Episode-127- TSP Rewind – Billy Joel’s Allentown – History Lesson, Prophecy or Both — 5 Comments

  1. [Typing this comment from the ABE area, how did I miss this episode?! (Comment, more like a separate blog post!)]

    Spot on description of the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas Jack. Naturally, I expected no less.

    My family, (grandparents or older) were either farmers, steel workers, or coal miners. After that was pretty much all factory workers. I watched my Dad work the swing and off shifts and ultimately get him nowhere. Broke then, still broke now. Only the occasional trip to the Jersey shore, and Bradley Beach at that…

    Did I learn from him? Nope! I put 10 years too many into factory work as well, exchanged my 20s for job security and decent pay. (Although this was in another state, same mentality all over though.) Still on the journey breaking away from the “traditional” income streams.

    I remember my Great Grandmother (born 1918) talking about how Allentown used to be a destination, a reward for a hard week. They would put on their nicest clothes, get a nice dinner, and walk around downtown. Had to stop by the Hess’s department store too.. Couldn’t believe it, Allentown was anything but a destination in the late 80s/ early 90s.

    Totally agree, growing up at the bar (read as Club) was just fine for us. Plenty of happy Christmases, Easters, and other holidays there. Santa Claus with presents, Easter egg hunts. Where’s Dad, who cares?

    There has been a lot of effort in the area towards urban revitalization, and it is making strides. Bethlehem Steel is a bunch of shops and a casino. An entire block of downtown Allentown turned into the PPL Center, a great venue for concerts and hockey games.  Plants and small trees grow on the ridges surrounding Palmerton again. (I believe the Wheels of Time museum was established while you were in Northampton.) Is it enough? Hmm, it’s progress.

    In case you missed it, Martin Tower was demolished last year. (For those not in the know, Martin Tower was the corporate headquarters for Bethlehem Steel. It was shaped like a plus sign (+) to make more corner offices for the powers that were.)

    The big employers in the area are still the factories, but even more so now the warehouses/ distribution centers. Same mentality though. Same “benefits.” Then there’s the (currently) booming “healthcare” providers. One of the best things I ever did was move several states away. Still not sure how we ended up back here…


  2. This song always seemed special to me, particularly after my brother moved back East and decided to live in Allentown! For a song of this style the story it tells is amazingly complete and full of meaning (even though Korea was left out). We had steel mills near where I lived in Michigan, too. I even visited one once. The union politics which built the manufacturing boom that was part of and followed WW2 were also one of its weak points. It built in a conservative, entrenched middle class, when what the country needed was a versatile and resilient middle class. California (where I was born and where I live now) has suffered greatly from this. It’s not that the union movement had no merit, but it wasn’t sane enough to survive into a “post-industrial” United States. I have struggled so much personally from the mistaken assumptions and missed opportunities fostered by that era. I live today as, basically, a welfare recipient, even though I worked proudly for most of my life. And if I cannot figure out how this new style of “entrepreneurship” works, I may remain so.