. She can’t always remember a patient by their name, but when she sees their teeth or an x-ray, “I can remember people's stories about their grandkids.”

The Right Tool For The Job

Mar 13, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

The English language is loaded with idioms related to tools: tightening the screws, burying the hatchet, and hitting the nail on the head, to name just a few. But for automotive technician Andrew McHaney having the right tool for the job is much more than a metaphor.

Caution: Floor Slippery When Frozen

Mar 6, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Gordon Nolan spends a lot of time on the ice, but rarely on skates. As the head of maintenance at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar, it is his job to keep three ice rinks ready for hockey teams, figure skaters, and the public. In more than a decade of working on the ice, he has only fallen twice. “That’s pretty good, I think.”

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale wants to strengthen state laws against accepting gifts after an audit determined that officials in 18 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties accepted gifts, meals or trips from firms competing to sell new voting machines to counties ahead of the 2020 election.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

They’re everywhere — creators, innovators, mavericks — and they sure do know how to suck all the air out of a room. But most of the world’s work isn't making the newest technology or shaking up an entire industry, it’s shepherding the things that already exist. The falls a figure skater won’t take because the ice is perfect; the angst a patient won’t feel because a dentist helps care for her teeth; the hours not spent roadside thanks to an automotive technician: this is the fruit the maintainers' labor.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Community can exist in any place where two or more humans gather. Port Authority operator Jill Smallwood sees it at rush hour, as she drives the P1 route from downtown Pittsburgh to Swissvale and back again.

As her bus gets crowded, Smallwood can’t see all the way to the back of the bus, so she’ll appeal to her riders, “Do we have any room in the back?” Most of the time, they make space for one more.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

John Spellman is all about customer service. As the owner and operator of The Shady Dog, a lunch cart in Pittsburgh’s East End, Spellman says he’s learned a lot about who people are and how they operate. Perhaps most tangibly, Spellman has arranged his schedule to sidestep the Monday blues.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Modern existence requires a lot of signs: road signs, park signs, building signs, direction signs, special event signs. Plenty of signs could be ordered online, in this age of hyper-availability, but Allegheny County doesn’t outsource its written communication with the public; instead, the county runs its own sign shop.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Jill Smallwood has operated a Port Authority bus for nearly five years and says the learning curve is pretty steep. She found out the hard way that there’s a lot to pay attention to, both inside and outside the bus. 

Road Work Ahead

Jan 25, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Highways, streets, and sidewalks get most Pittsburghers to and from work. On this month’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s series Still Working, though, roads themselves are essential to the workplace. Jill Smallwood drives a bus for the Port Authority of Allegheny County. John Spellman operates the “Shady Dog” hot dog cart in Shadyside. And Steve Smith makes road signs at Allegheny County’s sign shop.

Small Bills And A Good Accountant

Jan 16, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Note to readers: this story features an exotic dancer.

Tax time can be a headache for freelancers and independent contractors in the gig economy. If they haven’t kept track of income throughout the year, it can be daunting to calculate what they made and what they owe. Iris works as a stripper (we aren’t using her real name because she has concerns for her safety). Cash makes up the majority of her income, but she jots down what she makes each night to keep an eye on it. “I have a wonderful accountant and she handles a lot of that stuff for me,” says Iris.

Short: 'A Chandelier In Every Room'

Jan 9, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Artist and teacher Jennie K. Snyder started refurbishing and staining old chandeliers after she bought a home in Carrick. “I always had this dream of having a chandelier in every room,” she says. After making the light fixtures for herself she built an online store to sell them to other people interested in something a little different. “They're not your run-of-the-mill, Pottery Barn kind of piece.” Snyder’s chandelier business is one of her many side projects; she says she’d be bored doing just one thing for work.

Short: Can I Have A Volunteer?

Jan 3, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Magician Al Hastings — who goes by the stage name Al Mazing — performs for kids and families some 250 times a year. He often asks for a volunteer from the audience, but he has learned to choose carefully. At schools, he said, “The kid you don’t pick is the one sitting beside the teacher, because they are sitting beside the teacher for a reason.”

Kevin C. Brown / WESA

Photographers know that good shots rarely happen by accident. It takes knowledge, planning, and creativity. Getting the perfect photo with Santa is no different. 

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